Tag Archives: Repetitious Death

REVIEW: Voxel Runner

Combining auto-running with a voxel style, Voxel Runner (80 MSP) is the newest in the vaunted series of games with very literal names (and that’s only a partial joke; I personally would have had my heart set on Run Voxel Run, but I digress). It’s also not a bad debut (from developer Dizzy Pixels) and addition to the sub-genre despite the numerous competitors (The Impossible Game and its ilk) that came before it.

The game trots you out on a perpetual jog / jump / slide / crash course over 30 consecutive stages (with checkpoints every two or three levels) of escalating difficulty and complexity. You should know what you’re getting into. Still, games like this beg the question; what does anyone see in dying over and over again merely to learn patterns for one stretch, just to die over and over again in the next section? That I don’t know the answer to. Much like quasi-cheeses injected into hot dogs, there’s a market for it. Must be a lot of death (and cheese) fetishists out there.

To its credit, Voxel Runner seems to go easier on you than most of its predecessors. The controls are tight and responsive (so long as you don’t hold down the jump button by mistake), and each series of obstacles runs a manageable length before triggering a respawn point. You’re still destined to die, naturally, though the game attempts to disguise some of that banality in repeated deaths with its abilities (see trailer above), introduced one at a time and eventually used in tandem.

Occasionally there are multiple solutions to a given sequence. Using the speed boost and high jump abilities, for instance, can bypass some jumps and spikes, cutting down on time and irritability on your multiple retries. And while pattern-learning is still a necessity, the patterns themselves are varied and somewhat satisfying to plow through on a perfect run, cheating death for a few, always-fleeting seconds.

Voxel Runner - Screen

So, ‘laying down’ is considered an ability now?

The awards / achievements for fulfilling certain requirements (of course I earned the trophy for reaching my death quota first) are nice; leaderboards would have been a stronger impetus. As it is, there’s not too much in the way of replayability. Auto-runners by definition are a streamlined experience, one and done, and part of the curse in being a critiquer is always seeing how something could have been improved upon or expanded, but Voxel Runner is more solid than most.

Even with that competence and its graphical aesthetic, the game will likely have a tough go at making any converts or significant inroads. There’s too many other options already, and with a certain BIT.TRIP title just released, that task is heavier. Voxel Runner is a cheaper alternative, however, and its forgiving nature means more people that aren’t necessarily dialed into death-avoidance will find some enjoyment here.

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Review on Indie Gamer Chick

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REVIEW: On a Roll 3D

Platformers not starring Mario or promising some never-before-seen mechanic have an uncanny knack for underwhelming (read: just competent), and that’s understandable; there’s a lot of them. At first glance it might seem trivial or unimaginative, though On a Roll 3D (80 MSP) is not just a self-clever title telling you what to expect; it’s essentially Sonic the Hedgehog, with a lot more roadblocks.

On a Roll 3D - Screen

Pictured: Obligatory ‘Snow’ world.

As a sequel to the decidedly un-3D On a Roll, the game makes the transition to a pseudo third dimension (you’re still moving on a flat plane) beautifully. Everything is sharp and richly detailed, and the ‘Sonic‘ mention is more than observational. Your well-rounded protagonist’s hit points are measured in stars instead of rings, checkpoints and stage transitions are clear homages, and the level layouts themselves will channel the blue mascot’s spirit, with spring boards, occasional around-the-world arches, and twisting paths sprinkled in. Dr. Robotnik could move right in and start some trouble, no problem.

Don’t expect to fly past it all in a blur, however. Your ball doesn’t do anything fast, and it’s hard to build momentum or get the ball rolling (pardon the expression), as any burst of speed you attempt will typically result in you hitting a roadblock (column, environmental object) or running directly into a hazard or baddie. The game is also puzzle-heavy, constantly stopping you to turn on switches / levers, or drop a box / roll a log into place in order to open the way forward. Odd, given the game’s inspiration, that you should have to move carefully and deliberately to advance.

Though mascot or generic, quick or slow, there’s a lot be said for pleasant platformers— warm colors, the leisurely stroll, a few clever tricks but otherwise low impact. A handful of hours spent not pulling your hair out over some obstinate sequence, but just collecting, bopping a few heads, and generally moving from left to right. This is where I thought On a Roll 3D was headed. And it does deliver on that, for the first half of the game. Well, for most of the game, really, minus the boss stages.

On a Roll 3D - Screen2

It’s those balled-bastards (and not the stop-and-go gameplay, ironically) that will sap your good times. The game features 24 stages over six themed worlds, with a ball-boss fight at the end of each world. You’re given two hit points to work with on an enemy that takes about ten hits to defeat. The first two fights are fine, but from three onward, the boss develops either an erratic movement set, invulnerability (retractable spikes), or some combination thereof. It’s not impossible, but you can expect profanity and quite a few retries in your future.

If you don’t mind the jarring frustration those fights will bring (or if you’re just laughing at my inadequacy), then the rest of On a Roll 3D shouldn’t spoil your fun. It’s slow-moving in spots, though the bright visuals, soundtrack, and online leaderboards will help keep you motivated and on the path. Quirks and difficulty spikes aside, there aren’t very many indie Sonic-likes that look or play this well.

REVIEW: Death Closet

To be honest, I’m quite surprised something like this hasn’t shown up on XBLIG previously. I’ve played trainers for Shooter / Bullet Hell-types (and enjoyed them), so it makes perfect sense you’d see a trainer for a punisher / platformer. Call it necessary, even, considering the amount of death you dedicate to a game over the course of any take-your-pick punishformer. Stepping into the role of would-be sensei is Death Closet (80 MSP), operating under the assumption that ‘practice makes perfect’, or ‘practice makes you insane’, as it were.

And Death Closet is, for all its devilish intents and purposes, insane, cutting out the supposed fat and gristle (personality, slower moments, health bars, bright colors, mascots), and replacing it with death and / or near-death experiences, back to back to back to back to… well, I’m sure you get the idea.

The game drops you into a room, okay, a closet, if you want to be literal, and, over four modes that unsurprisingly play very similar to each other, you jump and double-jump to avoid a slew of projectiles. One hit and you’re done, off to the great ‘restart’ cloud in the sky. Granted, some of those hazards go beyond a simple jump or maneuver to avoid, exploding, blooming, or actively seeking you out once launched, but (non-spoiler alert!) this is all you ever do, in increments of ten or so seconds, as you’re likely to die then or very soon after.

‘Checkpoint’ mode is the friendliest, asking you to avoid fire for a set amount of time before reaching a… checkpoint, which places you there upon each restart. Learn the patterns, pray you get lucky, and repeat. Hardcore and Infinite modes drop the checkpoint system, and seem to be more or less the same, with the only difference I see being that the projectile sequence plays in a preset format in one, while going the full-random in the latter.

The last option, ‘Infinite Coin’ mode, throws collection into the jumping fray, tallying the money you pick up in lieu of time survived. It’s a diversion from the standard practices, though there’s not much incentive to it as it’s just survival in a different flavor. Leaderboards, as much a pain as they are to implement for indies, would have saved this game for me. Sharing scores with a friend isn’t cutting it.

Now, or five seconds from now, an end comes to us all.

The chief complaint something like Death Closet will accrue is that it’s extremely limited and specialized. That it all happens in a single room makes that repetition even harder to shake. If you’re not a fan of punishformers, or maybe you are, but really don’t see the dollar in what’s little more than a primer or trainer for a much better (and expanded) title like Apple Jack 2, then this game won’t hold all that much appeal to you. On the reverse side, if you’ve always felt that the platforming in other games just got in the way, if you love to die over and over without much rhyme or reason, Death Closet has your funeral(s) covered.

REVIEW: Face-Plant Adventures

Starting with the second or third stage in, Face-Plant Adventures (80 MSP) makes a choice about its gameplay. It alternates between the two extremes from then on, and where you’ll stand on it determines whether you enjoy games like this or curse the day that punishers became a genre of their own, mined regularly by indie developers.

A platformer by trade, each level has a set beginning and end. You collect clocks that bring down your level completion time, which net you medals and add your total to an online leaderboard. There’s even Awardments to earn, for the fake achievement crowd. There is no combat, save for an odd final encounter in the last level. The initial batch of stages are sprawling. Backtracking is present but kept to a minimum, hitting switches to open up the various routes in a level. That can lead to some confusion, determining whether you’ve unlocked a new path or access to a gold maple leaf (the game’s other big collectible, really only for completionists), but for the most part, you’re never lost on where to go. So far so good.

I mentioned in the preview for the game that I was hoping it’d stick to platforming and stay well clear of becoming a ‘punishformer’, but no such luck. Face-Plant Adventures flirts with being a casual title, setting up small-scale trouble for you to jump, slide, swim, or fly over and around, then immediately  bumps up the level of spikes and acid traps to obnoxious heights, sabotaging any goodwill it had earned up to that point.

The controls are largely decent. There are instances you’ll feel you were cheated, being too weighty or sluggish, but you do what you intend most of the time. That’s not the issue. The problem is speed and the lack thereof, and the pace at which the game would like you to react. In simple terms, it wants to be a punishformer, using friendly platforming mechanics. Even at Florence’s (the plantagonist you play as) top speed, usually when grinding a rail, the game fails to create the excitement and twitch-gameplay that a punishformer insists on and lives by.

It feels like your typical mascot-fueled romp with collectibles in indie form, tweaked (for the worse) to institute death after death at the hands of numerous hazards. Even with the aforementioned moves at your disposal, you never really feel empowered or all that capable of navigating a stage error-free. You’re a plant, but you play and react like a gelatinous blob. How suited to this style can Florence be when any jump above five feet slows you down, landing with a literal dull splat that aptly describes the experience of playing the game?

To be fair, there’s a market for repetitious death that I’m occasionally all for. Face-Plant Adventures straddles the line, unsure which side of the fence it wants to come down on. When it finally does, it has neither the speed or charm to pull it off. It would have been more serviceable had it played strictly to its platforming strengths and tossed out the hardcore bits and sections. It undermines what would have been a decent (if forgettable) game otherwise. Needs less trouble, more fun.

REVIEW: Slick

One look at the visuals, and it’s easy to think that Slick (80 MSP) must have started on its monochromatic way to the Game Boy circa 1989, got lost making one too many left turns when it should have gone right, took odd jobs, probably dabbled in drugs and / or prostitution (just speculation), and has somehow found its way to XBLIG, now 2012. If there is an actual history behind it, I’m unaware, though I quite like my NSFW timeline.

A decidedly-retro platformer, your hero is Mick Slick, in all his jumpy glory. You won’t get a backstory on how he got that name, but you will get 100 levels spread across five themed worlds (Sky Slicker, Sahara Slicker, etc.). I had hoped for a City Slickers reference in there somewhere, but Halcyon Softworks is not a Billy Crystal fan it seems. Understandable, but Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby? Come on. It’s a classic!

The setup is straightforward; fireballs and spikes, bad, bopping enemies and reaching the exit, good. There’s a slight stutter to Mick’s landing after every jump, giving you a crucial half-tic to touch down safely. It’s appreciated. It’s a one-hit, one life to live game, and hazards are aplenty, but you can acclimate to Slick pretty easily. That led me to believe things were going well. I was settling in for the long run.

Then I met world 1-17, and our relationship soured. This stage contained one too many ‘chokepoints’, designed for me to die and to ratchet up the frustration quickly, and in that it succeeded. Corridors of fire, spikes everywhere, and split second timing, done on repeat without the luxury of checkpoints— all my old favorite things to dread. And for the record, I’m not easily deterred. I literally threw a hundred lives into Death’s blender over three sessions trying to advance. The buzzer signaling another demise was soon all I heard.

Long story short (leaving out the rage), I eventually bested 1-17, but soon reached snags on 2-6, 2-8, 2-11… you see the pattern emerging here? You are going to die, and Slick will be responsible for it.

The controls are fine for a platformer, but they’re not quite tweaked for the precision required of a punishformer. That ‘stutter’ landing can hurt as much as it helps. Oh, and keep your finger on the jump button (a natural reflex) after a tricky sequence, you’ll see what I mean. To complicate matters, the hit detection is shit in some instances. The game pauses at the point where you die, and on more than one occasion you could clearly see I wasn’t touching an enemy or fireball, yet the game insisted I was. (A patch is in the works to correct this.)

I’d really like to tell you about the other worlds, which don’t (according to these screenshots) appear any easier, though do have some new visuals, tricks, and enemies. Looks like. I wouldn’t know, as I was stopped cold in my tracks early and often. I’m not a sniveling baby or someone that decries the difficulty in punishformers. I’m old school, I ‘get’ it, but I do believe in reasonable escalation. With 70+ levels still beyond my current nemesis, I can only imagine the horror some of you will face. You’re more than welcome to send a postcard and tell me all about it. Guess I’m sitting this adventure out.