Tag Archives: XNA

REVIEW: The Undead Syndrome

Based off of the screenshots (and the trailer, which is awkwardly captured via camera), I was beyond ecstatic to boot it up and find that The Undead Syndrome (240 MSP) is utterly made from the stuff I’m interested in. The list of games it takes parts and its tone from include: Killer7, Parasite Eve, Silent Hill, Deadly Premonition, and Kenji Eno’s ‘D’ series, among other ‘bizarre horror’ titles past and present. Given that pedigree, it’s shouldn’t be a shock to hear it’s also undeniably Japanese.

The only other title I’ve played from developer MukagoSoftware Development was last year’s terrible and terribly-flawed Bioerosion. TUS is fortunately a much more polished effort, both in design and scope. The game starts with a nameless woman, stabbed in broad daylight walking down a deserted street. Without explanation (or dying, apparently), she’s transported to a ‘nightmare’ world in the form of a haunted house, where she’ll attempt to learn the truth of what’s going on and catch her murderer.

While this is the stated main goal, it also involves killing off three multi-colored and tentacled monstrosities, checklist-style, and fighting dozens of clones of her killer, and weird, alien-like fish, scorpions, and jellies. Yeah, I know, sounds like one hell of a head trip.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous for XBLIG, with plenty of clean (and overused) textures and shadow / lighting effects. The third dimension makes for some awry camera angles in tight spots, but goes comfortably ‘over the shoulder’ for fighting. And that combat takes an interesting form with KI, which allows our protagonist to launch bursts of energy from her hands. In addition to leveling up RPG-style, your KI is upgradeable via ‘implants’, crystals that give boosts to stats or, with experimentation, enable new ways to fight and explore the environment.

Exploration plays a big role, of course, and is intriguing, if a little vague. You’ll find various colored keys to open locked doors, most of which aren’t marked, naturally, and there’s some light puzzles to solve (check surrounding walls for hints). Forgettable platforming bits are kept to a minimum. The rather impressive audio and cues alert you to enemies (a la Silent Hill), and keep the unease dialed up at all times. In between the heavier action or odd story snippet, you can catch your breath and recharge in the scattered save rooms, or buy items and crystals in the shops, manned by a spectral salesman.

There are definite downsides. It desperately needs some kind of mapping system and a much larger inventory (you’re constantly running out of space). Some of your shots miss when they should hit, and cramped rooms and corridors mean enemies can effectively pin you in a corner without a way to hit back, enemies that love to inflict status ailments. Did I mention the enemies respawn after you leave? Hope you like backtracking and clearing the same rooms. Then there’s the absence of an objectives screen, which leaves you on your own to figure out your next move. TUS‘s best unspoken advice? Explore everything, sooner or later you’ll find your way. Not very reassuring, is it? Oh, and before I forget— an abrupt, cliffhanger ending after 3+ hours of nonsensical buildup.

And yet I can’t recommend The Undead Syndrome enough if you’re even remotely a fan of ‘different’ and the titles I mentioned in the opening. If you’re not, you probably lack a pulse, or at the very least, good taste. That’s not fatal, but it does make you bland. Flaws and all, this is exactly the type of game that should be mentioned whenever XBLIG’s worth is brought up, a spice that can’t be found on arcade or at retail.

REVIEW: Murder For Dinner

I’m a big fan of the art house games, the arcane concept types that most glance over and dismiss as too esoteric, but I rarely get to cover them. Instead I’m fed a steady diet of twin-stick shooters and told to love it, so when something like Murder For Dinner (80 MSP) crosses paths with the indie channel, I’m naturally drawn to investigate.

Placed in the first-person shoes of the ‘Professor’, Murder For Dinner is a good old-fashioned (both in its telling and dialog) murder mystery with N64-era blocky environments that nevertheless look good for an XBLIG, even if the character models do scare the hell out of me. Why do they have to look and animate like that? (Shudders.)

Miss Havisham (‘cue the well-off but eccentric old lady in mansion’ card here) has called together a diverse set of people (a gossip, a hunter, banker, etc.) for a dinner party, where she will presumably spill a closely-guarded secret of one of her guests. With everyone in attendance and suitably intrigued or nervous, the Professor goes upstairs to find their host dead, murdered by someone at the party. Oh yeah, shit just got real. Think of it as interactive Agatha Christie.

Of course you, as the Professor, take on the case immediately. Combining narrative with the investigative (you never pick up a weapon in this game, unheard of for XBLIG!) is a fantastic change of pace, though it rests a little too easily on just ‘being dfferent’.

You’re a playboy? Dude, sorry, I thought you were the butler.

The idea of people with secrets (and oddly, the admitted capacity for killing) to hide and defend could have been used to greater effect. Instead of exploring the human side, it more or less devolves into you talking to the guests, searching the mansion for items of interest (which depend on timing rather than discovery), then returning to the person and A button-ing them into telling their secret, and so on and so on. There’s no branching or freestyle investigating; it’s all very linear and by the (murder mystery) book. You can wrap up the investigation in about an hour, which feels about right. Any longer and it might’ve swerved into tedium.

Yet I have to award huge originality points to developer Detroit Game Studio for bucking the indie trend and serving up a first-person version of Clue. It was a family-wide effort, which is nice to hear. It’s no easy task to stare conventional wisdom in the face and tell it to sod off, especially given the financial and time-based commitments of doing so. That doesn’t give me an excuse to ignore the lack of any real personality or puzzles in what’s billed as a mystery, though. I liked it, but that feeling may not be universal. Try it if you’re game for supporting something off the beaten path, just don’t expect much resonance after the murder is solved.

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.

REVIEW: Guppy: Collects! 2

If you’re here looking for the quick fix of a sloth-like guppy and adorable cat sounds, you’ve clicked into the right review. Ladies and gents, I give you the punctuationally-unwieldy (a stop: then excitment! then 2) reflex-tester Guppy: Collects! 2 (80 MSP).

It’s a type popular on handhelds and phones with touch screens, and the quality varies wildly from time-waster to legitimately-addicting. Conscious of that limited gameplay, music is playing a bigger role, as are storylines(!?). It’s seeing a revival of sorts as far as interest from me; I’m eager to try out Rhythm Thief and Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy on the 3DS, which is two more than what was on my to-do list this time last year.

Guppy: Collects! 2 doesn’t throw any Hail Mary passes or take any risks though. The music is good, but it’s not about the rhythm. It’s a rank and file reflex game— think speed inputting, reading skills are a definite plus. It’s also a sequel, supposedly. I can’t find the original or any trace of it from developer Ho-Hum Games. Unless it ratted someone out to the Feds, relocated to Alaska and changed its name, it’s like it never existed. (Edit: The developer has since informed me that Guppy’s origins must remain secret for now.)

Guppy likes to collect everything along a set line, and in a few locales, such as a supermarket and a cemetery. I’m not sure why. Guppy don’t say. I guess it’s sort of like Katamari but without the bizarre plot and growing spurts. The gameplay is simplistic. There’s combinations of buttons and pad directions over each item. Complete the corresponding instructions and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. You have a ticking clock to keep you moving, and four mistakes as lives (with the cats, shouldn’t it be nine apiece, times three, for twenty-seven?) to gamble with. The controls governing this are pretty tight, so any mistakes made will be your own instead of bad input or the timing being off.

In addition to local highscores, there’s outfits awarded periodically for Guppy, but they’re equipped randomly from stage to stage. To its benefit, the game does prod you into having another go at it for a little while, but it’s not a deep adventure. I saw all the backgrounds, heard all the music, and unlocked every alternate costume (a total of 26) in under half an hour. Not a minute of it was boring, mind you, but there’s nothing else holding your interest afterward aside from besting previous scores.

I’ve been noncommittal lately, and that extends to Guppy: Collects! 2. I didn’t feel like the dollar or my time was wasted. I wasn’t exactly left with any sense of terrific worth, either. Adrenaline junkies and cat enthusiasts (they go hand-in-hand, you know) will find more here to like, methinks.

REVIEW: StarWings

If the very best thing your game has going for it is some of the cheesiest voice acting around, it’s safe to assume you’re in for a shelling. That I strongly considered giving this a recommendation purely for the chance that you, reader, would be so inclined as to try it yourself (see Link below to inquire), can’t be a vote of quality. I ultimately couldn’t bring myself to do it, knowing that asking you to spend a dollar on StarWings (80 MSP) is a direct violation of your human rights.

Star, Lain, and Trey are mercenaries, as evidenced by their crazy hair and ineffectual avatars. Together, they comprise StarWings (as in arwings), and form a poor man’s Star Fox (Star = Fox, Lain = Slippy, Trey = Falco). They’re hired by the Cornerian— ahem, Galaxy Defense, to put a stop to a Bandit army that’s threatening galactic peace, or something along those lines. It’s not required reading. What’s important is it’s a side-scrolling shooter with some minor weapon upgrades between stages.

There’s a problem immediately. You only ever control ‘Star’, the group’s egotistical (had to name the squad after himself, of course) leader. The game hinges on his health bar alone, making your squadmates, for lack of a better term, expendable. Problem is, they go wherever you go. And they never break formation, so avoiding incoming fire is a pain in the ass, multiplied by three. The bullet patterns aren’t too severe as to make it unplayable, but when you’re flying the equivalent of an eighteen-wheeler in three ships, it makes for a pretty big target. You’ll find it’s common to face the boss at the end of each stage down a wingman, or at the very least, weakened, through no fault of your own.

The experience is hampered further by highscores that aren’t recorded and a quick save system that doesn’t work, at least on some consoles. I tried it three times, on three different stages; not once could I load the save file. Switching over to a memory card, however, DID work (the developer is currently looking into the problem). Not that you’ll really need to save your progress. The game is four levels long, and takes about twenty minutes to complete. Extras? No.

It doesn’t bring me any particular joy to bash a game, but StarWings is akin to handing over game development and a case of beer to eighth graders who’ve only seen a screenshot of Star Fox to build off of. I don’t advocate either, and it’s clear to see why. I’m positive that the material and voice acting are meant to be laughably bad. That’s fine, and contributes to the ‘campy’ feel, but if the short gameplay and busted (for some) options were to fall into that same category, I’m not laughing.