Indie Games


Review: Escape Goat 2


Posted By on Mar 24, 2014 | 0 comments

Here’s a bit of different-than-usual content! Thanks to Liore’s hard work at networking, I was able to play a review copy of the brand new puzzle-platformer Escape Goat 2 over the weekend.

In this game, you are a goat! And you have to escape! From a crumbly, trap-filled, haunted castle. With nothing but your amazing jumping ability, extra-thick skull, and trusty magical mouse companion. Yes, that’s right, a magical mouse. Who wears hats! And carries a hammer! And sometimes has a cape!

I’ve been playing a lot of platformers recently, and I really quite enjoyed this one. The platforming elements are important, but not ridiculously hard, and the puzzles take some work to actually get through. The controls are fine, although not quite as tight as some other games that I’ve played – specifically in terms of precision jumping/landing. But that’s not nearly as important as it is in, say, Electronic Super Joy, so it didn’t detract from the overall experience.

I never found a puzzle that frustrated me, even the ones that weren’t immediately apparent. I think part of that is the fact that your tools are chock-full of character. I mean, you’re a goat. And there are grim reapers. And a magical mouse companion. And enjoyable music!

I’d recommend checking this one out, and I even made a video to say so!

 

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February ended up being a really terrible month for actually getting blog posts written. In fact, this might be the first “real” piece of content I’ve done all month. For that, I apologize. Part of that is that real life got a bit in the way, and while it’s still a bit crazy, things will hopefully calm down a bit. Even with that, though, I did manage to make some progress on my actual gaming backlog.

Besides the ever-present WoW shenanigans (which have been surprisingly entertaining and will get their own post at some point), I managed to take on a few additional games that have been sitting around. So, see? I was still creating content! Here’s the quick rundown:

Bastion

The Kid

The month started out with me finishing up Bastion. What a great game. I said most of what I needed to last time around – the game is gorgeous, the mechanics are interesting and varied, and the voice-over hook is completely fantastic. I’m not sure why I didn’t get around to this before, and I’m definitely regretting it.

Going through on my first playthrough took about 8 hours, and while doing so I tried to pick off as many of the random achievements as I could. The in-game shrine where you get bonuses for doing things like “shoot through three enemies with one bow shot” was a really creative way of bringing those challenges into the game. I often enjoy picking off those kinds of mini-challenges, and having them presented in a way that does not require me to dig through the achievement menus just makes me that much more aware of them. In the end, I did not get all of them, but I can definitely see myself going back and completing that in the future.

The game has a New Game+ mode, where you apparently start with all of the weapons and upgrades from your normal game unlocked and everything is just harder. That seems like it would be a good thing to shoot for, eventually, too! Besides that, there is an interesting in-game self-scaling mechanism where you can turn on the idols of various gods, and they all give the monsters some sort of boost, but with a compensatory XP or crystal (currency) drop rate buff. This turns out to be a really nice way to fine-tune the game for your playstyle and difficulty desires.

Overall, this was an excellent game, and I highly recommend it!

Guacamelee!

Next up on the list was Guacamelee! This one is part of the current Humble Bundle 11, and is a side-scrolling Metroidvania beatemup game. That’s a lot of big, compound words to say that you go around the Mexico-inspired world smashing baddies with your fists and sweet wrestling moves. There are literal Metroid-style power-ups that you get from a goat-man to help you on your quest to save the captured princess or whatever.

Juan the Luchador

From a story perspective, it’s fairly throwaway damsel-in-distress story with a bunch of potentially problematic elements. While I guess you can use costumes to change this, you are the burly, hairy-chested Juan, and set off on an adventure set in a Mexican town with a lot of Dia de los Muertos references and art. The key to your superpowers is a sweet, sweet Luchador mask, and along the way you do a lot of vaguely racist things like help the town grandma make the world’s largest enchilada.

With that caveat in mind, the gameplay is really fun. There are plenty of combos and fight chains to put together, and the action is tight. One of the mechanics in the back half of the game is a switch-between-worlds button that has been showing up in platformers recently, and it makes for some really intricate gaming. Sometimes an enemy will only be in one or the other world, so you’ll have to switch in the middle of combat to deal with them. Other times, it just becomes another timing element in some fairly difficult jumping puzzles. While these can obviously get frustrating for some people, I tend to enjoy them as long as the penalty for failure isn’t too large. In most cases, here, you only have to go back to a relatively recent checkpoint (in a few hidden bits this is less true), and practice over and over until you get the execution perfect. It’s super rewarding when you finally triumph over it and/or don’t press the shift button and turn the wall in front of you into spikes, knocking you out the air and falling ages to have to start the whole stupid thing over!

The few boss fights weren’t overly challenging, but they all had pretty unique flavor, and learning the patterns is something that makes sense.

Overall, I enjoyed myself! There is a lot of referential humor and I found myself wanting to listen to the in-game music more than something outside it. As long as you can get behind the caveats above, I’d recommend it to fans of the fighting platformer/Metroidvania genre. Took me about 8 hours, and I again did a lot of the side quests and challenges, although there are a lot to go back to. And gold medals to get!

The Ship

This probably deserves its own entire post, but it’s essentially a multiplayer stealth murder-on-a-cruise simulator. If that sound really strange, well that’s because it totally is. One of the oddest games I’ve played in a long time, but also a ton of fun to play with our co-op group. It’s $20 on Steam, which seems pretty high, but copies of the game end up coming with pay-it-forward friend invites. I think, for our group of ~8 people, we ended up only having to buy two copies. Everyone else got a gift copy that came from a gift copy, etc.

The general idea is that you drop into the body of a classy person on a 1920’s-esque cruise ship. Each person gets a randomly-assigned name as a target, and you have to go around identifying which person is which, looking for your quarry. Meanwhile, other people are doing the same, and someone is trying to kill you with any number of random weapons found around the boat. There are, of course, police officers and a number of NPCs wandering around that will point you out if you just wander around with a frying pan or whatever. In which case, you’ll go to cruise-jail for some amount of time. If you get killed, you have to start over with the identification process.

Oh, and also there are food meters and toilet meters and shower meters and boredom meters that you have to stave off over time. Like I said, very odd.

Perhaps a video would help! Here is a clip from our session, as recorded by Corr for the Totally Legit YouTube page:

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It’s the end of the month, and therefore time to update on the ongoing Backlog Project! I first talked about this in early December, but I am trying to spend my gaming time working through a sizable backlog (Steam and otherwise). So the first thing I did was to figure out which games I was currently in the middle of, and try to knock a couple of them off.

Well, over the last week or so, I managed to finish Serious Sam 3: BFE. This was my first entry into the series, and I think I bought it in a Steam-sale-infused fit of madness after having seen a few people playing it on Twitch. It looked like a very old-school style shooter with waves and waves and waves of enemies and lots of giant explosive guns. And it mostly was! It was also fairly difficult in parts, to the point where I ended up micro-managing my save games to get past particularly hard areas that had like 5 of these giant minotaur dudes and roughly infinity undead bulls.

GOOD LORD IT IS HUGE

GOOD LORD IT IS HUGE

So, yeah, the actual game was pretty enjoyable as far as shooters go. I haven’t played this style of FPS in ages – everything that I’ve played recently seems to either be more tactical (Far Cry, Crysis), cover-based (Gears of War), or multiplayer-focused. Borderlands is the closest thing I’ve played, and the RPG/quest elements of that make it somewhat different.

On the other hand, the writing and voice acting is really, really, really bad. I mean, I fully believe that this was made as something of a parody of itself – in the way that everyone wanted Duke Nukem to be – and it’s hard to see it any other way (I mean, you set charges and blow the shit out of Ancient Wonders of the World, for god’s sake!), but even so, it’s just hard for me to get behind an over-the-top brotastic asshole of a character. I’d just rather play something else like Borderlands where that character is the insane hilariously-douchey bad guy, and the characters that I am playing are dumb in other ways.

That and I basically had no idea what was going on or why all these screaming headless dudes were running at me with bombs in their hands. Or what the ancient alien devices I was activating were meant to do. Or why I called main bad dude’s kid on my cell phone and got taunted about getting “mooned”. Silly, sure! And even kind of funny! But it just felt like a bunch of disjointed one-liners. Maybe that’s the point, or maybe I’d have appreciated them more if I’d played the other games. I didn’t, though, so whatever.

All in all, I think the relatively mixed Metacritic reviews are about right, for me. It did scratch a particular old-school wave-based shooter itch, though, so that’s saying something!

What Next?

Next up is Bastion! I think I bought this game on Xbox Live when it first came out, but I never got around to playing it. Sometime since the, I picked it up on Steam (probably in a Humble Bundle), and since it ties in with some other projects, I figured I’d play it there. Well, I’m now a few hours in, and it is awesome. I am even appropriately annoyed at myself for not having played it before!

I love the art style, and the float-up ground is interesting, but what I really like is just the atmosphere. The ongoing narration is really incredible – there even seems to be specific dialogue for really random stuff that I end up doing – and adds a level of immersion that you don’t usually get in these kinds of games. Plus, the various weapons/powers and customization is nice – different loadouts really feel different!

So, yeah, I don’t think that game will end up lasting very long against my assault. And then? Well, who knows. There are a lot of options!

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As a follow-up to my post on my gaming backlog, I figured I’d put together a list of the top 5 games in my current backlog for day 2 of Listmas 2013. Of course, my backlog is deep enough that I had lots more games than that, so I’ve split it up into “normal” games and indie games. The lines are always a little blurry to me, so if I get one wrong don’t yell at me. Or do. Whatever.

Top 5 Backlogged Games

  1. Beyond: Two Souls – I don’t care what anyone says, I loved Heavy Rain, and I am really excited to try this one out. I just expect that it will eat an entire weekend, so I need to have the time to devote to it. That’s why I put it at the top of my “when I finish games I’ve started” list.
  2. Assassin’s Creed (various) – I’m midway through AC:Brotherhood, and Ezio is awesome. I really want to see the rest of his story, and even though I’ve heard hushed rumblings of discontent with AC3 and AC:PIRATES, the core platformy/stabby gameplay is still fun to me. Plus, lots of people still love them, so I’ll judge for myself.
  3. The Last of Us – I started this briefly, but I think I will need to start it over from the beginning. It won lots of awards, and I really like everything else by Naughty Dog that I’ve played, so I’m looking forward to it.
  4. Dishonored – I picked this up in the Fall Steam Sale, and I’ve been meaning to get to it eventually. I like the idea that you can be stealthy, non-stealthy, and various things in between. Plus, the world seems pretty awesome to me.
  5. Saints Row 3 (and IV) – Every bit of these that I have watched or played has been awesome. But they are open-world enough that they are daunting to jump into. I aim to change that.

Top 5 Backlogged Indie Games

  1. Bastion – Rave reviews from everywhere, I’ve just never actually gotten around to it. It’s up near the top of my “what I am planning to play” list.
  2. The Walking Dead Season 1 – I’ve made it through 3 of 5 episodes, but it’s really, really stressful. I love the gameplay and the writing is great! But I am weak to the horror. Even this relatively low-level horror. So it takes some concerted effort. I will do it, though, and then I will play Season 2, which just came out.
  3. FEZ – I played this a bit at a friend’s house when it first came out, and have been sitting on a copy forever. I think I even have a copy on Steam now, too. Probably from a Humble Bundle. These things happen, but it always seemed like a lot of fun.
  4. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – Everything about this looked great, except the timing. I missed out on it when it released, but I still definitely want to play it!
  5. Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage – Okay, yeah, I have no idea what is going on here. But Secret Santa gave it to me, and, well, it looks and sounds hilarious. So I’m adding it to the list.

As usual, there are a number of other games that I want to play – Borderlands 2 DLCs sit unused, Mirror’s Edge has been sitting around for ages, my Fallout: New Vegas playthrough needs some love, LIMBO, Spelunky, and Trine are all indie games that I want to play. Plus, some older, hidden ones like Alan Wake, Mafia II, and a number of shooters from over the years. SO MANY GAMES.

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There Came an Echo


Posted By on Oct 21, 2013 | 2 comments

Note: On November 2, I will be participating in the 2013 Extra Life gaming marathon, in support of the Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland. I will be marathon 25 straight hours of video games and stream as much of it as possible for the whole world to see. I’d certainly appreciate your support, whether via making a donation or simply your support and encouragement. I believe this is a worthy cause, and you can see my longer post about it here. Thanks!

As people may or may not know, I am torn on Kickstarter as a medium for getting games made. I really enjoy indie games, and I think it’s great when small studios/teams can get some funding to make their projects happen. I dislike it when it seems like it is used to just cash in on nostalgia, and I especially dislike it when large entities use it as an excuse to get their hands on money well before they otherwise would in some sort of ultra-extended pre-order situation. And I’m not sure how I feel about this brave new world of constantly playing pre-alpha, alpha, pre-beta, beta, and pre-release titles. It’s… weird, and for a lot of styles of games, I’d rather just wait to see the finished product.

Still, that hasn’t stopped me from backing a few projects, and it has been interesting to watch the updates from them roll in every now and then. Not too long ago, I got an email from one project, in particular, that I thought was very interesting. The game is There Came an Echo, by Iridium Studios.

The unique hook, here, is that there are no standard controls. You control the entire game via voice commands, giving  your squad commands – telling them to go to waypoints, what enemies to target, when to launch coordinated attacks, etc. I love innovative control schemes, and once I saw the concept video, I was pretty well hooked. They’ve got Wil Wheaton to sign on to do some voice acting, which doesn’t hurt, either.

Most of the updates have been fairly mundane – “we’ve hired person X to do art!”, “Person Y will be doing the music, and here a small sample!”, etc. But this last one contained what is referred to as a vertical slice – a complete working section of the game that they would typically use to shop around to investors, etc. It is generally similar to a tech demo, in that most of the actual assets could get replaced, but gives a feel for the way the interaction works. And I have to say, it looks very true to form! It’s clearly still in an early state, but conceptually, I am still excited to play it!

Have a look, and let me know what you think:

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Happly New Year to everyone! It’s the end of another holiday season, and that means that there was (is still, even) another Steam sale. With that comes the inevitable realization that I have way too many games. And while that realization does seem to repeat itself quite often, it hasn’t stopped me from participating. Again.

However, this year, I’ve been a bit more judicious than in the past. Or maybe I’ve just purchased most of the large packs that interest me already. Who knows? What I do know is that I’ve picked up a number of indie games that I have somehow missed in other packs or shopping sprees. So far, that has included Intrusion 2, FTL, Legend of Grimrock, Mark of the Ninja, The Binding of Isaac, and Hotline Miami (thanks Liore!).

I haven’t yet approached Mark of the Ninja or Legend of Grimrock – or FTL, since that kind of scares me – but Steam is reporting 8 hours on Hotline Miami, 2 hours on The Binding of Isaac, and 30 minutes with Intrusion 2 (enough for the point I’m going to make, here). And I have to say that while all three of these games are fun, they each very much suffer from being “indie”.

Hotline Miami is probably my favorite of the bunch, and the time I’ve put in backs that up. Sure, some part of that time was paused while I was doing things around the house, but I’ve completed all the levels, unlocked a number of the masks, AND gone back for more. It’s a cool mix of strategy and shameless beatemup, with a funky, violent vibe. It runs smoothly and supports my Xbox 360 controller well. But there is no way to control the volume in the game. Music volume has a slider, but the sound effects do not. I eventually solved this by using the Windows audio mixer to drop the sound level for the program, but that seems very silly. It also has been having issues with Steamworks – reportedly, enabling Steamworks will cause some installations to crash. For me, it just isn’t tracking any achievements. Which is annoying, because I scanned through the achievements and a lot of them seem really fun to try to pull off! I can obviously take on those challenges anyway (or make up my own), but it has definitely impacted the replay value for me.

The Binding of Isaac is a really bleak game that is set somewhere between a child’s nightmare and purgatory, with distinctive art and sound – I mean, you literally fight your enemies with your tears! The problem is, I am constantly fighting against the controls. It plays in a similar style to an old top-down shooter – say, Smash TV – and is crying out for dual joysticks. By default, these are implemented with WASD for movement and Up/Down/Left/Right for shooting. It’s undocumented, but you can also use the mouse to fire, with aiming direction determined by your cursor’s relative position to your character. This is… not the easiest. I went looking in the menus for controller support, and the game literally says “Gamepad? Use JoyToKey (Google it!)”. I mean, it’s nice that there are some breadcrumbs but also… fuck you. I mean, I got the program and set it up (with more googling for how to map a 360 controller to the keys, and a lot of experimentation for which mapping made sense), but I haven’t had to do this sort of shit for like 10 years. And JoyToKey does not seem to play very well with analog sticks – they seem to “stick” in a given direction occasionally. I mean, I’ve been pushing through it because the game is fun, but actually having precise control would be nice.

Intrusion 2 is another dual-stick shooter, although it’s more side-scroller and reminiscent of Contra than top-down. The problem here is just that it’s not smooth. Everything is just a little bit jerky and kind of frustrating. I want to like the game, and I don’t hate it, but I feel like I’m again missing out on some more responsive controls. This one at least works with my controller.

So I guess the meat of this is that I am sort of struggling with myself over the following questions: Given that I like a lot of things about the indie development trend (in terms of storytelling, interesting/innovative gameplay, publishing/pricing models), is it also unreasonable to expect some level of polish and support? Is asking for controller support, resolution control, and SOUND LEVELS too much? Should I just be happy that I’m getting to experience these games at all?

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