The Last Time

I’m not really a fan of 80s style point and click games. Becoming a gamer at the dawn of 3D games sort of soured me on the idea of complex adventures being played out via arrows, clicking, drop-down menus, and item puzzles with raving logic. Children of the 80s try to explain to me the appeal in them, but it’s as lost on me as calculus or WKRP in Cincinnati. So, why on Earth would I select The Last Time for review? Because a critic should play stuff outside their preferred genres with minds open to the possibility that could be surprised. It doesn’t matter if your expectations are so low that Jill Stein is out-polling them.

Yes............. bungled.

Yes…………. bungled.

Thankfully, today’s game defies convention. As far as I can tell, there’s no fail condition in The Last Time. Over the course of the ninety minutes or so of gameplay, I committed no less than six felonies and got away with them, not to mention the stuff I made the character in the game do! I still got a relatively happy ending that I presume was the best the game had to offer. Again, I don’t really like replaying games, but thankfully the autosave loaded up to the final confrontation so that I could see an alternate ending that was less than satisfactory. I tried for other possible endings from this position and could only get a very small deviation from one of the two main ones.

To the credit of The Last Time, there’s apparently no “wrong answers” for dialog trees. Whatever answers you choose simply become the truth. Thus, my version of Jack to the protagonist was a bitter, out-of-touch homosexual who decided the best way to leave his retirement home was to break-through the glass of the front door instead of just asking the receptionist to buzz him out. Frankly, once I decided to go through the front door.. literally.. and still didn’t get a game-over screen, I set out to make the worst decisions every time they presented themselves. While I genuinely laughed my ass off at getting away with so much absurdity, I have to admit I didn’t feel any stakes or tension.

That's a fine job, Lou.

I swear on all that is holy, I was trying to shoot the cancer off his left ear.

The Last Time avoids absurd “use item on object” puzzles and feels a lot more like a visual novel. There’s maybe two or three times you carry an item, but the methodology is, gasp, logical. There’s a fire blocking a door. “Get towel, make it wet, use on fire.” Easy peasy. In a classic game of yore, it would be something absurd like “use party-popper on cat to get it away from a mouse that will drop a squirt gun for you” or some such nonsense. Okay, so this concept goes a little off the rails during a prison scene where you have to fetch six cigarettes. And the payoff between a friendly prisoner and the protagonist was so cringe-inducing that I wonder if the developer lost a bet and had to include it. In fact, I wouldn’t classify any of the writing as “strong.” “Acceptable” is the appropriate word for most of the game. “Assault and battery against the English language” rears its head a few times, and not always in a “at least it’s so bad it’s funny” kind of way.

So, did I like it? I actually did. Flawed as it is, The Last Time is fast-paced, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and I legitimately laughed out loud both times I sucker-punched someone for absolutely no reason and it worked. But, the characters are shallow, the villain reveal was predictable, and again, there’s no sense of urgency, even when the game tries to present such a scenario. Credit where it’s due: The Last Time rose just above blandness despite its flaws and I would welcome further efforts by developer. And that comes from someone who really doesn’t like these kind of games. Saying I’m looking forward to more of these would be like an amputee saying he’s looking forward to more gangrene.

headerThe Last Time was developed by Big Cow Studios
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved$3.59 (normally $3.99) learned her shooting skills from Dick Cheney in the making of this review.

The Last Time is Chick Approved and ranked on the Bad Jojo Leaderboard

 

Undertale

Thanks to epilepsy, I missed out on 2015’s most talked about indie game. Undertale snagged more acclaim than the polio vaccine, and has easily been the most requested review I’ve ever had. It also had more people warning me that some of the game’s multiple endings could potentially give me a seizure. Thankfully, with proper medication and some very dark goggles that would be the envy of Riddick cosplayers world-wide, I decided the risk was minimal. Besides, RPGs don’t have a ton of moving parts. The goggles wouldn’t be practical for, say, Shovel Knight‘s stage that is set during a lightning storm, because they make the images so dark that proper playing is impractical. That wasn’t the case here, and so I was finally able to enjoy the most hyped game of my game critic existence. Was the hype real? For the most part, yea. I base my approval of indies on enjoying them more than not enjoying them. The bad doesn’t cancel out the good, and I do try to stick with that. Which can be hard. Sometimes more than others.

Spoilers coming. For the five indie fans left standing who haven’t played it, yes, Undertale is awesome and worth getting. Funny, genuine characters, some legitimate laugh-out-loud gags, and authentic heart. That and I really enjoyed the combat system. Perhaps the best for a retro-RPG ever. Undertale constantly plays with conventions and managed to surprise me in the best possible ways more than once. This is a very good game. The best indie ever? Not even close. One very annoying character that is given too much dialog and a whole lot of “you didn’t play it right” malarkey that forces multiple replays (something not everyone enjoys doing) frustrated me. But the bad certainly doesn’t outweigh the good. Undertale is a game you’ll never forget.

SPOILERS FROM HERE OUT

I was hoping it would start singing about the undead invading my garden.

I was hoping it would start singing about the undead invading my garden.

So the idea is you’re a child who is thrown into an underworld populated by monsters. The first thing you encounter is a sunflower that seems like the cutesy introduction character. But no, it turns out to be one of the main antagonists. One that tells you that you better learn to kill or be killed in this land. I took that to heart and proceeded to butcher nearly every creature I came across. Some readers on Twitter noted that this is unusual. Apparently most players have heard that to get Undertale’s “true” ending you have to go the entire game without murdering anyone. I don’t know why anyone familiar with my work is surprised that I played Undertale the way I did. When I played the Walking Dead series, I spent every chapter carefully trying to figure out how to kill every character besides myself. And those were people! The monsters in Undertale might be ultimately harmless, but they do smack you around quite a bit, and that shit hurts!

Actually, I didn’t kill everything. There were one or two smaller enemies that I took pity on. Ones that didn’t hit me first. And, out of fairness to me, I always used the “Act” menu before I initiated any violence. So I can’t be accused of shooting first and asking questions later. But, I did kill all the bosses. The first one is the tutorial monster woman who seemed very kind, but also made it clear I was her prisoner. In the nicest way possible. So I killed her, and she was heart-broken when I finished her off. Legitimately. It showed her heart break into two, and I actually felt bad about it. I mean, she was all creepy and talking about me like I was her child when I clearly was not, and she did start to attack me when I said I wanted to leave and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. But it was sad. Kinda.

We're going to the running of the bulls?

We’re going to the running of the bulls?

I also killed a skeleton that most players spare. People told me “you killed Papyrus? He was harmless.” Well, maybe, but he did try to kill me a couple of times. That so wasn’t cool. I mean, yea, he failed again and again, but the intent was there. Again, in my defense, the game said kill or be killed at the very beginning. It wasn’t ambiguous about this, and I do my best to play along.

What is regrettable is you have to be all the way murderous or all the way merciful when fighting enemies. Any deviation from that path, even once, and the game throws you the “neutral” ending. That’s bullshit. That’s like saying Hitler accepted France’s surrender, which proves he wasn’t the monster history made him out to be. I spared one fucking enemy and that means the game couldn’t tell I was the worst thing to happen to the land of monsters since Howie Mandel’s biopic of them? It’s yet another game where snobs who can’t believe you’re not as in-love with the game as they are can say “you didn’t play it right!” and be accurate.

Regardless of my outcome, I really loved Undertale. Except one annoying character. Her name was Alphys, and her presence almost single-handedly ruined the game. I was happy to know that I wasn’t the only one who felt her introduction was the worst thing to happen to a good game since Peter Burkowski got a little too into Berzerk. Alphys gives you a cell phone and then proceeds to interrupt you every screen, sometimes more than once. It even happens during a “puzzle” where you’re supposed to push a few buttons within a set amount of time. Anyone could figure out that Alphys would call you during the last button and force you to start over. Sure enough, it happened. Busy work is NOT FUNNY! It was predictable and obnoxious. It doesn’t help that the South Park game had essentially the same joke with the interruptions on the social networking site, only it was wrapped up in a fraction of the time and had an actual payoff that was humorous. That didn’t happen in Undertale. I started to relish the thought of murdering Alphys in what was going to no doubt be an incredible, bloody, likely one-sided payoff to what had become my personal most hated video game character ever. But, no. In fact, people explained to me that it wasn’t supposed to be a joke at all. That it was supposed to represent a socially awkward person in a sympathetic light. Even though it becomes established that Alphys has actually been working against you so that she could swoop in and save you so that you would become BFFs or some such nonsense. I guess in other routes she’s given a little more depth, but I *hated* her in the “neutral” route that I only got because I spared a single plate of sentient jello one time.

I have an even better idea: let's recreate a scene from Dexter. You be John Lithgow, and I'll get a claw hammer..

I have an even better idea: let’s recreate a scene from Dexter. You be John Lithgow, and I’ll get a claw hammer..

It was an unfortunate misfire for a game that otherwise had slayed me with more charm than any title I’ve played at Bad Jojo thus far. For the most part, the writing is very sharp, the characters likable, the jokes work, and the emotions feel authentic. When I finally succeeded in killing Kenny in season two of Walking Dead, Telltale Games did everything they could to make me feel sorry for him with his dying words. My only sorrow was that I couldn’t make Clem take a shit on his face while he choked out his last breath. Telltale Games, an experienced storyteller, couldn’t get me to feel bad. Toby Fox made me feel like a monster more than once playing Undertale.

So good is the writing (mostly) in Undertale that the superb combat system is an afterthought. In a weaker story, the gameplay here is strong enough that I think the game would have been talked about anyway. When you’re on offense, attacks are action-based, similar to Nintendo’s Mario RPGs. Time the meter correctly to score more damage. Fairly common place these days. But, on defense, you’re a heart inside a box that has to dodge enemy fire, bullet-hell style. It’s clever and hugely satisfying. There’s also a variety of non-attacks in the “ACT” menu that change depending on the enemy you’re facing. RPGs live or die mostly on their story, but when combat never gets boring, it at least prevents things from becoming a slog.

Well, you see, we were talking about our mutual apperciate of the works of Shakespeare and it suddenly dawned on me he would make a great Yorick.

“Okay, you see, we were talking about our mutual appreciation of the works of Shakespeare and it suddenly dawned on me that your brother would make a great Yorick. And then, well, things sort of got out of hand..”

I loved Undertale, but I’m not so much into replaying games. A lot of people are telling me that you can’t truly experience Undertale if you don’t beat it all three ways you possibly can. I almost never replay narrative-based games, and I’m not making an exception here. Even if the Alphys stuff hadn’t happened, I didn’t feel like I got a wrong ending. I was totally satisfied with how the game ended. “You didn’t get the TRUE ending” says fans of the game. “Says who?” says I. There was a conclusion. I saw credits. I turned off Undertale feeling my time with it was well spent. The last boss was a bit long in the tooth for me and sort of annoying too, so by the time it was over I was ready for the game to end. I checked out the alternate endings and story branches on YouTube. They were nice. I don’t feel any of them would have changed my opinion, which is this: Undertale was awesome. Given the recent fiasco with No Man’s Sky, it reminded me that while buying into hype of a game that isn’t even out is kind of silly, when a game is overwhelmingly hyped even a year after its release, maybe there’s something to it. Undertale is the best indie RPG I’ve ever played. And if it had let me kill Alphys, well, I’d probably have gone blind in the ensuing celebration. Cough.

headerUndertale was developed by Toby Fox
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved$9.99 filled me with determination in the making of this review.

Undertale is Chick-Approved and ranked on the IGC Leaderboard.

 

Volchaos and Hypership Out of Control (Second Chances with the Chick)

Full disclosure: developer Kris Steele of Fun Infused Games isn’t just a friend of mine. He’s one of my best friends. I treasure our relationship, which is one of the first I got through Bad Jojo. Whether he’s helping me cope with Golden State choking away the NBA Finals (and when that didn’t work he simply yanked me off the ledge I was on) or we’re just talking about life stuff, I’ve always thought to myself “how lucky am I that I made friends like this from my silly little indie review blog?” While I haven’t always reviewed his games kindly, I’ve always respected and admired him, and my readers should know that, in the interest of fairness.

Got it? Good.

I hate Volchaos by Kris Steele and his Fun Infused Games. And it has nothing to do with punishers not being my genre of choice. It’s just a very unenjoyable game, far too concerned with dick-move enemy placement and leap-of-faith platforming than it is being entertaining. I first played it way back in December 2011, when it debuted on XBLIG. It was hampered by miserable controls that made it hard for me to realize just how bad the game is from a purely design point of view. And it really pisses me off because I know Kris is better than this. I never really planned on giving Volchaos a second look, and Kris never activated his automatic Second Chance with the Chick for it (refresher: it is my policy that every single game I review is subject to a no-questions-asked second chance upon developer request, provided the game has been patched in a way that addresses at least one criticism of mine). But, with the arrival of Volchaos on Steam with improved controls and minor cleanups of issues, I figured, why not?

20160814205553_1

The game is not glitching here. I’m standing on an invisible platform. It really came across as a glitch that the developer left in and called a feature, but actually Kris told me this was a design choice. I spent an hour telling him it was a bad one that the average player would think is just an exploitable glitch. He disagreed. But I’m right.

But no, it’s still not good. Don’t get me wrong. Volchaos on PC is much better than it was five years ago. The controls are still too loose, but they’re more responsive. The problem is level design is too brutal to be enjoyable. This is a punisher based on relatively short time limits, forcing you to charge through stages as quickly as possible. I don’t mind split-second decisions. Hell, anytime I made it two extra inches further on the Impossible Game per life instead of just one felt like an incredible achievement. But in Volchaos, the enemy placement is so unfair as to be infuriating. This was undoubtedly a case of a developer forgetting that he is the best player in the world at his own game, ramping up the difficulty to challenge himself and forgetting that nobody else has or ever will devote as much time to it as they have. In fact, Kris admitted as much to me. Note to all developers: get others to tell you how hard your game is. Do not attempt to judge for yourself. It is impossible to divorce yourself from your own development. Unless you have multiple personalities, and if that’s the case, make sure one of them isn’t a complete dick.

Oh I will, Hypership. Probably from overdosing on Hypership.

Oh I will, Hypership. Probably from overdosing on Hypership.

Skip Volchaos and take a look at Hypership Out of Control on Steam instead. The game retains all the charm of the mobile version. This is Kris’ masterpiece. A twitchy, lightning fast, scoring-based arcade shmup that’s so addictive that owning it on two platforms feels like it should be prosecuted the same way you would do so for doctor shopping. It’s basically the same game as the iPhone version. I prefer the super accurate movement of the mobile version, but the PC version has buttons and thus it’s easier to use bombs than the clumsy double-tap on mobile. The biggest news is that, once you’re carrying a maximum load of bombs, any extra-bombs you pick-up automatically detonate. It’s a small fix, but one that made me quite happy. It’s something I brought up in the previous review and Kris fixed it. Goody for him. It’s always nice when a developer, friend or otherwise, takes your advice to heart. Though it’s probably a good thing Kris didn’t listen to all my advice. If he had done with Volchaos what I told him to do, he’d probably be walking funny right now.
header

hsocVolchaos and Hypership Out of Control were developed by Fun Infused Games
Volchaos point of sale: Steam
Hypership Out of Control point of sale: Steam, iOS.

igc_approved$2.99 (Volchaos) said “it still doesn’t look like Chuck Norris” in the making of this review.

$1.99 (Hypership) said “hell, the fucking spaceship looks more like Chuck Norris” in the making of this review.

Hypership Out of Control is Chick Approved and ranked on the Bad Jojo Leaderboard. Volchaos can go fuck itself.

Mandagon and Baezult

Mandagon purports to be loosely based on Tibetan philosophy. My knowledge of that is limited to slogans seen on bumper stickers and t-shirts, so I’m not exactly an expert on it. Something about free betting or something like that. The basis sets up a no-fail-condition, combat-free platform adventure where you learn the value of sacrifice. There’s really not a whole lot of game here, and the story bits are told in rhymes that I think are meant to sound deep, but really just made me giggle. When I finally got what the story was supposed to be about, I actually felt bad for the developer. Mandagon is too minimalist for its own good. I know minimalism is all the rage in Indieland, but not every story you want to tell is suitable for it. That’s the case here. Even the use of a totem as the player-character makes it impossible to feel any connection to the plot. Don’t get me wrong. The foundation of something really good is laid here. Solid platform controls, a decent fetch quest, and beautiful 2D pixel art (not to mention being a freebie) make this worth a look. And a brief look at that, as you should be able to finish Mandagon in under thirty minutes. I’m giving it my Seal of Approval because I enjoyed the exploration and gameplay. The developers couldn’t have botched telling a story more if they had tried to use smoke signals to deliver the Song of Hiawatha to a blind man.

After renouncing crime, the Riddler became an advocate for organ donation.

Screen from Mandagon. After renouncing crime, the Riddler became an advocate for organ donation.

Another free-to-play title I checked out was Baezult. It forgoes any pretense of depth or meaning and instead just aspires to be a fun little puzzler/punisher. It does start out fairly fun, with some borderline inspired puzzles that I would have appreciated a lot more if the controls weren’t looser than Gary Busey’s grip on reality. In general, I’m not a fan of punishers, but at least Baezult avoids a lot of my pet-peeves. Rooms are (mostly) short, so if you die you don’t have to replay too much. The time between death and restarting is quick, so there’s almost no down time between the agony. My two biggest issues are as follows: (1) sometimes Baezult asks for precision placement of items like dynamite to clear blocks, but the method for throwing it out is anything but precise, necessitating a few replays. (2) The game relies far too much on timing-based movement with objects falling far too fast and your controller being far too floaty.

Falling objects fall too fast to really get a feel for timing. Maybe if the controls had been tighter it wouldn't be as bad, but really, the dev should maybe think about dialing the speed of any moving trap back a notch.

Screen from Baezult. Falling objects fall too fast to really get a feel for timing. Maybe if the controls had been tighter it wouldn’t be as bad, but really, the dev should maybe think about dialing the speed of any moving trap back a notch.

But honestly, this is one of the few punishers with bad controls I’ve played at IGC that I kind of dug. Maybe because it’s the only game I’ve reviewed that has married puzzles (one of my favorite genres) with a punisher (one of my least favorites) and the puzzles are actually worth playing through. In fact, Baezult was only tighter play-control away from possibly cracking the top 100 on the IGC Leaderboard. And hey, again, it’s free! Baezult is worth a look, even if it sounds like something a Frenchman says to you when you sneeze.

MandagonI don’t know why each of these developers decided to make their games free. Look, we all like getting free stuff, and yea, people are more likely to enjoy something they got for free than they are if they have to pay for it. That’s one of the main reasons I pay for all the games I play at Bad Jojo. For me at least, I think it helps me to focus on the value of a game. While I enjoyed both Mandagon and Baezult, maybe I wouldn’t have liked them as much if I paid for them. I don’t know. I do know that, as flawed as both are, the developers clearly worked hard on both and I can’t really justify the lack of a price tag on either. BaezultThis goes to all developers whether I’ve liked your games or not: the vast, vast majority of you work hard on your projects. Your time is worth some money. Hell, throw a $1 price tag up. Something. Anything. Even if you feel you don’t need the money, just save it up so that you’ll have a war chest for the future and might not need to turn to something like Kickstarter just to get a title screen on your future projects. Or put a buck on it and give the money to a charity like, say, one that provides resources and education towards the ongoing fight against epilepsy that might some day make a certain moderately popular indie critic be able to watch fireworks without having a seizure. Just sayin’.

igc_approved1Mandagon was developed by Blind Sky Studios and is free on Steam.

Baezult was developed by Atapki and is free on Steam.

Both games are Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Bad Jojo Leaderboard.

The Narrator Is a DICK, Hikikomori No Chuunibyou, and Hiiro

The Narrator Is a DICK is a punisher, the hook being humorous commentary designed to take the edge off the brutal difficulty. This is the second game this year I’ve reviewed where the main draw is a running audio commentary. But, unlike Deadly Tower of Monsters, Dick’s commentary just plain isn’t funny. I was hoping for it to be similar to the classic Looney Tunes short Duck Amuck (which was later turned into an incredibly overlooked Nintendo DS title that’s worth tracking down). Instead, it’s just snarky “gotcha” type of quips while you die unavoidable “gotcha” deaths. The controls are too loose. The level design is based on surprise deaths. Because of this, you would think the game would have more lines and jokes than it does, but you’re almost certain to hear the dialog repeat again and again. Difficult to the point of boredom. A game that almost is defiant in its lack of entertainment. I can’t think of anything nice to say about it. The Narrator Is a DICK is one of the worst games I’ve played at IGC.

The Narrator Is a DICK

The Narrator Is a DICK is an exaggeration. More like the Narrator Is Mildly Annoying. $4.99, available on Steam.

Hikikomori No Chuunibyou is an acrobatic platformer from the developer of samurai_jazz. While I didn’t hate that title, it had abysmal control and boring combat that I felt sunk a game that had a lot of potential. Here we are, 18 months later, and Hikikomori.. has abysmal play control and boring combat. Sigh. What really kills the game is the awful wall-jumping, which is the primary gameplay mechanic. It’s unresponsive (at least with an Xbox One controller) and never feels smooth. The horrible controls immediately render Hikikomori unpleasant to play. I’m not a fan of any game where the challenge comes primarily from fighting with the controller, and this is no exception.

That's my corpse being juggled by enemies in

That’s my corpse being juggled by enemies in Hikikomori No Chuunibyou. To the game’s credit, the combat is better than in samurai_jazz. It mostly works this time, though it’s incredibly boring. $1.99 (I paid $1.69), available on Steam.

Normally I wouldn’t have bothered to review either of these games, since I quit both of them fairly early in. Neither was fun and didn’t really have potential to suddenly be entertaining without heavy patchwork. I have nothing particularly insightful to say about them. But, I played a third platformer around the same time called Hiiro that made me think about how fine a line between success and failure can exist in Indieland.

Hiiro is a death-free, combat-free exploration platformer where you search a large map for trinkets. It’s minimalist to a fault, where there’s no stakes or driving motivation to keep you going. The double-jump is a bit touchy, but otherwise there’s really nothing wrong control-wise. It’s short and simple and whimsical. The layout is (mostly) rudimentary, with simple puzzles that make it more suitable for young children than cynical, blood-lusting adults. As someone who thinks minimalism is code for “no vision or creativity”, I probably shouldn’t have liked Hiiro at all since there’s really nothing here to like. Yet, it’s actually pretty okay, enough for me to recommend it to those who don’t really want much in the way of challenge.

I'm holding out for a Hiiro 'till the end of the night. He's gotta be red and he's gotta be bland and he's got to beaten by night.

I’m holding out for a Hiiro ’till the end of the night. He’s gotta be red and he’s gotta be bland and he’s got to beaten by night.

So why does Hiiro succeed while the other two fail? It just comes down to playability. Hiiro works. The wall-jumping in Hikikomori is bad from the start. The brutal difficulty, repetitive dialog, and awful controls of Narrator make it bad from the start. There isn’t a whole lot to Hiiro, but at least you can immediately begin appreciating the work put in, instead of saying “this probably wasn’t ready to be released yet.” Hiiro is fine but bland. The other two games had a significantly higher ceiling, but defy enjoyment. Hiiro allows you to appreciate the vast world created, and the sense that it’s developer will be someone to keep an eye on. Hopefully he learns how to include shortcuts next time. And plot. And stuff to do.

headerHiiro was developed by Ben Harvey
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$2.54 (normally $2.99) Barely stayed awake writing this in the making of this review. Sorry.

Hiiro is Chick Approved and Ranked on the Bad Jojo Leaderboard. The other two games are most certainly not.

The Best Five Years of my Life

Back in 2011, in desperate need of a hobby other than watching dash-cam footage of Russian car crashes, friends and family said I should start a blog. I had narrowed it down to two concepts: one was writing about lesser seen movies. The other was doing gaming, which not to sound sappy, but video games have been the love of my life. I wasn’t sure which to do. Then, one day, while going through my Xbox 360 collection, I spotted a game called Breath of Death VII that I had purchased a while back. “Oh yea, I totally forgot, there’s homemade games on Xbox 360.” Curious, I tried to find out what were the better games on the market of these so-called Xbox Live Indie Games. What I found were sites where the concept of critical analysis was unknown. It reminded me of the episode of the Simpsons where Homer becomes a food critic. Everything was eleven thumbs-up! And if the game was no good? Well then, it got the lowest score ever: seven thumbs-up. They weren’t exactly useful reviews for people who wanted quality for their dollars. Then a lightbulb went off. After grabbing a couple 4,000 Microsoft Point cards (remember Microsoft Points?) and buying far too many XBLIGs, I launched Bad Jojo on July 1, 2011. Honestly, I never expected to stick with it, nor did I expect anyone to read it.

Being wrong never felt so good.

I love indie gaming. I love seeing dreams realized. I love seeing hard work pay off. While I’m noted for being harsher than the average critic, the truth is I’m so very in love with the entire community. There is nobody out there who wants to love your games as much as I do. I feel like someone who had court-side seats for an expansion team, and gets to see everyone grow up close. When I started IGC, indies were on the fringe of gaming. Today, indie games are highlighted by the console manufacturers during E3. They’re an essential part of modern gaming economics. We live in an era where Microsoft paid half the cost to acquire an indie property that Disney paid to acquire Star Wars. What a privilege to see. It’s a Golden Age for indies.

I won’t like all of your games, but I’ll never stop marveling at the potential you all show. Sometimes I even get jealous. I don’t consider myself a particularly creative person. I wish I could do what you guys and gals do. I have to settle for the occasional reader thanking me for exposing them to hidden indie gems that flew under their radar. There’s a rush that comes when that happens that words fail to describe. It’s an incredible feeling. One that seems to happen more often, as the community realizes the extent of its talent. Remember, you are limited only by your own drive and determination. If you’re receptive towards feedback and strive to outdo yourself, the sky is the limit for you. You could be the next studio targeted for a billion-dollar acquisition. That’s the indie ceiling. It’s so high you need a telescope to see it.

Five years later, and you, the indie community, still have the capability of leaving me in awe. That’s why, even five years later, I still get excited every time I boot up a new game. Win or lose, it’s rare that a game doesn’t leave me optimistic for the future of our community. When people thank me for what I’ve done at Bad Jojo, I feel like I don’t deserve it. Without a thriving community of talented dreamers, I wouldn’t be anything. All I am is a messenger for what you accomplish. Whether you want to hug me or shoot me (or both), my message has been the same for five years now: gaming’s future is so bright that it’s almost blinding. I didn’t do that. You did. So now, as a I celebrate five years of my silly little indie review blog, I want to thank the entire indie gaming community. For the amazing games you’ve created. For those yet to come. My life is so much better for having found you, and for that, you have all my love and gratitude. No take backs.

-Catherine Vice
June 30, 2016

Mystery Castle

When I started Bad Jojo in July of 2011, I figured I’d be playing a lot of new ideas and experimental concepts. Ha. Silly me. Most of indie games take their inspiration from games of yesteryear. This is fine, especially when those muses are properties that have long since been abandoned. Take the Adventures of Lolo, for example. Here’s a franchise whose last American release came when I was two-years-old. A series popular enough that it had three full releases for the NES, and even more globally, but has gotten no love since. Hell, the Smash Bros series is by HAL, the studio behind Lolo, and yet it can’t even get so much as a trophy in the series. Yea, him and Princess Lala were villains in the Kirby series, but that isn’t much comfort. That would be like Fox saying “yea, we cancelled Firefly, but hey, you can see Captain Mal flipping off Jack Bauer in the background of an episode of 24 so it’s fine!”

Working title: The Adventures of No-lo.

Working title: The Adventures of No-lo.

I hadn’t played Lolo until I found an XBLIG called Aesop’s Garden, and someone said “well it’s just a Lolo clone.” It’s not, though the inspiration is clearly there. Since then, I found another Lolo-inspired indie gem, SpyLeaks, which I liked so much that I included it in my Indie Royale bundle back in 2013. While those games expanded the Lolo concept, people who wanted just a straight re-imagining of franchise might not have liked them. For those unambitious types, Mystery Castle is probably their best bet. It holds the distinction of being the only Ouya game I ever finished. I liked it just fine, but never bothered to review it on account of it, well, being an Ouya game. My reviews of puzzle games here are already as well received as a diagnosis of Gonorrhea, and the double whammy of being on a platform only owned by people who hate money made it seem like a waste of time to write-up. But now it’s on Steam and Xbox One, so here’s what I have to say about it: it’s fine.

I mean, you’re not going to be enthusiastically singing the praises of it to anyone. Mystery Castle’s gameplay is as forgettable as its name (one fan of mine mistook it for a remake of an NES game called Milon’s Secret Castle, which I guess is known for being horrible), but it’s solid. The idea is you’re a gnome. You have to puzzle your way through rooms, collecting diamonds to open up an exit. The formula is somewhat adjusted by having things like warps to push boxes through, lanterns to light invisible paths, or keys that only work on certain doors. The controls are a little too floaty, which is common for the genre because you sort of have to be able to move one-half-space at a time, or else it would be too hard to maneuver blocks into the correct positions. Veterans of Lolo will get used to it quickly.

I do appreciate that the boss fights are still puzzles, as opposed to Lolo 3 where you just basically Care Bear Stare the bosses like a shooter.

I do appreciate that the boss fights are still puzzles, as opposed to Lolo 3 where you just basically Care Bear Stare the bosses like a shooter.

So is it fun? Yea. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had played it only a couple of stages at a time instead of trying to plow through it as fast as possible. Puzzlers can be exhausting to attempt in one sit-through, something that I’ll fully admit is unfair for game developers since their genre doesn’t lend itself to the review process. Especially when the game has a lot of needless dialog and explanation. Really, the only part I truly hated were the ice stages, which feel closer to a game called Starzzle that I reviewed a week after launching IGC. I’ve given up on developers ever figuring out that most gamers would rather lick rust than play ice stages. But, whatever. There’s enough new ideas to keep things relatively fresh from start-to-finish, enough so I think anyone wanting a game like this will be satisfied. While I still prefer Aesop’s Garden and Spyleaks, Mystery Castle is really good for what it wants to be. Really, this is closest in feel to a direct sequel to Lolo you’ll probably get anytime soon. If you like that series, you’ll enjoy this. If you don’t, you won’t. Easiest. Review. Ever.

Mystery Castle logoMystery Castle was developed by Runestone Games
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox-One, Ouya

igc_approved1$9.99 (I think, not sure what I paid for the Ouya version) said “Thank you to all my readers for five incredible years of support. Here’s to the next fifty!” in the making of this review.

Mystery Castle is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Bad Jojo Leaderboard

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