August 8, 2011

Prime Minister’s Questions: The Game
Creator: Pixel Politics
Platform: PC
Price: Free
The width of the gangway separating the Government from the Opposition in the British House Of Commons is hardly arbitrary; it’s two sword-lengths across. That bit of foresight is all for naught, though, in Pixel Politics’ Prime Minister’s Questions: The Game. Questions features a turn-based battle waged via stale talking points, shameless emotional entreaties, and more ad hominem sniping than you’d find in a Huffington Post comment thread. Players retort to Labour Party leader Ed Miliband by selecting questions from a relatively limited pool, or simply launch a special attack called “The Flashman,” which sees Prime Minister David Cameron take a more bullying approach. After striking down the opposition minister’s shields and lowering his hit points with a few well-placed bons mots, you might have the opportunity to answer a softball question lobbed from the backbench. The pixelated graphics and colored text recall classic adventure titles of yore, but there’s only about six minutes of play here, and fewer punchlines. Still, it’s soothing escapism for anyone dreaming of a less-gridlocked political system… C-



Mr Runner 2

Creator: Bit Battalion
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Mr Runner 2 isn’t bashful about its influences. It has a level named Canabalt, and it’s hard to mistake the soaring, squishy acrobatics of Super Meat Boy. But if an homage is a copy that’s good and a rip-off is a copy that’s bad, Mr Runner 2 is a nice homage to its two most obvious forebears. Mister Runner himself is an inky little gremlin who flits through the game’s platformer landscape, bounding through the air but helpfully sticking to walls a second longer than gravity seems to warrant. The player’s aim is to cut through each level while losing as little momentum as possible. The game maintains its own sense of forward movement, with a pulsing (but not obnoxious) soundtrack and some gorgeous, understated motion graphics. It isn’t the most original game, but production values matter… B+



Superfighters

Creator: MythoLogic Interactive
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Life in the state of Superfighters is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. It’s also thrillingly fast-paced and as barbarically stupid or cunningly strategic as you make it. As many as eight combatants—working solo or in teams—trade buckshot, bombs, or bare-knuckle punches over toxic pools and vertiginous drops. Each arena comes equipped with weapon caches, breakaway glass, and floating platforms galore, which gives the game’s simple, River City Ransom-lite mechanics room to mutate from match to match. The AI players are good shots, but they do succumb a bit too easily to opponents who simply mash the “punch” key. The presentation is inconsistent, too: When the stage is at maximum capacity, the camera zooms out until the player is just a bloody blip. There’s a cooperative mode, but it’s cramped, as players must crowd around the same keyboard to play together. These drawbacks aside, Superfighters is an awesome execution of a deathless premise…

A-



Impasse

Creator: Wanderlands
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Half the point of the simple, silent “minimalist puzzle game” Impasse is to figure out the rules as you go. Some of them are obvious: You move your white circular icon around the board one strategic turn at a time, trying to reach the green circular icon on the other side of the board without getting trapped or hitting anything. The complicated part is in not just reading the arrows to see what the blocking pieces around you are doing—they move whenever you move—but getting a feel for looking several moves ahead and understanding when you can swap places with a piece, and when you’ll just smack into it. In a way, Impasse is easy—you have infinite lives, and no speed, deadline, or move-limit element, so you can just try over and over until you get somewhere. But the game’s logic can be deceptively complex, and the ways out of the traps it creates aren’t always intuitive. This one is largely for the kind of people who study chess problems… B-



Alight (in dreams)

Creator: twofoldsecret
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Alight (in dreams) shares an aesthetic and environmental emptiness with this year’s Superbrothers: Sword And Sworcery EP. But unlike that much-lauded iPad-only title, this game is actually about something other than the mere act of being pensive. The game cold-opens on an abandoned house that’s been torn to shreds. You play an unnamed boy attracted to smoke, and walking to the billowing pillars reveals a bit more of the story each time. The boy is a student of astronomy, you learn, and all his life he dreamed of soaring through the great unknown. Soon he sprouts wings, exploring the world by leaping and gliding between platforms. Life is peachy until you’re confronted with a choice: Pick up a candle, a feather, or an alarm clock. It doesn’t matter at first—each one turns the world suddenly dark, and you’re forced to navigate your way back to home while avoiding shadowy walls à la the old helicopter game. Returning the item to where you started makes the world pleasant again, for a spell. Later, the choice of items becomes more important, as each one leads you down a different dimly lit path. And as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the boy is running from something deep inside himself, and seeking respite, whenever he can, in the heavens. Alight (in dreams) is minimal—requiring only a few movements and repeating its soundtrack on each level—but it’s about as rich as browser games get… A



Escape From Puppy Death Factory

Creator: Arthur “Mr. Podunkian” Lee
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
An “all doggy, all the time”-themed homage to Super Metroid sounds, on paper, like a novel idea that will get old fast. It’s all adorable—Laika “K9” Ludryavka as the doggy Samus, the familiar Metroid spaceship given a hilarious mouth, the ominous ambient music which recalls Metroid’s with barking mixed in—but it threatens to wear out its welcome almost immediately. Escape From Puppy Death Factory avoids satirical disaster by way of awesome play and simple goals. K9 runs and jumps from left to right (and vice versa) just like her inspiration, but Death Factory does away with serious combat, focusing instead on exploration and puzzles. K9’s rainbow-colored gun is a transporter: Fire a shot at a block, and you trade places with it. The challenge comes from transporting and arranging objects to find the puppies entrapped in the ruins of Earth. It’s tough, satisfying, and just on the acceptable side of cloying. But where’s the morph ball?… B+



Groove Coaster

Creator: Powerhead Games
Platforms: iPhone/iPad (Universal Binary)
Played on: iPad
Price: $0.99
Reisuke Ishida has been, for lack of a better term, keeping it real for Namco Bandai. Ishida updated the publisher’s original hit with some Daft Punk flavor in Space Invaders Extreme and its follow up, Space Invaders Infinity Gene. Groove Coaster, Ishida’s new iOS game, feels like the game he’s been trying to make all along, though: It’s a simple rhythm game that creates a visceral link between audience and song through the most basic input. Each of the game’s songs—slick DJ numbers that recall Mark Farina and Yoshinori Sunahara’s best work—play out as a shining icon follows a looping path, to form the titular coaster. Beats in the song pass as small circles on the line, and you tap or hold your finger on the screen as they pass in time with the song’s rhythm. Its elegance surpasses some of its antecedents, like Osu! Tatke! Ouendan! There are some nits to pick, though. Whenever the perspective shifts on the coaster, it becomes more difficult to nail the timing just right. This is mostly a problem when the icon begins moving “into” the image instead of sticking to a 2-D plane… A-



Legend Of Kalevala

Creator: Dit Dah Games
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
The retro-styled platformer Legend Of Kalevala initially looks and plays a bit like William And Sly, except that you’re playing a spiky purple alien panther-creature instead of a mere fox. But tonally, it’s more of a piece with all the recent discover-your-identity browser games. As it begins, you have no idea who or what you are, or why the entire world around you is aggressively hostile; the initial goal involves running around finding brains (which unlock memories, which reveal your story and that of the world around you) and icons that add to your abilities. Eventually, larger goals form, though the play remains much the same—once you can glide, run, shoot, and double-jump, you can reach new areas of the board, but beating the game still involves an awful lot of criss-crossing the same handful of rooms, looking for those new access points. The storyline is intriguing and well-conceived, though, and it gives the game a pleasantly wistful melancholy as well as a sense of discovery that counteracts the redundancy. And the overall design is lovely. It’s worth consulting a walkthrough, though—Legend has multiple endings, and getting the “good” one involves either obsessive level-scouring or availing yourself of other people’s efforts… B



The Scene Of The Crime: Golden Doll

Creator: Pastel Games 
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Pastel Games makes clever puzzleboxes that happen to look like comic books. They are streamlined point-and-click adventures that have you observe static images of environments and click around to either trigger story events or collect items that will be used elsewhere. Like their last game reviewed in Sawbuck Gamer, the weird Western Aurora, Pastel’s black-and-white whodunit The Scene Of The Crime: Golden Doll doesn’t quite work. The atmosphere is there, brought out by dark, scratchy art and a subdued repeating song, but the process of finding evidence in the environment is too haphazard to be fun. It’s a matter of function bringing down a decent story. Because it’s so easy to miss items due to poor detection of your mouse cursor, the flow of the murder investigation is strange and janky. The idea of linking leads on an evidence board is also good, but sometimes two pieces of evidence fail to match up when they should, or a police report doesn’t turn up in the reports box, thus unlocking a lead in the first place. A game’s quality isn’t determined just by the soundness of its architecture, but Golden Doll is one rickety house… C+



Intruded

Creator: A Small Game 
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
The idea of presenting a game from the perspective of security cameras is so simple and smart that it’s a surprise it hasn’t been done more often. Intruded uses its security-cam views to make an entire game out of the interface problems that plagued early 3-D games. The tank-style 3-D character controls in the original Tomb Raider and Resident Evil games, where the movement controls don’t reorient themselves to follow the camera’s direction comprise the game’s central aesthetic. You play as a nameless woman navigating hazard-laden corridors, and you must accommodate wild shifts in perspective. It’s easy to time your crossing over a retracting walkway if it’s directly ahead, but when its presented from the angle of a security camera moving right to left, even a straight line becomes difficult to navigate. The low-polygon presentation, abstract architecture, and somber music give the game a chilly but affecting atmosphere. It can get too abstract at times—it’s never good to totally obscure how to proceed—but A Small Game has made something special… A-



Dungeons Of Dredmor

Creator: Gaslamp Games
Platforms: Mac, PC
Played on: PC
Price: $4.99
Dungeons Of Dredmor seems to have everything. It's a “roguelike” game—a randomly generated role-playing game based around a single dungeon-crawl with permanent death—filled with everything you might want. There are dozens of options for customizing your character. You can have a heavily armored, sparkly vampire golem master, or a tinker/sniper/soldier/smith who scours the dungeon for materials to build new equipment. There are also more than enough different monsters and items, as well as a clever sense of humor that manifests in unique stat names like “caddishness.” But for all that, Dungeons Of Dredmor is missing something that would give it just a little more momentum. Maybe it’s just a bit too big and too complete… B+



Kingdom Rush

Creator: Ironhide Game Studio
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
The increasing popularity of the simple, potentially deep tower-defense genre has led to some clever revolutions in how the genre is played. Kingdom Rush isn’t one of those revolutions. It’s a Platonic form of the tower defense game, doing nothing surprising. The game is set in a fantasy world, with four different types of towers, each of which can be upgraded between missions. Instead of changing the form, Kingdom Rush just does everything really well. The towers are sufficiently different, upgrades are notable, and the levels are interesting. Most important, the difficulty and balance are almost perfect. Every decision seems relevant, and different play styles are plausible. Each difficulty level changes the complexion of the game, suggesting that this is a work that was designed and tested into greatness… A-



Cuboy Hot Pants

Creators: Edible Castle, PrettyMuchBryce Games
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Cuboy is back. Not via the long-awaited Back To The Cubeture 2, but Edible Castle’s smart-mouthed hexahedron character does still bring his odd charm to Cuboy Hot Pants, a simpler, twitchier affair than Cubeture. The game gets underway when Cuboy’s mountainside picnic is interrupted by the newly active volcano that happens to sit underneath his tablecloth. The task then is to outrun the lava by jumping, cube by cube, down an eternal trap-infested cliff. There are only three options for each jump—left, right, or middle—so the game is a long series of split-second decisions that melt together into a sort of trance. There’s a certain expectation that the challenge will get a bit more complex as you descend, but doesn’t, at least not by much. Hot Pants is content to coast on the wit of its main character… B-



Cat God Vs. Sun King

Creator: Nerdook
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Nerdook’s pleasantly bright, awfully mean take on the miniature god game just has one goal: Smite your enemy’s followers. As laborers toil to build a temple to worship the Sun King, you play the Cat God, raining down fire, locusts, lightning, and other plagues from the heavens, or summoning giant sandworms, undead minions, and a death-angel to do your dirty work for you. Minions die in droves as you try to kill them all before they complete the temple; by using your powers, you level up, making those powers cheaper and more powerful—which becomes necessary as new minions with new powers are introduced. Cat God Vs. Sun King is only challenging in the last few levels and in Survival Mode, and there isn’t much complexity or diversity to the strategy. But the game’s overall humor level is high, and the clean, sharp, cartoony design makes this a particularly appealing short-term diversion. This is an excellent way to burn off a little frustration whenever life gets annoying and the ability to turn co-workers into sheep or drop a giant concrete fist on their heads would come in mighty handy. B+

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