Sawbuck Gamer is our occasional roundup of free and cheap games ($10 or less).
The emotional aspects of physical sexuality are still deemed taboo for most open discourse, let alone the clinical approach of public school sex-ed classes and their text books. Thankfully, we still have video games to teach us all about it. Luxuria Superbia gives its lesson by taking the Georgia O’Keefe imagery of flower-as-woman to a more literal representation and asking players to pollenate flowers, enter pistils, and stimulate ovules with fingers and thumbsticks.
Tickling the flowers’ surfaces saturates each petal with color and joy. Completely filling the flower brings it to climax and ends the stage. It’s important to note, as always, that just because you can finish in under a minute doesn’t mean you should. Premature endings are met with a decidedly unimpressed “Oops, that was fast.” Holding out, prolonging the experience, and allowing multiple waves of satisfaction to ripple across the flower—that’s how players score high marks and make a truly memorable impression. And the game isn’t shy about letting you know when things are going smoothly. “Pick my hanging fruits,” the flower goads with terrestrial lust. “Bury your face in my berries.”
What works for one flower, though, may not work on others, so the player needs to be receptive to the unique needs of each pistil. Some petals need to be caressed in clockwise sequences while others need short taps or long strokes. Recognize the patterns, find its rhythm, determine when to go with the flower’s flow and when to disrupt its expectations. Sometimes, Luxuria Superbia teaches, what we don’t touch is just as important as what we do, and withholding can be just as important as giving your all. [DS]
One Last Dance for the Capitalist Pigs
Creator: Julien Lallevé
Platforms: Mac, PC
Reviewed on: Mac
It’s getting awfully close to that most sacred of holidays, Black Friday, and you can feel the magic in the air. The doorbuster sales! The midnight stampedes! The rising death count! It’s the most wonderful time of the year—if you’re a quarterly earnings report.
For the rest of us, there is One Last Dance For The Capitalist Pigs, an inscrutable piece of outsider art that supports either Marxism, commercialism, both, or neither. The main character, Herón, is driven to action by The Fortune Roulette, a show in which the destitute are given one chance to win enough coins to feed their family, but they inevitably fail. Herón seeks to end this parade of misery by attacking the show’s host, a literal pig.
The world he descends into is unnervingly quiet, crudely rendered, and hand-painted with eye-searing gaudiness. The game itself is relatively simple, a straight shot of finding traversable paths and engaging in conversations—but the conversations themselves are anything but easy. Intentionally surreal but unintentionally ungrammatical, it’s impossible to tell what is meant to be funny and what is meant to be serious—what is straight and what is satire. And then the game offers up nightmarish puzzles involving dozens of buttons and ridiculous ascents via repeated awkward jumping. It’s as if the game is being shrieked at the player from across a train platform by a drunk. Who wants to listen to that? Avoiding eye contact might be best. But if it’s a choice behind this and flattening yourself against the door of a Wal-Mart at 11:58PM—well, strap on your riot gear and grab the car keys. [JK]
10 More Bullets
Creator: Michel Gerard
Many video game characters not only seem to be able to carry an entire gun-store inventory on their person, but they also almost never run out of bullets. It’s hardly a problem for the player, who’s usually too busy blowing away enemies with an endless spray of armor-piercing ordnance to notice. But sometimes less is more, and novel constraints can open up new ways to explore the wanton destruction.
In 10 More Bullets, you’re given only what the title mentions. Players work the trigger of a ground turret that can only fire in a single direction, up, as an endless squadron of spaceships flies overhead. You have unlimited time to take out as many as you can, but you only have 10 bullets to work with. The limitation turns an ordinary, Missile Command-style shooter into an intuitive puzzle game that demands perfect timing and angle planning. When the bullet hits a ship, debris breaks off in multiple directions, creating a chain reaction as other invaders fly into the mess. Occasional power-ups add to the madness: You can fly in a “mini-wave” of ships or add special “boosters” and “grabbers” to achieve higher scores and cash hauls, which can be traded in for turret upgrades. You don’t ever expand your bullet supply, though. If you did, 10 More Bullets, would lose its reason for being. [DG]
Dungeons Of Kong
The majority of mass market board games—Candy Land, Chutes And Ladders, etc.—are essentially random number generators, subjecting children to the sting of fate’s cruel backhanded slap. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got your Settlers Of Catan or Ticket To Ride—games that you have to engage with. Somewhere in the middle sits games like Monopoly, where the illusion of skill is enough to compensate for the fact that at the end of the day, you’re still just rolling the dice.
Dungeons Of Kong is the Monopoly of browser games. It sits comfortably between the mindless fare like Cookie Clicker and the meatier types like Street Fighter X Mega Man. Yes, you’re given agency over the types of characters you’ll be escorting through this Kong Dungeon—fighters, archers, something called a “cleric” that heals people while it bashes enemies with a giant hammer—but then the game essentially shifts into autopilot. The dungeon, which looks like a map hanging in a pirate-themed chain restaurant, changes each time, and it reveals itself when you click into the unexplored shadows.
Run into a red rune, and the action switches over to the battle zone, where the same faux-authority is thrust upon you, the gentle player. Your party members are free to move about a grid and stack special (though rudimentary) bonus moves like a well-orchestrated chess strategy—only to see it crumble when your attacks miss because the die did not come up in your favor. Yes, Dungeons Of Kong rolls dice for you, sound effects and all, adding a vague hint of nostalgia for a time when you didn’t know board games were mostly luck. [SH]
Dungeons & Dragons: Arena Of War
Creator: DeNa Co.
Platforms: Android, iPhone/iPad (Universal)
Reviewed On: iPhone
The Forgotten Realms, the most well known world in Dungeons & Dragons, has a history of appearing in excellent video games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. D&D: Arena of War shares that setting, but that’s the only thing it has in common with those classics or the tabletop role-playing game that inspired them.
Players choose from a variety of class and race combinations, such as an elf wizard or dwarf fighter—weirder options like gnome warlock and half-orc shaman available as rewards for leveling up multiple characters. But as it turns out, the choice is just cosmetic. No matter what you’re playing as, you fight by using the touch screen to launch your characters like a pool ball and send them ricocheting into monsters or explosive terrain. Whether you’re fighting skeletons or kobolds, they attack by smashing into you. You have plenty of options for powers that can increase your damage, but they can all be used by any character class, meaning there’s no incentive to change things up.
As a hybrid of fantasy role-playing and trick pool, Arena Of War does a fine job. But it’s D&D in name only. There’s nothing resembling the tactics or variety of its namesake here. [SN]
Creator: Roope Tamminen
In the pantheon of early video game disappointments, there’s a sport reserved for the infamous NES adaptation of Friday The 13th. Despite the fact that it has a massive landscape (for its era) and what seems like an endless number of buildings to explore as Jason stalks you, its execution is poor, to say the least. Besides its hilarious interpretation of Jason, who looked like he had just finished dressing up for a Mardi Gras ball, the biggest problem is how un-scary it is. It doesn’t even try to present a sense of entrapment.
The creator of Lakeview Cabin could have made a far superior 8-bit version of Jason’s rampage, judging from this retro-styled slasher horror creation. The player controls a rugged outdoorsman in an adventure based around a familiar movie trope: A murder-happy force attacks innocent people trapped in a wooded area with nothing but a log cabin to serve as their makeshift bunker. Cabin uses that traditional premise to create some dreadful isolation. It’s a little frustrating at first, as it’s up to you to figure out how the game works and move the story along. Once you get your bearings, however, the game ratchets up the tension with ominous music and dim lighting, as the outdoorsman scrambles to use whatever he can find to prepare for the scary, big reveal. Even with its short runtime, Lakeview Cabin comes closer to being a real Friday The 13th game than anything the children of the ’80s ever received. [DG]
Creator: Storm Alligator
In The Exam, your title is “Procrastination Agent.” Your mission, should you accept it, is to sabotage the study habits of Pete, some poor guy whom you know nothing about, by infiltrating his brain and seducing him into thinking the test is a waste of time. You have tools at your disposal—like a video game console and Pete’s friend Badger, who likes to “party.” You’ve trained long and hard for this mission. But the only thing you didn’t learn is how to procrastinate…love?
The longer you hang out with Pete under the guise of making him fail the test, the longer you hang out with Pete, period. And familiarity can breed some semblance of affection here. Pete has no discernible traits other than a propensity to rapidly change his mind as to whether or not studying is cool (he has all the depth of Tony The Tiger), yet watching him sadly shred away at his guitar threatens to induce genuine sympathy. And that’s definitely not what the game wants: You earn points only when Pete feels NOT guilty about letting the TV destroy him.
Maybe the problem is the lack of procrastination methods. Pete has about half a dozen different things he can do, and it’s not impossible to do them all in the first few days of the month-long countdown. Eventually, it becomes boring to make Pete bored—he never even learns a second song. Also, if you do accidentally neglect, say, the cooler full of beers, it disappears, and there’s even less between you and dear ol’ Petey. Your procrastination agency desperately needs a Bond-style Q, so to speak, to supply additional tools and gadgets. Without ‘em The Exam feels like a waste of time. At least what you and Pete share is real. [SH]