Friday, October 21, 2011

Oh, So It's a Racist Rap Battle

Hm, where to start this post... Well, I've finally started playing through Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. But this post isn't about that. The problem was, for whatever reason (most likely having to do with the fact that I've been using a crappy $9 controller to play games on my PC to this point), Brotherhood didn't work with my old controller. So I ended up splurging on a shiny new $40 XBox controller, which pretty much negated any savings I made while buying the game on sale. But as a side bonus, it works rather well with other games too, so I guess I can't complain too much.

SequenceToday (or yesterday by this point, I guess), I downloaded Sequence, a combination rhythm/RPG game. To sum up the game really quickly, you accumulate XP and gather items by defeating enemies in rhythm-based combat, where you face three simultaneous screens of Dance Dance Revolution-style arrow-tapping. Obviously, you can't play all three at once, so part of the strategy of the game comes in when you play each specific screen. Do you take a few points of damage (on your Defense screen) to build up Mana on another screen, so you can charge up to cast a Spell on yet another? You've got to keep an eye on all three screens at once, switching back and forth at the right moment to defeat your opponent quickly.

Keeping in the tradition of RPG games (which, I'll admit, I know nothing about), items dropped by defeated enemies can be equipped to increase your health or strength, or combined in recipes to create new items and spells. Crafting these items takes a bit of luck, as you must always wager a portion of your experience points to make the crafting work. You can risk more of your points for a greater success rate, but it's still capped at 95% odds, so there's always some shot of losing those points for nothing. Spells must also be mastered before they can be used in battle by completing a solo round with a matching task (over X% accuracy, X-hit streak, etc.).

Let me start out my analysis of this game by saying that it's pretty fantastic overall. The combination of multitasking and rhythm makes for a good challenge, and the four levels of difficulty (I chose medium, for the record) mean you can dive right in at any level of experience with rhythm games (or general rhythmic competency). The attached storyline, while so far mostly bare-bones, is still intriguing and hilariously well-written, taking the mickey out of itself and other similar games without ever begging for you to like it. The music you play with isn't exactly gripping, but that non-intrusiveness is perfect for a game like this where you've just got to keep tapping your feet and smashing the right buttons. And as for the art, more than the fairly simple graphics, I'm impressed that there exists an RPG character that wears NORMAL CLOTHING. Seriously, cargo pants and a sweatshirt? I wear those things! (Though green was never really my color.) But I say that to say that the main character is so instantly relatable that you'll have no trouble getting into this game.

(Note: The following struck text is referring to bugs present at the time the review was written, but were fixed quickly afterwards. I've kept the text here, but feel free to skip it.) ...But staying in this game might be a different matter. My biggest drawback from giving Sequence a wholehearted recommendation right off the top is the fact that it's still oddly buggy, in one way or another. The first minor quirk was that this game seems to be highly susceptible to fluctuations in CPU usage (I had my browser window open in the background while using this), meaning the scrolling arrows might slow down and speed up for a bit mid-game, or my controller buttons didn't seem to register all the time. I will gladly admit that this might simply be an issue with my computer being old and crappy, but there are further issues to be discussed.

In addition to this, it seemed like after the game initially finished downloading, it immediately started to download another update. Initial release date blues, I thought, no problem at all. However, it seemed that it kept downloading more and more updates, all large and cumbersome for my connection to handle (Dear Steam, when are you finishing the interface update that lets users throttle download speeds? XOXO, --steve), even after verifying the game cache a few times. Despite this, there seems to now be an issue (which started just this evening) where when I attempt to master a spell to add it to my arsenal, the game instantly crashes every time (and it still charges me the 50 XP I pay to do so!). That definitely wasn't an issue earlier today when I mastered my first spell, so I don't know what's going on. (Edit: It appears I can't access the Spellset options now. Fix plz?) (Edit again: It's the morning after, and it looks like both of these issues have been fixed. Link)

If you can get over the annoying buggyness (which I'm sure someone is constantly working on fixing),
Sequence is definitely a strong title and well worth buying even at its non-sale price of $5. The trailer videos (worth a watch, if only to hear one of the most brutally honest PR speeches I've heard in a while) boast 10+ hours of gameplay, but even though I'm only two hours in, I can already tell it will be worth the time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wheel! Of! Ridiculous.

I downloaded Puzzler World 2 yesterday. The fact that I'm writing a blog post about it now means that either I've found so many things to love about it that I have to share it with you so can jump on the sale price, or it's so terrible that I've already gathered a list of complaints long enough that I have to get it off my chest before I suffocate. Puzzler World 2 falls into the latter category. Mostly.

Puzzler World 2, much like the original Puzzler World, is a collection of 560 puzzles of ten different types, each with a bonus puzzle attached to help you "win big", if the entire thing is to be interpreted as a game show. Which is probably what the developers were shooting for, really, although it's hard to imagine crosswords, sudoku, and hidden picture puzzles as game shows. (Never mind the fact that all three happened.) The puzzles range from fairly challenging, like the three I already mentioned, to the inane, like the Silhouette puzzles which are essentially monochromatic coloring book pages, or Word Searches, which, to quote my high school chemistry teacher, "are for stupid people." (Which is to say, they're algorithmic and don't require tremendous skill.)

I enjoy the Backwords and Patchwords puzzles new to this second edition, although they become somewhat banal after a bit. The game showy atmosphere is still present, though it seems to oscillate between light, daytime game show and deadpan, serious-face million-dollar game show too quickly. Altogether, it's a decent collection of puzzles, and it's large enough to hold one over for quite a while.

But it also sucks somewhat grandly. Like its predecessor, Puzzler World 2 seems to have been ported from another platform to the PC. (The first one came from the DS, this one seems very iPaddy.) The transition from device to PC isn't nearly as smooth here, and there are some bizarre interface quirks that show this. Plus, there are a lot more instances in this game where you have to sit and endure animations, rather than being able to skip them like before.

It feels like a lot of things that weren't broken before were "fixed" in this edition, but the "fixing" just made them worse. While you now have access to larger Link-a-Pix puzzles (courteously supplied by the often-cited folks at Conceptis Puzzles), the interface is also much clunkier and frustrating to work with (including not solving the basic problem of not allowing multiple active lines). The Fitword puzzles got a helpful drag-and-drop makeover (rather than typing in every word), but the controls can still be finicky and dropping one pixel away from your target can set you back several steps. There are a lot of things that make Puzzler World 2 gradually more frustrating than the original.

I'm not saying you shouldn't buy this game though. As far as puzzle collections go, it still has a larger batch of puzzles and a wider variety than what you'll find most other places. It's just those annoying quirks everywhere that give Puzzler World 2 a major downside. If you're considering buying this, I'd say the current sale price on Steam ($7.99) is fair, especially considering you get Puzzler World 1 for free along with it. But if you're easily turned off by these sorts of issues, you'd only be putting your money in Jeopardy! (See that? I did a game shows thing!)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Funny, Chrakovsky Isn't On iTunes

On another unrelated whim, I bought Vertigo Games' greenTech+ the other day. There's no long convoluted backstory to go into with regards to this game, aside from I really enjoyed the AcidBomb and Shellblast games and I've played the pre-commerical greenTech, so I can jump into reviewing the game without a long history lesson.

greenTech+Instead, let's talk ecology. Just kidding! Sort of. greenTech+ is a game about global warming and pollution management, though in a definitely (and surprisingly) non-preachy way. Over the course of a level, factories release pollution into the air at regular intervals. Your goal is to guide the pollution to the waiting cleaning centers. How? By controlling a hurricane that sucks the pollution toward itself. Naturally. To make matters worse, the cleaning centers have limited uses, meaning you've got to guide the pollution all around the map. Also, if the pollution hits an area of high air pressure, the pollution disperses into the atmosphere, raising global warming by 10%. If any pollution hits the hurricane itself, it shoots up 20%. If you reach 100%, it's game over.

greenTech+ is an easy game to get the hang of, but very hard to master. Most of the levels can be passed even if only barely (sneaking by with 90%), and each completed level unlocks a new monitor for you to upgrade to (more on the aesthetics later). But, to unlock new levels, you have to achieve a certain number of perfect levels, finishing with 0%. This is way easier said than done, as a split second of lost concentration can tack an unwanted 10% on your score. As you play, you pick up certain strategies like rounding up a ton of pollution into a tiny cluster before making the rounds to the cleaning centers, or speeding up and slowing down the hurricane's attraction speed, but figuring out when to use each is extremely difficult.

Despite being a game that tackles a serious problem (though in a wholly fictional way), greenTech+ carries a very light-hearted tone. It's been trimmed down in this commercial re-release, but in the original greenTech the opening titles gave the impression that the game simulated the daily job of one lonely office worker who would find his favorite classical music station on the radio while booting up his computer to work his magic, Fantasia-style. That quirky attitude toward a life-or-death situation carries over here in perfect form. (One of my favorite examples of this is when you lose a level, destroying the world, then you're asked press X to "accept".) Tie in the fake classical music and the retro graphics on upgradable (though still crappy) monitors, and this game bleeds personality despite its harsh gameplay.

greenTech+ is definitely challenging, but still fun to tackle. If you don't want to dive into the full version of the game, you can always try the original greenTech (the only major difference is free mouse control vs. grid-based keyboard control). Once you fight your way through that, it'll be hard not to give into the allure of the newer version. The greenTech series is frustrating but fun, and makes an excellent diversion for when you don't have the time to get into larger puzzle games.

Oh, and there are also apparently 3-D settings for greenTech+ to play with, but I don't have the glasses and it'd probably give me a headache pretty quickly anyway.