Cardboard Castle, Vacation Vexation and Shovel Shuffle

Cardboard Castle by Advanced Mobile Applications

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Cardboard Castle is a puzzle game in the form of clearing a path for a knight to advance from one end of a level to the other. The cardboard cutout motif is more than just a style choice – many of the solutions to clearing obstacles pertain to their papery nature. If there’s a pair of scissors handy, you can use them to cut down a tree or kill a baddie. Or you can dissolve a baddie with a glass of water to turn him into cardboard mush. Put the mush in a hole then let the sun dry it into passable ground, then you can take the baddie’s axe, cut down a tree into a plank with it, then use the plank to bridge another gap. The puzzle is working out in what order to do everything so you don’t paint yourself into a corner. You have one glass of water – do you mulch a cardboard baddie with it or water a tree to get a cardboard apple? You might realise you need to drop a cow down a hole to proceed – but should you do it right now? Is there anything else you can do with the cow first?

The game tries to be charming with its dinky cutout style, but isn’t quite as cute as it thinks it is. The music is irritating and best turned off, and dragging items is a bit pixel-perfect, which is tiresome in a touchscreen game. I also encountered an annoying glitch in which I painted myself into a corner and made the level unwinnable, and it wouldn’t sort itself out on resetting the level. To fix it I had to quit to the main menu then go back in.

There are enough playable chapters for it to have been a worthwhile purchase for me, but I think it could do with introducing a few more mechanics as it went on rather than just having more of the same for too long.

Quiet Christmas and Vacation Vexation by Nostatic Software

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I planned to only review one paid title this week, so I can make my £5 wallet topup stretch across at least two weeks. But I genuinely enjoyed Quiet, Please enough that I wanted to try the other two in the series.

It’s great that the developers have remembered that the game is playable on a Vita, not just a phone/tablet, so they’ve included functionality for the thumbsticks and fascia buttons. Too many PS Mobile games use just the tapscreen. You can use either touch or physical controls for the Quiet games, and both work well.

Quiet, Please (reviewed last week) was a short and sweet little point and click adventure in which a girl who just wants to sleep peacefully has to neutralise all the sources of irritating noise in and around her house, and the two sequels continue this theme. Quiet Christmas sees you getting the house ready for Christmas day by – among other things – fixing tree lights, making cookies for Father Christmas, and taking out neighbour Mr Peabody’s annoying musical Santa so you can get to sleep.
Vacation Vexation revolves around trying to relax on the beach with a good book, which is a fairly simple objective in its own right (albeit including petty larceny) but turns out to be the catalyst for having to fix everybody’s problems around the beach area. Art gallery director won’t stop yakking on her phone about how the gallery is missing an exhibit? Looks as though you’ll have to make an artwork and sneak it in so she’ll get off the phone and you can go back to your book. Little brother in floods of tears over a dropped ice cream? You’ll have to find him a tasty treat to stop him crying, and you’re out of money.

Quiet Christmas is very similar to the first game, with a minor bit of polish (the text is more readable than last time). It even takes place in the exact same map as Quiet, Please and acts more like a direct continuation than a sequel. Vacation Vexation is a step up in longevity and, in my opinion, fun and humour. It saves your progress as you solve puzzles, something the first two games were too short to really need. Amusingly, it includes a seaside arcade with playable games (a clone of Frogger and Space Invaders, and a mini version of Kung Fu Fight (another of Nostatic’s games)), which is a nice touch.

The only bad thing about the Quiet series is that there is pretty much no replayability, and like all point and click adventures the logic sometimes borders on incomprehensible. At one point, for example, you have to burst an inflatable object using a tree branch, even though you have access to your dad’s tool box, which must surely contain an array of pointy things. I think the games could be improved with multiple solutions to puzzles.

I encountered a glitch in Vacation Vexation that forced me to reset the game to fix it. I put an object down near a door, then opened the door, which blocked the object from view. It despawned with no way to get another without reloading the game. Tiresome.

It is pretty amusing/worrying how increasingly sadistic your actions towards Ned Flanders Mr Peabody become as the series progresses. You go from sabotaging his lawnmower to pelting him with snowballs to actually inflicting bodily harm on him in VV. Presumably the next game will have us pushing him down a well or gluing him to a wolf. And I hope there is a next one! I’m really enjoying these.

Shovel Shuffle by Chair Warming Facility

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I kept forgetting what this unmemorable game was called, so the draft version of this document refers to it as Tunnel Wanker. I picked this up because it was free (or so I thought; turns out only the smallest board size is free and you have to pay if you want a bigger play area).

It’s guff. It looks and feels like someone’s first creation with some game-making software, complete with half-arsed MSPaint graphics. Simple graphics are fine if it’s clearly an artistic choice, but this looks like placeholder art. I could explain the rules, but I can’t really be bothered. There are better games than this on Kongregate, and they’re free.

Rymdkapsel, Monster Hotel and Quiet, Please

In what I hope will be a semi-regular feature, I will aim to buy and review a PlayStation Mobile or Minis title once a week-ish. I might end up reviewing more than one at a time, since the minimum you can add to your ‘wallet’ in the PS Store is £5 and most of these games are under £2 or so.

Rymdkapsel by Martin Jonasson

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I loved this! I deliberately bought a game I wouldn’t normally buy (realtime strategy) and I’m glad I did. In Rymdkapsel you build a space station and defend it from periodic attack, extending the corridors of the station until your minions (delightfully named) can reach the ominous-looking space monoliths and research their secrets.

What makes this different from most base-building games is that the rooms and corridors you build are all tetrominoes. An indicator in the top left corner shows which shape you’ll have to build next. (You can’t skip it, but if you don’t like it you can set it out to build and then immediately cancel it with no penalty, causing the game to move on to the next shape.) All room types have a fixed cost. Two of the three resources you’ll need (food and reactor energy) are effectively infinite (energy comes from your solar-powered reactor, and food is made in your kitchens from sludge harvested from your gardens), whereas physical materials are a limited resource harvested from particle clouds. It’s possible to paint yourself into a corner by building too much sprawling mass and leaving yourself unable to build a corridor to the next particle cloud. To avoid this scenario, the game gives you ample warning, and you can destroy deprecated rooms for a portion of their initial cost (once a particle cloud is depleted, there is no need to keep the extractor unit that was harvesting it).

Periodically, your base is attacked (a red bar at the bottom of the screen slowly fills, indicating time until next attack), necessitating re-assigning most of your minions to defence until the attack passes. I played two games of this, each one lasting just over an hour before I was overwhelmed by too few minions versus too many enemies.

I would have liked an option to prioritise which queued-for-construction room should be worked on first, but I suppose that’s my fault for spamming my minions with so many requests at once. I’d also like to be able to have more than two minions at a time in one weapons room. One space dragon is no match for two minions, but later on as the attacks increase in intensity and frequency, two aren’t enough. I can’t see a way around this besides building big batteries of weapons rooms, but it’s possible that the enemy intensity is working as intended in order to bring the game to close in about an hour. One of the objectives is to research all four monoliths in the field in under 45 minutes, and in my second game I’d researched only two. I’m keen to try again!

Bugger.

Bugger.

Monster Hotel by XMPT Games

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The vampire in the red room is cheesed off because they want to be in a room with a swamp thing and aren’t.

I love the idea of this (keeping monster guests in a hotel happy) but find it very difficult even on the easiest setting. I’m hoping it will grow on me, as it’s very droll. The proprietor of the hotel is inexplicably a penguin.

Monsters are seemingly incapable of changing rooms or even moving to the lobby of their own volition, and their whims change very frequently, forcing you to constantly pick up and drag monsters to a new room. It’s not like one of those static logic puzzles where you can’t put two people wearing the same hat next to each other; it’s a constant juggling game. It’s also doomed to failure, as it’s impossible to keep every monster happy simultaneously and you must choose which monster will cause least damage if left angry.

It’s a little tricky thanks to the monsters’ speechbubbles overlapping when more than two of them are in the same room. I would like to see some way of having the bubbles align to a grid. The fast pace and hard to read bubbles mean that most games are over very quickly, making this good for an on-the-toilet game but not for much else.

Quiet, Please by Nostatic Software

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This is ever so short, but for 79p I can’t really complain. (Then again, Picbox cost me only 70p and I managed to clock nine hours on it.) I enjoyed it enough that I’d like to pick up the next game, Quiet Christmas, and I’m only put off by the fact that I’d have to put another £5 in my Sony wallet.

You play as a girl who just wants peace and quiet so she can go to bed, but is thwarted in her desire by a neighbour’s lawnmower, a noisy telly, squeaking kittens, a boisterous little brother who wants to play, etc. You have to silence all these sources of noise somehow. It’s hard to give more detail without giving away the solutions of the puzzles, but I will say that it’s largely straightforward apart from one bit where I became very frustrated because I couldn’t see a solution. It turned out that there is one object that is required to solve two objectives, which the game has tricked you out of considering because until that point each object you can pick up has been used to solve precisely one objective. Sneaky.

I liked this and don’t really have anything bad to say about it apart from the fact that it’s so short (20-30 minutes) that there almost isn’t anything of any substance to criticise. It’s not a game to go specifically to the Vita store for, but worth picking up if you end up with a spare 79p in your Sony wallet.

Proteus

Proteus is one of the most delightful things I have played. So many games are fun, but Loco Roco, Okami and now Proteus are probably the only ones I have played that I could describe as delightful.


Proteus Official Launch Trailer

This isn’t going to be a review, because everyone’s surely heard about this game already thanks to the ‘it’s not a game!’ wankerypop it generated. I’m writing this because the game is now available for Windows and Linux and at the time of writing is only £3.50 on Steam. If you can’t eke £3.50’s worth of fun out of Proteus you are a charmless joy-void.

Lovely things I found or did in Proteus:

  • Chasing a frog over a mountain by moonlight.
  • The roses around the gravestone.
  • Two dragons dancing in the sky in spring and summer.
  • Going to the circle of statues on Autumn nights and watching the sky turn blood red.
  • A magical sparkling frog!
  • The crabs go to sleep! How adorable!
  • Owls owls owls!
  • Finding two or even three different kinds of frog at once and making them into a jaunty cowbell frog chorus.

DmC

I was expecting the worst from DmC. I love the pre-reboot series (I even like DMC 2), and I was nervous about seeing the game put in the hands of Ninja Theory, whose Heavenly Sword was very pretty and also very derivative and dull. I let myself be cautiously optimistic at the same time, because the DMC games have plots you could write on a postage stamp (Dante and pals fight monsters, Dante fights big boss monster, everyone goes home for tea), and all that could be done with the characters has probably been done. The series needed a reboot. (Plus, that nicely fixes the problem of ‘where exactly does DMC2 fit into the series’ timeline’.)

Fortunately, it’s a quite brilliant reboot. It’s got some comforting familiarity (Dante’s still a cocky cuntcake, combat still involves using a sword to twat enemies up into the air and ‘juggling’ them with gunfire, you still buy things from divinity statues using red orbs and look for secret missions), and some nice restyling. Vergil is now a cool (but silly-hatted) gunslinger, driver and hacker instead of a moody git who refuses to use firearms because they’re not the way of a true warrior. New character Kat (a witch who keeps her spells in spray cans for quick deployment) is probably vaguely based on 3’s Lady, and is a more interesting and likable character. The game has a less goff vibe, and feels like what DMC2 was trying to be. In particular, Noisia and Combichrist were excellent choices for the soundtrack. Devil May Cry with a dubstep backdrop? Oh hell yes.

I was impressed by the intro cutscene, in which Dante answers the door in the nuddy-pants and proceeds to get dressed in an unfeasibly dramatic way while running into battle. The whole time this happens, his bits are somehow obscured by a carefully-choreographed parade of dong-shaped objects (such as a flying baseball bat). That shows that Ninja Theory have the series’ innuendo and silliness down pat.
I have mixed feelings about the new sweariness. Old Dante was disappointingly unsweary, but a script peppered with ‘Fuck you!’ ‘Fuck YOU!’ comes across as written by someone in a hurry to get to the pub. As does this terrible bit of dialogue: ‘You’re going to die!’ ‘Oh really? Somehow, I doubt that.’ Seriously, Ninja Theory?

Play follows the action-adventure standard of ‘twat all the enemies in the area, then you can crack on with solving the environmental puzzle and move on to the next area.’ ‘Puzzle’ is probably too generous a term – most of it is easy platforming. It’s linear, but encourages you to revisit levels by having obstacles that you can only clear with a weapon you acquire later in the game. You can finish the game in one inexorable advance from intro to final cutscene if that’s how you want to play, or if you’re a completionist and like to explore and to collect things you can go back and do that too.

Combat is fairly formulaic, in that you’ll probably find a favourite combo and stick with that until you find an enemy it doesn’t work on. It’s annoyingly easy to fall off precipices when using the move to pull yourself to an airborne enemy, meaning that this move gets largely unused in favour of the equally-effective one to pull the enemy towards you. Your overall mission score is affected by the quality of your battle moves (avoid taking damage and avoid repetition), but it’s surprisingly easy to score highly in this area, meaning that you don’t really have to think that hard about finesse unless you’re going for an mission S rank or above.

The game has enough references to the previous series to please DMC wankers like me. A couple of times it does get a bit ‘Look! That was a reference, did you like it?’ Yes, ho ho, I see what you did there. Some enemy designs are reimaginings of monsters from past games, and the game has a battle mechanic similar to the brilliant Devil Bringer used by Nero in DMC4. Interestingly, there’s no title drop (all the previous games made references to the fact that devils never cry, and the title of the series was also the title of Dante’s business), making me wonder if the devs will make the letters DmC stand for something else.

I was bracing myself for a women-objectifying scene mentioned in another review. It’s there and yeah, pretty gratuitous, but fortunately it’s over quickly and happens right at the start. It’s almost as though the devs thought it was obligatory to have at least one pan over a woman’s knickered bum but didn’t really want to and shoved it in quick at the start to get it over with. I found myself thinking ‘that wasn’t so bad’, which is quite sad because it shows how ubiquitous this has become in mainstream gaming.
I’m more bothered by how Western-centric the plot is. An illuminati of demons have taken over the world by a combination of manipulating finances using possessed bankers (topical lols), a propaganda-filled news network (an obvious pisstake of Fox), and an addictive aggressively-marketed soft drink that makes its consumers subservient. Fair enough, but it’s not explained how this works in areas without television coverage or fizzy pop, or how a worldwide stranglehold can be broken by taking out one television station and one factory.

It’s so refreshing to see a game that hasn’t forgotten it is a game, and presents itself as such. Checkpoints are so frequent that you can stop playing pretty much wherever you want and not have to worry about losing progress when you resume play. If you’ve reached a level in any difficulty mode, you can try it at any other mode you’ve unlocked. Controls are remappable. Hard mode is the normal mode from the pre-reboot games, making it kinder to series newbies while leaving its trademark difficulty still in place for those who want it. You can try out moves in a training arena before committing to buying them, and you can respec whenever you want. Secret mission doors you’ve unlocked and lost souls you’ve found stay that way on subsequent mission playthroughs. DmC is a hard game only in that it’s tough to play – the structure as a game is engineered in such a way that you never have to think about it, and can get on with the business of enjoying the damn game. We need more of this.

If you’re new to the Devil May Cry series, this is probably a better purchase than the Devil May Cry HD Collection, which is a very soulless port, or Devil May Cry 4, which is buttock-clenchingly hard and makes you play as shitehawk Nero for the first half before you can be Dante. If you’re an established Devil May Cry fan, you must get this. It’s a worthy continuation.

Bonus: Here’s a Storify of my livetweeting the game when I first got it.

Rayman Origins

I started writing this shortly after I got the game in late February. It’s taken me this long to get round to finishing it, because I’ve been having too much fun actually playing the game and chasing PSN trophies.

In this time of prequels and reboots, it’s refreshing that the oddly-named Rayman Origins is neither. There is some minor exposition, most of it on the game’s official website, but Rayman’s ‘origins’ here largely mean a return to the 2D platforming of the original PSone game.

Origins is a very good advert for both the Vita and the Ubi-Art engine with which the game was made. It’s a port (from 2011’s P/X/W version), but what a port! This kind of gameplay was what handheld consoles were made for, and the graphics look gorgeous on the Vita’s screen. It also makes use of the touchscreen with some features not present in the P/X/W version.

Like the original Rayman (released in 1995 for the PSone), Origins is very pretty and absolutely nails. Unlike the first Rayman, Origins is made much more fun by virtue of not using the quaint mechanic of finite lives, and by being easily the silliest game in the Rayman franchise (with the possible exception of Raving Rabbids, which has been retconned out of the series’ continuity). It has Loco Roco-levels of brightness and cheer with almost Ren and Stimpy-esque character animation.

There’s almost no plot to speak of. Oh sure, the game’s blurb says something about saving the world before it vanishes like a bad dream, but the game keeps it unobtrusive. All we take from the brief & wordless intro video, and all we really need to know, is that the baddies were woken up by Rayman & co’s loud snoring, and stole all the lums and imprisoned the electoons in a grumpy huff. You need to go and get them all back, and you might as well stomp on the baddies while you’re at it. (Incidentally, lums are “‘looms’ like ilLUMination, not lums, for dumb.”)

Progress is simple: reaching the end of a level unlocks the next one. Incentives for doing more (finding relics, finding and opening cages of trapped electoons, collecting lots of lums, or successfully speed-running a level), include PSN trophies, extra characters and a couple of exposition scenes.

Origins is a very fluid platformer that needs quick thinking and responses, and pulls this off well enough that it feels more like not thinking and just acting. The enemies are often the most static and least menacing obstacle – the challenge coming from the environment shifting beneath and around you. Cliffs break, bouncy plants sprout, walls re-align and form a different path from the one you were going to take a split second ago.
The game has a nice difficulty curve, and is saved from repetition by granting you a new power at the start of each new world (Rayman yet again having forgotten how to attack, glide, swim etc. at the beginning of a new adventure).

The level design plays with staple themes by mashing them together in ways not normally seen, resulting in something more fun than the sum of its parts. The Desert of Didgeridoos is a desert level – phooey. But wait! – mixed with a musical theme. Gourmand Land is the staple slippy-slidey ice level (and later fire level), saved from familiarity-induced boredom by being made of food.

Recovering plenty of electoons unlocks more playable characters, but all are simply re-skins of starters Rayman, Globox and two Teensies. There’s no difference between each except animations (though the Globoxes can be slightly easier to play because of the noticeable hurtbox/sprite dissonance).
Collecting lots and lots of electoons earns you access to the Tricky Treasure levels; the only reward that’s not simply cosmetic/flavour. Tricky Treasure levels are the game distilled and then turned up to 11. You must chase a fleeing treasure chest, and if it manages to get off-screen you die – if you don’t get killed anyway by spike pits, incoming piranhas, falling rocks, etc. Finishing all 10 gives you access to the incredibly hard Land of the Livid Dead.

Exclusive to the Vita version are the previously-mentioned relics. These are camouflaged against the scenery and must be collected by tapping the touchscreen. Most of them are so well-hidden that the only clue one is nearby is the rattling sound they emit. It’s somewhat odd, given that picking one up usually involves staying still, tentatively zooming in (pecking at the touchscreen with your fingers, like an uncertain pheasant) and poring over every millimetre of screen, hoping to spot a relic when it makes its periodic twitch. It’s quite a contrast to the running and jumping and gliding. It’s also the only bit of the game where sound helps you (and by a large amount) instead of just being atmospheric; if you can’t hear, your opportunities to pick up relics are probably limited to sheer luck.
Relics unlock wall mosaic tiles in the home level – when complete, they show why Globox is blue and how Rayman is able to use his hair to glide.

This game is wholly silly and delightful. It’s slick, and even the loading screens are gorgeous. The music is charming and jubilant. The whole package is a great blend of superb art direction and 2D platforming that shows it’s still a worthwhile genre.

Originally published in April 2012.