Review: Magical Drop V

Once, late at night I commented to a friend of mine that being half asleep appeared to be the perfect condition for playing Magical Drop.  Between the bright colors and frantic, sometimes impossible to keep up with, pace it just seemed to be something that my ready to sleep mind was kind of enjoying a ton.  Being a mixture of most block matching games and seemingly endless insanity might also have also been a contributing factor.

The core mechanic of the game is to pull ever descending blocks from one column and put them in another with a matching set of three or more.  This causes the matched blocks to disappear, which can result in anything from a desperate move to prevent the pillars from crushing you to a screen clearing combo.  The movement speed of everything, from the character switching the blocks to the descending bricks themselves, seems to be way to fast to understand at first; after about an hour of playing the game, though, the first couple rounds against the computer manage to feel kind of slow.

The problems with the game entirely comes from the fact that it seems buggy.  When I first got the game there was an issue with it recognizing my controller, and seeing as how all of the in-game information had decided that it was going to display in German and German only it was mildly difficult to fix.  After digging through the install directory I managed to fix the problems myself, although that is something that I don’t see many people bothering to do.  When the game was patched on release these problems were fixed, but replaced with the game defaulting to Japanese and needing to be changed in the settings.  While a more manageable bug it was still annoying to go through.

Bugs aside I do have to point out that the game does a terrible job of having anything resembling a functional tutorial. Mix in the fact that the game is difficult to learn on easy, and doesn’t even begin to introduce all of the core mechanics unless played on normal or harder, and you end up with something that is an interesting experience but hard to break through the shell of.  This is, off course, before even mentioning the characters in the game that play as if they were in Puzzle Bobble instead of any of the other characters, because I am still not entirely sure their finer mechanics after several hours of play.

Magical Drop is far from a perfect release, as anyone who is going to battle with any of the bugs will tell you.  The real problems, though, come from the fact that the game is more complicated than it appears to give itself credit for.  It might be easy just to say that this game is just for fans, but the truth is that anyone with a passing interest in this genre will find something to like inside—even if that is just pure insanity.  For 10 dollars Magical Drop V is something worthwhile to have in your Steam list, even if the first two hours is spent figuring out how to get it running and how to fundamentally play it.

Review: Tales from Space: Mutant Block Attacks

There is a large amount of joy that can be garnered from playing a game that you thought wasn’t going to be that great, but finding out that it is actually kind of amazing.  That was exactly the case with Tales from Space: Mutant Blob Attacks—mainly that it simply showed up for review; also the odd title didn’t really help promote confidence in the unknown.  The game ended up being some kind of odd mix between a puzzle game, Katamari Damacy, and a platformer—a combination that comes together way better in practice than it ever could on paper.

The game stars some kind of amorphous blob that grows simply through the act of absorbing things that it comes into contact with, a la Katamari.  Scattered throughout the levels are random hazards, normally in the way of either spikes or lasers that need to be avoided as to not take damage and be forced to replay that section of the level.  Most of the avoidance takes place in the form of some light puzzle solving, moving platforms into place or miscellaneous objects to make jumps possible.  Keep in mind that all of this is happening on a 2D plane.

The most interesting aspect of the puzzle solving revolves around the frequent use of the mouse to move objects around in the environment, most interestingly to turn the blob into a projectile that flies across giant gaps.  The downside to this interesting interaction is that it makes the game go from something that can be played with a controller to something that involves sitting up and playing around with a mouse every couple of minutes or so.

What really drives this game from something that would be a quick, enjoyable, and probably forgettable gameplay session is the games art style and amazing sense of humor.  Pretty much everything from the original Gameboy, with a more classic 16-bit look on the throwback levels, to Portal and more recent games get nods throughout the game—mostly in the form of billboards on the background of the town that the blob is destroying.  Probably one of my personal favorite things about the game is that there are no qualms about the fact that every human the blob comes into contact with is eaten and made part of the continuing death machine—something that I always kind of felt was skimmed over with Katamari.

The game sells on Steam for 8 dollars, which is only an issue because it seems like an odd price to ask for something.  While the experience might be short there are certain moments in the game, from the news reports of impending doom to the nods at gaming in general, which simply make it enjoyable from start to finish.  The game itself is very easy to recommend to anyone who is interested on gaming on a PC.  Honestly this game has made it painfully clear that DrinkBox Studios might be a company that can output some rather interesting games in the future, as well as the one that is out right now.

Review: Tower Wars

Tower Defense games have been a pretty constant experience from one game to another, the AI spawns monsters and the player builds towers to hold them off from reaching the other side of the board.  Tower Wars has taken that concept and found a way to make that experience multiplayer by giving the controls of the monsters over.  The final product ends up feeling like something between a traditional tower defense game and League of Legends.

Probably the first thing that jumps out about Tower Wars before anything else is the endearing quality of the game, the characters and the world itself seem to be rather well defined in such a way that everything seems to have a sense of place. The art does its job holding everything together, but there is something about the voice work that just makes certain aspects of the game pop in a way that isn’t always that common in video games in general.  Even small aspects like how the units are upgraded, burrowing into the ground to reappear in a more awesome version, seems to be rather well thought out.

Probably the biggest surprise of all, though, was the multi-player of the game. The matches range from 1v1 to 3v3, although I never managed to get into the larger sets through random matches, and involve building and economy, deploying mobs at the other player, and building towers to defend against his way of baddies.   Not only was it impressive that the game seems to have finally cracked the correct way to do multi-player in a tower defense game, it is also rather wonderful to note that the community that has started to build around the experience is really accepting and understanding of new players.  Considering the DotA like feel of the game this is both a pleasant surprise and refreshing to see that it is possible.

Everything in the world of Tower Wars is not sunshine and honey though; the massive downside of the game comes in the way of the single player.  The only option to play by one’s self is a classic survival mode; things get even worse when there are only three maps to choose from and the goal is to see how long one can outlast waves of enemies.  Considering that there are several tech trees, a nice nuanced depth of economy management, and pretty much an entire game type that are all complete left out of the single player experience it seems kind of disappointing.  While it might not have been that hard to include AI with different skill levels, on the off chance that people aren’t playing this game in the future for multiplayer games to be found, it is nice to know that there is at least a game mode that can be fallen back on.

The game sells for 10 dollars on Steam, although it does appear to randomly go on sale for about a dollar less than that, which seems about right for this type of game.  A multiplayer, ranked, tower defense game might not be what every person in the world is looking for; that said once bitten by the indie bug it is very easy to find lots of things to really enjoy about this game.  While it might not be for everyone the people who do find it will hopefully be enjoying it for some time to come.

Review: English Country Tune

I have never really been a fan of obscure puzzle solving games, mainly because it always felt like there was too much time spent on design choices and too little on making any of the puzzles actually interesting.  This happens to be exactly the case with English Country Tune, because most of the game simply feels like it was designed by a random word generator and less by people who thought that a real human would ever play it.

The player controls an all but two dimensional square that moves by flipping around the environment and pushing various objects into predetermined areas.  The objects range from balls that continue moving until they hit something, depending on how they are hit, to squares that are moved by some kind of random field that they seemingly emit.  In concept the game may even seem simple enough, like some random PS1 game that was quickly glossed over through the annals of time, but becomes annoying complex and uninteresting the moment that it tries to move all of the puzzling into the 3rd dimension.

The problems start to stem from the fact that almost none of the game mechanics are ever that well defined so when a level becomes confusing and takes a long time to be beaten it seems to be less about it being challenging and more that the game never really explained anything at all.  The logic of how gravity and other tools work always seems to be more about brute forcing a solution out and learning from that than anything.  Sadly once some of the basic functions are ironed out, after repeatedly trying the same levels over and over to arrive at an answer, the game seems to simply become uninteresting.

Nothing seems to really fit together either; levels seem to be a retro throwback to when polygons first became a thing, the level selection almost seems like it is selecting an item on a chemical chain of some kind, and the naming convention is pretty much so random it might as well be recorded as the worst day ever for Google Translate.  The lack of cohesion feels like it slips through the moment that the levels start even being a little challenging and just make this feel like another forgettable puzzle game.

For five dollars the game is certainly something that exists on Steam.  If there is someone out there that simply needs to solve every riddle and puzzle out there like some kind of horror movie villain, this one isn’t going to set them back that much money at all.  For everyone else who might be looking for something that resembles entertainment than simply looking at a not that interesting puzzle for hours on end, there are pretty much any other game that has ever been made that they could choose from besides picking this one up.  Even for those who need to be constantly solving things to feel smart, I would recommend waiting for the next Steam sale and working on crosswords or something else until then.

Review: Cubemen

People have been releasing Tower Defense games for about a decade now; most of them end up being the same thing just recycled with a few different graphics.  So when a game comes along and tries to do something different most of the time it worth some kind of note, sadly for Cubemen this doesn’t really seem to fall into the “most of the time category”.

The good thing that Cubemen does differently than other games in the genre is build unique 3D worlds to scatter units around for better positioning.  When the rest of these types of games play like a gloried table top board game, it is refreshing to see one that finally seems to have decided to treat things like a video game.  Even though this is the first time that I have seen a Tower Defense game move into the third dimension it still doesn’t seem to be enough for it to become that vastly different than any other browser based game out there.

Although the art design of the game seems to sense that it was the first to do something like this and came up with an odd and interesting retro look to plaster on everything.  The levels and characters are all reduced to what appears to be solid polygon blocks, almost invoking a sense that the game itself is just going to be a stepping stone on the way to something better and more interesting.

Almost everything else about the game ends up weighing down the individuality of the experience, from the way that every unit that can be thrown out feels entirely disposable and only being different from one another by how well it can slow down enemy units, to the way that some levels feel like they have drag on for four times the length that they should.  I am sure that at one point this game looked great on paper, but along the way it simply lost its way.

The asking price itself isn’t that steep—at five dollars—if one really is a diehard fan of the genre as it will probably be something that can win some random debate 10 years from now about how video games slowly evolve.  The problem is that besides probably being a really interesting, and hopefully argument winning, footnote in game history there isn’t really that much more to see here.  For those still curious enough to want to buy it the publisher does seem rather keen to discounts during Steam sales, pick it up then.