Robotic Gaming Monthly – Harmonix, Hatred, and an ex-BioShock Bonanza
…Yeah, couldn’t think of anything good starting with H for the last part.
Anyhow, welcome, my friend, to yet another edition of Robotic Gaming Monthly, TR’s monthly look at whatever’s happening in the world of computer and video games! This month, we look at monochrome assholes, colorful punks, and ’80s UK gaming, among other fun things. Also, a chance to win stuff!! Yes, we get to have our first ever contest in here this month, so come and check things out!
Well now, what better way to kick off a happy, joyous edition like this than talking about the now-infamous Hatred trailer! Yes, I know, everyone’s sick of hearing about it, talking about it only gives it more attention, and we even have articles from other journalists basically flat-out telling us to shut up about it, but given how long I have to wait in between our little sessions, I haven’t explicitly gotten my chance to talk about certain things surrounding this game.
Namely, the comments. The comments made by gamers everywhere reacting to this game.
Now personally, I think Hatred looks like a pile of rancid, filthy, overly-serious, trying-way-too-hard crap that may or may not have been made by members of hate groups (which they have tried to deny, claiming they only watch those groups to get unbiased news). But there are those of you who actually like the game for some reason, and said people automatically snap back at those criticizing a game where the main goal is to slaughter countless innocent civilians as they beg for their lives (fun for the whole family!), and in defense, rattle off their own examples of violent video games in an attempt to defend their liking of the game and make everyone condemning it seem like a hypocrite.
So I say we should grab some examples of the games these people keep mentioning in comparison to Hatred and see how they stack up. Shall we?
The Grand Theft Auto series. Ah, the most obvious example. So obvious that every discussion of a violent moment in a video game may as well save time and include a bot that types “BUT GTA LETS YOU KILL PEOPLE SO CRITICIZING GAME VIOLENCE IS STUPID YOU DUMBASS SJW” in the comments every now and then. And let me type back with the obvious reply that the Grand Theft Auto games don’t force you to kill innocent bystanders, unlike Hatred. You don’t have to kill them at all. Have we forgotten that the GTA games are not entirely about solely killing random people left and right? That’s not what GTA is; that’s what everyone stereotypically thinks GTA is like. That’s what FOX News thinks GTA is entirely all about, and it’s not; it’s a more complex game about the criminal underworld than that. And do you really want to sound like you’re on the same level of intelligence as these people?
Hotline Miami. A bit closer, being a more arcade-y game with over-the-top violence. But these are hardly innocent victims you’re killing in Hotline Miami, and will gladly kill you in a millisecond. Not to mention the moments after every level where the buzzing noise plays and you’re left to reflect over just how f***ed up you really were in killing people, and the ending of the game where…(SPOILERS)…it’s revealed that those were nothing but empty threats on your character’s phone, and your conquests in killing meant absolutely nothing, unlike what you thought all along, making you feel like bit of a bastard.
Any game where you kill aliens/orcs/fantasy or sci-fi creatures in general. Quick question: In these hypothetical games of yours, are the creatures I’m killing innocent civilians, and is killing said civilians the goal of the game? Didn’t think so.
Postal. Wait…wait, you might have something there. It’s a top-down action game where the goal is to control a screwed-up man as he kills every single living thing in sight, and we let that game happen! Yes, Hatred is almost exactly like Postal!!
…And Postal was a completely mediocre piece of crap that existed basically for shock value only and was pretty much forgotten by tons of gamers immediately after!! Congratulations Internet, you have successfully proven that this one piece of moldy old feces is exactly like another piece of moldy old feces!! Yay you! Have a cookie!
People, why do you legitimately want Hatred? Have we learned nothing from the likes of games such as Postal, Time Killers, BMX XXX and many more? Look, controversial content is one thing, but as I stated when I first began this column months ago, you actually have to care about the gameplay as well. And let’s face it, while I hate to wholly judge a game before it comes out, gameplay is clearly secondary to the people behind Hatred. Their claim is that this is a game designed to be a response to the “politically correct” climate these days in video games, a response to how the gaming industry supposedly wants us to think, because apparently deciding that killing innocent people is bad is some annoying form of “political correctness” rather than, y’know, basic logic and ethics.
No, these are people looking to cash in on the absolute worst aspects of gaming culture. The ones who swear constantly at fellow players online, the YouTube commenters who flaunt their fanboyism and call everything else “gay”, the ones supposedly just into video games that allow you to shoot the fuck out of things, the ones who…oh, let’s just admit it, they’re cashing in on #GamerGate as well. Maybe not on purpose, but it sure was damn convenient announcing a game like this amid people in gaming acting angry and violent in one way or another left and right. These exploitative bastards make me sick.
You may say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but there’s certainly such a thing as bad sales. And don’t be surprised if game that only exists for shock value leads to that, bucko. Frankly, I’d rather give my money to something like this:
…Well, that was fun! Next up, video game reviews!
Review time! Alas, we don’t have a rather gigantic crop like last time (my efforts to try and obtain copies of The Evil Within and The Legend of Korra were unsuccessful), but we do have some notable titles to check out this month, so let’s dive in!
Well, we may as well kick things off with the game that I’ve been anticipating all year. The big one. Sunset Overdrive. I’ve made it no secret that I’ve been extremely excited about this game from day one, and now that it’s finally here, I’m almost nervous. Will it live up to my expectations? Will it deliver on its promises of pure fun? Will it…ahhh, let’s cut the crap and just get straight to it: I had a f***ing blast with Sunset Overdrive and it is definitely my Game of the Year so far. There, that should do it.
Let me try to translate why I love Sunset Overdrive as best as I can…Sunset Overdrive is basically the Guardians of the Galaxy of video games. Theoretically, I could just end the review right there on the hopes that this comparison will get you to buy the game, but allow me to elaborate. I don’t just simply mean that Overdrive is like GotG in the simple sense that both were insanely awesome. No, both of them exist not just as superb entertainment, but also as symbols of what their respective mediums need: Antidotes to other pieces of work that tried to be overly-serious, be they brown-gray shooters/action games or gritty comic book films/reboots/action films in general. Both concentrate simply on creating a purely fun but epic piece of work taking place in a colorful universe (literally and figuratively), emphasizing a sense of humor and amazing bits of action while providing the occasional throwback to the nostalgic days of their respective genres. Both are the unique, whimsical, insane pieces of work we needed. Oh, and both also heavily marketed themselves via some sort of cute, violence-loving critter (and memo to Microsoft: If you’re smart, start making Fizzie the Xbox One’s mascot. Now. Immediately).
So that explains why I love Sunset Overdrive as a concept, at least. But why I love the actual game?…Well, imagine some sort of crazed mixture between Dead Rising 2, Jet Set Radio, Smash TV, Ratchet and Clank, and many others, almost as if an alternate title for it would be Video Games: The Video Game.. It is basically a sheer action-packed tribute to the pure fun that video games can provide for someone, all wrapped up in one chaotic package.
The setup: Sometime in the near future (about a decade from now), a gigantic soft drink manufacturer named FizzCo rushes its new Overcharge Delirium XT drink to the market in order to beat the competition, skipping the whole part where they actually run testing on the drink…which would have revealed that consumption of Overcharge kind of causes people to mutate into ravenous mutants known as OD (Overcharge Drinkers) that kill anything in their path and crave Overcharge by the ton. So when the launch party for Overcharge in Sunset City goes a wee bit south and sort of triggers an apocalypse (common mistake), your character – a FizzCo janitor – decides to do the only sensible thing…lock themselves in their apartment, board it up, and start knocking back beers (in a surprisingly realistic depiction of what one of us would do in a case like this).
Seventeen days later, the beer runs out just as the OD begin to break in, and one rescue of your dumb ass later, your character sets out on a journey to escape Sunset City and the mutant madness contained within it. What follows is…well, I honestly can’t spoil anything. Legitimately every single mission or quest you take on will feature Insomniac’s attempts to make every single moment in the game as memorable and awesome as possible, and by god, they succeeded. If I had to mention a few key words to describe some of the best bits, though, they would be “robot dog”, “rock concert”, and “nuclear-powered robot-killing sword”, among other things.
So how do you escape this apocalypse and actually play the friggin’ game? Well, Sunset Overdrive is a third-person action game, and it primarily focuses on two things: Fast, parkour-style movement and insane weaponry. See, Sunset City is a place where seemingly everything in it is made out of rubber and magnets somehow, so bouncing from object to object, grinding on power lines and rails, wall-running and the like isn’t just encouraged, but basically necessary to survive in order to avoid huge mobs of enemies. Thankfully, Overdrive’s controls are easy to pick up on and simply require you to hit X around the right moment to grab on to anything, so movement is simple to figure out and provides a sweet feeling of speed when it comes to getting around to the point that any moment where you just simply walk on the ground almost feels…unnatural.
As for combat, we’re talking old-school arcade-esque action here, perfectly translated into a modern shooter and mixed with the type of fast-paced movement mentioned above to create some truly intense scenarios. We’re talking the type of game that goes “Chest-high walls? Regenerating health? To hell with that nonsense!! You’re travelling 30 MPH on the side of a wall and armed to the teeth with bowling ball cannons and guns that shoot rapid-fire vinyl records that can decapitate; that’s your damn cover!!” And yes, bowling ball cannons and album guns. The weaponry is gleefully insane, but also has a large amount of strategy to it, believe it or not. See, the more you use a weapon, you can eventually level it up so that it can cause more damage and hold more ammo, so you might be under the idea that you can get by using just one or two weapons. Sorry, but the game’s weapons have their limitations and strengths and weaknesses against certain types of enemies, so the game is always encouraging you to experiment with every weapon possible. You can even add unlockable Amps for your weaponry, which you can attach to your guns to give them extra bonuses. Maybe you want your large magnum to have a chance to freeze enemies upon impact, maybe you want it to provide a bigger chance of an enemy dropping health, or maybe you just want it to cause enemies to explode into a bunch of pretty flowers; whatever you desire.
In fact, customization is one of the biggest aspects of Sunset Overdrive. Aside from getting Amps for your guns, you can also unlock Amps to customize your own character’s various skillset or purchase Overdrives to mod them even further…although you can only have so many of either equipped at one time, so choose wisely. And then there’s the clothing…ah yes, the clothing. Again encouraging you to craft your own unique character and showcase its incredible style and visuals, Overdrive allows you to trick out your character with a wide range of apparel, ranging from relatively sane clothing to insane but plausible for somebody to wear, allowing you to dress your character up in a fluffy unicorn hat, panda claw gloves, and a kangaroo head codpiece strapped right on their crotch, allowing you to crusade as a chimera known as the panikanimanicorn. It’s basically cosmetic, but so much of the clothes are terrifically designed no matter what that they deserve a mention.
Speaking of the visuals, they are unsurprisingly damn stunning indeed. Every inch of Sunset City is a vibrant joy to behold, with each area boasting its own unique flavor and soaked in graffiti and kooky commercial businesses at every turn. Despite this being the apocalypse, everything just feels so lively, with blasts of color and energy all over, topped off with a cast of insane characters to inhabit it. This is where the only real potential flaws leak in, though…via the game’s humor. A lot of other critics have described it as hit-or-miss at times, and yeah, the game’s “kitchen sink” approach to throwing it all at you can backfire on occasions. The fourth-wall breakage got a bit iffy at times for me, and one of the game’s earliest side quests involved a painfully obvious Breaking Bad parody that I was afraid would set the tone for everything else for a brief moment. But aside from that, I enjoyed the game’s levity and there were still definitely a lot of funny bits, particularly the subtle nuances of the in-game LARPer known as Hardcore (truly, he was a highlight if there ever was one).
I haven’t even gotten to some of the enemies yet, which come in four different varieties: OD, human looters known as Scabs, FizzCo robots programmed to clean up evidence (Read: Kill s***), and massive mutants and robot tanks the size of whole houses. Different types of each are doled out at you as the game develops, each with their own moves that you have to learn to adapt to (especially with crowds of different enemies around you), so even as you unlock explosive weapon after explosive weapon, the challenge still manages to increase at a steady rate and yet still remain fair, which is always a plus in any game.
Oh god, I haven’t even mentioned some of the other amazing things in Sunset Overdrive (raucous multiplayer, style points, challenges, etc.), but there’s just too much…it’s incredible. Just incredible. Sunset Overdrive is what modern video games should be. Games focused primarily on fun and a willingness to entertain via any means possible, colorful romps of carnage with simple controls, highly enjoyable gameplay, and a perfect level of challenge, and an amazing cathartic experience that can produce fun without the need for an uber-mopey black-and-white massacre of suburbia. It is the video game equivalent of ripping off all your clothes and diving naked into a gigantic chocolate cake, and it is glorious.
…So yeah, I guess you could say I recommend it. Maybe. Whatever.
A City Sleeps
So I think to say that by this point, Harmonix has built up enough good will to essentially do whatever the hell they want, deciding to experiment with the rhythm game genre in different ways. In their spare time in between reviving Amplitude and working on Fantasia: Music Evolved (we’ll get to that soon), they decided to try their luck at a sort of rhythm game/bullet hell hybrid called A City Sleeps. And is this the type of marriage whose love stands the test of time? Well…uh…
Alright, first, story. You play as Poe, a dream exorcist in the near-future tasked with helping the residents of the city of SanLo wake up from an endless slumber filled with nightmares by diving into their heads and cleaning up their dreams, which is naturally done by shooting and slicing the hell out of them. A City Sleeps is a twin-stick arcade shooter (so the use of a controller is highly recommended), but with a few twists. For one, enemies will appear and attack in sync with the music in the background, and two, Poe also has the option to use her “Ghost” familiar to possess background objects and have them work to her advantage, such as spawning health or providing additional attack support against enemies. Different objects behave differently depending on what Ghosts you use on them, though, and attempting to manage which Ghosts currently work best for you in your current situation while trying to maneuver around an entire screen filled to the brink with enemy fire is quite challenging and requires some strategy, to say the least.
Everything controls nicely as well, although learning how to hold down buttons to switch between Ghosts can be a tad tricky to learn right off the bat. Trickier is Poe’s special attack, whose meter can only be filled by getting close to an enemy and automatically slashing away at them with Poe’s sword, which becomes a giant screen-filling sword during the special attack that you have to manually swing back and forth. It gets a tad awkward, but nothing too bad. The game’s graphics are also incredible, with Poe and her enemies represented as pitch-black figures with unique designs surrounded by worlds (and gunfire) of vibrant color, creating some striking visuals. And it kind of goes without saying that the music in a Harmonix game kicks ass, here featuring a terrific mix of electronic tunes perfectly suited for shaping intense shootouts.
So if everything so far sounds pretty good, why did I sound a bit wary in the beginning? Well, sadly, we now have to come to the major elephant in the room and the one giant flaw of A City Sleeps: It is way too short. You only get three levels that can be cleared in about an hour, and while each level has five different difficulties and remixed versions that go with them to unlock, I didn’t exactly feel inspired to keep going (especially since as a bullet hell shooter, the levels had already put up a damn good challenge as is). The game offers rewards for the higher difficulties in the form of unlockable songs you can listen to and extra Ghosts to use, but it just didn’t feel like enough. You also unlock more of Poe’s story by playing through these remixed levels, but since it only appears in the form of in-menu text before levels, it just didn’t feel that captivating.
In the end, A City Sleeps is a particularly good bullet hell shooter that just could have benefited from simply having more content. As is, it’s a bit hard to justify a $15 price tag, but it might definitely be worth picking up during a sale or such for those looking for a brief yet intense and fun shooter (or you could just find a way to score a free copy…but we’ll get to that as well).
Costume Quest 2
Released a few years back in 2010, Costume Quest was an impressive little RPG from Double Fine that successfully emulated that nostalgic feeling of going out trick-or-treating on Halloween night (along with the feeling of saving the world from evil monsters, which is par for the course). Four years later, Double Fine and developers Midnight City have teamed to finally create the sequel to it, and with this it pretty much boils down to “If you loved the original, then you’ll love this one.” Fortunately, I did love the original, so yay!
Taking place immediately after the original game’s Grubbins on Ice expansion, twin siblings Wren and Reynold finally arrive home only to discover that local evil dentist Orel White has concocted a scheme to outlaw Halloween and candy via the use of time travel (as all evil dentists are known to do). What follows is somewhat like a family-friendly version of Chrono Trigger, with the twins having to travel through time into the town’s past and dystopian future in order to set everything right again via a series of RPG quests and battles. Said battles involve a few new twists from the previous game, including the introduction of counters and a rock-paper-scissors-style class-based system, but otherwise everything functions the same: Talk to NPCs, receive quests, use special powers of costumes to bypass obstacles, knock on doors to get candy or fight enemies, repeat.
So the game can definitely feel at times like an expansion pack kind of sequel, but it is a pretty dang good one at the very least, mostly thanks to carrying the same kind of charm that made the first game such a lovable treat. The graphics are cute and colorful, and the sweet cartoon character designs are always a joy to see. The game also keeps a good sense of humor by its side at all times as well, displaying the type of chuckle-worthy wit you’ve come to expect from any Double Fine game by this point, rounded out with a sprinkle of nice little Easter eggs as well. Combine it with the turn-based, action command-fueled combat that’s always easy and fun to use, and you could easily say that Costume Quest 2 has everything that made the first game great!…
…Unfortunately, saddled along with everything else is one of the things that plagued the first game – namely a notable lack of any real difficulty. And it feels like the designers wanted to go with more difficulty, if only because now instead of regaining your health back after every battle like in the first game, you keep whatever damage was taken to your character. Alas, spread closely throughout the game are a series of fountains that restore your party’s HP to full completely free of charge, which kind of undermines things when all you have to do is make a hop, skip, and a jump to a drink of water in order to shrug off even the most major of blows. The game also tends to feel quite short, and more linear than the first (possibly due to the lack of any real backtracking and exploration until near the end of the game). By the time I had collected most of the game’s big secrets and had wrapped up a particularly notable battle, my thoughts were along the lines of “Alright, now bring on the final level and the final boss, I’m ready for ’em…Wait, what do you mean that was the final boss? Aw, dang…”
But even with its flaws, I would still recommend Costume Quest 2 pretty easily. It’s a quick, fun, cheerful little RPG guaranteed to leave a smile on your face. And much like what I wrote about the first game, it’s perfect for kids as well, and I’d much rather have any potential kids of mine learn the fundamentals of how RPGs can be fun rather than how to bug daddy for his credit card in order to keep matching up candies. Also, you can battle a bunch of killer tooth robots with a team made of Teen Wolf, Thomas Jefferson, and a three-headed hot dog monster. And we all know any game that contains that must be damn good on at least some level.
Fantasia: Music Evolved
Okay, first off, no offense to anybody who worked on this game, but…can we please fire the guy who made the launch trailer for this game seen above? Because I’ll just skip to the end here and say that I thought that Fantasia: Music Evolved was an incredible game, but it’s still a Kinect title. And you folks should know that great games for the Kinect are rare, and thus trying to convince people of how good they are is particularly difficult. And when your launch trailer consists of one second of actual on-screen gameplay and the rest explaining jack squat as to what you actually do in the game, it does not help things at all.
Ugh. Do we have anything else?
An older video, but I suppose it’ll do. Anyhow, yes, Fantasia: Music Evolved kicks ass, proving that Harmonix can still knock it out of the park when it comes to pure rhythm games. The concept, while invoking the spirit of Fantasia as a whole, is largely inspired by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with you playing the role of titular sorcerer Yen Sid’s latest titular apprentice. While Music Evolved does allow you to just jump right into party mode, unlocking songs to play is done via the game’s story mode, which involves another of Yen Sid’s apprentices, Scout, from accidentally unleashing a dangerous force known as The Noise all over Yen Sid’s various worlds. And as such, it is up to you to help Scout drown out The Noise by composing and remixing various songs across the lands (and then maybe advise Yen Sid to train his damn apprentices better).
Gameplay largely involves using your body with the Kinect to mimic the act of conducting, swiping your arms in time with on-screen streaks and prompts, pushing ahead, holding down notes, and so forth. Of course, the real highlight here is unlocking the ability to remix each song. Basically, after each bit of the tune you’re playing, there’s a moment where you get to choose what instrument appears in the song next, allowing you not just to change how the song sounds, but also the notes and difficulty of what section you’re conducting next. Whether you want a symphonic version of “Message in a Bottle”, a chiptune version of Dvo??k, or maybe to replace Wayne Coyne with a woman, the choice is yours. Or just go all-out nuts and add your own music to the song with the Conductor bonuses that appear frequently. It all controls easily, is incredibly fun to play with, and as one person pointed out to me, can even act as good exercise (“In Your Eyes” works up a bigger sweat than one would imagine)!
Of course, a rhythm game is as only as good as its setlist, and while there have been those who have shaken their fists at the idea of the young’un’s modern pop music playing on the lawn of Mozart and Bach, I honestly could not find a single song from the main setlist I disliked. Maybe that’s just reflective of my own tastes in music, but it all worked for me…although I question whether some of the more modern songs truly fit the mood of the game or not. The most fun I had was with the more grandiose, epic, evocative songs fitting of the lush settings, imagery, and symphonic feel of Fantasia as a whole such as “Some Nights” or “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” (a.k.a. The Best Damn Song Ever Made). In contrast, as much as I love them as songs in general, hearing tunes about Bruno Mars being denied sex or Cee-Lo Green telling off his ex just don’t trigger the same feelings.
Oh, and I should point out those lush settings and imagery mentioned earlier. In between songs, you also get the chance to play around with Yen Sid’s various worlds, unlock little mini-games, and trigger cute little visuals such as lighting up mushrooms or flicking on monitors to create music. And depending on what song or remix you just played, the world you’re in can actually be reshaped slightly, so one minute you might be playing hide-and-seek with a cute little yeti that turns invisible, and one song later there might be a completely different giant hairy snow monster lurking in a river. All of which is a visual treat to behold indeed…which kind of makes it sad that actually navigating these areas can be a bit of a pain.
Yes, if there is one true flaw in Fantasia: Music Evolved, it’s that actually getting around everything in the game is a tad annoying. Unlike D4 from last month, using the Kinect here to get around isn’t as easy, partially due to a hair trigger the game seemingly has when tilting your head or using your hands to navigate through things, causing you to occasionally overshoot the selection you really want. Or maybe you might accidentally hover over a song while fiddling around in an area, triggering a prompt asking you if you want to play something you’re not interested in right now. There were also some issues I had with the game sometimes getting confused as to what hand I was actually trying to use at the time and other errors, although in fairness, my cramped living quarters may have contributed to that…
But even with the occasional snafu, I would still highly recommend Fantasia: Music Evolved to any Xbox/Kinect owner. It’s just a flat-out terrific rhythm game that truly captures the spirit of the classic cartoon, and it should not be missed out on. Simple as that.
So we all know by now that creating a platformer for mobile devices can be a bit of a tricky issue, what with attempting to translate the type of game that traditionally uses a controller to a device that uses a touch screen. Therefore, some sort of unique angle is naturally required in order to create a successful mobile platformer. But is the idea of a disembodied skull acting as a debt collector taking back cash and assets from the undead by flinging himself at them enough to craft an ideal mobile platformer? Long story short, oh hell yes.
So Skullduggery! is a fairly simple game: Fling skull, collect coins, make it to exit at end of level. Control is done via a standard Angry Birds-esque method, IE touch screen, pull back, fling skull to area you believe skull should be in with the help of a line of dots informing you of skull’s trajectory. What sells the whole package lies mostly in the presentation, that resembling a demented old-school cartoon where skeletons walk around wearing old-fashioned gangster suits, old-timey college gear, and the like, and bony hands sticking out of the walls are there to catch and support you. The graphics are simple, cute, funny, and effective, and the jazzy old-school soundtrack helps set the mood nicely as well.
The gameplay is also pretty rock-solid. Again, the Angry Birds-style controls make everything simple yet fun to play, with various useful power-ups introduced as the player progresses. You also get the ability to slow down time while holding down on the screen to correct yourself mid-flight, which naturally comes in handy when navigating the game’s levels and smashing enemies into several bony bits. Speaking of which, said levels are also well-designed with an a hearty amount of different obstacles and scenery to interact with, along with several neat secrets and hidden passageways, allowing for some exploration and more replayability as you hunt down assets for bonus points or complete challenges. The challenge also ramps up at an even pace, so things always feel fair…mostly.
See, Skullduggery! has a slight whiff of stealth to it in the fact that enemies won’t attack you unless you’re in their line of sight. And while you can get peeped by them most of the time and still recover from it, eventually you get to the ones wielding guns, who can shoot you on sight with dead-eye accuracy every time. As such, whenever I got caught by one, I felt like I might as well just have dropped to the floor and let them plug away at me so I could just get it over with and respawn. The autoscrolling levels and boss fights are also a bit frustrating as well, if only because they kind of go against the more calmer, somewhat puzzle-oriented bits of the other levels in favor of moving as fast as possible to avoid being crushed (the lack of checkpoints with bosses not helping either).
Nonetheless, I found Skullduggery! to be an incredibly fun mobile game, a slightly twisted platformer with a captivating hook and the type of gameplay that’s a perfect definition of “Easy to learn, hard to master.” So if you only play one mobile game about afterlife-themed debt collecting this year, Skullduggery! is definitely the way to go.
…And that does it for the reviews this time around. Alas, I have to delay a planned Alien: Isolation review until the next edition…aside from getting overshadowed a bit by Sunset Overdrive and Fantasia almost immediately after I had started, the sad truth is that as just one person attempting to review multiple games while having to deal with a current internship for a day job, I don’t necessarily have the time to fully complete every single game that comes across my lap. And while I did have enough of Isolation completed that I possibly could’ve written a basic review of it, when I looked everything over…I dunno, it just felt like I hadn’t completed enough yet to make a truly in-depth review. And since I don’t want to insult anyone by half-assing a review for a game such as that, best to leave it for next time.
I can say that so far, this is one damn fine horror game with a lot of tension, frightening the hell out of me at every turn just via the game’s ambience alone, with every potential creak or noise triggering you to believe that the Xenomorph is near. The game’s commitment to being an almost-direct sequel to the ’79 film also results in a ton of amazing visual touches, and provide an effective contrast to the rack, ruin, and possible piss-inducing atmosphere around you. The controls do feel a tad wonky at times, but definitely aren’t a dealbreaker (yet). So far, it’s been one of the best survival horror games in recent memory, and if you want to read more about it, I suggest Daniel’s amazing article on the game that we had a short while back, where he honestly probably does a better job looking at the game than I ever could.
But we’ll get to more of it next time, my apologies. For now, let us move on to the Retro Gaming Mag Spotlight after the break!
And now, time for the Retro Gaming Mag Spotlight! Now, I was wondering if I possibly had enough material to do a feature like this on a monthly basis, and kind of feeling a bit of fatigue potentially setting in, but then I realized something…
…Why am I limiting myself to American gaming magazines?
So for a change of pace, we’re jumping overseas this time to the UK, home of Computer and Video Games magazine, one of the UK’s most popular gaming publications that had an impressive 23-year run (although CVG still continues on to this day as a gaming website). And since it was around this time a couple of years ago that our own Luke Y. Thompson first joined Topless Robot as editor (although he didn’t officially start until December), I thought it might be appropriate to pay tribute to his childhood in the UK and look at the July 1988 issue of CVG!
Naturally, since I was only four years old back then and this was an entire ocean away from me, I shall admit that I am not too experienced with the major gaming platforms and titles in the UK back then, so forgive me I miss any notable details or get things wrong. That being said…
…You don’t need to solely be a kid in ’80s UK to be attracted to a cover like this. I mean, ninjas + explosions + police officers straight out of 2000 A.D. who apparently carry chainsaws in their back pockets is a winning combination no matter where you are in the world. That’s just common sense.
– We begin with the “Fax” section, which is…a tad odd, at least in my opinion. It’s basically a simultaneous news, previews, and pop culture section all simultaneously going on at the same time, which definitely isn’t bad…it just seems a tad awkward to read about an upcoming game where you drive a car armed with thermonuclear missiles and then go straight into a tidbit about new bottles of Original New York Seltzer coming to the UK (okay, not awkward for TR, but for a gaming magazine…).
– Speaking of that seltzer, the same page also kicks off the top-selling games of the time, and naturally the top game among all formats belonged to THE THRILLING, PULSE-POUNDING, EXCITEMENT-FILLED, ACTION-PACKED GAME THAT WAS…Steve Davis Snooker. Huh. Damn, that must have been some really effing good snooker. Okay, the magazine itself points out that 8-bit budget games are obviously going to feature more strongly (assuming Steve Davis Snooker falls under that category), and that the real winner this month was the Atari ST version of OutRun, a port of the classic Sega arcade racer that was the first-ever 16-bit game to be the highest-selling game of this period in the UK.
Also, I have noticed that two of the best-selling games here as well were Way of the Exploding Fist and Fruit Machine Simulator. I now demand to know more about them based on their titles alone.
[“Fruit Machines” are simply Vegas-style gambling machines where you have to get three of the same kind of fruit in a row – LYT]
– We also get a story involving early ’80s computer viruses, namely one tackled down in France that was sent via a false game. Yes, believe it or not, there was actually a time when you didn’t even need the false allure of titties to spread a computer virus.
– We also get a peek into what the top comic books were in the UK at the time as well. Notably, the number one comic was this V for Vendetta title, although I think everyone may have forgotten about that by now. We also get news of Willow coming soon to UK theaters, back when we still thought “Oh boy, more George Lucas! I never get tired of him being involved in films! He always has the magic touch!”
– Moving into the reviews, we get our cover story, a review of the highly-anticipated sequel Last Ninja 2. And while jokes about Richard Harrison and cockney accents are immediately springing to mind, it does look like a legitimately damn good game (particularly for its time), and apparently CVG agreed, bestowing a 9 out of 10 and an award upon it. We also got a look at how the game justified its then-high cost of 13 pounds by including a 30-page booklet, a ninja mask, and a rubber shuriken, making me miss the days of “feelies” in computer games (or hell, even the days of instruction manuals), and we get a contest to win a not-yet-released PC Engine console as well by answering some ninja/martial arts-themed trivia, with a tiebreaker contest being to come up with a name for the hokiest ninja film possible…and if we haven’t used that for a contest here at TR yet, then truly we have failed somehow.
– Notably, we move on from one of the month’s hit games to one of their duds…Charlie Chaplin. yes, that Charlie Chaplin. Somebody somewhere thought that a game based around a famous silent film star would be a smash back in the day, and I’m guessing that person was fired swiftly right after. Well, at least it made for a better game than The Misadventures of Fatty Arbuckle.
Oddly enough, this page is in black and white, which I originally thought was a cute little stylistic touch for a game based on a silent film…but then other pages showed up in black and white for seemingly no reason at all (to me, anyway). Maybe it’s just the quality of the scan I have for some reason, but if not, why black and white at times? Did CVG only have the budget for 93% color pages?
– We get another hit with Football Manager II (no relation to the current series put out by Sega), and while I can believe them when they say that the game is incredible, all I’m thinking is that this has got to be one of the biggest discrepancies between a game’s title screen and the actual game that I’ve ever seen.
– Other hits this month? Gauntlet II, the sequel to the arcade classic which scored a 9 as well, Pandora, a game that doesn’t ring any bells for me but also scored a 9, and Aaaargh!, a port of the arcade game that only scored an 8, but honestly I just really wanted an excuse to bring up the game’s box art.
– Oddly enough, there are a few reviews here scored in separate areas of the game, but without an overall score…not that you need one, but it just seems odd when you give one to every other game. One of those was Dark Side, a review that ended with “Miss out on Dark Side and you might as well throw your micro out of the window” and gives it perfect tens in Playability and Value. Just seems like an odd decision. Oh, and Dark Side once again proves that we were a species easily impressed by polygons back in the day.
– One other notable hit was Great Giana Sisters, best known as an incredibly obvious Super Mario Bros. cash-in/knock-off that even the review acknowledges, which Nintendo wanted pulled from the shelves. In spite of that, the game received heaps of praise back then, and in quite a funny twist, is one of the few games from this issue still around in some form or another (off the top of my head) with a well-received game thanks to the Kickstartered Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams.
– We actually get a bit of fan art from early computer artists up next, and I’m just going to say that every other piece of art here suffered from having to be compared to that badass version of It.
– Next up, a section covering film reviews or a look at what’s in cinemas right now…a particularly odd film section, because usually you expect any movie coverage in a publication like this to purely cover genre films such as horror, sci-fi, fantasy…and I’m just pondering how much of an overlap there was then between fans of computer games starring ninjas and fans of the Cher courtroom drama Suspect. Is it just the tastes of UK moviegoers at the time? We do get some looks at Prison, Man on Fire, and Wings of Desire, though, so I guess that counts for something (even if that last review almost looks like it’s unfinished).
– Next up, a contest from CVG to win a trip to Disneyland in Florida!! And all you had to do was…buy an entire Mickey Mouse computer game in order to get the entry form. As good as I’ve heard the game is, nice try.
– What comes next is also quite the oddity…again, at least to me. A section called “Play By Mail” all about covering games that…well, you played by mail. At least I think that’s the gist of it, since I can’t seem to find any info on the games mentioned here. Maybe it was just a bigger thing in a relatively smaller country, but it honestly sounded like a pretty awesome idea that we might want to do some deeper research into…
– And if that wasn’t enough, we get a look at some reviews for tabletop games as well! I’m not particularly familiar with the titles here, but based on these pictures alone, I’d have honestly gravitated towards Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, if only because you get to construct a kickass little pyramid to play it. What can I say, I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.
– And if THAT wasn’t enough, we get a quick article about LARPing as well, because let it not be said that CVG didn’t try to cover all the bases when it came to gaming.
– We get a look later on at CVG’s first-ever Winner Stays On gaming contest, with the top prize going to Justin Edward Swords of Coventry. Notably, in his profile we can see that his dislikes include Amiga owners, calling them all “dickheads.” Yes, even back then assholes were fully engaged in the platform wars…
– Surprisingly, reviews for adventure games got their own separate section, and while the highlight this month was the text adventure Corruption, the title most people will remember from here is Shadowgate. Partly because of the remake out right now, and partly because most NES gamers know it as source of pure frustration. The nightmares about throwing an orb into a lake to get a key are coming back now, aren’t they? Sorry.
– A preview for Barbarian II comes next, but the real highlight here is a look into the making of a promo for the game, just to see how a bit of the cheesily badass video game box art and ads produced by the ’80s was pulled off.
– A section on arcade games provides us with a look at Dragon Ninja, a.k.a. Bad Dudes, AKA President Ronnie’s Burgertime. I’d ask if it’s Margaret Thatcher who gets kidnapped in this version, but given what I know of her reputation, odds are she frightened the ninjas to death before being kidnapped anyway.
– The section covering console games was in the very back of the magazine, because if what I know serves me well, console gaming in the UK wouldn’t truly begin to take off until next year in ’89. For now, all we get is a smaller bit of coverage, and it is quite amusing to see now-classic games like Metroid not get any score higher than a 7 out of 10 back then (although this is when such a score would still translate to “very good”, as opposed to today where it seems to mean “utter s***”), despite the reviewer gushing over them. Also, the ends of the Metroid and RC Pro-Am reviews appear to have gotten mixed up, because apparently the NES didn’t even warrant quality editing back then in the UK…
…Finally, after a brief reader mail section and an outro where two of the magazine’s staff members meet Batman (Adam West, one year before Keaton stepped in), we finish off the issue! Hope you enjoyed this brief look into a slice of ’80s UK gaming culture! As usual, a big thanks to Retromags for making the archiving of these glorious gaming mags possible. Make sure to give them your support, even check out the full issue featured this month right here if you want, god bless ’em! Next up, the most notable gaming trailers from the past month!
Say, who likes mascot-induced horror, clothing-induced surrealism, the inevitable horrors of war, and bread? If you said yes to all of the above, then you’re going to have a blast with this month’s trailers…and you may be crazy. Which I consider to be a good thing here.
The Flame in the Flood
Kicking off a trio this time around of indie games being made by ex-BioShock developers, The Flame in the Flood drew the most attention from gamers this month, largely thanks to the trio of keywords “roguelike,” “survival,” and “ruined civilization” which are guaranteed to fill up those key spaces on the Hit Indie Game Bingo card. Seriously though, imagine a combination of recent survival games, The Oregon Trail, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and a slight dash of Toobin’, and what you wind up with is one absolutely gorgeous game about the journey of a young girl and her dog as they try to survive in a harsh, flooded, post-societal United States. Looks incredibly compelling, and as a bonus, alt-country star Chuck Ragan is looking to bring in some incredible tunes as well. The game has already been funded on Kickstarter, but you still have a couple of days left to contribute if you want, which you definitely should.
Second in our trio of indie games being made by ex-BioShock developers is Submerged, because apparently these guys just cannot escape their past of ruined cities surrounded by tons of water. You play as Miku, a heroine searching through an ancient city to help save her wounded brother and escape her haunted past. Even though we only have the briefest glimpse of the actual game in motion right now, we do know that it will apparently be an “exploration adventure”, which is a tad vague but combined with everything else (including one beautiful wrecked world) suggests a lot of promise, so here’s hoping for the best.
The Black Glove
Third and final in our trio* of indie games being made by ex-BioShock developers, The Black Glove notably doesn’t feature any dystopian cities or loads of water (yet), but it does feel like an entire game crafted by BioShock’s own in-game mad artist, Sander Cohen. You are the curator of a 1920s theatre tasked with playing a 1980s arcade game in order to power up a magical artifact that allows you to change the pasts of artists in order to influence their work for the better. Oh, and there’s a minotaur trying to kill you. I think. What we have here is one trippy, surreal adventure looking to have a dark sense of humor and some amazing and creative worlds and characters built around creative arts. Sounds like a hoot all around, but with so little time left in its Kickstarter campaign and so much money to go, it looks like we may have to rely on the hopes that someone else funds this game instead…unless a bunch of you have about $400,000 to spare combined. If so, cough it up, because I need this.
*(Okay, there was also Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, a fourth game from an ex-BioShock developer that was revealed this month, but we don’t have a trailer for it. Yet.)
Assassin’s Creed: Unity
…Why do I get the feeling like what we’ve seen here was supposed to be a mid-game twist, but in yet another attempt by gaming to feel more like the movie industry, the trailer just gave away one of the best parts in a desperate attempt to sell more copies? Ugh. Well, to be fair, it does legitimately look more interesting than anything else we’ve seen from the game so far…
Hey, are you still pissed over last year’s SimCity bullcrap and looking for a true successor to the city management throne? Well, I don’t know if a city management game combined with a collectible card game and bits of a puzzler is the best possible successor we have, but it sure as hell will try! Feel free again to donate to its Kickstarter campaign if you’re interested, and don’t worry, that’s the last Kickstarter project I’ll mention this month.
I keep seeing Basingstoke described as a “stealth-roguelike,” but there notably seems to be a complete absence of the “stealth” part in the above trailer…I mean, I can’t exactly recall the last successful stealth game that prominently featured chainsaws. Still, it looks like the world’s most adorable horror game and looks pretty good in general, so maybe this alien invasion of an English town will lead to something positive after all.
Five Nights at Freddy’s 2
Did you actually think the nightmare was over? Awww, that’s cute. But much like with that other famous Freddy in horror, the fans just couldn’t wait for more of him, and now he’s back with even more of his furry friends, as the new models of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza join the party. Oh, and no doors this time around. Your only defense is to become the monster yourself and don a Freddy mask at the right times. Good luck. And here’s hoping this sequel is more Dream Warriors and less Freddy’s Revenge.
I Am Bread
Okay, personally, the novelty of Surgeon Simulator wore off for me after about 20 minutes at best, because there was only so much mileage you could get out of a game whose big joke was intentionally awkward gameplay. So in theory, I should be wary of any new game they create…but a 3D platformer where you play as a piece of bread flopping around trying to get across a household in order to cook itself and be eaten while keeping its edibility and deliciousness as high as possible? And also the bread can hump things?
I can’t not endorse that. I just can’t. You evil bastards.
This War of Mine
If Valiant Hearts: The Great War has taught us anything so far this year, it’s that there are other genres besides first-person shooters to tell stories about war in, and that there are more compelling ways of delivering stories than just “shoot all the unambiguous bad guys”. So while This War of Mine may be prepping to deliver an emotional kick to the balls, its look at the actual citizens, survivors, and causalities of war via a survival game shall hopefully at least be quite the breath of fresh air indeed.
Well, let’s face it: Any 2D Mark of the Ninja-esque stealth game that bills itself as a “steampunk cybercrime caper” and features notable amounts of things being smashed through windows was pretty much guaranteed to win our hearts anyway, so may as well just submit to The Swindle now.
And thus we reach the end of another edition of Robotic Gaming Monthly. Ooh, wait, I do have one more thing…remember how I said A City Sleeps was a good game that has a bit of trouble justifying its price tag? Well, what if you were to get a copy for free?
Yes, our friends at Harmonix were kind enough to supply us with four free Steam keys for/copies of A City Sleeps for you to win and take for a spin and judge for yourself. And since Harmonix is also quite prominent this month with Fantasia: Music Evolved as well, and what with their games being known for notable chunks of songs available for DLC, I say we should help them out. So the goal here? Suggest what songs you’d like to see for eventual Fantasia: Music Evolved DLC. You just simply tell us in the comments what song you’d like to see in a Fantasia game (and post a link to it if you want). Or go deeper, and maybe provide an explanation as to why you think this song would fit, maybe even what imagery could go with it. Post your suggestions in the comments: the best four suggestions win, and you can enter as many times as you’d like. The contest closes on Nov. 11th, 2014, though, so get movin’.
And that’s all for Robotic Gaming Monthly this time around! See you all next time, thanks for dropping by, feel free to leave any comments offering suggestions, questions, additional discussions on what we talked about, or messages about how much we suck, and remember to drink your Overcharge! Bye!
Previous Editions of Robotic Gaming Monthly:
Robotic Gaming Monthly #5 – Destiny, Danganronpa, and Death at The Hands of Freddy
Robotic Gaming Monthly #4 – PAX, Gamescom, and Sad Signs O’ The Times
– Robotic Gaming Monthly #3 – Rapture, Road Not Taken, and Ripping on Pre-Orders
– Robotic Gaming Monthly #2 – Splatoon, Sunset Overdrive and Shoveling Up The Past
– Robotic Gaming Monthly #1 – Kinect, Kinkiness, And Various Kicked Asses