Tag Archives: Puzzle Games

Jumpman Review

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You wouldn’t know it at face value, but you’re on a mission to defuse bombs on another world. A world of bombs, killer robots, and a lethal pixel. In addition to a host of other horrific adversaries. It all sounds like a side scrolling action platformer or run ‘n gun. But you’d be wrong. Jumpman is one of the strangest, yet greatest puzzle games ever made. Debuting on the Atari 8-bit family of computers, it appeared on the Commodore 64 soon after, along with the IBM PC, and Apple II.

PROS: Excellent gameplay. Fun animation. Great musical numbers.

CONS: Bland graphics.

APOGEE: The Duke Nukem publisher felt the ire of Epyx.

Jumpman may seem a bit esoteric today, but there was a time when he was almost as popular as Bomberman. That’s because he starred in two of the most fun arcade puzzle games to ever grace a computer screen. As I mentioned at the start, the storyline of the game doesn’t accurately describe what is going on at face value. You really have to start playing the game before you realize that it does.

The goal of Jumpman is easy to grasp. Defuse all of the bombs in the level before losing all of your lives for big points. If you manage to do this, you’ll move onto the next level. You’ll also get bonus points for having more Jumpmen in reserve. So a high performance level is key. Created by Randy Glover, and released by Epyx, there is a wonderful use of the easy to learn, lifetime to master principles behind many great games.

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The game eases you in, with a couple of pretty simple to understand levels. You’ll go about your goal of defusing bombs, and slowly notice changes to a given stage. Pieces of scenery disappear, creating new gaps to jump over. A floating pixel will chase you down, and kill you if you get in its line of sight. But the obstacles only increase as you complete levels. It isn’t long before you see killer robots that change position every time you defuse a bomb. Or a plethora of bombs falling from the sky. Or flying saucers. Or rabid bats. Sometimes the challenges aren’t adversaries. Sometimes they’re things like moving ladders or other scenery.

Every one of these attempts to impede you can be overcome with enough practice. Over time, you begin to recognize patterns, and figure out what you’re supposed to do. But it doesn’t become a cakewalk, because actually doing what you’re supposed to still requires dexterity. When you clear a level, you’ll hear one of a multitude of cheery carnival tunes. These go along with the circus-like feel of the game’s introduction animation.

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Jumpman gives you nine lives to get through the stages. You can choose from several difficulty settings which will start at a stage where the appropriate difficulty jump occurs. You can also select Grand Loop which does all 30 levels in a row. Or you can choose the Randomizer, which plays the levels in a random order. Beyond that, you can also choose a game speed. The center value of 4 will run the game at the standard speed. The max speed of 8 is probably too fast for all but the most devoted player, and the minimum speed of 1 makes the game exceptionally slow. The speed setting is a nice option though because it can make the game a bit more interesting. The game can also be played by up to four players alternating turns.

Visually, Jumpman isn’t much to look at.  stages are made of simple shapes, and a handful of colors. Jumpman himself, is little more than a stick figure. But the gameplay in Jumpman is amazing. Moving about the levels is very smooth, and the controls are tight. One interesting thing the game does is allow Jumpman to climb anything he touches. If you go for a jump, and your hand nabs part of the scenery, you’ll climb it! There are also some cool navigational variables thrown in, in the form of ropes. Green ropes can only be climbed up, while blue ropes can only be climbed down. Between this, and the other mechanics introduced through enemy character types Jumpman becomes surprisingly deep for such a simple game.

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There are a few minor differences between the different versions of Jumpman. The original Atari 400/800 version features some really slick transition animations between levels as you clear them. It also has a pretty cool stage destruction sequence when you run out of lives, and get a Game Over.  The Commodore 64 version has a little bit more detail in the graphics department. It gives our hero a shirt, and pants through some simple colors. The music sounds a tiny bit better too. It is missing the stage transitions, and if you lose you don’t see the level explode. Instead, you get a harmonious musical number as the backgrounds, and characters slowly become the same color.

Over on the Apple II, you won’t see the transitions. Visually, it’s somewhere between the Atari, and Commodore computers. It has the Commodore’s background colors, but the Atari’s blank Jumpman. The IBM PC port was outsourced to another developer. It pretty much plays the same as the other versions although the terrible PC speaker sound, and CGA color scheme make it the worst in terms of visuals, and sound.

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Jumpman was also followed up by Jumpman Junior, which is really a companion version of the game. It was made for Commodore 64, and Atari 8-bit users who didn’t have a 5.25″ Floppy drive. Being a cartridge game makes it one of the more sought after games for collectors. It’s pretty much exactly the same game as Jumpman, except it has only 12 stages. At the time cartridges didn’t have as much storage capacity as the floppies, and cassettes did. Still, for many retro fans,  it isn’t the full Jumpman experience unless you have both games. It was never available for other computer formats, although it was ported to the Colecovision.

Long after Randy Glover left the game industry, A programmer named Dave Sharpless ported the game, and it’s expandalone to MS-DOS under the title Jumpman Lives! The game was published by Apogee in 1991. The thing is, that while Epyx had long been a shell of its former self, it was still around. The remake caught the ire of Epyx, and Apogee would cease selling it immediately. Epyx wouldn’t be around much longer though, after getting out of bankruptcy, and focusing on Atari Lynx development the company was sold off, and dissolved.  Jumpman Lives! Is a fairly rare computer game as a result.

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In the end, Jumpman, and Jumpman Jr. are games that really deserve more recognition than they get. At least when compared with other retro games. Things may look more like a carnival than a space station, and the bombs may look more like flowers. But once you get past the rudimentary look of everything you’ll be engrossed in one of the most addictive puzzlers of all time. If you can find the original floppy disk, the cartridge based companion edition, or even the unlicensed, unofficial, Apogee remake, give it a go. Jumpman Junior was also included in the C64 DTV, as well as the recent Colecovision Flashback by AtGames. So if you don’t have one of these old computers or consoles, there are other legitimate ways to add this masterful game to your collection in some capacity.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015 Review

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“What?” “Really?” I can hear you ask. “What the hell is this?” asks another. True, this is an absolutely bizarre game, with a premise that can easily be misconstrued. But, things aren’t always what they seem. If you open this book, you’ll find the cover doesn’t give you nearly enough information to come to a conclusion. This pool is both shallow, and deep.

PROS: A surprisingly deep puzzle game, with a load of content. Dark comedy.

CONS: Premise will make some uncomfortable. Dark comedy.

MULTI-TRICK PONY: This could have easily been a one-joke distraction. But it isn’t.

Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015 came out two years ago, and instantly got under the skin of many. The theme of the game, really is just centered around bathing. But with no other information upon the release, people were put off. It’s easy to see why. But, this game manages to skirt by with its shock value, and dark humor.

Oddly enough, that’s because the game delivers much more than that. It’s shocking yes. It wears its absurdity on its sleeve like a badge of pride. But once you get over the hurdle of actually installing it, and booting it, there’s a solid, fun game to be found underneath the joke. And throughout that game, it throws in a lot more humor. And just when you think it’s about to beat a dead horse, it rides in with an entirely new horse, making jokes that have nothing to do with communal showers.

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The base game mode is a match-up puzzle game. You start out by choosing one of three Father, and Son duos. The game begins, and as the son, you have to find your father before the time runs out. If you can do that, you’ll add more time to the clock, and do it again. This cycle repeats until you mess up, and choose the wrong parent. Basically, you’re shooting for a high score. But it doesn’t end there. As you do better, new things are added to the game. You’ll find bars of soap that double your score. Other power-ups are unlocked as you improve. There’s a razor that shaves the fathers’ heads. There’s a pair of water wings, that don’t do much of anything. You can even find giant mugs of craft beer, that make the game harder as they affect your movement.

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Beyond these power-ups, the game begins to throw in obstacles to mess you up. Wet floor signs, you can bruise your legs on. Which will slow you down for a few seconds. Water puddles that make you slip, and slide randomly if you touch them. Often into the wrong dad, and getting you a Game Over screen. Persevering only makes the game do more to thwart your attempt at a high score. Putting curtains over the fathers after a split-second so you may potentially guess wrong. Adding more fathers that look similar to the one you’re supposed to meet up with, so you’ll pick the doppelgänger instead, and lose.

The second mode is a variant where each time you meet up with your dad, you’re given the role of a different child. This makes the game even harder. There’s a third mode where the dads fall from the top of the screen, and you have to grab the correct father based on the child you’re cast as. In this mode you use the mouse to stretch your hand out, and move with the arrow keys.

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But the game doesn’t end with these solid puzzle games. Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015, has a bunch of hidden mini games you’ll unlock over the course of your play time. Some of these are even weirder than the base game. One of them is a gritty, film-noir themed point, and click adventure game. The story centering on a broken shower in a police station. This one even finds time to make jokes about the genre in addition to the shower, and bathing puns. Another one has you going up against a ninja, and his five sons, while another mini game is a shmup, where you pilot a bathtub. The latter of which involves shooting down other tubs, while trying to fly your own tub in the style of Flappy Bird.

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For a budget title, built around a joke, the game has a lot of effort thrown in. The simple graphic style still incorporates a lot of small details. Streaks on the floor when you hit one of the puddles. Wet floor signs, falling over when you bump into them. The visual effects when you get a power-up. This even goes on when going into one of the unlockable mini games, or even the Commodore 64 lampoon when booting the game. The music in it isn’t too bad either.

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Sometimes something comes along so weird, so strange it has to be seen to be believed. It’s even rarer when that thing, has good gameplay underneath all of that mystifying oddity. Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015 is one of those things. If you can get around the absurdity of it all, you’ll have a fun time with it. It isn’t very long, but it is fun in short bursts, and those short bursts can add up quickly.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Frostbite Review

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Last week I looked at a pretty great handheld with a bunch of Atari 2600 games on it. Seeing how we’re in the midst of the holiday season, and snow is beginning to trickle down upon us  I thought I’d go with a theme. A seasonal theme. So this week coming off of the Flashback portable I’m revisiting the glorious 2600 again to talk about Frostbite.

PROS: An excellent combination of puzzles, and platform jumping!

CONS: Sensitive controls.

POLAR BEAR: Frostbite’s lone boss isn’t the lovable Coca-Cola mascot you love.

Created by Steve Cartwright, Frostbite is one of the best Activision published Atari 2600 games you may have missed. So often when talking about Activision’s earliest games we remember the super hits. Pitfall!, River Raid, and Kaboom!. But a lot of other great games they put out in their heyday often get lost in the shuffle. Which is a shame, because Frostbite is not only one of the best Activision games, it’s one of the best games on the Atari 2600.

There are a lot of games on the console that can land in that pantheon. So why does Frostbite deserve to join them? What does this game do better than other games of the type? Frostbite takes one major cue from Q*Bert, and builds an entirely new concept around it. In that game you jump on the top surfaces of blocks to change their colors until they all match. But in this game you play as a builder named Frostbite Bailey. Frostbite Bailey needs to build an igloo to survive in. In order to do this you have to jump on ice floes as they float down an icy ocean current. When you land on one, a brick shows up on the shore, and the ice flow changes to a blue color.

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Once every row of ice floes turns blue, they turn snow-white again, and you continue building your igloo by jumping on them. When the last jump is made, a door appears, and you can enter your igloo to end the level. While the concept sounds simple enough, you’ll find the game is anything but easy. Moreover, the better you become, the more difficult the hurdles that are thrown in front of you. Besides all of this, there is a thermometer that acts as a timer. If you can’t complete a level before the temperature hits zero, you’ll freeze to death. And you really do. The death animation shows your dead corpse turn blue in the icy tundra. There are a litany of ways to die in Frostbite. Miss a jump, and you’ll drown in a watery grave as your heart stops. Animals will pull you into the ocean to kill you. Or chase you down, and maul you.

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The really nice thing is, you’re eased into the mechanics. The first level runs very slow, and you’ll only have the snow geese to contend with, while you jump around building your igloo. But each successive level adds more danger. First these dangers are minor. King crabs join the fray. Ice floes become rows of smaller chunks. But by the fourth level things start to kick into overdrive. Ice flows break apart or sink after so many seconds spent standing on them. Killer clams show up. The enemy attack patterns begin to change. The toughest addition is the polar bear who comes out of hibernation. From this point on, you’ll have a boss you cannot kill. All you can do is attempt to sneak into your igloo once it is built. If you get spotted at all by the bear, it will chase you down, and kill you off-screen.

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But to balance these challenges are some nice scoring mechanisms. To start with, you’ll get points for jumping on ice floes. You get points for any degrees left on the temperature timer at the end of every round. Sometimes the game will throw you a bone by sending out a row of fish where you may normally see killer crabs, clams, and geese. These can be eaten for points. Every 5,000 points you score nets you a 1-Up. Fish also add a big risk/reward element. Do you go for the extra food points, or just try to get into your igloo before you freeze to death?

But even with the extra credits, you’re forced to do better. You’ll soon learn in later stages you have to make a lot of diagonal jumps. Because going directly up or down many times will land you right on a crab who will pull you into the ocean, and kill you by hypothermia. You’ll also need to master this if you have any hope of successfully avoiding polar bears. The polar bears love to stalk the doorway of your igloo once it’s been built, and you’ll need enough clearance to quickly get away, and into the igloo.

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On top of all of this Frostbite triples the speed of the game every major score metric. You’ll first notice it if you can crack 10,000 points. But at every noteworthy score it gets faster, and faster. Back when the game was new, Activision gave high scorers one of their coveted patches if they could crack 40,000. With some practice, and determination this is achievable. What is really astonishing after playing the game, is discovering footage of players reaching scores in the hundreds of thousands of points.

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But here’s the thing. Even though Frostbite may have released in the summer of 1983 it retains a level of addictive gameplay on par with mainstays like Tetris. Like any of your favorite games it has a great mix of elements that will keep you coming back once you’ve played it. It also has that classic Activision look. Simple graphics, yet somehow laced with enough detail that it looks a cut above most other games. Activision, and Imagic were wonderful in this regard. Frostbite is no exception. Bailey has some nice touches like his hair peeking out from under his hood, and all of the creatures have cool animations going on. There isn’t anything in the way of music, but the sound effects go along with everything nicely. Especially the gnashing teeth of the polar bear when he gets you.

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If you collect for the VCS, Frostbite, like many Activision games should be on your buy list. It isn’t a very common game, but it isn’t outlandishly rare either. It’s one of the more affordable uncommon games too. If you don’t have an Atari 2600 on hand, there are a number of Activision 2600 collections that include the game. The Activision Anthology on the PC, and PS2 being one of the best. There is also a mobile version of the Activision Anthology, making Frostbite, and other titles playable on modern tablets, and phones. Of course nothing beats playing on the original hardware, but these are great alternatives.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

The Talos Principle Review

Croteam. A company that has given us a series inspired by Robotron 2084, Doom, and Duke Nukem 3D over the past decade. They’ve branched out, and given us a first person puzzle game. The Talos Principle has had a lot of praise heaped upon it since its release at the tail end of last year. Yet many people still haven’t heard of the game, let alone played it. Is it worth the critical acclaim? Yes. Is it as grand as claimed? Not entirely, but once you play it, it’s easy to see why it is so highly regarded.

PROS: Engaging story. Crafty puzzles. Some clever writing.

CONS: Begins to drag near the end. Subject matter won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

EASTER EGGS: Many, many, MANY Easter Eggs.

The Talos Principle is a big surprise considering the sorts of games Croteam has made. But it is not an action game. Instead, the game follows the path of Valve’s Portal, and the Namco published Deadcore. Very much like those games you’ll be solving logic puzzles in first person. The game tries to follow a similar path too. Easing you into each mechanic, at least until the half way point. You’ll find some puzzles involve moving boxes onto levers to open doors. Or bridging lines of light with crystal connectors to open doors, or turn on another contraption. By the last leg of puzzles, you’ll even have to use security cameras, that use an in-game playback of your actions to solve puzzles. These, along with others can be very difficult to finish.

Sometimes the game likes to mess with you, by adding doors, switches or items you don’t need to use at all whatsoever. Other times it isn’t always obvious what to do, which is fine. But sometimes you’ll have a puzzle that is VERY particular about how it needs to be solved. Moments like these can take you a good hour or more to figure out, and even then might require a level of dexterity you need practice to reach.

When you first start the game you’re cast into an initial puzzle that not only tries to ease you into the mechanics, but the story as well. Talos Principle is about an Artificial Intelligence construct who is in a simulation. As that construct you’ll hear a voice from a being called Elohim. He guides you through the first half of the game, telling you to solve these logic puzzles before you can reach the highest level of consciousness. But once you begin exploring these levels you begin tor realize not is all what it seems. Throughout the game are audio logs from a woman who talks a lot about philosophical, theological, scientific topics, and theories. You also begin to find these very old IBM XT styled computer terminals. Many of these have similarly themed documents, along with emails, blog entries, articles, and so forth. Eventually these terminals begin to even debate these topics with you, and you’ll eventually discover that this is much more than a simulation. This part of the review might let off a couple of minor spoilers. So if you don’t want the story leaked out to you, skip ahead a couple of paragraphs.

It turns out the human race is wiped extinct from a cataclysmic event, and that the entire world you explore is an attempt to put all of the species’ knowledge into one machine. The one glaring flaw in this is that it is never explained exactly how logic puzzles do this, but the rest of what you are given is pretty captivating. What is really nice is the game doesn’t get too pretentious, or authoritative about anything. There are certainly allegorical elements to the story, and one might be able to infer some of the writer’s viewpoint. But at the same time it doesn’t beat you over the head screaming “This is how it is.” For the most part it throws things out there, and doesn’t try to change your mind. Rather it throws out a lot of different viewpoints, and lets you digest them. It certainly takes some influence from other works of fiction. I was reminded of stories like Dark City, and Do Robots Dream Of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner, among others.

While the story isn’t the most original one, it is a nice take on the idea of worlds within worlds, and the aftermath of the apocalypse. It also lends itself well to the actual gameplay, as everything in the game is centered around puzzles. So even the story bringing up the big philosophical questions of life can be seen as yet another puzzle.  The puzzles themselves do follow a structure. When you complete the first  puzzle you’ll find your rewards for solving puzzles are pieces out of Tetris the game calls Sigils. The goal is to earn enough of these sigils to open a barrier with them which takes you into the next leg of your journey. Eventually you’ll find yourself in a hub world. The hub world leads to 8 worlds. Each with so many sigils locked behind puzzles. Defeat enough of these, and you can use the sigils to solve a puzzle, and escape.

But your escape leads you to yet another hub world. Which has other hub worlds. One of which is a giant tower, while another leads to an underground church hub level. A third takes you to a hub level based on ancient Egypt. Which shouldn’t surprise you as much of Serious Sam’s stages went with that theme. The voice of Elohim warns you not to go into the tower which leads to the fact the game has a number of endings. If you can beat all of the puzzles you can either get a good or bad ending depending on which exit you take. There is one in the tower, and of course one in the church hub.

But there is also a third finish which is tied to one of the most grueling, and difficult aspects of the game. Star sigils. Each hub world has a number of super secret sigils shaped like stars in its puzzle stages. If you can manage to collect all of them, you then have access to more secret puzzles, that upon defeat lead you to a third super secret ending. The Talos Principle has almost too much content as a result. Even those who want the base level experience, and the least satisfying finish can put many, many hours into it. The last leg of normal puzzles can be very challenging, and have a negative side effect of dragging on.

The game does have a hint system, but it’s obfuscated by more puzzles. Throughout the game you’ll find QR codes, much like the ones on products you scan with a cell phone. In this you can find shrines where you can place one, and the game will answer you with a hint. On the stipulation you’ve found these super secret hub worlds, and solved enough puzzles in them to awaken a helper. The helper also answers you with a cryptic hint as to beating any given level. Moreover, you only get so many hints before your answered with “Figure it out on your own”.

Of course being a game by Croteam this is powered by the Serious engine. The Talos Principle looks beautiful. Skyboxes look amazing, the game makes excellent use of its color palette, and the lighting effects never feel overdone. The bloom effects are beautiful, the lighting flares are used at just the right moments. Shadows, and shades are used to great effect here. Going along with those pretty graphics, are some excellent voice work, and background music. When you listen to a very well acted voice sample, the wistful, and somber music amplifies the emotion in the performance. The soundtrack fits the imagery constantly. Even the cathedral hub’s Gregorian styled hymnal music echoes the overall vibe of its setting. There’s a serenity to all of it, that can even be eerie at times.

Thankfully, the game controls very well most of the time. Occasionally you might find the line of sight a connector displays isn’t accurate when you place it down. Sometimes you might slip off of a surface even though you should have stopped on it. But these instances don’t happen nearly often enough to ruin anything. Although you may become a little frustrated when they do happen. Generally though, everything works the way it is supposed to. Brisk, and usually spot on. Which is good because, toward the end you’ll run into a number of puzzles that require precision, and timing.

Overall, Talos Principle is really good. It has some nice puzzles. It has an engaging story arc. It’s really hampered by going on a little bit too long. Which is a strange criticism as these days everyone asks for more, and more content in their games. Nevertheless, the long length will drag on for some. If you’re one of them you’ll have to take a couple of days away from it here, and there to avoid burning out on it. There are also a lot of Easter eggs for anybody who loves finding secrets in their video games.  If Croteam ever follows up with a sequel, one can only hope a little bit more puzzle variety is included to keep things from becoming monotonous at the end. But don’t let that dissuade you from trying the game out. It is still very enjoyable, has a science fiction story that is engaging, and is generally a really good game. Just make sure you don’t  try to power through it in a weekend.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

1001 Spikes Review

Over the past few years a subset of platformers have come to pass. All focusing on very difficult challenges, some may even call impossible challenges. 1001 Spikes is another one of these games to come along. It even brings along a few new features with its retro themed visuals, and chip tunes. Watch your every step. There are hazards everywhere.

PROS: Challenging gameplay. Crafty level design. A lot of content.

CONS: All stages need to be cleared to play the last leg. High difficulty.

PARODIES: Of popular video game characters galore.

Appearing first on consoles, 1001 Spikes recently made its way to computers. It also came to every major computer operating system in the process. Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. Developed by Nicalis, the game is another title that relishes high difficulty. Following the paths set by stuff like I wanna be the guy, VVVVVV, and Super Meat Boy, it focuses a lot on platform jumping through relentless traps. Nearly everything in the game will kill you, from the obvious spikes, to lava, chasms, buzz saws, spears, to boulders. Everything wants you dead. At first you might think it isn’t all too different from other NES themed indie games you’ve played. But given enough time, you start to see where 1001 Spikes does have its own identity.

1001 Spikes is a puzzle platformer. Instead of having difficult jumps or traps as small sections of any given level, the game makes them the entire level. Or more accurately they become puzzles. The game tasks you with trying to figure out where to jump, and when. How to time a landing just right or when to shoot a projectile. Projectiles are rarely used to actually kill enemies. Instead they’re used to hit switches, or knock an obstacle back so you can sneak through. Each stage in the campaign is little more than a room 2 to 4 screens in height or length. The object is to collect a key so you can open the door, and exit. As a bonus, each stage has a hidden skull. Collecting the skulls will not only add another life via 1-Up, but over time unlock characters, and features.

Many of the unlockable characters, and costumes are parodies of famous NES game characters. Among these, are a really spot on spoof of Ghosts N’ Goblins’ Arthur. He even takes two hits to die with the first hit knocking off his armor, revealing his underpants. There is also a Ryu parody (Street Fighter), who even throws fireballs, and dragon punches. There is a Master Chief parody (Halo), replete with armor, and weaponry. There are also many other parodies, and in-jokes.  Even Commander Video from Bit Trip Runner makes a cameo along with his Atari 2600 era Activision themed rainbow.

In a way, the structure is a lot closer to something like Wrecking Crew, Boulder Dash, or Bomber Man. It can be deceiving at a first glance because the puzzles resemble action games like Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, or Mega Man given the brutal nature of the traps. The game also keeps tabs on the time, and lives spent on completing each level. This lends itself to making the game appeal to people who love the concept of speed running. Much of the difficulty comes not from the obvious hazards themselves, but from the unexpected surprises. The stages are sadistic in that just when you think you’ve found somewhere safe to land, it turns out to be a crumbling block. Or booby-trapped with spikes. Or a switch that drops chunks of the ceiling on top of you. As you move on, the game quickly becomes a job in trial, and error. You’ll begin examining each room for potential treachery, expecting the worst with each landing. This may sound like an awful masochistic time. But you’d be surprised to find it is fun in its frustration. Each section is like a code you have to crack. When you do, sections that were previously impossible become much, much simpler. Again, setting you up for the challenge of trying to win with the best possible time.

1001 Spikes does have its own storyline that you can see unfold as you progress. It tells the tale of a young explorer named Aban Hawkins. His father is a renowned archaeologist who goes missing. Aban never got along with his father, and was always at odds with him. Nevertheless, when his sister calls him into the office to give him a box from their father, it leads him on a quest. Aban goes to South America to explore deep caverns. It is here he wishes he hadn’t gone, as of course, these caverns prove to be death trap central. If you can manage to beat all of the levels in the campaign, you’ll be granted access to the final leg of Aban’s journey. Fortunately, (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) you can skip any level if it proves too difficult for you. Any level you’ve previously skipped can be replayed at a later time. So you can move on, clearing a few later stages, then go back to a previous one that got a little too irritating.

In addition to the primary campaign the game does have unlockable arcade modes. It should be noted all of them can be played with up to four players. The first one is a coin horde mode, where everyone battles it out over a golden vase. At the end of the round it will explode. So players have to hang onto it long enough to get more coins than their opponents. Their opponents can try to claim it from them, but a bigger problem are the traps, and enemies in each of these stages. You can expect to lose a lot of lives here, as in the other modes.

The second arcade mode takes a little bit more of an action game leaning. You have to climb a giant tower to free a hostage from their captors. Each tower is a few stages long. You get 9 lives per stage, and if you lose all of your lives you have to start all over again from the bottom of that tower. Being that it is part of a notoriously difficult game, expect as many death traps, as you would during the campaign. But you’ll also have a lot of grunts trying to impede your progress. They’ll get in the way during crucial moments, They’ll shoot you. They’ll do anything they can to make you lose.

The final arcade mode is a long series of extra levels that aren’t in the campaign. Many of these are more difficult. Being designed more for multiplayer, instead of worrying about an exit key, and 1-Ups these stages have coins. So much like some of the recent Super Mario Bros, games, you’ll compete by coin collecting. But again, it becomes pandemonium as you also have to worry about the myriad of deathtraps. Coins you collect in the arcade modes, can be used for items in an unlockable shop. These items include aforementioned hidden characters, and costumes. As well as the ability to watch the game’s many cinema screens at one’s leisure.  I should also mention that some of the costumes can only be used in the arcade modes. Why this is I have no idea.

In any case, 1001 Spikes is a pretty cool game on whichever platform you choose to play it on. Although for some reason the Wii U version doesn’t utilize the popular off TV mode. There are reports that this may be patched in at some point. But if you pick it up for Nintendo’s box, at least for the time being, you will have to look at the TV. But again, it is an enjoyable, well crafted game. Just be advised it isn’t a game for the faint of heart, and that if you’re easily put off by games with high difficulty you may want to think twice about it. For everyone else, it’s certainly worth playing. You can play it in small bursts, or jam on it for an entire day off from work. It’s another soul crushingly difficult game, but a satisfying one.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Deadcore Review

Deadcore is another game that combines elements from different genres. It has the first person platforming of games like Metroid Prime. It has the parkour feeling of Mirror’s Edge. It has some puzzles that rival the complexity of Portal. Most of the online store descriptions you’ll find for the game describe it as a First-Person Shooter. While you do eventually wind up with a gun, shooting isn’t really all that lethal.

PROS: Beautiful environments. Challenging game play. Interesting concept for a story.

CONS: Possibly too challenging for some due to a high difficulty. Minor glitches.

CREEPY: Sentient blocks that float around hoping to make you fall.

Deadcore has two modes. There’s a story mode, and a mode for speed runs. You can also play the story mode in the speed run mode if you want to try to see how quickly you can beat the entire game. Speed Run mode also lets players time attack individual levels, or sections of levels called Tracks. Of course you won’t be able to do much in this mode right away, as most of it is unlocked by going through the story mode. If you do play through a speed run setting, you’ll be competing against others on the leaderboard. There are score categories for each of the levels, tracks, and story mode. Deadcore also has a lot of achievements dedicated players can shoot for. There is even one everyone will likely get called Digital Barbecue. This is because dying five hundred times will unlock it. You will more than likely die over five hundred times in this game.

The story in Deadcore is honestly pretty cool. It centers around your character trying to escape a mysterious tower that reaches high into the Thermosphere. As you go through the game you’ll stumble upon icons. Most of these open up entries in a log book. When you go into the log book, you can look at the entries you’ve discovered. It’s like a lot of other titles in the sense that you’re finding journals. Some of the entries will be logs from previous climbers who died trying to escape the tower. Some of them will be discussions between your unnamed character, and a computer. Other entries detail some of the power up items you’ll discover during the game. Deadcore also takes a page from Valve by letting the world craft a lot of the story. It’s cold, soulless, and yet feels like there was life wiped out by this twisted, technological tower. The music in the game is some of the eeriest electronica heard in a soundtrack. While there are some thumping tunes during hectic times, Most of the time it’s brooding, and creepy. It captures the mood of isolation, and the desperation of the story nicely.

Some of the other things you’ll find are power ups, and Easter eggs.  Deadcore is very much a First-Person Adventure game. Obviously, the object of the game is to climb your way to the top of the tower to escape. The aforementioned gun is predominantly used as a tool. There aren’t any traditional enemies to speak of. You won’t be scoring headshots, or getting into fire fights with space pirates. Instead, the enemies you face are more or less parts of a security system. Sometimes cubes will show up to try to knock you off of a platform. Other times these electronic pods called Mosquitoes will gang up on you. Or you’ll find yourself turning off fans with shots from your gun while you’re trying to evade lasers.

The story mode is only five levels long. But these are some of the longest levels of any game you will ever play. Each one is broken up by several sections. These are referenced as tracks.  The first stage is the approximate bottom of the tower where you begin the game. The second one you’ll begin to see some progress as the world textures get smaller. Stage three things really heat up, as you’ll be inside a large chunk of the tower. Stage four is a tremendously large stage, with several tracks, and there is even a substantial amount of back tracking. The final stage is fairly brief. You will be very thankful about that fact because Deadcore is not an easy game. Frankly, it becomes the Dark Souls of puzzle-platformer hybrids by the middle of the game. Some of the sections in the game even put the hardest Super Mario Galaxy stages to shame.

For many, this game may even prove too hard, resulting in broken controllers, mice, keyboards, and monitors. But if you can keep calm, and practice you can eventually figure out exactly what to do. This game will force you to think under pressure.  Each area of each track is a puzzle. Yet there isn’t always only one way to solve it. Sometimes you’ll have a choice of which path of pitfalls you wish to take. But again, getting around each pitfall is its own challenge. I already mentioned the lasers, cube bots, and bug bots trying to make you fail. But it gets even more difficult.

Along the way the game will present you with new mechanics. For example, you’ll come across gravity switches. These create areas where you’ll be able to temporarily walk on the walls. Sometimes you’ll have to go through a modified gravity area, into a non-modified gravity area, into another modified gravity area. All within a few seconds. Other times you’ll run into flipping blocks, right out of Super Mario Galaxy, where one side is electrified. Landing on this side is instant death. Other times you’ll find fan blades that you need to shut off while avoiding moving boxes with laser beams on them. Because not shutting them off will blow you off of a surface. Leading to a subsequent death. Or go through a anti gravity area with a ton of enemies, while trying to avoid moving laser walls. Or any other number of difficult scenarios.

The game bases a lot of its maneuvering on platform jumping. If you’ve played a lot of Metroid Prime, or Mirror’s Edge you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. Much of the level design is focused on pixel perfect jumping, mixed with the aforementioned challenges. All of which will force you to complete them as quickly as possible. This is also why there is a focus on speed running. If you do choose to speed run in Deadcore you’ll need to master the dash mechanic once you find it. Dash acts as a fast travel, as well as a third jump. You can jump, then double jump. But once you find the dash power up, you’ll be able to dash after double jumping. Plus, a lot of the difficult sections pretty much require using it. There is a handy meter on the gun that measures how much dash power you have remaining. So you’ll have to decide on the fly if you need to do short dashes, or hold the dash down, and use up the entire bar. The dash recharges if you hold still. Unfortunately, the gun’s ammunition does not. So you also have to keep an eye on the number of shots remaining.

In between tracks there are checkpoints. Like many of the 2D games that celebrate the difficulty of 8-bit NES games, Deadcore gives you unlimited lives. You can re-spawn at the last checkpoint you’ve reached  at any time by pressing R. If you die you will also re-spawn there. You are going to be pressing R a lot, as well as suffering many deaths. Every missed jump will lead to a fall to your doom, the path of an enemy, or to an earlier point in the track. Similarly, you’re going to want to master the mechanics, and power ups as soon as you can. Because the difficulty only amps up. Especially since none of the traps, or enemies you shoot stay off. Everything you disable eventually turns itself back on.  It’s kind of like Evil Otto, from Berzerk in that nothing can be killed. Even the bosses can only be temporarily disabled.  So you’ll find yourself disabling something, and moving. Fairly often. Especially near the end of the game. You’ll also want to seek out the power ups, and some of the Easter eggs.  Some of them are actually messages from the developers instructing you to email them information from the secrets you find. Doing so gets you some cool media like music from the soundtrack.

Along with the high difficulty, Deadcore does have some minor problems that will add to some of the aggravation. Sometimes there will be some slight hiccups in the game’s response time. This means it might not recognize you’ve pressed the jump button, leading to a seemingly cheap death.  It isn’t the worst thing in the world. But this is a game that relishes the idea of speed running. Any little interruption in performance can result in the loss of precious seconds. There were also a few rare times I ran into clipping problems in my play through. As such, I found myself stuck in walls, and forcing a re-spawn. Sometimes this happened when I was ever so close to a checkpoint, which became really frustrating.

Some players might also dislike the lack of customization options. You can’t choose things like the kinds of filters, or post processing. You have to go to the custom setting to even see them, and even then everything is a low, medium, or high check box.  You can re-bind your keys, set screen resolution, and your field of vision. But you can’t do much of anything in terms of audio settings. These problems don’t ruin the game, or stop you from being able to complete it. But will lead to a few really grating moments for some of you. A few more checkpoints could have also been used. Because some of the sections between them are so long they begin to feel like levels themselves. This is especially true during the next to last stage, where backtracking becomes a big part of the game play.

When you do finish the game you will be treated to one of two endings depending on which paths you took, and what areas you’ve discovered. It’s certainly a satisfying finish for the story given here. It also leaves you with a sense of accomplishment. Overall, Deadcore is a really well made game. The rare glitch aside, it functions pretty responsively. The difficulty is high, but the game feels rewarding when you complete tough areas. It has an engrossing look, and sounds that pull you into its world of uneasiness. The mechanics, for the most part are fun to use once you’ve gotten a handle on them. There are versions for all three major computer operating systems. You can play this on Windows, Macintosh, or Linux. Plus, the system requirements aren’t very high. Most computers built over the last seven years should be able to run it.

5-Bits Games has really put out something special. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that it isn’t for everyone. If you are the sort of player who is turned off by a high difficulty, you will probably not like the experience 5-Bits Games has delivered to the world. If however, you thrived on games like Dark Souls you’ll want to play this game. If you’ve got the patience, and love dystopian settings it’s certainly worth picking up.

Although you may want to purchase a spare keyboard in case you lose your cool.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Reposted Review: Warlords

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(Originally posted on the now defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog.)

Though from yesteryear WARLORDS is still valid today

PROS: Frantic, and fun. There’s even some meta in there.

CONS: Dated graphics. Short play sessions except for the devoted.

WTF?: Why does a 30-year-old game have better box art than most new releases? I mean seriously, look at how awesome it is. I mean REALLY LOOK. Now go look at the MW3 cover. COME ON!

I remember as a child, visiting my grandparents, stumbling upon old relics. Old keepsakes, conversation pieces, knickknacks, or even photographs. I would ask them about what these items were, what they did, what purpose they served. A lot of times this resulted in a boring story. But other instances they ended up telling interesting, captivating stories. Chapters of history that would never be found in school books. Sometimes I feel like the shoe is on the other foot these days when I’m at work, or at a hangout, or even spending a night at a bar with friends. Often times the subject of video games will come up, and someone I have a decade or more on won’t catch my withered cranky reference. This resulting in a strange history lesson that both intrigues the curious modern gamer, and bores the crap out of the guy trying to watch Sportscenter.

But before every one of you leave this blog to go tweet, or off to the malt shoppe, or whatever it is you whippersnappers do, here’s an old timer’s flashback.

Back in 1980, when I was about to turn four, there was an arcade game called Warlords. Around a year later it hit the Atari 2600, and it is here I first experienced it.  Warlords is hard to define. It has the puzzle game element of Breakout or (For those born into the world far later than the seventies) Arkanoid. Paddles are involved, bouncing boulders into walls are involved. It also has the frantic action of a hockey game, as combatants try to defend their fortified castles from becoming rubble, and ash.

The ultimate goal of this game is essentially to be the last man (Or in this case, castle) standing.  Four players each have their own defense shield/catapult that can move ninety degrees around their fortress wall. The game can be played with four people in a free for all, or fewer players with computer AI opponents in a free for all. This is noteworthy as the 2600 (Or the Video Computer System as it was known at the time) was one of the first, and only consoles to offer four player multiplayer. There are variations on gameplay but they all boil down to the same goal. The game uses a special paddle controller. Instead of a digital 8 direction joystick, Warlords has an analog paddle which is essentially a dial. Turning it moves your catapult back, and forth while pressing the button catches the boulder, releasing the button launches it.

While those of you who have never ventured outside the world of current generation consoles may scoff at the simplicity of bouncing a pixel about the screen, those who let their guard down, and try it will be surprised. Warlords is hypercompetitive. Warlords is cutthroat. Warlords doesn’t play around.  When four really skilled players get involved the game becomes really challenging, frantic, and entertaining. It’s exhilarating when after a five-minute ping ponging barrage, you finally destroy someone’s castle. On the flip side it can be absolutely soul crushing to be on the receiving end of such a devastating blow. Most rounds are truly nail-biting sessions when they get down to the wire.

The next time somebody tries to tell you that there weren’t any frantic games requiring copious amounts of muscle memory, and dexterity before the advent of the PS3 take them to a flea market. Pick up a 2600, some paddles, and a copy of Warlords. After a couple of hours of wall smashing terror you’ll be kindly telling them to get the hell off of your lawn.

Final Score: 9 out of 10 (Raid your elder’s cellar!)

Reposted Review: VVVVVV

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(Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog.)

Strangely titled, and awesome: VVVVVV

One of the quirkiest, independently made games in recent years, VVVVVV is a love letter to NES, and C-64 gaming. Why should you experience this dedication to the 8-bit era? Read on.

PROS:  Challenging puzzle/platform/adventure gameplay. Awesome soundtrack. Bonus content.

CONS: Some of the endgame stages may prove too difficult for a few players.

WTF?: There’s a giant psychedelic elephant that makes you cry. Really.

Originally part of Indie Humble Bundle #3 Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV was met with critical acclaim.

It’s well deserved. VVVVVV offers an awful lot of features, and options for a low price point. There are full priced packaged titles that give less entertainment than this title. The fact the requirements for the Windows, and Macintosh versions are fairly low also widens the number of people who can run it. VVVVVV tells the story of a crew of palette swapped beings who find themselves marooned after a mysterious explosion causes their ship to crash. When it does, Captain Viridian finds himself on a quest to find his missing compatriots, and then escape the strange dimension they’ve been stranded in.

VVVVVV’s campaign makes very good use of it’s gameplay mechanics. The game is built around a gravitational “flip” idea. Instead of jumping over enemies, and environmental hazards like spike pits, instead Captain Viridian flips upside down, and is pulled toward the ceiling. Other times you’ll need to do the opposite. As you get farther into the game, you’ll be introduced to new tweaks on the idea which in turn lead to some really crafty puzzles. The idea has been done before. Capcom experimented with this way, way back in Mega Man 5. One of that game’s Robot Masters was Gravity Man whose entire stage was built on this flip gravity mechanic.

Where as that game only had one stage in which this was successfully tried, VVVVVV takes the ball, and completely runs with it. Not only are there a greater variety of puzzle like traps to solve, but all of these rooms tie together creating a world similar to the way the original Metroid  did but with the sensibilities of Pitfall II: Lost Caverns. Everything ties together nicely. There is plenty of reference humor buried within it’s walls as well. From the visual style which is a clear reference to the Commodore 64′s 16 color graphics, to the music which hints at both the C-64′s SID sound chipset, as well as the memory of NES New Wave styled chiptunes.

Speaking of chiptunes among other things, VVVVVV features 20 gold records hidden throughout the game. If you find them all, you can unlock the songs to be played back on your ship through terminals.

Terminals can also be found throughout the game. Some of them advance the plot with dialogue. Others offer more reference gags (SYNTAX ERROR). As you rescue your friends they will help you out in various areas. Some will give you hints as to where the next crew member is. There are also some capsules in each puzzle room to spawn you to if you die. On the topic of deaths in this game, there are no permanent deaths. (At least until you unlock the no death mode which forces you to beat the entire game on one life)

This really works in the game’s favor as it makes it more accessible for novices who can keep retrying at their leisure. However the game also tracks the number of times you die, as well as the length of time you’ve spent trying to win. This gives the die-hard crowd something to shoot for, giving speed runners something they can sink their teeth into. If a really deep campaign isn’t enough to sate you, VVVVVV also gives players a full-fledged level editor. You’ll have access to all of the tiles, objects, and enemies from the main game to make for your own stages. You can also share them with other players who can import them, and play them.

If there are any gripes about this game they are few. Sometimes controls get a little touchy, leading to unintentionally sliding off of a ledge onto spikes or not registering a flip on time. Faster computer systems will actually speed up the game a bit too, making some of the game’s puzzles more difficult to complete. But after some time playing you’ll grow used to it. The level editor doesn’t have much of a tutorial either, so prepare to be shooting in the dark at first.

Outside of those nitpicks there really isn’t much to whine over.

In short, you need to buy VVVVVV. There are so many good things here it would be a misfire on one’s part to skip it. Plus with the low asking price of $4.99 (Win/Mac) one could buy it by skipping a couple of sodas. Portable gamers may wish to spend a little more on the Nintendo 3DS version which allows you to see the map on the lower screen.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10 BUY IT NOW!

Reposted Review: Donkey Kong ’94

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 (Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog in 2012.)

1994 saw the release of the last classic Donkey Kong. On the Gameboy, it was also one of the earliest cartridges designed with the Super Gameboy peripheral in mind. It is easily one of the best in this puzzle/platformer hybrid.

 

PROS: Tons of levels. Gameplay additions improve a classic formula. Humor.

 CONS: High difficulty on some puzzles.

 WTF?: How the hell do Donkey Kong, AND Pauline fit through those tiny lock doors?

Long before he moved to the Mushroom Kingdom to slay Bowser, and have Toad tell him the Princess was in another castle, Mario worked construction. He also worked in a cement factory. Some have called it a pie factory. He also dated a woman named Pauline.

Before Super Mario Bros. Became a cultural phenomenon Mario was the protagonist of Donkey Kong.

Donkey Kong of course, was a puzzle meets platform game. Where players tried to get from the bottom of the screen to the top armed with only a jump button, and ladders. If you made it to the top of the screen you saved Pauline, and moved onto the next level.

Around five mainline Mario games or so later, Donkey Kong had become a star in his own platforming games. And while few would argue that these Country titles were indeed good games, many old timers including Cranky Kong became wistful for the classic gameplay DK starred in during  the golden age of arcades.

Donkey Kong 94 answered their prayers. Not only does the game bring back the original stages from the arcade, but it then kicks into an entirely new set of stages

Like the earliest Mario games, DK94 is set up into sub-levels. For instance, what one might call stage 1 is actually several levels. Stage 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, and so on. Around halfway through each set of sub-levels is a mini boss stage. Every final sub-level is a boss stage. These stages are the sorts of things you would see in a typical Super Mario Bros., game which makes the fact you play as Mario work in the game’s favor.

 

In addition to mixing up the game with bosses, and mini bosses DK94 adds a few surprises in it’s regular gameplay. Mario no longer simply jumps, and climbs ladders. Now dashing back while running, and pressing jump will make him back flip. Some stages have tight ropes Mario can swing on.

There are bounce pads. There are even ladders, and girders you have to strategically place in order for Mario to solve puzzles, and move onto further stages. There are also a lot of new stage hazards, and new enemy types. Some monsters crawl along any adjacent surface, others require timing to barely make a risky jump over to progress through a stage.

And there are a LOT of stages. 101 to be specific. This game simply gives you a lot of value for the price of admission. Suffice it to say, you will be busy for some time. The original cartridge release had a battery save for this specific reason. Picking up the game pak now means there may be a chance the battery inside is dead so like many of these you may wish to have someone who knows what they’re doing open the cartridge, and replace it. Barring that, the game is available on Nintendo’s e-shop for the 3DS. Donkey Kong 94, was also one of the earliest Super Gameboy compatible games. As such, there are proper colors associated with every sprite, and playing on an SNES also puts a border around the screen with artwork reminiscent of the original arcade machine cabinet art.

As much as I tout this game’s many strengths, there are a few minor nitpicks.  Some of the later stages really kick into overdrive, meaning people who play almost entirely puzzle games, and rarely touch platformers may be turned off by the difficulty. The game does fortunately hand out a lot of 1-UPs to compensate for this but for some it may grate. The other main gripe, and admittedly is mainly wishful thinking on my part is that there was no official Super NES cartridge made for it. Playing on the Super Gameboy adapter is indeed a lot of fun, but one can’t help but think what might have been.

Finally, as those in 1994 can attest, DK94 has confusing box art. Anyone who wasn’t reading EGM, Gamepro, Nintendo Power or other popular game magazines back then would have thought they were getting a really late port of the NES port of the arcade game.

Though years later Mario Vs. Donkey Kong would prove there is still a market for DK as a puzzle game, it still doesn’t have quite the same charm of classic Donkey Kong.

For those who missed it in the mid 90′s or younger folks wanting another classic under their belt, this version of Donkey Kong is easily one of the best.

Final Score: 9 out of 10 (Buy it now!)