Something to Play: “SpeedRunners”

Standard

In the lexicon of the gaming subculture, one of the most common terms thrown around is speedrunning, meaning to play through a level or game as fast as possible. From the popularity of this style of play comes SpeedRunners, the latest in a long line of time attack styled, speed-based platformers. It lays a solid foundation,but could use some more polish.

The gameplay of SpeedRunners can be compared to the likes of Super Meat Boy or ‘Splosion Man. No matter which character you choose, you’ll be able to run really fast and race through increasingly difficult 2D obstacle courses to beat the clock. You’re then encouraged to play though the level again to perfect your time and score.

Now, before I get into some of the weaknesses of this game, I should note that, at the time of this writing, this game is in what Steam calls “Early Access”. This means that, while players can purchase and play the game, it’s still technically in development. However, I want to go ahead and tell you about the game as it stands right now.

With that in mind, let me go over the one slightly weak spot in the game: the story mode. Here, you’re cast as a superhero sent out to protect the city from a mad bomber. It makes for an entertaining diversion, but you can easily beat it in about an hour. On top of that, the stages themselves don’t get to be particularly challenging until the halfway point.

What does make this game more unique is the multiplayer mode, where you can race against three other players until you’re the last man standing. You can also play as several different characters, including caricatures of actual YouTube stars if you care to buy the DLC. There’s also support for user-created levels, as well.

To

Again, this is a game in development. And for what it’s worth, you’ll get some fun and exhilarating gameplay. But when you compare it to the competition, you may find that your money may be better spent elsewhere. Pick it up if you’ve already played the time attack essentials and looking for a little something extra.

You can find SpeedRunners on Steam, here.

Something to Play: “Octodad: Dadliest Catch”

Standard

Okay, so today I’ve come up a little short on brand spanking new things to talk about. So I’m gonna stretch back about a year to tell you about a little gem that I’ve just recently gotten to check out. Allow me to introduce you to Octodad: Dadliest Catch.

An off-shoot of the 2010 indie freeware game OctodadDadliest Catch places you in the role of a father and head of a 1950’s styled nuclear family. There’s only one little twist: you’re an octopus, disguised as a human. You’ve put on a good act so far, but you’re wife is finally starting to get suspicious and a psychotic seafood chef is doing anything he can to expose you for who you are.

The gameplay is built entirely around the concept of moving around without a skeleton. Each tentacle is controlled independently and you have to carefully coordinate their movements to accomplish your goals. You’re often being watched by others, so screw up too much and you’ll tip people off that you’re not human.

Depending on your tastes, you’ll either find the nature of the gameplay a huge amount of fun or extremely frustrating, but’s it’s definitely unique. I found the this clumsiness simulator pretty fun, for the most part. There are some parts of the game (the final level comes to mind,) that require so much precise control of your tentacles that it may take you more than a few tries to get it down.

From a representational perspective, Octodad also shines, again for the most part. The polygons can sometimes come off as a little too low-rez for one’s taste. But’s the art-style looks very pleasant, and the story is both charming and funny. The star of the show, Octodad himself, is excellently animated and his voice actor does a great job of embedding appropriate emotion and subtext in the characters blubbering.

Once you’re done with the story mode (and the two downloadable levels), there’s also support for the Steam Workshop.You can download and play mods, levels and experiments developed by fans. It probably won’t be enough to keep you entertained long-term, but it’s good for an amusing diversion.

So if you haven’t picked up this one already, there are two ways to check this one out. You can download it for PC and Mac from either Steam or the official site. If you want to wait just a little longer, it will also be available for download April 22nd on Playstation 4.

A Few of My Favorite Things: A Look Back At 2014

Standard

Well, look at that. The year of 2014 has come to a close. Was it a good one for you? Looking back, some really cool stuff came out this year. Here are a few of my favorites.

Favorite Movie: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

banner-birdman-film_page_np

This is, by far, one of the coolest movie experiences I’ve had in a while. The story of a washed-out actor struggling to find relevancy is intriguing enough, but every part of this movie helps to make this an extremely enjoyable couple of hours.

The visual style alone will leave you mesmerized. The whole movie is filmed to look like one continuous take and the camera is almost constantly kept at a close-up shot, providing a sense of profound confusion and delirium. Those visuals, combined with a soundtrack made up of the hypnotizing drums provided by jazz artist Antonio Sánchez, created an environment I never wanted to leave. Throw in stand-out performances from the entire ensemble (which includes the likes of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone,) and you’ve got one engaging ride.

Favorite Book: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley 

download

The Scott Pilgrim series was a godsend for me back when I was in High School, and I found Lost at Sea to be a very enjoyable character study. So I didn’t need any convincing when Bryan Lee O’Malley’s latest graphic novel, Seconds, was published last summer. The concept is a perfectly ordinary one: A young chef’s life starts to fall apart, so she uses magical mushrooms that she receives from a mystical spirit to rewrite history and fix her mistakes. Simple, right?

Well, get past the quirkiness of it all and you find a cast of charming and relatable characters, gorgeous art and a wonderful story. A story that manages to be funny, poignant and enlightening simultaneously. I loved my time reading this one and I recommend you give it a read.

Favorite Album: You’re Dead! by Flying Lotus

You're_Dead! (1)

Man, am I glad to have listened to this one. You’re Dead! is the latest studio album from experimental producer Flying Lotus. An album that tackles dark themes such as insanity, addiction and, above all else, death itself.

It’s also one of those albums that you’d probably enjoy much better by not paying attention to the track list and listening to the whole thing in one go. Each track flows in and out of one another in such a way that it all becomes one mesmerizing ride, mixing in large amounts of jazz, hip-hop and electronic music to create FlyLo’s signature sound. For my own tastes, this album did a lot to push me outside of my love of electronic music and start taking a look at the jazz scene, so it’s certainly had an impact on me.

Favorite Indie Game: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

header (1)

Yeah, I had my problems with this one. I didn’t get to spend much time with the game, due to it’s short length, and I haven’t gotten to see the ending yet because I’m too much of a wimp to tackle the game’s only jump-scare section. But there’s still so much about this game that there is to love.

Ethan Carter is an atmospheric first-person exploration game where you play a supernatural detective, who can communicate with the dead in his search to find out what happened to a missing child. As you solve puzzles and murder mysteries, more and more of this wonderfully creepy story comes to light. All while exploring one of the most gorgeous game worlds I’ve ever seen.

Seriously, if nothing else, pick this one up for it’s atmosphere. Throw on a good pair of headphones and turn out the lights. You’ll be in for a treat.

As we wrap up 2014 tonight, I’d like to thank each and every one of you who have taken an interest in my ramblings. I certainly don’t have plans to stop yet. There’s more to discover out there, so I’d better get to it!

Something to Play: “Tri: Of Friendship and Madness”

Standard

Two of my all-time favorite games are Portal and Portal 2. Story-driven puzzle games with puzzles that can be as difficult to wrap your head around as they are satisfying to solve. I long for a game that can provide me with an experience like that and, while Tri: Of Friendship and Madness doesn’t quite reach that level, it comes pretty close.

To explain the premise of Tri‘s story, we need to start with a simple assumption: foxes are gods. Now that we have that out of the way, we can follow a masked monk-like figure into a spiritual realm. There, we must piece together a story about two fox-god friends so we can figure out how one of the fox-gods disappeared… Well, the important part is that, to accomplish all of this, you have to make your way through a series of towers and dungeons.

To help you with that task, the game equips you with a devise called the Tri, this game’s answer to the portal gun. The Tri allows you to create triangular platforms to help you traverse and interact with the environment. And this becomes the crux of the puzzles: how to get from point A to point B with gaps and walls standing in your way.

Eventually the triangles you create will allow you to walk on walls, opening up a whole new range of puzzles. The environment will sometimes switch such elements as gravity on you. It all makes for a very fun ride.

Graphics are simplistic, but the aesthetics make use of a vibrant color pallet and a wonderful art direction. The lighting does a great job of mystifying rooms and highlighting trees (which, yes, have triangles for leaves). It’s a very pretty game, overall.

Again, it’s a fun ride, but not without some hitches in the track. I’ve mentioned that, by connecting triangles, you can create a path that allows you to walk on walls. But what exactly qualifies as a connection can be a bit confusing, meaning you’ll sometimes have to fiddle around with triangle placement just to see what sticks. Among the presentation issues, the voice acting can be a little flat, lacking the nuances to effectively portray the poignant tale.

But once it gets going, it’s a lot of fun to play. The slightly free-form puzzles are fun to figure out and the world is a beauty to look at. If you’re looking for another story-based puzzler, or if you’re looking for a game with a quirky atmosphere and story, you could do a lot worse than Tri.

You can pick up Tri: Of Friendship and Madness on Steam here. By the by, it’s 75% off until tomorrow! So if you want it, don’t delay.

Something to Play: “Cloud Chamber”

Standard

First of all, I’ve gotta give a shout-out to the folks at Extra Credits, a YouTube show that discusses the evolution of video games from a developer’s point-of-view. It’s because of their recent episode “Interactive Video” (which you can watch here,) that I even heard of today’s game. It’s a very well thought-out out show and if you’re really into indie games, they have a spin-off, James Recommends, that’s all about that.

Anyhow, the game I’m talking about this week is called Cloud Chamber, and I honestly haven’t played any other game that’s anything like it. Here’s the concept: A filmmaker has been developing a documentary about a secret laboratory that’s on the verge of a scientific breakthrough to end all breakthroughs. However, after a strange and disastrous happening, he decides to upload everything he has gathered to an online database, represented here as a 3D landscape, with the height of the landscape signifying the importance of the information. Your job as the player is to investigate all of this information and work with all of the other players to determine what happened and in what order.

Still with me? Great. It’s best summarized as a massively-multiplayer mystery game. Every node of information, be it audio, video, or article, has a comment section built into it. By participating in the community and adding things to the discussion that people find worthwhile, you unlock more information to further discuss.

If you ever had an in-depth discussion with your friends after watching a deeply thought-provoking movie, you know what this is like. Cloud Chamber takes that kind of conversation and implements it into every part of the story it’s trying to tell. It’s very detailed, too, with subtle clues sometimes being the only indicator of a clip being before another clip, or after it.

This is not a game for everyone. If you prefer games with more direct interactivity, or if you’re not one to converse through message boards, you should probably look elsewhere. It’s not perfect, either. There’s some overacting in the clips and I still can’t tell if one of the main character’s accent is supposed to be American or British.

But Cloud Chamber is definitely one of the most unique and creative concepts for a game I’ve seen in quite some time. At a $20 price tag, it might be a little pricey for those not sure if this new kind of game is something they’d enjoy. But if you’re looking for a game that’s nothing like what you’ve played before, it might just be worth the price of admission.

You can pick up Cloud Chamber on Steam here.

Something To Play: “Jazzpunk”

Standard

So I’ve been looking over some of the indie stuff I’ve gotten my hands on in the months before I started this blog. I may be plunging into that archive a few times before this year is over. One particular thing that stuck out to me is a strange little game, developed independently by Necrophone Games and published to Steam by none other than the video game division of experimental comedy network [adult swim]. Welcome to the world of Jazzpunk.

Where do I even begin with this one? Well, the story (nonsensical as it is,) places you in the role of Polyblank, a secret agent running espionage missions in an alternate-reality Cold War era. But don’t be fooled. This is a absurdist comedy, first and foremost. You’ll be asked to perform completely insane tasks to achieve slightly less insane results.

Need to get into a room? Go collect a bunch of spiders in a jar and let them loose on the guard. Need to fool a security camera? Go the copy-machine, take a picture of your butt and show it to the camera. Get the idea?

Jazzpunk1

As you do these strange things, everything happening around you becomes even stranger. Suddenly, your boss’s office is becoming flooded with water and octopuses. Now you’re standing in a creepy land made of pizza. It’s best to just go with the flow.

Actually, the best thing to do (in my opinion,) is to follow the story straight through on your first go. Then, after the end credits have finished, play again and go as far off the beaten-path as possible to see what else you can do. There’s pigeons to smuggle, frogs-with-Mohawks to escort and references to other video games to find.

Jazzpunk2

Both playthroughs will only take you a couple of hours, but I think it’s worth the price of admission, anyway. It’s really funny and I don’t think you’re going to find a game with this sort of look and feel anywhere else. What else can I say? Jazzpunk is a game where you’re thrown into a weird little world and asked to go see what you can make happen. If that sounds like fun to you, then hop on board!

You can find Jazzpunk on Steam here.

Something to Play: “Q*bert Rebooted”

Standard

And now for something a little more old-fashioned. Remember Q*bert, the classic arcade game about an unexplained freak of nature hopping on blocks? Maybe you remember seeing him in Wreck-It Ralph? The little orange weirdo hasn’t seen a release since around 2005, but thanks to indie studios Gonzo Games and Sideline Amusement, he’s got one more shot at the spotlight.

Q*bert Rebooted has been released on Steam, this year, reintroducing the arcade veteran to a new generation. Not much has changed, in the grand scheme of things. The blocks have been swapped out for hexagons, and a few more enemy types have been added, but it plays the same. You’re still hopping around, changing the board from one color to another, while avoiding all sorts of creatures and balls who, for reasons we will never know, want you dead.  And it’s still just as fun.

ss_d5f790e7f3eb52b90b3834a0122384694338e469

What is different this time around is that inspiration has been taken from modern-day mobile games. Each level provides you with a short list of challenges, such as beating the level in a certain time limit, or reaching a certain score, to get the full three-star rating. Gems (read: in-game currency) also tend to pop up periodically on the board for you to collect.

You can use these gems to buy new characters to play with. Ever wanted to play as a Q*bert cyborg, or a Dracula Q*bert? I know, the thought never entered my mind before, either. But there’s some fun to be had in seeing the classic mascot re-skinned in various costumes. I see potential for a toy line in this.

ss_1bbf30a031dc37f3766f5f9d2b4942686aaad96a

Word is that the developers are working on iOS and Android versions of the game, and I can’t wait to see that. The mobile market is a place where these classic arcade franchises with simple mechanics can thrive and find new life. As it stands, it’s $4.99 on Steam for a simple, fun throwback. It even comes with a port of the original game, which may alone be worth the price of admission.

You can check out Q*bert Rebooted on Steam by following this link.