Friday, April 22, 2011


There is an area
the path of fate can move around on.
But if emotion takes over
the path is set in stone.
Anger controls our actions.
Fate is decided.
This is the hardest part of our BIT.TRIP.

First off guys, sorry for no screenies in this review. Somehow my USB grabber is raging - it displays a BSOD as soon I plug it in. I hate technology. As soon it starts working again, I'll deliver some, but until then ask Google or try the demo on the Wii Shop.
But what I don't hate is BIT.TRIP, obviously. Here are the final two games of the series - BIT.TRIP FATE and BIT.TRIP FLUX. Both are currently available on WiiWare for 800 points each.

FATE picks up right where RUNNER left off - CommanderVideo's Five Man Band chasing Mingrawn Timbletot, who's fleeing into space. This game is a rail shooter - literally. CV is moving on a line called the vibe, and you can only tell him to move forward or backwards, but as the screen autoscrolls forward you are forced to go forward. (note to myself: write a story analysis on BIT.TRIP - there are so many hidden meanings which could be explained and stuff)

All the while, blocky enemies are launched at you, which you have to dispose of before they hit you. Especially later in the game, when the concept of "beat aiming" is introduced, FATE becomes pure bullet hell.
On a rail. Have fun dodging.
The game's tempo is a lot slower than in the other games, and that slower tempo shows in the music music. The soundtrack is chiefly influenced by the genre of dubstep, creating a slow, bass-heavy selection of chiptunes. The music is awesome, but the slower tempo of the game might not please everyone. Personally, I didn't really like it.

This time the game has 6 levels instead of three. Each one is named after a feeling the Commander has at this stage. Starting from DETERMINATION, it goes to FRUSTRATION and so on. Slowly his anger takes over, as he comes closer and closer to his arch enemy in his final battle.

And then IT happens.

A warning here, FLUX will spoil the plot twist at the end of FATE. It's basically impossible to review this game without telling it. So you better play through FATE first, then read below if you want to buy FLUX. Hint: yes, you want to.

After the battle against his arch rival, CV does a suicide attack on Mingrawn Timbletot to defeat him for good. Sadly, he fails and dies. BIT.TRIP FLUX tells the story of the end of CommanderVideo's journey - his death, afterlife and reincarnation.

FLUX takes the basic gameplay of BEAT - the biggest difference being that the paddle is now on the right and the beats come from the left - but mixes in various elements from the other games, like beats you have to avoid from VOID.
The difficulty went down a lot thanks to 7 checkpoints per stage which you can use unlimited times. Makes sense, since when you are dead, you can't die again. That makes it much more accessible for those alienated by the sparse checkpoints in the previous games

And that's what the developers wanted. Gaijin wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the visual and musical experience mixed with familiar gameplay. The soundtrack is truly awesome - the anonymous composer at Petrified Productions made calm, relaxing chiptunes, mixing in various themes from the other BIT.TRIP games. The bosses are throwbacks to the older games too.

VERDICT:  Basically, FLUX is a celebration of the conclusion of the BIT.TRIP saga while still managing to feel fresh thanks to various new kinds of beats. The ending is truly a great ending to the series - especially when you know it's secret, you will have a sudden epiphany about the entire saga as a whole.
Also, it's fucking perfect.
I hate giving out a full score, but this game deserves it so much. You won't find a better game on WiiWare.

Memories are purged.
Knowledge is replace by instinct again.
Our game is over,
but we are still there.
Life begins anew,
born of the old.
Our journey is complete.
We all are on our BIT.TRIP.

Aaaand here's a note on what's coming.
You may have noticed my post about The Potato Sack. I will review every game in it (except BIT.TRIP BEAT, obviously), and while most are awesome, there are some that aren't that great. The series starts next time with AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! -- A reckless Disregard for Gravity. I might put in a preview of 1... 2... 3... KICK IT! -- Drop that Beat like an ugly Baby too, since it's by the same developer, but it's still in alpha. Just stating what's awesome and what suggestions I have. I'll also try to get back into MSN soon so I can poke Mabelma until he makes images better then mine :D So, stay tuned!

Oh, and even though I already wrote this twice on Facebook, twice on YouTube, on three forums and on Twitter, here's another shoutout for Valve: YOU ARE AWESOME FOR GIVING THE COMPLETE VALVE PACK AND PORTAL 2 FOR FREE TO EVERYONE WHO COLLECTED ALL THE POTATOES IN YOUR PORTAL 2 ARG. Thank you for reading.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story

The field of electronic entertainment didn't use to have nearly as many of the lush, well-developed stories that it does today.  You couldn't really tell much of a story when the highest graphic capabilities of your machines were little more than blocky lines on a screen.  In the late 1980s, Western developers like Sierra and Telltale began to discover ways to actually put the player into a story that made them an active part of it.  Monkey Island, Out of This World and others pioneered the "baby boom" of PC adventure games in the '80s and '90s.  Meanwhile, in Japan, some smaller developers were coming up with ideas on how to further develop the realm of interactive storytelling.  And, in the late '90s, the visual novel was born.  Visual novels gave sort of a middle ground between adventure games and books.  For the most part, the player is merely a spectator, but the story might occasionally provide you with a branch of choices that can ultimately have a large impact on the way it plays out.  In 2010, an independent developer named Christine Love took elements from both Eastern and Western adventure games when she made Digital: A Love Story, a tale of romance told through a 1980s bulletin board system.  About a month ago, she released don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story, taking the themes of sexuality and technology's role in our lives and giving them a whole new spin.

Rook on being a gentleman.
don't take it personally (Or DTIP, as I've now decided to call it) puts you in the role of John Rook, a twice-divorced, down-on-his-luck English teacher who happens to land a job at a prestigious Canadian private school in 2027.   School in the 2020's isn't quite the same as it is today.  Each student in your class is given a tablet for their schoolwork.  They all come with standard textbooks and e-paper for assignments, but they're also all connected to a program called "AmieConnect," a Facebook-like social networking system that the students can use to connect with each other.  But there's still one thing that hasn't changed 16 years into the future: annoying students.  Your class is small.  Very small.  In fact, you really only have 7 students you interact with throughout the course of the story.  Each has his/her own agenda, none of which John seems to be even remotely aware of.  However, on the first day of school, he unintentionally walks into an enormous, complex web of love and drama that he could never have imagined.

That's a lie.
The kids you meet in DTIP are almost as eccentric as their tangled love lives.  From Akira - the shy, gay kid from Japan - to Kendall - an annoying but caring student who spurts memes more often than she breathes - the personalities of the students are refreshingly varied, surprisingly human.  The story is set up in such a way where each character has their own chapter, something that I've always loved to see in literary works.  I do feel that John himself could have used a little more development, though.  There are little bits and scraps talking about his past, but I never felt like he evolved much over the course of the story.  I feel like he needed far more bits in the main plot than he was given to make up for the fact that he didn't have any sort of interaction in the AmieConnect side story to further develop his character.

As a teacher at the private school, John has access to a special version of AmieConnect that allows him to monitor every students actions on the system, from their public statuses to their private messages between each other.  If you want, you can let your notifications build up while advancing through the main story, but much like their tempting Facebook counterparts, they're pretty hard to ignore.  In a sense, DTIP has two separate storylines: An apparent one and a not-so-apparent one.  It's through the AmieConnect system that most of the bitter drama occurs.  It's John's job to act as a sort of neutral party, giving advice to others, but never taking sides (publicly, at least; some of his inner monologues tend to be far less sugar-coated than his external personality might suggest).  The idea of using this sort of social networking aspect as a way of developing the story - and character's personalities - is an interesting one, to be sure, but occasionally it feels more like it's preventing the flow of the story than anything.  I would like to be able to get through at least a full section of text without a surge of "dings" and notifications.

Something I felt a strange absence of in DTIP was the lack of choice.  I mean, sure, there were certainly instances where you could choose between a couple different ways to go about shaping a certain part of the story, but none of my choices really felt like they carried much bearing on the overall plot (save one regarding a relationship).  The other ones were mainly just small things, like changing a bit of dialogue here or there, but nothing truly significant.  Of course, according to Christine Love, this game was her first attempt at using choice as an element in the story.  I have to say, I did expect a little more out of the choice element, but I do hope Love decides to continue using it in her future endeavors.

All in all, I really enjoyed DTIP.  It's a powerful, intriguing, sometimes poignant story of teenage drama that manages to steer itself clear of many of the awful cliches associated with the subgenre.  There are certain elements that it could've certainly done without, such as some particularly...  over descriptive... portions (which Love herself has claimed were "painful to write" on her blog), the required "12chan" checking at the end of each day, and an ending that felt rushed and forced, but I can most certainly look past those, as Love has done an incredible job at exploring the controversial topics of sexuality and privacy in a way that will leave many players questioning DTIP's themes long after they've finished reading.

VERDICT: While I wouldn't say don't take it personally, babe is quite as innovative or interesting as Digital: A Love Story, it's still a well-written, powerful teen drama that deserves to be read through at least once.  There are some parts that are a bit awkwardly written, but overall, it's more than worth your time to download.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Retrofitting (a.k.a. Reviewing Games That Aren't Completely Ancient)

In case you haven't been reading this blog lately, allow me to give you a brief rundown of all the games we've reviewed and their scores:

Runman: Race Around the World - 5/5
Super Mario Bros. X - 4.5/5
Knytt Stories - 5/5
Yume Nikki - 4/5
Super Mario 63 (Guest Review) - 4/5
Iji - 5/5
Super Meat Boy - 4.9/5
Etc, etc, etc...

Yeah.  Nothing below a 4/5 up there.  I've figured out that the reason for all of these ludicrously high scores is because Suyo and I have just been picking out of a list of the best of the best, instead of reviewing some more current, relevant titles.  So, expect some reviews of some newer games up soon.  Here's just a taste of what games you can expect in the coming weeks:

If you've never heard of any of these titles, great!  All the more reason for you to come check out the reviews of them when they go up.  See you all tomorrow for the first of 'em!

If there are any games you'd like to see reviewed, or anything you think we could do better on, please leave us a tip in the comments section!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Attention: The Potato Sack

You are here because of indie games, right?
Well, here's something for you.

On April 1st, Valve released the Potato Sack, a pack of 13 awesome indie games, including AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, BIT.TRIP BEAT, The Ball, Super Meat Boy and many more.

But... it seems something is not quite right...

Go grab the Potato Sack now and help us solve the mystery.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: Hero Core

The need to innovate is something that is something that has been a persistent theme among developers now more than ever.  Big name studios like Valve, Rockstar, and Bioware are constantly working on ways to mix up the way their games are played, and driving the industry forward as a result of it.  Likewise, the independent scene is an oasis for innovation, with Jason Rohrer's Inside a Star-filled Sky and Frictional Games' Amnesia: The Dark Descent paving the way for an interesting new breed of electronic entertainment.  Now, while I do love all of these brilliant new ideas flowing out into the market (I absolutely adore Amnesia), there's always a part of me that yearns for a simpler kind of game.  In the early 90s, a period of time that many still call the "Golden Age of Gaming," innovation took a back seat to another important factor: fun.  Earthworm Jim, Sonic the Hedgehog, Toejam and Earl, Banjo Kazooie, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Perfect Dark; all of these titles weren't terribly innovative, but damn did they ever do a good job of entertaining.  It's this sort of "fun" factor that so personified the games of yesteryear that seems absent from most of today's games.  Iji creator Daniel Remar was not content with this, and with Hero Core, he set out on a mission to kick boredom's ass all over the place.  And succeeded.

"On a distant asteroid, I last fought the machine warlord, Cruiser Tetron, who threatened to invade the Earth with his mechanical minions...  Can I now defeat him once more - and can I find a way to forever stop his return?"  From the moment you read this opening monologue, Hero Core already oozes retro.  In fact, everything - from the 2-color palette to the pixelated aesthetic to the chiptune soundtrack to the Metroid-y atmosphere - is a wonderful homage to previous eras in gaming history.  The pure amount of charm in the general aesthetic is lovely, and the simplicity of the style never once detracts from the overall experience.  Hero Core is by no means a graphical powerhouse, but it's quite easy on the eyes, and the level of detail and readability in the environment - especially given the start black and white color scheme - is astonishing.  But downloading Hero Core for its art is like buying a hot dog for its bun; it's merely a cover for the real substance: the gameplay.

At first, the controls might take a little bit of getting used to.  Moving is pretty standard, but shooting is done with two keys; "Z" for left firing, "X" for right.  After a while, though, it just becomes second nature.  As with any Remar game, however, Hero Core takes these simple mechanics and tests your skills considerably during the playthrough.  Reflex is the name of the game here, as hardly ever are you given a moment to breathe in the midst of dancing around a flurry of enemy fire.  It's no bullet hell shooter, per say, but you'll certainly have to have some fast fingers to avoid them, especially during some of the many challenging boss encounters.  Remar most certainly compensates for this frantic demand of the player through filling the levels with a large variety of incredibly clever enemies.  The cast of goons you face is wonderfully mixed with things that will test every bit of your skill.  From the harmless, wandering drones to the "oh crap gotta get away from those" laser cannons, each individual enemy has a different distinct pattern that, with practice, can be figured out and thought around.  In comparison to the gargantuan boss fights, however, the other bad guys are little more than an appetizer to a marvelous main course.

You know, even if Hero Core were nothing more than its series of bosses, I'd still have a goddamn blast.  Every single boss in the game just oozes with creativity, and their patterns are both well thought out and challenging to overcome.  During one encounter (pictured above), I spent the entire fight inside of its mechanical shell, firing away at its weak points while dodging both its deadly interior lining and the spiral of bullets it was sending in to destroy me.  At first, it was damn near impossible.  I must've spent a good 10 or so attempts figuring out its pattern.  It was challenging, sure, but the feeling after defeating it was intensely gratifying.  There's this incredible feeling of grandeur that I experience every time I come upon a new boss in Hero Core, which is spectacular, as I never would have suspected that such a primitive-looking game could have ever given that to me.  What I really loved best is the fact that every single boss in the game was equally as satisfying to defeat as the one I described.   

Hero Core plays on its reward system beautifully, awarding you for exploring, but never punishing you for failure, something I feel that more and more indie games are forgetting to do these days.  Every boss fight awards you with an upgrade or a new item, which in turn allows you to explore more of the map and find more bosses to defeat.   Death has almost no real punishment other than sending you back to one of the generously placed save zones (which, conveniently, also serve as teleporters to other save zones).  The lack of punishment for failure and insatiable urge to explore egged me on to finish the whole thing in one sitting, which I have found few things in my life (including movies and books) to be capable of doing.

Daniel Remar is one of those rare developers that come around every now and again and consistently churn out titles that put most others in their category to shame.  In 2008, he did just that with indie legend Iji, and by god, he's done it again with Hero Core.  This game is the pinnacle of polish in freeware titles, and it's really breathed life into the previously worn genre of 2D exploration games.  How it manages to bring out my childlike passion for discovery and retain a memorable atmosphere (made possible by a gorgeous, gritty chiptune soundtrack by Brother Android) at the same time has made it a true downloadable gem that will more than likely live on in my memory for years to come.  If you don't go out and get it right now, I may very well lose whatever faith I had left in humanity.