Dronefall imagines a pixel art future overrun by deadly drones

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It really bums me out covering games much later than I intended, especially indie titles or tiny slivers of experimentation from the myriad jams that go down in this industry, as often finding information about these things months–or even years later, as is the case with Dronefall – Prologue–is nearly impossible. You’d think my seasoned Googling skills would unearth all the details, but nope, not for something as slight as this; that said, I dig the search engine company’s new logo.

Anyways, I’ll do what I can with what I got, but if you know more than me and want to rub my honker in it, by all means. Dronefall – Prologue was made by Inglenook, a company that is hard at work on something called Witchmarsh. The short little thang was produced for the Charity Game Jam back in 2013, along with almost one hundred other games, with funds going to the Reprieve UK foundation. Again, I do not remember where I was and how I came to download it, but its executable file was in my videogames folder…so I gave it a double click.

Basically, we have a future overrun by drones, machines unafraid to murder and cause chaos. They were not programmed to bite the hand that wires them, but they’ll do it without question. In Dronefall – Prologue, you play as a woman whose name I cannot recall or look up due to nobody else ever in the entire Internet-driven world having touched the thing. YouTube and Google continue to suggest Downfall instead. Anyways, naturally, she has just awoken up to this dark, dastardly future, and begins moving left to right in hopes of figuring things out. It’s a puzzle adventure game, though there’s only a little bit of both in this “prologue” chapter; you can examine items in the world and turn wheels to shut off machines or pipes leaking steam, and there’s truly only one puzzle to maneuver through at the end, which is not difficult to figure out. Then it fades to white and the dreaded “to be continued…”

Before I finish this post, I have to say that I’m pretty amazed with myself for breaking Dronefall – Prologue, a game that takes maybe no more than five minutes to get through. Towards the end, you have to take a lift down from the second floor to the first, and somehow, the lift got activated without our main hero girl on it. I could stand her over where the lift once was and still activate it, but that meant she rose into the darkness known as the ceiling as the lift rose as well. I walked her to the right onto the next screen, and everything froze, then crashed. It’s like accessing the warp pipes in Super Mario Bros, except instead of leaping forward a few worlds it teleports you back to your desktop.

Considering I can find next to nothing about Dronefall – Prologue or even Inglenook–its website is launching soon!–and that the developers are all hands on deck for their Kickstarter project, I don’t expect there to be a continuation of this adventure. Which is a shame. Not because there’s a fascinating story or mystery here, but it looks gorgeous, and a full-fledged dive into this unpredictable future through pretty, pretty pixel art is more than enough to count me in. That said, Witchmarsh, an action RPG set in 1920s Massachusetts, does seem to have a similar look, so perhaps I’ll check it out later this year.

St. Chicken is actually about surviving the perils of the ocean

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I don’t think I can actually tell you where my copy of St. Chicken came from–probably a bundle from yesteryear–but I never imagined it was a game about a magical guppy leading its offspring to ancient relics while keeping them healthy and nourished and out of harm’s way. The game’s executable file has sat untouched in my laptop’s “videogames” folder, but I’m trying to make a dent and open up some hard-drive space.

Truthfully, I expected a cutesy, colorful platformer starring a cartoonish chicken, like a throwback to the early Sony/Sega mascot days, on some sort of religious mission to save his or her brethren from factory farm management or an evil tractor while gathering enough eggs to unlock power-ups. Nope.

St. Chicken is a quirky puzzle-lite maze explorer where you play as a lost pet guppy with special healing powers. Basically, you swim around as the titular St. Chicken, collecting white pellets that ding as you touch them, which I imagine are food. As the guppy eats each pellet, it grows larger, and after a set amount, spawns a tiny offspring, called fry, as well as shrinking back down in size. Your fry need to remain close to St. Chicken to stay healthy and alive, and by pressing the space bar you can summon the offspring over all at once. Kind of like the “all units” command from whatever RTS franchise floats your boat.

Your goal is to get all your fry safely to the end of the level where some glowing bit of treasure or relic awaits, which is not as easy as it sounds. Like in Pikmin, your babies are pretty vulnerable, and if an eel or sting ray makes contact with them, they will perish, with no way to get them back. You also have to stay on top of the fact that St. Chicken’s fry are always close because if they linger too long away from their parent, they will perish from general weakness. I ran into a few cases where one little fry got caught behind a wall and didn’t follow the others along the main path, perishing after a few seconds by itself.

From what I can gather, there’s a total of six levels to get through in St. Chicken, each gated by a specific number of rescued fry. Alas, I couldn’t get past the fifth level, as I found it beyond frustrating to lose all of St. Chicken’s offspring right near the end. Granted, it was my fault for not paying close attention, but the thought of going back and redoing the entire level over again–it’s fairly lengthy and tedious by nature due to having to move slowly and meticulously since many paths are blocked off at first–did not excite me. And so I’ll walk away from 2012’s St. Chicken with 64 fry happy and safe from underwater predators, but no more than that.

You can tell a true cowboy by how they spell in Jack MacQwerty

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You’d think that, having been copyediting for almost a third of my life now–a couple years in college after I switched from pursuing art something-or-other to journalism and then almost ten years in the big, scary, real world–that I’d be more into the niche spelling genre of videogames. Y’know, things like Typing of the Dead and Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing, where the goal is to spell a word, often fast, for some kind of result, whether it is shooting a zombie in the head or moving on to the next task. I may not be a fast typer, but I’m a pretty good speller.

Jack MacQwerty doesn’t try to do too much differently with this small, but strong sub-genre, but it is cute and quirky and has fun with the mechanics nonetheless. Basically, you play as the titular sheriff, taking out opposing cowboys and bad guys by typing their names. Dun dun dunnn. Sometimes their names are traditional, like CLINT or CHERRY, and other times you’ll be feverishly hitting the keys to finish names like ISENGARD, FART, or IDAREYOUTOKILLME. Not going to lie, I totally guffawed when I saw an enemy called SHRECK quickly followed by THEMASK.

When you run out of ammo, type RELOAD to reload, which makes sense and totally gets under your skin when you hit the wrong key and have to start all over while bullets zoom your way. It’s like missing that active reload in Gears of War when you need it most. Later, you’ll want to avoid shooting bystanders with names like DONOTSHOOT and INNOCENT. Also, if you lose enough health, type HYDROMEL for a swig of power and rejuvenation, not that I believe honey-based liquor contains such powers, but that’s videogames for you. Personally, I go right for the raspberry iced tea.

Ironically, for a game about spelling, there’s quite a number of typos on both the game’s GameJolt page, as well as in the “how to play” menu within Jack MacQwerty. Not sure if they are there to be funny, but the professional part of me doubts it. Other than that, I enjoyed my time in the word-littered Wild West, and the retro aesthetic does a fine job of not getting in the way of either the fun or the jokes. If you have a few minutes to kill and like spelling out funny words really fast, give it a shot. Happy trails!

There’s chaos to create in Just Cause 2

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When I first got my Xbox 360, some many years back, I maintained a small collection of games, doing what I don’t do now, which is finishing one before getting another. That all said, I did delight in some extra dessert now and then by downloading free demos of upcoming games, such as the ones for Crackdown 2 and Dragon Age II. I think you can still download free demos to this day, but at this point I have little time for teasers and would rather just wait for the full thing to either come out or be dropped into my library as a monthly freebie. The times, they are a-changing.

Well, way back in 2010, I sampled a bit of Just Cause 2, as this demo did not hold your hand, but rather set you free. There was a short cutscene to explain why Rico Rodriguez, the man with the grapple hook and hunger for explosions, was on this tropical island, and then you have thirty minutes to do whatever you want. I remember restarting it multiple times, trying something new with each go and really enjoying any and all chaos I could create. Strangely, this never did result me in purchasing a full copy of Just Cause 2; thankfully, all I needed to do was wait five years and then I’d get a free copy from Microsoft.

In Just Cause 2, you take control of Rico Rodriguez, an undercover U.S. operative on the Southeast Asian island of Panau–which is not real, people–to track down a former friend, who has disappeared with top-secret intel and a lot of money. There’s also an oppressive dictator to deal with, as well as three rival gangs who are waging war on the island. I’ve only done the first two or three story missions, so not much has unfolded yet, but I’m sure I’ll get to all these plotlines soon enough. Y’know, once I get my fill of running amok and blowing up enemy territory.

Let’s get this out of the way: the story is not written well, made only more ridiculous by the wooden voice acting. Rico’s actor sounds like he is reading the script for the very first time and they only have the ability to do one take. Good thing I’m not here for the story, as playing and making things explode feels really good, especially when you can use Rico’s magical zip-line thingy to zoom away from all the destruction. Like a true cool action hero. I’m not stellar yet at performing stunts while riding on top of vehicles and aiming the grappling hook is occasionally a nightmare. Still, if you can hit an enemy on a rooftop with it and pull them off to their tumbling doom, I highly recommend it. The gunwork doesn’t feel amazing, but I am more of a grenade-tossing maniac from on high sort of chaos creator.

Truthfully, I didn’t mean to dive right into Just Cause 2 after finishing Lara Croft: Guardian of Light and deleting it from my Xbox 360’s hard-drive, but the game was in my download queue already and automatically started once it saw there was enough space opened up. I’m still working on Final Fantasy IX‘s third disc, LEGO Jurassic World on the Nintendo 3DS, and need to get back to Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, especially with V only days away from release, though I won’t be getting to it until I finish Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes. Oi. Talk about chaos, right?

Tilt every platform to make it through Through

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Here’s the unfortunate reality: I will never have enough time to explore all the game jams out there that I want to explore. I’m still not even close to seeing all the entries from GameBoy Jam 3, of which there are 237 in total, and I’ve tried out a whooping three, each of which had something unique or fun to offer: The Tale of Kelda, Roguelight, and Meowgical Tower. Now here we are with a further 181 creations for the next iteration, the rightfully named GameBoy Jam 4, and I don’t know what to do with myself. Guess I’ll play something.

Through is a short, proof of concept puzzle platformer starring a tiny black pixel that could probably befriend the likes of Boxboy and the doomed hero from Disposabot. There are twelve levels in total, with the goal being to reach the teleport pad; however, it’s not always a straight path to it, and this is where tilting takes over. By pushing our tiny retro pixel soldier against a wall for a second or two, he or she or it can pass through, turning the wall into empty space and reshuffling the other platforms around. It’s a bit mind-bending, and I never really saw how the world shifted or was going to shift, like one eventually did in Fez, but if you kept playing around with tilting this way or that, the exit would get closer and closer.

The twelve levels here are not difficult, especially the first three that act more like a tutorial than anything, and so Through is more of a casual playthrough, where you try pushing against a wall and seeing what happens. If it doesn’t work out, jump elsewhere and push another wall. Floor spikes make an appearance only in the final level, and those kind of dangerous elements could have been introduced earlier to create some tension or force players to find an alternate path to the exit. All of this is backed by a looping soundtrack of bloops and bleeps, though it works well enough.

A “To be continued…” message pops up after you finish Through‘s final level, and I do hope we get more from this. The mechanics are there, but a little more variety could help, as well as a smidgen more art, though the simple graphics help create a lonely aesthetic. The game’s developer goes by the username goshki, and I’m not familiar with any of his other work, but I’d love to see this warp maze puzzle game expand into something a bit trickier, more demanding. Personally, I think it’d be a great fit on the Nintendo 3DS, especially if there’s a level editor involved, wherein we can then see what others can create with this idea. All right, I’m off to get a cup of coffee, and I think I’ll just push against the kitchen wall afterwards and see where it takes me.

Examining the unconventional weapons of Ludum Dare 32

ludum dare unconventional weapons roundup

The theme around Ludum Dare 32 was “an unconventional weapon,” which I imagine resulted in numerous indie takes on situations like Red Faction: Guerrilla‘s ostrich hammer or using a purple dildo bat in Saint’s Row: The Third to take out enemies with precision and embarrassment. Or maybe it didn’t. With a theme, anything can be anything, and interpretation is the actual name of the game. What I’m trying to say is I’ve seen neither an ostrich or sexual device gripped in anyone’s hand…so far. Perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough or maybe somebody needs to invent a new filter.

Anyways, below are a few entries from the latest Ludum Dare that I’ve dabbled in over the last few months and wanted to share with all of y’all. Why? Well, I think they are neat and have potential. Considering the high number of entries, upwards of 1,450, please do let me know of some other interesting ones to check out not on my list. Remember, I’m partial to strange names, point-and-click romps, and pixel platformers. Also: cats.

Blackbird

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Blackbird has a good look and some solid animation, but its mechanic, which is, by all definitions, unconventional makes it a rather hard thing to play. There’s only one level to experience, too. Basically, you move a hooded person around with the arrow keys and press X to have a bird dive bomb; if you time it just right and the bird dive bombs through a glowing orb, it’ll raise the platform that both it and the orb hit, which is basically whatever is directly below them. Since you can’t control the bird directly, it’s a mix of waiting and luck. Raise enough platforms up, and you can get the hooded man over to the level’s exit. Neat idea, but might be too punishing to be enjoyable.

Avenging My Gran, the Famed Botanist

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With such a quirky title, I had to check out this smarter-than-smart puzzle game about murdering the plants that murdered your grandma from Chris McMath. The idea is to pick up a stick, grab some fire, and burn a plant to ashes in each level. However, due to the geometry, length of stick, and your hero’s positioning, it’s not as simple as it sounds, and you’ll have to puzzle your way to victory. For those curious, I got stuck on Day 5. Avenging My Gran, the Famed Botanist is adorable, silly, and surprisingly challenging, with a simple, non-deterring aesthetic, though I do wish a different font was used, as it made reading some lines a struggle.

Spinnicus

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Similar to Blackbird, Spinnicus is more of a proof of concept than something fully realized made in the allotted timeline for Ludum Dare 32. Set in a Roman-inspired gladiator arena, your little dude wields a harpoon on a chain, and you can grab an enemy with this, spin them in circles, and toss them at other charging enemies to clear a path. That’s it. No score, no goal–just grabbing and tossing skeleton soldiers. Which is fun…for a time. Then you begin to wonder about what else one might do here, and then the harpoon glitches out, forcing you to bend the knee and die, and exit out.

Fathom

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Yes, yes. It’s a pixel platformer, but of course there’s an interesting hook in this one to help it stand above the others. In Fathom, you can slow down time and manipulate the bullets that these mounted turret guns are firing at you. If you wanted to, you could flip the bullets around, sending them right back to meet their makers, or you could brute force it along some other path to help destroy a generator keeping an electrified forcefield running. The zoom in and slow-motion really feels great, though it takes some practice to perfect. I’d say the possibilities are endless, but that’s really all you can do in this little jam session from Joe Williamson. That said, it’s still a ton of fun, and the potential is there for a grander adventure with even more insane mind-controlling abilities. Give it a go for yourself.

Badass Inc.

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I rolled my eyes a few times at Badass Inc., but it’s still quite enjoyable. Developer Sébastien Bénard says it is his homage to all things Blade Runner, Another World, and Flashback, and it’s clearly evident from the moment go. I’ve played a few of his other jam titles in the past, such as Last Breath and Proletarian Ninja X. In this one, you play as an assassin, and her boss wants her to take out the next target in a more unconventional manner. Think food poisoning or slipping in the tub over shooting. It’s a mix of combining items to solve puzzles and timed gunplay, though neither element is extremely deep. Another round of editing to fix typos wouldn’t hurt, but it’s stylish and easy to play, with a technokiller soundtrack that only a Replicant would ignore.

How I Escaped the Dungeon of Torment

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This is a cute one, with a lot of replayability. How I Escaped the Dungeon of Torment, which is really just the story of a young boy trapped in a small cabin, has you adding garden tools to the end of a hose and beating down a locked door with your unconventional weapon. Now, the loot you pick from is random, and our leading lad can only swing so many times before he gets tired and picks another tool to add to the hose. Depending on what you get and where you put it, your hose’s stats will differ; I personally tried to up speed and chance of critical hits, but it still took me a good number of in-game minutes to breathe fresh air once more.

Vacuum Hero

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Vacuum Hero is a puzzle action game where the nameless adventurer wields a vacuum cleaner…instead of the typical sword. Off he goes into a dark dungeon brimming with locked doors and slime monsters. With this device, he can suck up items and enemies and shoot them elsewhere to advance further. Right now, there’s little story, and the music gets tiresome far too early on, but the mechanics are fun though I wish you weren’t locked in to only four directions when moving and aiming. I could see becoming something much bigger down the road. Personally, I don’t enjoy vacuuming, but maybe I’ve been doing it wrong.

Ricochette

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I watched a lot of Xena: Warrior Princess as a young lad, always fascinated when Xena would toss her chakram and the camera would follow it on its deadly path as it sliced throats and bounced off walls. Here, in Ricochette, your goal is much the same, but this time you get a sneak peek of how your chakram will move around the top-down map via Peggle-like lines. Hitting an enemy allows the chakram to keep moving, allowing for combos. There’s only one level here, which is a big open space, and I managed to murder everyone without losing all my hearts. Some more animation, a plot, and trickier enemies could result in a fun–if necessarily short–game.

Well, I think that’s a good selection of appetizers for now. If you are hungry for more, by all means, hop over to the Ludum Dare site and try a few others out. Many can be played in your browser, too, and it seems like Ludum Dare 33 finished up recently and is now in the voting phase. Its theme was “You are the Monster,” and I do hope to dive into some of those ghastly creations real soon.

Microsoft Jackpot makes sure the reels keep spinning

gd microsoft jackpot 2 early imps

Despite growing up right outside Atlantic City, I’ve never really had a deep desire to gamble away my hard-earned savings. If you can call tip-outs from being a bus boy during my high school and college days “savings,” that is. Unless it’s through a penny slot machine, where a dollar can go a long way. The siren’s call of ka-ching, ching, ching never sounded beautiful, and this was reinforced that time I went out to Las Vegas for Spring Break and saw old women in wheelchairs, an oxygen tank under one arm and a plastic bucket to gather money in the other, spending all their hours in front of the slots. It’s the sort of scene you can’t help but stare at–because it’s real.

Speaking of “real,” Microsoft is a real strange company. Remember when they were only mainly concerned over operating systems? Er, nevermind. Now they got videogames and consoles to juggle. When it comes to “casual” gaming, they have really cornered the market, at least on their personal devices, championing their own takes on Bingo, Solitaire, Sudoku, Minesweeper, Jigsaw, and Mahjong, all of which are free to download and consume. I’ve dabbled in just about all of these, and, truthfully, they’re pretty great, unoffensive, and inexpensive ways to spend a few minutes on your phone or computer while transitioning from one thing to another.

Microsoft Jackpot is no different. It’s the corporate company’s stab at slot machines, which are one-armed bandits with three or more reels that spin when a button is pushed or lever is pulled. These gambling machines reward the player when certain patterns of symbols appear after the spinning stops. They are still the most popular means of gambling, accounting for 70% of U.S. casinos’ income. All machines differ in terms of themes and bonus mini-game mechanics, but the majority of them work the same way, keeping players sitting on a stool, feeding their coin slots. I remember enjoying one once that involved frogs leaping around on lily pads, though I quickly walked away from it after winning a bit of money.

To play the slots here, you use money–shiny, gold coins–earned in-game as you go instead via your debit account. You are also earning points with each spin to raise your main level, which gates what themes you can try out. So far, at level 9, I’ve only unlocked three of the five themes, which are the Jungle, a James Bond riff, and Candy Boxes, and they all have different bonus mini-games where you can hit it big to, naturally, in the future, bet larger amounts. Personally, I think “Jackpots Are Forever” is the most interesting theme, with your 007 wannabe Jack Pott chasing after jewel thieves before they can escape via boat or helicopter. Granted, all of this is done by spinning the reels and relying on luck, but it is much more fun to watch than simply a flashing sign and music cue. Plus, there’s plenty of puns to eat up.

Since Microsoft Jackpot is a free-to-play game, there are of course ads to deal with. Some pop up right after you hit all the triggers to start a bonus mini-game, meaning you have to grumble and sit through it to get to the true action, and others can be watched once every half hour to earn some extra coins or lucky clovers, which supposedly provide you better chances at winning though it has never felt like it. You can also spend real money on fake money, and the “best deal,” for Microsoft at least, asks you to purchase 2,000,000 gold coins, 13,000 lucky clovers, and remove all ads for a meager $199.99. Your call in the end, but I’m going to lean towards “don’t do it.”

Perhaps my favorite or maybe the most dangerous element of Microsoft Jackpot is that you can set it to autopilot. Basically, you can select how much you want to bet, check off “auto spin” and “fast spin,” and watch as the machine continuously eats up your money, occasionally giving you some back. Similar to Time Clickers, I’ve been leaving it on in the background as I do other work, checking in with it to ensure I’m not bankrupt or if I am ready to do a bonus mini-game. In real life, this sort of feature could be crippling, possibly life-destroying. Here, it helps skirt the tedium.

I’ll definitely keep spinning the reels in Microsoft Jackpot until I can unlock the last two themes, as I’m curious to see what they do differently, but probably after that I’ll take my digital money and time elsewhere. Perhaps all of this gambling will inspire me to finally attempt that Fallout: New Vegas run where I bankrupt every casino on the strip.