Daily Archives: July 9, 2014

Charlie Murder is pure punk rock punching and kicking

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Charlie Murder is one of the two free games given out last month on the Xbox 360 for Gold members, and I nearly forgot all about it, ending up downloading it on its last available day, a few hours shy of midnight. Whew. Thankfully, it’s a small game, somewhere under 400 MB, and so it didn’t take very long to go from Microsoft’s server to my hard-drive. Skip ahead a few more days, and I actually got to play a wee bit of it, enough to put some thoughts in my head, which I’m now sharing with y’all.

Let’s see. Charlie Murder from Ska Studios is…well, I don’t really know what’s happening story-wise at the moment. The game begins with our titular character in Hell, but only briefly; see, a paramedic is actually resuscitating Charlie, though I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Seems like the streets are now overrun with denizens of Hell because the end times are upon us. Three cheers for that. Now back on his feet, Charlie and his friends (if you have friends to play with, that is) must fight off this stirred evil. There’s also some story stuff about Charlie’s band, which I’m only just beginning to glimpse, though I imagine it is either going to be of the “rise to fame” or “fall from grace” ilk. We’ll have to wait and see on that for now, and I’m definitely more interested in that than anything else.

Charlie Murder‘s a brawler, a 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up, which, to be honest, is not a genre that really excites. Sure, over the years I’ve had some decent fun with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, Streets of Rage, Shank, X-MEN Arcade, and so on. Heck, I’ll even openly admit right here, right now, that I put many hours into the demo of Fighting Force because, in 1997, I just couldn’t stop hitting men with broken bottles. But for the most part, walking left to right and beating up generic goon after goon with fists or a range of weapon types until you can move on wears out its welcome real fast with me. Especially the part where you repeatedly mash the X button. Alas, that gameplay style seems to still exist here in Charlie Murder, but at least the game has personality, as well as some RPG elements to freshen tactics up.

There’s just one problem–I can’t read any of the text in this game save for the colored button prompts for quick time events. It’s tiny and scribbly, and yes, I’m wearing glasses and even sitting pretty close to my television. See, a big part of the game is using your smartphone, checking in on a Twitter-like app to see who is messaging you and how many followers you’ve gained, as well as reviewing your inventory, buying skills, and selecting which special powers to assign to what buttons. Y’know, key elements to make Charlie stronger and more unique, and I’ve ended up going on guesswork alone, hoping that this shirt is better than the other one based on some iffy color cues. Like, I know this is a bad image to begin with, but this is more or less what is like to be me and see the game and its text as I’m playing. Insert a grumpy face emote here.

So, that’s a bummer. Thankfully, the game has style out the wazoo, and you wouldn’t be wrong for immediately thinking of Jhonen Vasquez’s Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comics and Invader Zim series. Muted colors save for greens and purples and dark, quirky humor work pretty well here, especially that one part where Charlie had to rough up a man in a hamburger costume at a fast-food joint. You can change how your character looks with clothing and tattoos, which is always a plus in my book, seeing your actual equipped attire reflected on the person, and it seems like there’s plenty to spend on, though money does not come fast or free, which might mean grinding, and now all I’m doing is frowning.

But yeah, this indie brawler is nice to look at and listen to, I just worry that playing by myself, especially unable to read most of the stats on weapons and gear, is not going to be a lot of fun. You can join up with other people online, which I tried once and got immediately booted, so there’s that option, but I don’t suspect I’ll be back to stop this punk-rock apocalypse from happening any time soon unless I magically receive two more Xbox 360 controllers and three new ready-to-go friends. It’s competent, but conventional, and I’m sorry if that hurts to hear, Mr. Murder and friends.

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Doki-Doki Universe may be irreverent, but at least it’s imaginative

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There exist many great RPGs, like Suikoden II and Chrono Cross, and in these also exist little slivers of additional content lovingly called side quests. They get this name mostly because they are smaller tasks on the side put upon the hero, heroine, or group while they also handle much larger tasks like killing that evil dragon and saving the world. More often than not, a great side quest can outshine the main path; for instance, take a look at the “The Power of the Atom” quest from Fallout 3, which stands out to me more some six years later than all that water-purifying monkey business with your runaway father. Of late, I really loved London Life, a kinda large mini-game bundled with Professor Layton and the Last Specter that is all about fetch side quests and ate up many hours of my life.

Well, good news–Doki-Doki Universe is a game made up almost entirely of side quests. It’s basically them, plus a handful of personality quizzes which are not as mundane as they sound and can be quite enjoyable so long as one spaces them out between helping random planet inhabitants and riding coffee mugs with wings up into space. Y’know, be sensible about your tasks like that. It’s a lot of to- and fro-ing, but I always seem to need these rather straightforward tasks in times of brokenness, so I’m really having my fill. The game is a freebie this month for PlayStation Plus users, and I initially thought it was only for the Vita, but evidently it is a cross-play title. That’s awesome, and something we need to see more with other consoles.

There’s a story here and, just like Le Petit Prince, it is both sweet and sad. Maybe not as crude as that French children’s story though. You’re robot Model QT377665, but let’s go with QT3 for short. Turns out, your human family sucks and abandoned you and your balloon buddy on an asteroid. Flashforward 11,432 days, and Alien Jeff shows up to give you some bad news. Evidently, your model is getting recalled and scrapped because the company that made you apparently doesn’t believe it has enough “humanity.” Alien Jeff is assigned the task of discovering just how much humanity QT3 is capable of before reporting back to head-honchos.

And so off you go to different, humorously named planets to solve the myriad of problems people have–and animals and talking vegetables and sentient snowmen–to learn more about humanity and gain some perspective. Space is an open map of planets, and you can visit them in any order; in fact, you’ll often need to visit other planets for additional presents to help people with some of the trickier requests early on. Most often, QT3 just needs to summon a specific summonable to finish the quest; for example, someone on Yuckers desires a smelly item, and so QT3 just needs to make a pile of poo magically appear next to them. Quest complete. Others have you either performing a greeting with the right analog stick (waving, bowing, blowing a kiss) or throwing someone like a slingshot to a specific part of the endlessly scrolling level, which is actually a bit tricky.

Besides handling simple side quest after side quest, which despite how it sounds really does scratch a specific itch, there’s personality quizzes to take and email to read. Mmm I do love a game with email, and I’ve been tinkering away slowly at a Grinding Down post about why this is so; maybe it’ll make an appearance down the road. Anyways, the personality quizzes are cute multiple choice questions, with a quick summary of you as a person at the end. They don’t always nail my personality, but are surprisingly accurate the majority of the time. These quizzes are perfect to do before you land on a new planet, too. As you grow as a robot, Alien Jeff and friends you’ve made along the way will send you adorable little emails that are animated and colorful and keep those stories going a bit longer after they technically ended.

Not all is green and dandy in Doki-Doki Universe, as I have stumbled across some very annoying hard crashes and lock-ups. These always happened when QT3 would begin to pull up the multitude of bubbles that makes up his inventory. There’s also no great way to sort through all your consumables, a problem the closer you get to collecting 300, as you can really only view a handful at a time on screen, and so if you’re trying to hunt down one specific item, best keep hitting randomize or trying your luck with the similar button. The game will occasionally log me out of PSN, too, though I know not why and how. I might have also run into a glitch where you are supposed to return to the Home planet and speak with the red balloon; alas, for some reason, the balloon is high in the sky, and QT3 can’t reach it to begin a dialogue. Hmm.

Based on how many consumables I have and how many decorations I’ve acquired for QT3’s Home planet, I must be pretty close to the end, to seeing if this little robot that likes dressing like a lumberjack has enough humanity instead to save his steely skin from being turned into scrap. It’s not a long game, but long enough for me, and I’m looking forward to finishing it up and adding it to my never-ending list of games completed in 2014. At least this one should be relatively easy to draw a comic about, since the art is more or less on my level.