Saturday, June 21, 2008

Today, a three-pack to make up for nothing yesterday.


RotaZion is a game with a very simple concept, with one twist. (You might notice that I use this description, or variations of it, pretty often. There's a good reason -- you don't want to make a game which is exactly like some game that already exists; who would want to play something that's just another version of Breakout? On the other hand, inventing an entirely new genre is a difficult task; not that many Flash game designers haven't tried, but not many have succeeded. So a lot of the games which are successful are ones that take a well-established format and add something to make it unique. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.)

Anyway, rotaZion is a pretty canonical "dodger". You're confronted with an undersea minefield, and your job is to dodge the mines and stay alive as long as possible. A few various powerups, which give you points, slow things down, or make you temporarily invincible, occasionally drift by. The one twist in rotaZion is that your vehicle is a rotating bar (hence the name, I guess). Occasionally this allows you to pull off nifty maneuvers; when your bar is just in the right position you can evade the miners, but more often you'll end up with the bar in the wrong position and crash.

Ultimately, this isn't really enough of a twist to make the game terribly interesting. The music and sounds are both functional but forgettable, and so there was really no incentive to keep playing after I reached the requisite number of points for a badge.

Bubbles 2

In contrast to what I said above, Bubbles 2 doesn't really have a twist. It's an entirely straightforward dodger: you collect bubbles to get points, avoid mines which make you die and end your game, and that's about it. As you collect more bubbles, you yourself become larger, so the game becomes harder quite rapidly, meaning that your typical game is probably less than a minute.

The one distinguishing feature of Bubbles 2 is the variety of powerups, ranging from the straightforward (for example, invincibility) to the offbeat (for instance, Noir, which makes everything a high-contrast black and red, which is actually quite useful for picking up bubbles against the background). However, the short amount of time each game lasts means that whether you end up with great powerups or less useful ones is pretty much a total crapshoot. Also, really, you don't end up playing the game long enough to remember what each powerup is and how it does (or at least I didn't).

The music is pretty well-suited for the average game length, but I doubt it would survive as the music for a longer game. The sound effects are pretty much what you would expect. Overall, this is a fun game to mess around with for a couple of minutes, but I imagine it would have a hard time holding anyone's interest for any longer than that.

Bubble Tanks

And here's the third in our serving of bubble-themed games. Unlike the other two, Bubble Tanks is a shooter with pretty traditional controls (keyboard to move, mouse to shoot). Each screen comprises a single bubble battlefield; moving off the edge of the screen (in any direction) takes you to a new bubble with new enemies. The central concept in Bubble Tanks is that popping your enemies creates a bunch of bubbles which you can pick up and add to your own tank, while being hit by enemy fire will knock bubbles off of your own tank. As your tank grows larger, your gun becomes more and more powerful, which is good because you'll face more and more powerful enemies.

The problem with Bubble Tanks (like the other two) is that it simply doesn't have enough to hold your attention for long. There's not that many different kinds of enemies, and they're mostly differentiated by their size rather than anything else, so the action pretty quickly becomes repetitive. You can't even really die, since if you lose your last extra bubble you're simply ejected into the nearest safe battlefield. Once you've taken the boss down (or a boss -- it seems like there's a lot of them floating around, though you only need to defeat one to get the badge) there's not really much incentive to keep playing.

The music and sounds are both somewhat below average, as the music gets repetitive very quickly and the sounds are kind of annoying. Overall, it's a quick way to get a 15-point badge, but like the other two, there's really no reason to go back to it once you've gotten the badge.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Several Journeys of Reemus

This may be the most difficult review I've written so far, simply because The Several Journeys of Reemus isn't a great game, nor is it an obviously flawed game. It's just kind of, well, a game.

The Several Journeys of Reemus is a graphical adventure, much in the tradition of the old LucasArts adventure games I think of as the prototype of the genre. There are various objects in the environment you can interact with by clicking on them, and that's about it as far as the interface goes; the puzzle is to first figure out what objects can be interacted with, and then to figure out how to use them to accomplish whatever it is you're supposed to do. (It should be noted that, unlike the old LucasArts games, you can die, and probably will experience many deaths of varying gruesomeness before finally guiding Reemus to his objective.)

The serious weakness of the game is that the environment is simply too small for good puzzles. There aren't that many objects you can interact with, and so solving the puzzles is more a job of finding these objects in the first place (which often involves, at least for me, a lot of annoying waving my mouse around until it alights on an object that you can do something with) and less a job of actual logic. That said, some of the puzzles are pretty clever, which only makes me wish that the environment was better so that you'd get more of those "aha!" moments that are really the core of an enjoyable experience and fewer of those "why can't I find anything to click on?" moments.

One interesting feature is that there are two separate endings (one of which is, in my opinion, noticeably easier to get than the other). Unfortunately, to get both you'll have to play through the whole game twice; but once you've figured out the puzzles, this is a very quick affair, so it's not really a big handicap. The game claims that either solution is equally good, but it clearly wants you to figure out the harder one.

The graphics are kind of charming (though the animation is a little crude, but it's a Flash game, so I'm not really expecting anything particularly great, after all). The music is way too short and will almost certainly drive you crazy (unless you manage to solve the puzzles a lot quicker than I can).

Anyway, like I said at the outset, I wasn't really left with any strong feelings about the game. There are certainly less enjoyable ways to get 30 points on Kongregate, but after completing it, I certainly had no desire to play it again.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


If I asked you what game on Kongregate is most like Portal (the real Portal, that is), your first guess might be Portal: The Flash Version. But, as I mentioned earlier, Portal: The Flash Version doesn't actually share all that much in common with its parent. In fact, it's SHIFT (or perhaps SHIFT 2, but we'll get there in due time) which is far closer to the spirit of Portal. It's got a simple but intruiging and creative concept at its core, it's very playful, and overall a very short game, so that you can play it in a single session but still feel that you would like to try more.

The basic concept behind SHIFT is very simple. At first, it looks like an ordinary platformer-type game with platforms and keys and deadly pits of spikes. However, the twist is simple, but very interesting -- when you find yourself stuck, you can press Shift, and suddenly the screen rotates 180 degrees and instead of a black figure on a white background standing on black floors, you're a white figure on a black background standing on white floors. With up and down now switched, it's a piece of cake to get to the high ledge you couldn't reach before. (Or maybe it isn't...)

The game teases you in much the same way that Portal does (indeed, the parallels between the timer and the cake are obvious, and the author makes no secret of where exactly he got his inspiration from), and the whole thing has a very light-hearted feel, which makes it an enjoyable experience to play.

That said, the game is somewhat limited, first simply by the fact that the size of the Flash screen means that the puzzles remain pretty small and hence nothing is too complicated, and second by the fact that there just aren't many levels in the game. (Also, the last level seems a bit misplaced in a game which otherwise is pretty cerebral.) So when you finish, you'll definitely be surprised at just how short the experience was. Still, it's much better to have a game which provides a quick, pleasant experience than one that overstays its welcome (Areas, I'm looking at you...).

The presentation is appropriately sparse -- the graphics are very simple black and white (the better to survive the inversion, I suppose), and there's no sound, though the background music is a nice touch. Like many other Kongregate games, there's no way to go back to specific levels, but since playing through the game is so quick, it doesn't take particularly long to get to any level anyway, so this isn't perhaps as much of a handicap as it might be in other games.

Anyway, there is a SHIFT 2 out, and a review for that coming up soon, so if the game does leave you with a thirst for more, you can get more! But if not, it's still a fun way to spend 20 minutes, and something that really shows the spirit of good game design at work.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

3D Logic

3D Logic is a perfect Flash puzzle game: it's simple in both concept and controls, no one level takes a particularly long time (although individual levels can be quite difficult), but overall it's engaging enough that you enjoy the experience.

The basic concept behind 3D Logic is quite straightforward. You're presented with a cube (or, more precisely, the three near faces of a cube), initially 3 by 3 by 3, but moving up to 6 by 6 by 6 at the end, of which some squares have been marked with a color. There are precisely two squares of each color, and your goal is to connect each pair of squares of the same color with a continuous path. Some squares are also blacked out so your path cannot pass through them.

The initial puzzles are quite easy, but they rapidly become more complicated. Though you soon develop a range of tricks to deal with some common situations, the puzzle-solving procedure (at least for me) involves a lot of trial and error, rather than pure deduction. So sometimes you will get lucky and stumble across the correct solution early on, while sometimes you can get yourself stuck in an unproductive corner for a while. In this case I highly recommend restarting the whole thing so you can start from a fresh slate and hopefully avoid falling into the same incorrect pattern as you did previously. The comments agree that levels 16 and 23 are the most difficult, and I think this is true -- the difficulty definitely increases at the beginning, but it kind of reaches a plateau near the end, so if you're a little frustrated, don't go too crazy.

The interface is quite simple, but effective. The one frustrating thing is that you can't clear a square once you've drawn a path there, so the only way to remove an incorrect guess (other than painting it over with another color) is to reset the whole puzzle, which is kind of annoying. There are a few small sound effects which are nice, but that's about it. Also unfortunately, you can't go back to a level once you've completed it. Note, also, that this game doesn't really need to be 3D -- since you only ever see the three near faces of the cube, you could just as easily map it onto a flat 2D surface without changing the substance of the puzzle at all. But the 3D cube does look nice.

Anyway, overall 3D Logic is an entertaining and challenging puzzle that will keep you occupied for an hour or so, depending on just how good you are at solving these puzzles.

Monday, June 16, 2008

You Have To Burn The Rope

(Well, I feel a little cheap reviewing this one next, but it is the next one in my list, so...)

You Have To Burn The Rope may be the only game I've ever encountered where the title is a walkthrough for the whole game. The game is...well, I'm not sure how best to describe it. An experiment? A joke? A trenchant social commentary? (Hopefully not.) Anyway, I feel a little silly describing the game, but I shall. You go through a tunnel (filled with helpful commentary) and meet a boss. To defeat the boss, you have to perform the titular action (sorry for my overuse of "titular" recently, but I just couldn't resist). Then you are treated to a triumphant song over the final credits. That's it!

Anyway. It's not the funniest of jokes, nor the most fun of games, but it will hopefully at least get a chuckle.
Four Second Frenzy

(Sorry for missing yesterday! Somehow I convinced myself I had already written one for the day. I'll see if I can squeeze in another, but you may have to wait for tomorrow.)

(Four Second Frenzy is the second-to-last of the games I have in this list which I had played and completed before reaching Kongregate. It also took the least amount of time to re-earn the badge, since four seconds, even times 50, is not a particularly long time.)

(I'm skipping Areas right now, because I haven't yet finished it and I want to stay true to my pledge to not review games until I've finished them, though I doubt the last three levels will change my opinion. So this parenthetical is really more of a reminder.)

(Holy parenthetical notes, Batman! Shouldn't we actually get to the actual post?)

If you've played WarioWare, then Four Second Frenzy should look awfully familiar. The concept is very simple: you're presented with a series of "microgames", each of which lasts the titular four seconds. (Well, four seconds at maximum. It is possible to fail or succeed, depending on the game, in less than four seconds.) Each game uses a very simplified control set (just the arrow keys and space bar, and not every game even uses all of those), and all of the instructions you get about each game are presented in a quickly-flashed command at the beginning (like "Avoid!" or "Get treasure!"). When you first play the game, of course, trying to figure out what you need to do and then doing it in the space of four seconds is a very entertaining challenge, but after you've seen the games a few times, it becomes much easier. Unlike WarioWare, where the game difficulty changes in two ways (over time, the games speed up, and the goals become more difficult to achieve (for instance, the target you have to hit becomes smaller)), the games in Four Second Frenzy are always the same, meaning that the replay value is pretty low after you've finished everything. The game offers a variety of game modes, which are not particularly different. Normal mode requires you to beat 20 games within 7 lives, followed by a boss; endurance mode gives you 10 lives to beat all 50 games and the boss; and survival mode gives you a single life to see how far you can get.

The strength and weakness of Four Second Frenzy is the diversity of game design. In WarioWare, all of the games (or at least all the games in a single category) have a fairly unified aesthetic, which makes them feel like a nice package. Four Second Frenzy, though, has microgames contributed by a horde of developers, which means that no two games feel exactly alike. Indeed, everything from the art style to the difficulty to even the feel of the directions varies wildly from one microgame to another. This results in kind of a disorienting experience. The varying difficulty can be annoying, too; there are some games which are almost insultingly easy, while other games are infuriatingly difficult (and often dependent on the initial conditions). Especially frustrating is that the physics laws often change unexpectedly: in some levels, pressing the arrows will change the velocity of your object, while in some levels it will change the position, and telling which is which is often impossible.

As far as presentation goes, the graphics (as mentioned) vary wildly, but usually are at least serviceable; most of the individual microgames don't have their own sound, though there is an occasional effect or two, and there are some general success or failure sounds. The overall soundtrack is provided by a techno track which does a nice job of lending the appropriate intensity to the proceedings.

Overall, Four Second Frenzy is a fun little game to play with for a little while, but once you've gotten the hang of most of the minigames and gotten the badge, there's really not much reason to keep playing that long.