Saturday, July 12, 2008


LightSprites describes itself as kind of like "It's a Small World" on crack, and this is actually a pretty accurate description.

The basic concept behind LightSprites is very simple: colored targets pop up, and at the top of the screen you have a slingshot, which you can use to sling one or more colored balls at the targets. (You can select the color of the balls using either a key or from a menu in the corner.) Usually, the targets pop up in groups of three or four, and usually all of the targets in a single group are the same color, but this isn't always the case. If you hit a target with a correctly colored ball, a little figure comes out and dances around happily. Alas, should you hit a target with an incorrectly colored ball, a little figure will come out and dance around for about a second before some kind of terrible fate befalls him. This happens quite frequently, since often you'll set up a nice shot for one target and then suddenly another target of a different color will pop up. In normal mode, you just have a fixed number of targets, while in challenge mode, successfully getting targets will increase your energy, which gradually decreases over time (and also with an incorrect target); if it runs out, you lose. In both cases, the number of possible colors for the targets increases as the game goes on.

The art and music is really the fun part of the game. The graphics are cute and fun to watch, and the music is nice and bouncy. The sound effects can be a little annoying, but they add a nice element to the game, too. Sadly, the game has the (common) flaw that it is much easier on slow computers. You wouldn't expect it to make that much of a difference, but it's actually a lot easier to react and line up your shot when things aren't going quite as quickly.

Overall, this is a cute little concept and a fun little game. In fact, it's one of those games which is just as much fun to play the wrong way (and watch your little people suffer various horrible fates) as the right way.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Campaign Game: General Election

As a big fan of President Elect, I naturally assumed Campaign Game would be something similar: you have to choose how to allocate your advertising budget, campaign appearances and so forth in critical states to give you the edge in electoral votes over your opponent. Imagine my surprise in discovering, then, that Campaign Game isn't really anything like that -- it's a pretty traditional turn-based strategy game, except that instead of elves and magicians, you have fundraisers and John McCain.

At the beginning of the game, you select three staff members; your staff can be either hatchetmen, operatives, spinmeisters, or fundraisers. Your candidate is also a unit on the board. (In the General Election game, you can only play Obama or McCain; apparently earlier versions allowed you to play with a wider range of candidates. I was rather disappointed that this feature got taken out; it would be nice to have a larger selection.) Anyway, as you move your units around the map, each unit has a "control radius" that flips control of nearby squares to your side. If you control all of the squares in a region, you take control of that region, and it provides a ready source of cash. Your units can also attack enemy units, which reduces their HP, or enemy regions, which reduces their control; if you totally defeat an enemy region, it reverts to neutral and has to be recaptured all over again. At the beginning of each turn, you get cash for each region you hold; since you need cash to power your units' special abilities (each unit has one unique ability, and your candidates have several), this can make a large difference. You can recruit new units to replace destroyed ones, but this takes a lot of cash.

Unfortunately, the AI is just not very good; beating the game, even on the hard difficulty, is not much of a challenge. The graphics are kind of cute, though the music (which is also one of the Monster's Den: Book of Dread battle themes) gets very repetitive after a while (it's fine in small doses, but having it playing throughout the whole game gets boring quick). The sound effects are decent, but nothing to write home about. There's also multiplayer, which I didn't try.

Anyway, while this isn't a bad strategy game, there's not really much which makes it particularly noteworthy, either. It's a fun play once or twice, but doesn't really have much lasting replay value.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Open Doors

Open Doors is a fairly straightforward Flash puzzle game -- not very heavy on frills and fancy things, but there's an interesting enough concept to keep you entertained throughout its 25 levels.

The puzzle is quite simple: you have to move your character (represented by a box) to the exit of each level. Each level is set on a square blueprint-like grid. There are, of course, walls and doors, the latter of which (as you might be able to guess from the title) are the main source of trickiness in solving the puzzles. The doors follow very simple rules -- each door has two possible positions. If you're directly in front of a door, there are two possibilities for how you can move it: if it opens away from you, you can walk through it, pushing the door to its other position. If it opens towards you, moving away from the door in the direction parallel to the door towards the hinge will pull it to its other position. This probably sounds more complicated than it actually is; once you try you'll pretty readily pick up the rules. It's possible for two doors to occupy the same edge, if they're hinged on opposite corners. If two (or three) doors are hinged on the same corner, then attempting to move one into the edge occupied by the other will cause the other door to also move. This can set up some pretty tricky chain reactions in later levels.

I'm going to go off on a seeming tangent here and talk about how much I hate Sokoban. Sokoban is probably my least favorite widespread puzzle game (unless you count Sudoku in that category, which I don't). Why, you ask? Because it requires so many layers of precise planning ahead. You do an incredibly long sequence of moves to get a bunch of stuff done, and then once you get to the end you realize that no, actually, you had to move that block one space left at the beginning, and so you have to start all over again. (And that assumes you can do everything perfectly every time! It's even more fun when you've finally figured out exactly what you need to do [for real this time], and then two-thirds of the way through your finger slips and you move that one box one square too far and you're completely screwed!) That's why I don't enjoy playing Sokoban -- the cost of failed experiments or wrong guesses is so punitively high. Anyway, around level 12 (I forget exactly where) Open Doors showed signs of drifting into that territory -- you would go one way, through a pretty complicated sequence of doors, and then you'd get to a point where you realized you actually had to go the other way and open one door first and then do all of the things you just did. This made me sad and afraid that the rest of the game would be a horrible slog. Much to my relief, however, it didn't continue to develop those tendencies -- the rest of the levels remained reasonable and manageable.

The blueprint graphic theme is a nice look, although it is pretty basic. There's no music, and the sound effects are also pretty simple. The game also falls prey to one of my pet peeves for puzzle games, in that it marches relentlessly onward -- once you've completed a level, you can't go back and look at it again (short of resetting the whole game). Beating all 25 levels unlocks a special new mode where you have the same puzzles but only a limited number of moves to solve them; since trial and error was my most popular method of solving, I suspect this would rapidly drive me crazy.

Anyway, this isn't a bad puzzle game, but there's not really anything special about it, either. It will definitely provide a challenge for a little bit, but there's better puzzle games out there.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Newgrounds Rumble

Newgrounds Rumble is a fairly straightforward brawler in the classic tradition. However, it doesn't seem to be particularly demanding of its players; while there probably are layers and layers of strategy, I was able to get through the game mostly just by mashing buttons (and some persistence in the more difficult challenges). I don't even know if the characters have special moves; though there are two only kinds of attack ("quick" and "fierce"), your characters do have different moves while in the air and you can put together some pretty impressive chains.

Overall, the game is well-crafted; there's a fair number of characters each with their own distinct personalities, and there's a wide variety of arenas. The game handles up to 4 players, and some of the challenge modes include both 2v2 and 1v3 play, which is nice. There's also a lot of game modes -- the obligatory "story" mode (which is pretty skeletal, both in story and length), challenge mode, ordinary versus mode, and an unlockable survival mode. The powerups available are pretty standard for a Super Smash Brothers-like setup.

There's a fair amount of different music in the game, and while none of it is great, it's all decent. The sound effects are pretty limited but not bad. But really, the most baffling thing about this game is simple -- why is it on Kongregate? The game is clearly packed full of Newgrounds in-jokes and references, and as someone who hasn't spent too much time on Newgrounds, most of these flew completely over my head. I'm sure it would be more entertaining for someone who knows all the backstory behind all of these characters and the various references in the game, but to me, it ends up as just another fighting game. Not a bad fighting game, mind you, but just not one which is interesting enough to keep me playing.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A three-parter for today!


ButtonHunt is a game with a very simple premise -- there are 30 levels. In each of them, there is a red button. You must push the button to advance to the next level. In some levels, this is as simple as locating the button and clicking it; in other levels, you have to solve various puzzles to reveal the button. None of the puzzles is particularly hard, so this shouldn't take you very long.

The sound effects are pretty minimal, and the drawing is not particularly great. But my one complaint is that the interface is not particularly consistent. Sometimes you have to click and drag objects, while sometimes you click to pick up an object and then you just have to move it. This can be pretty frustrating when it's obvious what you want to do but not at all obvious what you need to click to get it to happen. Also, sometimes when you've picked up an object, it's not at all clear how to put it down -- this was a source of frustration more than once. Most of the puzzles just require thought, but there are a few which require quick reflexes.

Overall, this was a cute little diversion, but really not challenging or interesting enough to be a great game.

ButtonHunt 2

ButtonHunt 2 is pretty much more of the same. 30 more levels, 30 more buttons. There's a timer now, to measure your overall progress, so you can have high scores. Overall the puzzles feel a little meatier, but the annoying interface problems are still present (though the problem of dropping things doesn't seem to be present in this one). The last puzzle is also extremely annoying, unless you look at the description which says to hold down the mouse button, which makes it somewhat less annoying. Like the first game, for each ten levels you complete, you unlock a small little secret.

ButtonHunt 3

ButtonHunt 3 is pretty much more of the same. By now, a lot of the puzzles will look pretty familiar; in fact, the notes admit that at least one of the puzzles is a direct remake of a puzzles from ButtonHunt 1, but even leaving this aside, there's a lot of concepts and ideas repeated from the first two. The game now tracks both your overall time and number of clicks, and you can receive achievements for meeting certain standards on both. There's also a very simple hint system, which I suppose is useful if you're having difficulty with a particular puzzle, although once again the difficulty level is pretty low. The interface is still as frustrating as ever -- sometimes you click, sometimes you click and move, sometimes you click and drag, and it's never clear which you need to use. (In one level, it even switches between "click and drag" and "click to pick up and then move" for the same object!) Thankfully, there are no reflex-based ones in this one.

Once again, this is kind of entertaining, but it's really pretty light fare.

Monday, July 07, 2008


Well, let me put it this way: It will take me longer to write this review than it took me to play (and beat) Doeo for the first time. That should give you an idea of what kind of game Doeo is -- if you're looking for a complex, deep, or challenging game, go somewhere else! But if you want a fun, silly way to waste a few minutes (and I mean a few minutes), it'll do.

Anyway, the basic concept of Doeo is ridiculously simple, and if you enjoy Whack-a-Mole, you'll find it pretty familiar. Doeos will pop up, and you have to touch them with your mouse to -- catch them? destroy them? banish them? It's unclear. Anyway, you have 40 seconds to touch either 100 (on easy) or 200 (on hard) Doeos to proceed to the next level; after five levels, you'll battle the king. That's really all there is. Well, easy mode only features pink Doeos, while hard mode (to compensate for the higher total required) adds green Doeos, which are worth more points.

The design has a very Japanese aesthetic to it -- the art is cute and cartoony, and the background music is poppy and enjoyable, making this game a pleasure to play. Still, it's so simple that it just doesn't have much long-term value. I suppose younger players might find it more entertaining, but I can't imagine going back to play this over and over regardless of my age.

One note is that on a slower computer, I guess because there are a lot of Doeos on the screen, hard mode is embarassingly easy. However, the game is still not particularly difficult even on a fast computer; it just requires a few tries rather than one.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Ragdoll Invaders

Ragdoll Invaders is an extremely twitch-heavy game which manages to inject enough life into a relatively well-used concept to make for an entertaining experience.

The concept is pretty familiar, and pretty simple: Earth is being invaded by enemy ships, and you have to destroy them! To make it tricky, however, your character is a ragdoll that shoots bullets from its arms. You can't really control where each of the limbs points -- your movement only directly affects the head of the ragdoll -- so, while you're capable of shooting quite a few bullets, most of these will end up wildly off-target. Given some setup time, you can get a pretty good aim, but since you spend most of your time frantically dodging enemy shots, you'll rarely have this luxury. Meanwhile, the enemy ships are, as you might expect, horribly beweaponed, so you'll have to be quick to avoid being sliced in half by a laser, blown to pieces by a grenade, or killed where you stand (or, more likely, float) by some kind of energy ball. In fact, in an inversion of the way this type of game normally goes, you will probably die more times than the enemy -- the enemy ships are quite sturdy, and take quite a few shots to destroy (and the bosses even more than that), while one shot generally means that you're done for. (Your ragdoll can survive having an arm or a leg cut off, although losing an arm will correspondingly reduce your firepower, but most of the time you'll get killed outright when you take a hit -- the near-misses are less frequent.) Fortunately, extra lives are plentiful -- whenever you do blow up an enemy ship, it drops a heart which grants you can extra life, and the bosses give you multiple extra lives. (However, there's nothing more frustrating than killing an enemy ship and then in turn getting killed by one of its last shots, and watching the heart float past your dead corpse.)

There's only three types of enemy (plus the bosses), so the seven levels of the game basically consist of different permutations of increasing numbers of enemies that you face at one time. The bosses are also the same in appearance, although the weaponry that they field increases substantially over the course of the game. The sound effects are pretty basic, and the music, while thankfully long, is pretty mediocre techno.

Overall, the game is pretty challenging -- it'll definitely take you some practice before you get good enough to defeat all of the waves. Fortunately, since it is not too long overall (there's a total of 52 enemies, including all bosses), it's not too frustrating to get the hard badge, though it will require healthy doses of skill, luck, and fast reflexes.

Speaking of fast reflexes, however, brings me to the real problem with this game, which I alluded to in my last post -- the game is substantially easier on a slower computer. Ragdoll Invaders does push a lot of objects onto the screen, and even though it feels that each individual object shouldn't be that hard to deal with, you'll definitely notice the game beginning to lag on an older-model machine when there are a lot of objects around. I don't know if this is because the game itself is poorly coded, or just because Flash performance is poor when you're pushing a lot of objects; this seems to happen in a lot of games, but then again I'm willing to bet most of the code for these Flash games is not that great, so it's hard to say one way or the other. Anyway, playing on a slow computer can definitely give you those extra tenths of seconds that make the difference between victory and defeat.

Overall, this is a fun little entertainment, but they chose their length wisely; I don't think the basic formula could be stretched much farther without making this a very thin game. The speed issue is kind of a problem, but, as we'll see, it's hardly the only game on Kongregate with this problem to deal with.