Saturday, August 09, 2008


BoomsticK -- and no, I'm not going to keep using that capitalization -- is a relatively straightforward shooter with a few interesting ideas balanced out by a few irritating flaws.

The basic concept behind Boomstick is quite simple: you have a shotgun, various brightly-colored shapes flit by overhead, and you have to shoot them. When you do, the shapes drop ammunition which you can pick up. In the early levels, at least, the shapes pose no threat to you, and your main concern is running out of ammunition -- each shot gulps 10 ammo, and if you only hit one target with each shot, you'll quickly run out. Thus, the key to survival is hitting two or more shapes with every shot. This is the first flaw of the game -- it slows down the pace and means that you have to spend time waiting for the perfect shot to come by, which makes for a pretty boring experience. Also, your character moves frustratingly slowly, so even if you do manage to pull off a good shot, you may not be able to collect all of the ammo dropped. But, in any case, giving an advantage to the player with infinite patience is generally poor game design.

As the levels (or, as the game calls them, "tiers", for no explicable reason) go by, eventually more hazardous enemies appear: first, enemies which shoot at you, which cost you ammo, and then finally enemies which aim to directly collide with you. This is the second unpleasant surprise the game has in store -- after you've been cruising along for a large portion of the game without any worries other than your ammo stock, you can all of a sudden be killed. Fortunately, the game doesn't force to restart from the beginning (which would be unbelievably poor design), but even still it's rather a rude shock the first time. (Especially since, once you restart, all of your carefully stockpiled ammunition is gone; fortunately, once you reach these last few levels, targets are generally plentiful enough that ammo is no longer a huge worry.) The boss in the last level is also quite the challenge, especially since you still have to play through the last four levels every time you fail to beat the boss.

The graphics are nothing special; the shapes (as mentioned earlier) are brightly-colored, though. The background music is not bad, and fits in well with the slightly futuristic feel of the game. The sounds are nothing special, but they don't take anything away from the table, though the sound when you get squished is surprisingly graphic. The spelling also gets shaky when you get to the really-high-multiple kills, unfortunately.

Overall, the ammo-conservation mechanic is a neat feature in the game, and definitely is a nice feature to have in a shooter like this, but the frustratingly slow pace in the early levels means that this is not the best realization of that idea. The badge is a worthwhile challenge, though.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Last Stand 2

The Last Stand 2 is, as you might be able to guess, a sequel to The Last Stand, and tempted though I am again to do a one-sentence review, I'll give it the full treatment. But first, you might ask, how can you have a second last stand? It's supposed to be the last stand! The game actually does attempt to explain this. But in Last Stand 2, you don't actually stand. Unlike in the original, where time is your friend, here you have to evacuate the area by reaching Union City within 40 days, so the clock is against you. You move from city to city, mounting a defense through the night in each and looking during the day for weapons and fellow survivors.

The basic gameplay is nearly identical -- you have barricade, zombies approach barricade, you shoot zombies. However, some things have changed from the original. First of all, you can give your excess weapons to your survivors instead of them having to rely on their own dinky little pistols, which greatly increases your firepower (on the other hand, you can field fewer survivors total than in the first). Secondly, some zombies now carry weapons (actually, in the original Last Stand, zombies would sometimes carry weapons too, but they never used them; in theory, you could take them if you didn't already have one, but in practice they only showed up long after you already had one of your own, so that feature was pretty much completely worthless), and if they reach the barricade they can use those weapons to kill your fellow survivors, so you need to keep them away at all costs. A couple of weapons have also been added (and the chainsaw power reduced to make it more reasonable). But the most major change is the search interface. Instead of just dividing your 12 daylight hours among three options, you have a choice to search various buildings in your current town, with different buildings taking different amounts of time. Unfortunately, what's in what building is still pretty random. You can still spend time repairing your barricade, of course, but in addition to finding weapons and survivors, you can also find supplies and traps. Supplies allow you to move to another city, which takes time but brings you closer to your goal, and also gives you a brand-new barricade to start behind. (Any given weapon only appears in one specific city, so if you have your heart set on a specific weapon, you'll have to go to its appropriate location.) Traps can be used to slow down or blow up zombies approaching your barricade, but they're one use only, so you can't do too much with them.

The presentation is still nicely done, as in the first; the interface is crisp and clean (although the weapon selection is improved, it's still not great); there's now an assortment of different spooky background tunes to go with each different place you're in, along with well-rendered environments for each location; the sounds are still pretty much the same.

Like the first game, this is not terribly difficult, but it will probably pose a challenge the first time through simply because you're likely to run out of time. And also like the first game, it's an enjoyable game to play through once, since it is a well-crafted challenge, but because the genre is so familiar and it doesn't really do much beyond the basic, well-established conventions, it doesn't retain very much replay value.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Last Stand

The Last Stand is yet another survival shooter game. But this one is different! It's from a side-view perspective!

OK, I'm very tempted to end the review there, but I suppose I should say a few things about how the game works. So you have this barricade, with you on one side and the zombies on the other. The zombies walk up to the barricade and attempt to destroy it; if they succeed, then you'll be easy prey for them. You have to shoot them with whatever weaponry you happen to have on hand before this happens. You're also apparently not very good at shooting diagonally, so you have to move around a fair amount behind the barricade to get the best shots on zombies. Like in all survival shooter games, you have a wide variety of weaponry, distinguished by the number of shots they can fire before reloading, how long they take to reload, and how much damage you do. Your goal is to survive 20 nights, after which a helicopter arrives to rescue you.

Aside from the perspective, there are a couple of additional features worth mentioning. First of all, accuracy is very important also; some of the weapons are very inaccurate at long range, which makes it vital to select your shots wisely. Secondly, the normal mechanic of earning points during the level which are then spent in a shop to buy better equipment is replaced with a slightly more interesting mechanic -- each day, you have 12 hours, which you can split among repairing your barricade, looking for weapons, or looking for survivors. Survivors provide a little additional firepower, though since they don't move they can only help in a small part of the screen; they also make time spent repairing your barricade more effective. Looking for survivors is frustratingly random, though. Looking for weapons is somewhat more predictable -- you get a weapon once you've put in a certain fixed amount of time. However, any searching (either for survivors or weapons) carries the risk that one of your fellow survivors will be lost in the search party, which is also frustratingly random. The weapons are your typical array of weapons, starting with pistols, moving up through a couple of submachine guns and a rifle, and up through assault rifles to the extremely powerful sniper rifle. There's also the chainsaw, which is extremely satisfying to use but of course only works at short ranges. (I'd still call it somewhat overpowered, though.)

One nice touch is that nearly all of the zombies look different -- there's a wide range of heads and bodies, so that you don't just get the same zombie over and over again, and there's a lot of funny ones, like the undead preachers. However, they're nearly all functionally equivalent -- some zombies can run, which means they get to your barricade sooner, and some are fat, which means they can take more damage, but that's all the practical difference there is. As for the rest of the presentation, the graphics are not bad; there's no background music during the levels, only the moans of the undead and the shots of you and your fellow men; these are fine, but nothing special. There is a little spooky ambient music in the menu screens. The interface is nicely done, except for the weapon selection screen, which is rather clunky, but there are a lot of cute touches which clearly show that some thought went into the interface; overall, it's definitely better than average.

Anyway, this is enough better than the typical entrant in the genre that I didn't feel like playing it was totally pointless, but on the other hand it doesn't really add enough to the basic conventions of the genre to make it a really good game, either. It was fun to play to get the badge, but that was about all.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Generic Defense Game

Generic Defense Game is a well-needed satire of the top-down survival shooter genre. It goes for the most ridiculous possible scenarios: Nazis attacking your bowling trophy, zombie football players trying to tear down your goalpost, Pac-Man ghosts, killer ants, and of course's got it all. There's a variety of game modes, some with a fixed turret and some with a moving player, and some where you have to defend a fixed target and some where you only have to defend yourself. The format is still the usual, though: shoot enemies, get points, buy better weaponry, shoot more enemies, etc., and of course there's ever so much blood that gets spattered all over the place.

While the tongue-in-cheek attitude is a welcome addition, the fact remains that this is still, at heart, a very generic survival shooter, and there's nothing other than the silliness of the enemies that you're fighting to distinguish it from any of the many other near-identical products out there, so I found it hard to maintain interest in this game for very long. The graphics, sound effects, and music are appropriately generic: they're serviceable, but none of them is particularly great.

Anyway, I played this game long enough to get the badge (actually, longer; because the game doesn't inform you that you also get points for each wave completed, I kept playing for a fair amount of time after I actually had enough points to quit), but didn't really find it engaging enough to come back and play any more after having done so.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Amberial: Nebulosa Realms

The somewhat incomprehensibly-named Amberial: Nebulosa Realms is, as you might guess, a sequel to the original Amberial. The basic rolling-based platformer gameplay is pretty much unchanged from its predecessor, but the game adds enough flashy features to make for a lengthier and more engaging playing experience, albeit not one without its flaws.

The gameplay elements in Nebulosa Realms are pretty much identical to the original -- your ball, which can only roll left and right, and various springs, trampolines, moving platforms, spikes, red balls of destruction, and so forth. There are a few more levels which play around with gravity, which has the potential to add a lot to the puzzles but which is still not really explored to much extent in Nebulosa Realms. A few of the more irritating features of the original have been fixed: the scrolling is now continuous, so it's more obvious where the edges of the level are; dying now brings you a dialog box offering you a chance to retry rather than going straight back to the level select screen; and the music (which is not bad, although not anything great, either -- like so many other Flash games, the msuic gets very irritating in large doses) now plays continuously throughout the level.

The game also now has considerably more content. There are now 22 levels, most of which are much larger and more difficult than the original levels. In addition to the normal finish and Ace finish options present in the original, you can now also get a "thunder finish" for finishing the level in a certain amount of time. Collecting Aces and thunders allows you to unlock hidden levels, including the quite difficult Tower of Glory 2, a sequel to the difficult hidden level in the original which is even more difficult and insane.

Overall, this game is a worthy sequel, but it still lacks a lot of that polish that you need for a really great game, and the level design, while not bad, isn't quite up to the standards of a great game, either. It's entertaining for a while, and frustrating for a while when you're trying to get some of the more difficult achievements, but I fear you'l run out of entertainment before finishing the game.

And now, I have to mention one very, very serious complaint. As I've mentioned before, many Flash games have the problem that they're easier if your computer is slower. And, in general, time measured by the game is tied to your frame rate, so that if you have to, say, survive for 5 minutes, that 5 minutes might actually take longer on a slower computer. This can be somewhat irritating, but obviously there's no simple solution to this either. However, Amberial: Nebulosa Realms chooses the wrong solution. See, I was trying to get the thunder finish on a given level. It seemed like I was doing everything perfectly, but I was still a good second and a half slower than the required time. I spent quite a bit of time racking my brains to see if there was some kind of shortcut I was missing, but I couldn't find anything. The problem was that at one point you have to wait for a moving platform to arrive, and it simply didn't arrive soon enough for me to get to the end of the level in time. Finally, in frustration, I turned to YouTube to see if there was anything I was missing. The YouTube video, though, did it exactly as I was doing it. And it's not like they were just a little bit faster, since they were constrained by that platform -- rather, when I watched closely, I could see that the moving platform was arriving at an earlier time than it was for me. I could only conclude that the timer was not tied to the frame rate, but rather running asynchronously, which meant I was basically screwed by having a fast computer. So, I started playing a movie in the background, tried the level again, and my time instantly improved by two seconds, allowing me to claim the thunder finish. This is really, really poor programming and it strongly negatively impacted my opinion of the game.

Monday, August 04, 2008


Amberial is a very minimalist platformer which is elegantly executed, but which is relatively short and simple. You'll enjoy it, but there's not quite enough depth to make it feel like a truly engaging game.

Amberial veers from the normal platformer conventions by eliminating something which is normally a staple of the genre: the jump. In Amberial, you control a ball, and all you can do is roll left or right, so handling the vertical dimension becomes much more tricky than in your conventional platformer. Naturally, there's a wide array of springs and trampolines so that you're not always headed downward, but it does add an interesting constraint to the game. You have to reach the exit while avoiding your normal array of hazards -- spikes, moving balls, lasers, and so forth.

Each level features a normal exit and an Ace, which is supposed to be harder than the normal exit but is often as easy, if not easier than, the regular exit. Collecting all the Aces will give you a badge. Some levels require you to press a switch to make the exit appear, and others have a switch for the Ace, which adds a bit of difficulty. Still, the levels tend to be pretty straightforward. There are 12 levels, which form a sequence with several branches, so you don't have to do all of the levels to reach the end, but as none of them is particularly difficult, there's no real reason not to do them all. There's also three bonus levels, accessible by collecting Aces; the last bonus level is not an easy one, especially to get the Ace. One awkward feature of the levels is that they tend to comprise several distinct screens, and it's not always easy to tell if the level continues off an edge or just ends there other than experimentation.

The graphics are simple, but they're not bad (although a little bit dark), and the sound effects are serviceable. The music is kind of strange -- the little snippets that you get aren't bad, but they only repeat for a short amount of time at the beginning of the level, leaving you in silence for the rest of the time. I don't know if this is a bug or a design decision, but it definitely feels a little weird. The interface is also very spartan -- dying immediately returns you to the level select screen, which can be kind of annoying if all you want to do is immediately retry the level (which is almost always the case).

Overall, Amberial is not a bad game, and you'll enjoy playing it, but it does feel a little sparse and unfinished -- it could use a little bit of sprucing up, and a little more substance, and a little more content. Still, it's an enjoyable way to kill 20 minutes or so.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Platform Racing 2

If you've read my review of Platform Racing (here), it probably won't surprise you to learn that I was somewhat dreading playing Platform Racing 2. Fortunately, the good news is that Platform Racing 2 has improved dramatically on its predecessor. I still wouldn't call it a great game, but at least playing it doesn't make me feel like a total idiot who's wasting his time.

The basic concept of Platform Racing 2 hasn't changed much from the original -- it's like a platformer, and you have multiple characters racing to the end. So what makes it better? Well, first, there's more building blocks in the toolkit (is that a mixed metaphor? I'm afraid it is). In addition to the basic blocks, there's ice blocks, blocks that can be pushed, blocks that disappear after a little while, water blocks, and even blocks that rotate the entire playfield 90 degrees, which can make for some very confusing levels. (This is used to very interesting effect in some levels -- for instance, there's one level in which two players rotate left and two rotate right, so that one pair ends up on the top and the other pair ends up on the bottom.) The levels also look much less drab -- in addition to the new blocks, which help to add splashes of color, there's also nicer backgrounds, which makes looking at them much more enjoyable. The music is also vastly improved, courtesy of the Newgrounds music portal. Also, more items have been added (most of which don't add very much, but the more variety is always welcome), and you can customize your character a bit more.

The real improvement that makes Platform Racing 2 vastly more enjoyable, though, is in the level design. Remember how I said how important level design is in a game like this? If you're not convinced of that fact, just compare these two games. Wisely, Jiggmin selected many levels not designed by him for Platform Racing 2, and this substantially improves the game -- the levels now have interesting features, and cute touches, and other sorts of challenges than just "jump from this one block to this other block". It is perhaps no coincidence that the last level, which is designed by Jiggmin, is by far the worst, most frustrating, and least enjoyable level -- it is clearly designed to be hard, but it isn't hard in a fun way; it's just mindlessly hard. There's also a thriving community of player-submitted levels, though I tried checking a few of the top-rated ones out and was not terribly impressed; I would expect that there are some good ones lurking, but I wasn't able to find any.

The multiplayer is pretty much the same -- the flaws of the matchmaking system are still present. There are a couple of improvements, though; you don't have to wait for everyone else to finish before receiving your points and leaving, and (much to my relief) the ability to jump on other people's heads and stun them is now gone. The silly system where you have to gain rank before you can play the rest of the available levels is still present, alas. Winning races gains you body parts which you can use to customize your appearance, which is a nice touch; races with more people tend to bring you the best stuff. Cheating also appears to be much less of a problem, which I am grateful for.

Overall, the game has improved enough that it's moderately fun to play. The basic concept, to be honest, is still a little lacking, but at least the level design is interesting enough to make this a game that's worth playing again.