Saturday, August 30, 2008


Achilles is a very simple beat-'em-up in the classic tradition of such games as Final Fight. You play the titular Greek hero, and move along an endless beach featuring a plentiful quantity of people to stab and slash. You begin armed with a spear, which you can poke at enemies or throw at them; once you've thrown your spear, you start using your sword. You can pick up more spears (only one at a time, though) from fallen spearmen. You can also kick enemies to stun them, and you have a shield which can block most of most blows. A single enemy is generally not much of a threat (although if you give him an opening, he can do a fair amount of damage), but if multiple enemies jump you simultaneously (especially since they can approach from both directions), you can very quickly be overwhelmed.

Your character's attacks are somewhat unpredictable. Pressing forward + attack yields a different attack than simply pressing the attack button, but each has several different possible attacks which can happen seemingly at random, and the damage that these attacks do ranges from minimal to instant decapitation, so there's a lot of randomness in how quickly you can dispatch an opponent, and since this speed is critical to surviving, you'll end up with a fair amount of randomness in your outcomes.

The game offers two modes: in the story mode, you face a finite number of enemies per level; at the end of every stage (each stage contains three levels), there is a boss. In survival mode, you simply face an infinite number of the three basic types of enemies (swordsman, spearman, and archer). Since the basic gameplay is exactly thes same (as you pass through the five levels of story mode, the appearance of the opposing soldiers changes, but that's about it), this doesn't add that much to the game.

The graphics are pretty basic, with lots and lots of blood spurting from your enemies as they are impaled with spears, decapitated, or suffer other gruesome deaths. The sounds are also pretty basic, and the background music (during the levels) is just drums, which gets awfully repetitive and wearying pretty quickly.

Anyway, Achilles is a fun way to enjoy hacking up people for maybe a minute or so, but the repetitive and very limited gameplay coupled with the extreme randomness mean that this just isn't a terribly interesting game in the long run.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Brute Wars

Brute Wars is a tough game to categorize. It's part RPG and part turn-based strategy, I suppose. The result is not a bad game, but it's very simple -- it's much less complex than your typical example of either genre, and consequently you'll find it doesn't have quite enough depth to be able to sustain your interest all the way through.

So, the basic principle of Beast Wars is pretty simple. You move along an overland map consisting of a number of linked circles. Most points are simply combat, but a few circles have item shops (some which offer basic healing items, and some which offer various upgrades), and each screen has one castle fight. Once a combat circle has been cleared, moving back onto it is still not entirely safe -- there's still a chance (although not 100%) that you'll be thrown into another fight if you try to move back through that circle, so you can never move around the map completely freely.

Fights are quite straightforward. You have six creatures arrayed in a three-wide, two-deep formation, and your enemy has the same. Each creature is characterized by five properties -- its HP, its power (the amount of damage it does per attack), its counter (the amount of damage it does to enemies who attack it), the number of actions per turn it has, and its attack range. A creature can either attack or switch places with another creature using an action. Creatures with only one action per turn, then, are less flexible since they can't both move and attack (at the outset of the battle, of course, there'll be plenty of creatures to attack, but as the battle progresses and creatures get knocked out, you'll have to move them around), but their attack power tends to be stronger appropriately to compensate. The attack range is probably the trickiest point -- some can only attack the creature directly ahead of them, others can attack all three creatures in front of them, and some can attack two spaces away (useful for your back row). Some creatures even attack randomly. There's also a magic system -- as the battle progresses, you gain magic points, which you can then later use for spells. Most battles don't even last long enough for you to accumulate enough points to use the most powerful spells (and the points don't keep from battle to battle), so I ended up not using the magic very much (just an occasional heal).

At the end of battle (assuming you win), creatures that survived gain a level, while creatures that got knocked out lose a level. This provides an irritating kind of feedback -- your weak creatures are more likely to get knocked out and stay weak, while your strong creatures get stronger. (Note, however, that "gaining a level" doesn't mean that every level you get more HP or power. You gain HP or power only very gradually. When you reach level 50, which is the maximum, you generally gain another action, which can be extremely powerful.) You then have the opportunity to heal up and revive downed monsters, which requires the items you bought at the item shop, so make sure not to run out when you're far away from the shop, because then you might have to engage in some fights on the way back. Usually you'll want to rearrange your forces back to their starting lineup at this stage; irritatingly, you can't rearrange your creatures before battle, only after, so if you forget you'll have to start out with a suboptimal arrangement.

You can also switch out your creatures, if one of them just isn't working for you. This requires you to buy randomizers from an item shop, which (as the name suggests) replace your creature with another random creature (its level is kept, though). I don't understand the purpose of this mechanic -- it just forces you to keep clicking until you get the creature you want. (I suppose it gives you a chance to look at some creatures you wouldn't otherwise.)

As is so often the case with games of this nature, the beginning is entertainingly challenging -- not only do you want to win a battle, but you want to take as few casualties as possible, and your HP replenishing resources are scarce, so you have to fight carefully. Unfortunately, as time goes on and your creatures become more and more powerful, the battles become easier and easier, so that by the end of the game, its length definitely becomes somewhat of a drag. (Though I should say that Brute Wars is not really terrible as far as length goes -- there are certainly far worse offenders -- but it does drag towards the end.)

The sound is very basic, and the music also has a very generic RPG feel -- it's not great, but it's not terrible, and it does a good job of keeping itself unobtrusive so you're not heartily sick of it by the end of the game. The interface could use a little work -- I often found myself switching creatures and then hitting the "end turn" button instead of the "go back to attacking" button, which was awfully annoying. The game also does not autosave, so you have to remember to save frequently. This is kind of unusual in a Flash game, and it definitely is a minor irritant.

Overall, Beast Wars is an interesting little concept -- there's definitely a lot of fun to be had at the beginning of the game. However, the lack of depth means that you'll probably finish all of the excitement to be had before reaching the end of the game.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Last Canopy

The Last Canopy is, as you might be able to guess from the pattern so far, the last game in Kongregate's Buried Treasure Week, and it does a much better job of fulfilling the goal of the week than most of the other entrants -- it's got a very kind of indie feeling, and has a couple of interesting game mechanics which are worth looking at.

At its root, The Last Canopy is a standard old-school top-down shooter -- waves of enemies come at you, and you shoot them. In true old-school fashion, there's none of this being able to absorb multiple hits nonsense -- one hit destroys you. You can move with either the keyboard or the mouse, which is a nice touch. However, the one special feature that, in addition to your main ship (which is actually, I believe, a fairy), you also have five brightly colored spheres trailing you. Using your special power, you can absorb the powers of your enemies and store them in your spheres, which will then shoot back at your enemies with their own powers. With clever maneuvering, you can position yourself so that your spheres do the attacking while you stay out of harm's way. However, the charge on a sphere only lasts for a limited amount of time, so you can't just absorb some powerful attacks and then be done with things -- you have to be continuously acquiring new powers. (You can absorb anything -- even boss attacks -- but the more powerful attacks take longer to absorb.)

This is a difficult game -- there are lots of shots to be avoided, and even though the default allotment is 20 lives, you'll find them going pretty quickly. One thing which contributes to the difficulty is that when you die, you lose all of your stored powers, which means that it's very easy to get killed several times in rapid succession when you're weak. The game is not very long overall; there are 4 stages total, and none of them is particularly lengthy, although the obligatory boss fights generally do take a little while.

The game has a rather unique aesthetic -- as I mentioned, you seem to be playing a fairy, which is rather nonstandard for a game in this genre. (The enemies, though, are mostly your standard mechanical assemblies.) The graphics and sound play well into this feeling -- the graphics have kind of a soft pastel feel, and the sound is pleasantly environmental (although this varies in the different levels). The level 3 boss is actively painful, though -- my eyes really hurt after finally making my way through the fight, since it got kind of psychedelic.

Anyway, beating this game is definitely an accomplishment (unless you're playing on a really slow computer, in which case it shouldn't be terribly difficult). Overall, though, I ended up being a little disappointed. While the central mechanic is creative, it doesn't quite flow perfectly into a top-down shooter. I'd say this game is worth a look, but it didn't quite hook me in the way other Kongregate games have.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Jumpcat is the fourth entry in Kongregate's Buried Treasure week, and sadly, it's another mediocre dodger. You play the titular cat, and as the screen scrolls, a variety of obstacles comes at you, and you have to (surprise!) jump over them. The obstacles include rocks, trees, and a surprising number of low-altitude helicopters.

The game is not at all easy -- you have to hold down the jump key to charge up enough jump power to get over the higher obstacles, which often takes nearly all of the time you have. But you can't just hold down the jump button as soon as you land, either, because some obstacles are on both the top and bottom of the screen, so you have to jump through them. And, as if that weren't hard enough, fairly early in the game, another helicopter will start dropping bombs on you, which have a way of hitting you in places where you can't easily maneuver away from them.

The graphics and sounds are both very basic. The background music is kind of catchy, and I can imagine a lot of games it would be a good addition to, but this game is not one of them -- it seems completely inappropriate for a light game (bombs notwithstanding) like this. One nice feature of the game is that, at the end of the game, it tells you how many points you had at the end of each of your lives. This is kind of a neat way of showing your progress.

Overall, this is an exceedingly frustrating game; despite its short length, you'll still find the ease with which the game can kill you quite annoying. There's neither enough depth nor enough balance to make this a really entertaining game; it definitely ends up in the class of games which stopped being fun before I reached the final badge, which was very tricky to get and required a lot of luck (and some skill, admittedly). I'm not quite sure why this was selected for Buried Treasure Week, other than that it's got a cat -- it really doesn't have anything unique in it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Parachute Retrospect

Parachute Retrospect is the third entry in Kongregate's Buried Treasure week, and it's another jmtb02 production (man, that guy is prolific); like many other jmtb02 games, there's good graphics, a very silly premise, but one which provides solid gameplay, and not a lot of depth.

The basic premise is very simple: you have a helicopter, and below you, trucks pulling trailers full of hay (or possibly cotton) pass by. When you click, a person drops from the helicopter and hopefully lands in the load of hay. If this reminds you of the Mac classic StuntCopter, then you're not alone -- that was my first thought as well (and I was pleased to see in the comments that I wasn't the only one who recognized that premise, too). However, unlike StuntCopter, which adds difficulty by changing the wagon speed and gravity, Parachute Retrospect adds a much different degree of difficulty -- for every five people you save, a nasty anti-person measure is added; you'll have to deal with (among others) missiles, lasers, and trucks which have inconveniently decided to carry a load of spikes rather than soft hay; by the end of the game, you'll probably be killing more people than you save. Fortunately, the game is quite generous with lives, giving you 99 in all. (Another important difference is that you can drop multiple people at once, which is definitely helpful in the later game to make the most use of the often narrow windows you get. Of course, if you mistime, it's also a very quick way to lose a bunch of people at once.)

After you save 50 people, the game shifts to an entirely different mode -- now you're a helicopter which has to rescue people being dropped out of some...thing. This part of the game really doesn't make much sense, and it kind of feels tacked-on; I can't help but feel that the game would be better without it entirely.

The graphics are pretty simple (and, surprisingly, star-free), and the sounds are quite basic. The music is not bad, and definitely lends an air of excitement to the proceedings, although you'll probably get tired of it after a while. Overall, this is a silly little game, and it can be surprisingly frustrating -- in the later game, it's quite difficult and you'll have to do a lot of waiting for the few moments that the coast is clear. Still, it's short enough that you're going to finish it before you run out of fun.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Intrusion is a difficult game for me to review. There's a lot of things which are good about the game: it's clearly the work of a talented programmer, and it does an excellent job of creating a difficult challenge without being unfair or frustrating. And yet, it feels like there's something missing, like it's not quite the sum of its parts. There's something which is just, for lack of a better word, sterile about the game-playing experience. And the tough part is that I can't quite put my finger on what's missing. (But I do have a few theories.)

Intrusion is a straightforward shoot-'em-up sidescroller in the proud tradition of Contra, though it's a bit more modern in some aspects -- for instance, it uses the "keyboard to move, mouse to shoot" control scheme. Also, one bullet won't kill you; you have a life bar (and the occasional health pod to refill it), and you'll definitely need it. However, there are some old-school features, like save points -- you can always choose to continue at the beginning of any level you've opened, but the levels are long enough that you'll appreciate the need not to have to go all the way back to the beginning every time. You start the game with your pistol, which has infinite ammunition, and as the game progresses you acquire 3 other weapons, each of which has a limited amount of ammunition which you can replenish by looting your defeated enemies. Naturally, there's a number of bosses sprinkled throughout the game, including the particularly lethal final boss.

Anyway, technically the execution is quite solid. The graphics, especially the background graphics, are very high quality, and the game does a good job of creating a variety of interesting environments, from a mountain base to a moving train to a flying missile (not quite as insane as in Contra 2, but still pretty ridiculous). The ragdoll physics is also a step up from what you see in a Flash game, but it's a little loose -- enemies will tend to fly around an unreasonable amount after they've been killed, and they also have a tendency to land doing the splits, which makes them look faintly ridiculous. The sounds are pretty nondescript. There's a number of nice little graphic touches (watch the missile closely when it's taking off, for instance) which also make the game feel more well-crafted. (The graphic quality does come at a price, though; the game noticeably slows down on slower computers.) The comments complain about occasional glitches, but I didn't notice anything major; all I encountered was dropped ammo ending up in inaccessible places sometimes.

As I mentioned earlier, the game is definitely challenging. There are a few very simple puzzles, but they're quite obvious and quickly solved. Mostly the challenge is just in avoiding enemy bullets (and other things that can harm you), and since there's often a lot of them and they can move pretty fast, this is not an easy task. So you'll definitely get a feeling of accomplishment when (or if) you manage to beat the game; while there is a little bit of luck involved, largely this is going to be dependent on your skill. Still, with persistence I managed to beat it, and I certainly don't consider myself particularly good at this genre, so I don't think it's out of reach for anyone, either.

So what's missing from the game? First, it doesn't do a very good job of immersing you in its environment. For starters, there's no background music; I know it sounds shallow, but I think some good music would help draw you into the game more. Also, there's absolutely no plot or backstory -- you just start out arriving at the enemy base with no explanation, just the assumption that you're supposed to kill everything. Finally, the last thing that I noticed is that the pace is a little bit off. In Contra, for instance (sorry to keep going back to Contra, but it's a useful measuring stick, despite its age) there's pretty much always something to do. In Intrusion, though, there's a fair amount of dead time when you're moving from place to place, and this gives the game a kind of empty feel. I think that's what's missing most from the game, but like I said, it's hard to put my finger on it.

Anyway, there's clearly a lot of skill that went into Intrusion, and I think if the creator teamed up with a really good game writer, they could produce a truly excellent game. As it is, while this is a fun and well-crafted game, if you're like me, you'll walk away feeling like there could have been a little bit more.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Cirplosion, the second entry in Kongregate's Buried Treasure week, is a game which manages to overcome its terrible name and be quite an interesting game, requiring both quick puzzle-solving skills and quite a bit of manual dexterity.

At first glance, Cirplosion looks very similar to filler (review here): you have a playfield with a bunch of orbs bouncing around, you click and hold to cause a circle to expand, and can move while the circle is expanding, but if the circle hits an enemy orb (or, in Cirplosion's case, a wall), it is destroyed. However, what happens after you let go of the mouse button is entirely different from filler -- once you let go of the mouse button, the circle becomes a targeting circle, which you can now move freely over the board; when you click, all orbs within the targeting circle are destroyed. (There are also large orbs, which are blown into three smaller orbs.) So the advantages of trying to get your circle as large as possible should be obvious. Whenever you set off a Cirplosion, orbs outside of the circle's radius are affected, too, in that they are blown with the force of the explosion. If you're careless, this can give orbs very large momentum, which makes them very annoying; however, you can also use it strategically to clear up some open space to give you some more room to operate in.

In each level, you'll have to clear all the orbs given a limited amount of time and total number of Cirplosions. (You don't have any lives, so getting your circle destroyed doesn't cost you anything directly, but it does cost you precious time.) Generally, both of these limits are pretty tight, so you'll need to be sharp in order to destroy all of the enemies without running out of one or more resources. Some levels also have freeze orbs, which will freeze all of the enemy orbs if your circle touches one when expanding (not when you shoot it, confusingly enough), which can be very useful in setting up good shots.

Cirplosion offers three modes: normal mode, which contains 20 levels of the typical frenetic action that you'd expect; challenge mode, which has 12 more puzzle-like levels which require very careful thinking; and finally, cirvival (sigh) mode, which is pretty much what you would expect. Somewhat irritatingly, normal mode doesn't have a save feature, so if you want to beat it, you'll have to do all 20 levels in one go. The challenges do save, so you can beat them piecemeal if you'd like. Neither normal nor challenge mode is easy, but they are quick; a given level may take a lot of tries (and some of the harder levels may get quite frustrating, since there is some element of chance involved), but since a single level only takes 20-30 seconds, you can still play the whole agme in one sitting without too much difficulty.

The graphics are pretty basic -- you have enemy orbs of one color and your circle; there's not much in the way of special effects. The background music is very ambient and lends a nice touch, but (like so many other Flash games) it does get rather repetitive eventually. The sounds are also pretty basic, but they're not bad, either.

Anyway, Cirplosion clearly does a much better job of fulfilling the Buried Treasure ideal -- it's definitely a game that's deserving of a look. It's by no means a perfect game, but it'll provide a half hour or so of interesting gameplay, so give it a try.