Friday, October 17, 2008

Microbe Kombat

Despite its name, Microbe Kombat is no Mortal Kombat, or indeed even Mortal Pongbat. It's clearly a game where the developer came up with an idea, thought it would make a neat game, and then made a game out of it without actually working out the game mechanics so that it was a neat game.

So, in Microbe Kombat, you're a microbe swimming in some kind of broth (you move with the mouse), and enemy microbes are also about. From time to time, protein randomly appears in the broth. If you eat the protein, your size increases, and you also acquire an item, which you can use to give you various temporary boosts (increased speed or size, for instance). Microbes can eat other microbes smaller than themselves, and the goal is to eat all enemies while avoiding being eaten yourself. Eating an enemy is apparently as simple as running over it when you're bigger than it, except that the eating mechanics are extremely fussy and nine times out of ten you'll end up failing to eat the enemy for no discernible reason. Later levels introduce viruses; if infected by a virus, a microbe slowly gets smaller until it lyses and releases more virus particles; winning while infected is difficult, but possible, if you manage to collect a lot of protein. Still, it's almost always a death sentence. The virus can also infect enemy microbes (in which case all you have to do is survive until they perish), although some types of enemies are immune.

The special feature of the game is that one of the items allows you to divide yourself into two microbes, and the enemy also occasionally fissions into two smaller microbes. (One of the action items also allows you to switch which one of your team you're controlling, if you have more than one microbe on your team.) The problem is that this is strategically totally unbalanced -- it's clearly more advantageous for you to have one microbe that can't be eaten than two microbes that can. Indeed, this becomes very obvious very quickly, since most of the strategy consists of waiting for your enemy (who is usually bigger than you, since they usually start out with a size advantage, which makes it easier for them to grab more protein) to divide, and then eating the two halves. This makes for a rather unsatisfying game experience.

The graphics are pretty nice, although the eating animations look kind of strange. (The title screen clearly is influenced by Juno's lettering style -- it's very similar.) There's not much in the way of sound effects; the background music is kind of creepy -- it's kind of a good complement to the game, but also a little weird. The game is not particularly long; there's only 12 levels in all, and although some of them are rather annoying, it shouldn't take you too much time to make it through them all.

Overall, Microbe Kombat is a pretty average game. The concept of being able to divide your microbe sounds really neat at first blush, but it doesn't really work very well in the framework of the game, and the rest of the gameplay just isn't interesting enough to carry the game. As is so often the case, the game seems to compensate for a poor AI (which, in this case, is one which divides when it has the size advantage, thus giving up the size advantage) by giving the AI lots of advantages, which is almost always really annoying. It's not a terrible experience, but it's not a game I really was thrilled to have played, either.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

B29 Assault

If you've ever played a 1942-like top-down shooter, then B29 Assault will immediately look very familiar to you. It's quite faithful to the standard top-down shooter formula -- your one plane has to somehow take out hundreds of enemies, with plenty of fast action, but it's not quite as unforgiving as what I think of as the standard examples of the genre.

The plot is pretty ridiculous -- you have to free the world from a terrorist takeover in your heavily-modified B-29 from the future (and why is it a bomber, anyway? If you're fighting a flotilla of enemies, wouldn't you want a fighter? Of course, this thing is not quite a factory-issue B-29, so maybe it's a moot point). As you kill enemies, you will get various powerups. Some powerups will upgrade your primary weapon -- a given powerup cycles through the three types of primary weapon while it's floating in the air -- while others are for your secondary weapon, of which there are four in total. Collecting a powerup for your current weapor will increase its level, while collecting a powerup for a different weapon will switch your weapon to that weapon. This can be annoying if you accidentally collect the wrong powerup and get switched to a lower level of a weapon you didn't want. The secondary weapons are kind of odd -- some of them require mouse gestures to use, which is unusual; I just stuck to the missiles, which were pretty foolproof.

Unlike, say, 1942, one hit won't destroy your bomber -- you have a pretty generous health bar, and refills are not too hard to come by, so unless you're totally careless, you shouldn't lose too many lives. The game is, somewhat annoyingly, crippleware -- only six levels of the total are available on Kongregate. Those six levels are divided into three cities -- at the end of one level, you turn around and fly the other direction over the same city; apparently the terrorists are able to rebuild all of their defenses during the time you're fighting the boss. None of the levels are particularly long, nor are the bosses particularly difficult; I tended to not use my bombs during the course of a level and just saved them for the boss, which dispatched them quickly.

The graphics are pretty good -- the planes are your typical fare, but the backgrounds are actually pictures of the cities in question, so you can enjoy flying over various landmarks (if you have the chance to pay attention). The sounds are pretty standard shooting and explosion noises. The music is a kind of an uptempo technoish track, which I think works pretty well as a background.

Overall, B29 Assault is not a difficult game -- the fact that you're so much harder to kill means that, despite the large quantity of enemies, you shouldn't have too difficult of a time (indeed, I beat the game my first time through). Nor is there much in the game which isn't part of the very standard formula, so don't go expecting a bunch of new gameplay innovations. Still, it's well-done example of the genre, so while it won't have a lot of replay value, it's fun to play through once.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Straw Hat Samurai

Straw Hat Samurai is an interesting game with a creative gameplay idea at its heart, but it doesn't quite develop that idea enough, instead opting to add a bunch of extraneous elements which kind of take away from the basic gameplay. It would probably benefit from some simplification and focusing on the heart of the game.

In Straw Hat Samurai, you play the titular samurai, and you battle against waves of enemy soldiers. The fighting, though, is accomplished in a very unorthodox way. To attack, just click and drag. This performs a sword slash along the line you've created, taking out all enemies in its path. In between battles, you move along an overworld map; most of the spaces on the map are simple fighting levels, but there are also powerups and some boss battles around the map, too. At the beginning of the game, enemies are easily defeated, and the real challenge is to try to kill a bunch of enemies at once (not too difficult, but since your sword stroke can only be so long, not completely trivial, either) and/or to go for headshots. As the game progresses, though, you encounter enemies with shields, which require a little more careful planning, and archers, which are quite annoying. (You can also acquire a bow of your own, but I never ended up using it except for a few specific cases.)

As the game progresses, it begins to acquire some strategy elements -- in the late game, you engage in an almost Risk-like battle for control of the map. Of course, you can always just take over a space yourself by defeating all of the enemies in the normal fighting, so the strategy ends up not playing terribly much of a role -- you can always just win some more fights even if your strategy is terrible. Dying doesn't cost you anything (except time); you just have to restart whatever level you were on from the beginning.

The graphics are not bad; the characters are well-drawn, though the animation is pretty minimal. The sound effects are pretty standard, while the music is OK. It's kind of stirring, but (as is so often the case) it's not long enough, so you probably will eventually become tired of it.

Overall, Straw Hat Samurai is a little too long -- since the basic gameplay mechanism is so simple, just clicking and dragging over enemies kind of wears out quickly. The additional strategic elements feel kind of misplaced, rather than enhancing the game. It's not a difficult game by any means (except the final boss, where I figured out the strategy quickly but had a very hard time actually executing that strategy -- apparently short strokes are key), but you'll definitely wish it was done with sooner. Really, it could benefit with some variation to the basic gameplay (just as an idea, you have to draw strokes in different shapes to execute different attacks); as it is, it's simply just too repetitive to be a great game.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Meat Boy

Meat Boy is a platformer with some things that I like and some things that I hate. It's also the easiest impossible badge on Kongregate, so if you're looking for (relatively -- it's still not exactly trivial) fast points, give it a try. (I don't mean this as a criticism of either the Kongregate badge-awarding process or the game; after all, some impossible badge has to be the easiest.)

The plot, if it can be called that, is extremely simple. Dr. Fetus has kidnapped Bandaid Girl and you, Meat Boy, must rescue her. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the weirdness of the characters, but it doesn't affect the game at all. Anyway, the game consists of pretty standard platforming action, with extensive use of wall-jumping, as you fight your way through the various levels. There are three worlds, each with 15 levels in them, but you don't have to finish all of them -- you only need to finish three levels out of every five to advance to the next set. This is nice; if you're completely annoyed by a level (and believe me, this will happen), you can just skip it and try another. (The final level is not skippable, but it's also not particularly rage-inducing.) Each level features a wide variety of you-killing machinery -- sawblades, spikes, flaming pits, you get the idea.

The controls in the game are simple, but frequently irritating, particularly since the game's collision detection is very unforgiving and will zap you if even a pixel of yours comes into contact with something unpleasant. It's especially difficult to accurately control your character in midair; I must have died a thousand deaths by jumping and flying over the space I was trying to jump to into a wall of fire, or a bottomless pit, or something else unpleasant. However, each given level is quite short, so it doesn't feel too oppressive to have to try repeatedly in order to actually pass the level. Some (but not all) of the levels feature band-aids, which can be collected to unlock various secrets (which are just cute little addons, nothing affecting gameplay). Getting these band-aids can often be an exercise in persistence, since they tend to require pixel-perfect jumping.

The graphics are in the low-res, slightly pixelated style that seems to be the fashion these days (although not to quite the extent seen in, say, Dino Run). In my opinion, at least, it's kind of ugly -- it doesn't quite work here in the same way that it does in other games. (Really, this might just be because the main characters are kind of ugly -- the rest of the graphics are fine.) The sound effects are pretty minimal. The background music gets points for at least being different for the three different worlds -- it's pretty catchy at first, but it repeats on too short a loop, and so it gets kind of irritating eventually, alas.

Overall, Meat Boy is a game which is fun and enjoyable at times and annoying and frustrating at other times. It's quick, so even though it takes a while to actually finish the game, you'll never feel hopelessly stuck or anything, and there is a nice feeling of achievement from getting that impossible badge. Still, in the end, I'm not quite sure whether I'd recommend the game or not. Give it a try, I guess -- it won't take you long to decide whether you like it or not, I'm sure.