Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hanna in a Choppa

Hanna in a Choppa is, shockingly, yet another game that I started before it had badges, although unlike Splitter, which is still badgeless as of this writing, it got badges before I had even finished the game, so my early adoption was rewarded. Hooray! Anyway, Hanna in a Choppa is not a particularly original game -- you fly around doing things in a helicopter -- but it is charmingly and deftly executed, and is overall an entertaining little diversion.

As I mentioned, and as you probably could have guessed from the title, you fly around in a helicopter. Your task is, nominally, to reach the flag at the end of the level; sometimes this is simply a matter of navigation, but often times it requires whimsical tasks like cutting hair, herding sheep, or performing a rescue at sea. By themselves, the levels are pretty easy, but the trickier tasks are completing the level "very fast" or "perfect" (which requires that you don't touch any of the walls or floors), which can be quite challenging (and annoying, in some cases). The game, as you might be able to guess from the above tasks, has a pretty light sense of humor, and is quite bright and cheerful throughout. There are a few references to other games -- a World of Goo reference sneaks in, and there is the (sadly seemingly obligatory) cake borrowed from Portal, too.

The default control set is simply "press an arrow key to make the helicopter go in that direction", which occasionally, when executing more demanding maneuvers, can cause the helicopter to pitch annoyingly (you can also rotate the helicopter yourself, but this isn't always reliable). It wasn't until the end of the game that I discovered that you can also activate more realistic controls (namely, up arrow propels you in the direction that the rotor is facing, and to move in a different direction, you have to rotate). Mouse controls also exist, but I couldn't really get them to work well (which is fine; I prefer keyboard anyway); while I appreciate the diversity of control schemes, more notification of their existence would be nice. The interface is clean -- I especially appreciate the little icons in the lower-left corner which illustrate whether you are still eligible for receiving a perfect or very fast, so you know when it's worthwhile to keep trying or give up. One thing that could be clearer -- it is possible to crash the chopper (er, choppa), but it's not clear if this is only caused by very high-impact collisions, or if several lower-velocity impacts could have the same effect, since there's no damage meter or anything available.

The game also has a very distinctive style. Although the graphics themselves are pretty simple, the game uses a black-and-orange color scheme which lends a very bold air to the proceedings, and the graphic design is definitely quality. The sound effects and music are both on the cute side, occasionally tending towards the twee; as is so often the case, the music is pleasant in the background when things are going smoothly but can often drive you crazy if you're stuck on one particular task. The game is also not quite glitch-free -- if you manage to get through the game without getting yourself or an object stuck in (or pulled through) a wall, then you ended up a lot better than me. Still, the game generally runs smoothly.

While there isn't much to the basic game mechanics, the diversity of tasks that you are given adds a nice variety to the game and prevents it from becoming repetitive and tedious. It definitely doesn't overstay its welcome -- it won't take you long at all to do the 21 levels in the game, and even trying to get all of the perfects and very fasts, while certainly not a trivial task, is not the exercise in frustration that it can so easily be in a Flash game. Overall, it's a game you should enjoy playing.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


If you've read my reviews of SHIFT (here) and SHIFT 2 (here), you know that I would eagerly anticipate the arrival of SHIFT 3. So when I first saw it appear on Armor Games, I was delighted. But I wanted to wait for it to appear on Kongregate, so I could get all of the badges in one place. So I waited. And waited. And waited. I expected I'd have to wait a couple of weeks; instead, it took several months for the game to arrive on Kongregate. Not surprisingly, that kind of wait tends to take the excitement out of a game. It's certainly not the game's fault -- it delivers pretty much exactly what you'd want from a sequel. There are a few interesting improvements to the game, but the core gameplay experience remains unchanged -- mostly it's just more of what you've come to love.

Just to recap for those of you too uninterested to play the first two and too lazy to read my reviews, SHIFT 3 is a pretty straightforward platformer -- your goal is to reach the exit door in a level by jumping on blocks and avoiding spikes. Keys will move barriers around, hopefully to your benefit, and lightbulbs remove checked squares that impede your progress. At the beginning of the game, you are a black figure standing on a white background. However, by pressing Shift, you can shift into the black block you're standing on and become a white figure on a black background. This opens up all sorts of creative puzzle options. There also exist buttons which can rotate the screen 180 degrees (or even 90 degrees) without the need to shift.

Anyway, the biggest change in SHIFT 3 is that the game is no longer completely linear; you don't just do one room after another until you reach the end. Rather, some rooms have multiple exits, and you'll often need to backtrack to a previously-visited room. Keys can also affect barriers in other rooms, meaning that you'll often move to another room, grab a key, and then return to your previous room and take advantage of the change you've just effected. While this definitely adds an interesting new feature, the designer thankfully does not go overboard; the overall layout is not too complicated, and the game thoughtfully provides a map to help you navigate your way through.

As in SHIFT 2, there are two possible endings; to get the better of the two, you need to collect various newspaper clippings strewn throughout the game. These are kind of an effort to give the game a Portal-like hint of a backstory, but there's not really enough to make the plot terribly interesting. These usually require finding various secret doors, but the game isn't too cruel about hiding these -- generally, their presence is pretty well indicated, so you just need to pay attention when looking around to find them. Unfortunately, because what you need to get the good ending is just a series of numbers, it's easy for people to get the good ending without doing any of the work, which I naturally disapprove of.

In addition to the main adventure mode, SHIFT 3 also offers three "player packs", collections of six levels from various sources to give a quick "classic SHIFT" experience. These are quite short, and range in difficulty from quite easy to moderately head-scratching. They're a nice little addition to the main game, but, being only six levels, they're not going to take you too long to get through. The game also has a wide variety of achievements, like SHIFT 2, although it seems to have embraced the annoying trend of not actually telling you how to get the achievements. What is the purpose of this?! All it does is drive people to FAQs. Fortunately, I was able to figure out how to get all of the achievements by myself without too much difficulty, since most of them are pretty sensibly named; still, it's a needless irritation.

The graphics are the same as in the first two; the music has been changed again, although when you play the player packs, you get the original SHIFT music, which I think is still my favorite of the three. The game also includes a level editor, which is a nice addition to the game content. Thankfully, despite being an Armor Games product, the Kongregate version of SHIFT 3 isn't crippled in any way, which is a relief.

Overall, SHIFT 3 is a fun experience. It's not going to offer much you haven't already seen if you've played the first two, but like its two predecessors, it's good, well-designed, entertaining fun which doesn't overstay its welcome.