Saturday, December 13, 2008


Sproing is a game from the older days of Kongregate. It's got a cute little concept, but it's not very well polished, and probably today it wouldn't even get a badge. Actually, I'm going to take a minute to talk about this. When I first started playing on Kongregate, it seemed like it was in the middle of a transition. Games still got badges whenever the Kongregate staff got around to adding them, so while there were still the weekly challenges, badges could be added at any time, and the weekly challenges would as often go to a game that already had badges as one that was just getting badges. Furthermore, pretty much any game which was decent and had a functioning API would get badges eventually. Now, however, it seems like new badges are almost always awarded in conjunction with a challenge. So even though the challenges are biweekly now, a game has to be more than just decent to get badges -- there are plenty of good, interesting games which just don't quite manage to beat out the games selected for challenges and never get badges or have to wait a very long time for badges. I'm not sure I like this new system -- obviously, I'm glad for Kongregate's generally higher quality, but it also seems like a lot of interesting but not so well-crafted ideas can get lost in the shuffle, efforts like Buried Treasure Week notwithstanding.

(Of course, in the time between when I started this post and when I finished, Kongregate added badges not associated with a challenge to three more games. They'd done this once since the beginning of November, with Meat Boy, and all of a sudden they do this at precisely the wrong time for my rant. Bah.)

Anyway, so, Sproing. In Sproing, you control a small ball with a larger ball attached to it by a spring, which you can swing around, much like Elastic (review here). The playfield contains green balls, which you are trying to destroy, and non-green balls, which will hurt you on contact. To destroy the green balls, swing your ball into them. It has to be at a relatively high velocity; otherwise, the green ball will bounce off in a different direction. The game contains 30 levels; most of the levels just contain different formations of green balls and enemy balls, but every sixth level is a boss. The bosses shoot at you, and you have to hit them multiple times to destroy them; because you still have to whack them, it's extremely difficult to defeat the bosses without taking some damage in the process. Various helpful items also occasionally drift onto the playfield. You only have one life, but you do get health-replenishment items from time to time.

The graphics are very simple -- just colored circles, basically. The sound effects are OK; the music is, not to put too fine a point on it, awful -- it's terrible and repetitive. The level design is pretty solid; each level has its own little quirks. One peculiar thing is that in order to get the hard badge, you don't have to actually beat the game, just reach level 30. I thought this was a bug when I first got the badge, and so I went ahead and beat the game (which was actually much harder than just reaching level 30, since it's quite difficult), and then I read the badge text more carefully and discovered that, in fact, it was not a bug. Still, I was kind of glad to have beaten the game.

Anyway, Sproing is the kind of game that probably wouldn't get recognized by Kongregate today. It is very simple in its presentation, and it's not a particularly complicated or sophisticated game. Still, it isn't a bad way to spend a few minutes; while I wouldn't call it a great game, it's a solid gameplay idea. While I wouldn't say that everyone should be forced to play the game, it would be nice if there were a way to give games like this a little bit more attention.

Friday, December 12, 2008


At first glance, SeppuKuties looks a lot like have cute creatures trying to get from point A to point B, and sometimes, some of them may perish; indeed, sometimes some of them need to perish for the greater good. Sounds pretty similar, right? But, in fact, SeppuKuties is pretty much an entirely different game. It's another game by Antony Lavelle (creator of the SHIFT series, as well as Shore Siege -- oh, and I recently discovered that he's also behind the IndestructoTank series, which I was completely unaware of before), and has many of the hallmarks of his games -- it's a clever concept, it's entertaining without being too long, and the level design is solid.

So the basic premise is that you are a band of ragtag but adorable creatures forced by deforestation and other nasty things to traverse a series of hazardous levels in order to reach Paradise Meadows. In each level, your goal is to reach the Golden Acorn. The action is pretty standard platforming fare -- jump across pits of spikes and lava, collect keys to open doors, that kind of thing -- but the twist is that your characters occasionally have no choice but to meet their demise. When one of your band perishes, you start with another animal, who can pick up where your last one left off. Sometimes you'll have to sacrifice yourself to get important items (e.g., bravely leaping into lava to get a key), while sometimes your corpse can serve as a useful stepping-stone for your comrades. However, your band only starts out with 30 animals, and it only gets smaller as you progress through the levels, so you can't be too reckless in throwing your creatures' lives away.

Anyway, that's about all there is. There's five worlds, each with four levels, and one final level. In each level, you're graded by how many deaths you suffer (compared to a par), and how many acorns scattered around the level you can collect. If your goal is to just beat the game, then this is pretty easy, but getting a high grade on all the levels or beating the game with only a few deaths are more difficult tasks that can keep you occupied for a while.

Overall, the level design is very sharp; there's lots of clever puzzles, and the levels do a good job of being relatively easy if you're willing to sacrifice a lot of cute, cuddly, adorable creatures, but much harder if you're trying to save as many animals as possible. The physics is pretty good, although occasionally it does seem to be a little loose; this doesn't really harm the gameplay (and indeed may help), so it's forgivable. The graphics are pretty good -- they're nicely decorated for a basic 2D platformer, and the animals are cute (maybe a little too cute, even...). The sound effects are pretty basic, but the music is very nice, and gets bonus points for there being a different theme for each of the five worlds, so you don't get completely sick of it. Yay!

Anyway, SeppuKuties is, overall, quite a bit of fun to play. It's a clever concept, and a well-implemented one. Like SHIFT, it does a good job of making you wish there were a few more levels you could play (unlike the scores of Kongregate games that make me wish there were fewer levels I had to play), and while it's not too difficult by itself, it offers enough added challenge to make you feel it's not a complete pushover. It's not a long game, but you should enjoy playing it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Nodes is a pretty uninspired puzzle game. Well, it's actually not a bad idea, but the implementation is pretty poor. With better level design and some less annoying features, it could be a decent game, but as it is, it's not so great. And, just for the record, I played the game (and developed these opinions) before noticing that it's by the same developer as Draw-Play 2 (review here), which might explain it. It's nowhere near as unpleasant as Draw-Play 2, fortunately, but it does have some of the same problems.

Anyway, the premise of the game is very simple. You have some red nodes, and lasers connecting the nodes. There are also some circles on the board (which the game also calls "nodes" sometime, confusingly enough, so I'll just call them "circles"). Your object is to position the nodes so that the lasers light up all of the circles. Some levels feature nodes which can't be moved, but generally you can move everything freely.

The fundamental problem with Nodes is that the puzzles just aren't very interesting. There's nothing which requires a lot of cleverness, or particularly careful thinking, or indeed is very difficult at all -- if one of the puzzles takes you longer than a minute, you're probably doing something horribly wrong. The game doesn't have a save feature, annoyingly, so you'll have to complete all 20 levels in one go, but fortunately this still won't take you very long. There's also a normal and a hard mode; the only difference that I can see in the hard mode is that you have a time limit of 60 seconds for each level, which, as I mentioned earlier, shouldn't be a problem. Fortunately, you only have to do normal mode to get the badge.

The graphics are OK, but nothing special. The music is really quite irritating; it's maybe a 20-second loop at most, and it's a very annoying 20 seconds. The sound effects also kind of grate. Overall, with better design Nodes could be a decent game, but as it is, it's just not particularly much fun to play.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mud and Blood 2

Mud and Blood 2 is one of the more polarizing games on Kongregate that I've seen. When it first came out, it was wildly popular despite not having badges, and when it finally did get badges, it got another wave of popularity that seemed to last much longer than your typical new-challenge-game popularity. (Admittedly, this impression may be enhanced by the game that it lends itself very well to talking in chat while you're playing it, since there's plenty of waiting time.) Despite all of that, though, it's still not very highly rated on Kongregate, and it's not hard to see why: while it's initially a very interesting and entertaining game, eventually the flaws in the game become clear.

Anyway, MaB2 is, in many ways, a pretty typical action strategy game. Your object is to prevent the Germans from making it from the top of the screen to the bottom of the screen; as time goes on, you get Tactical Points, which you can spend acquiring new units, building fortifications or other structures, ordering various forms of support, or upgrading your existing units. Your object is to hold out as long as possible against increasingly difficult waves; once a certain number of Germans have broken through your position, you have been overrun and are defeated. You can move units from one place to another just by clicking, but your units are often not always willing to follow your orders immediately; they're often pinned down or already engaging a target and won't want to move.

The first thing you notice about MaB2 is that there are a lot of options. There's 15 different unit types and a whole bunch more upgrades, structures, and support you have available, and every single one of them has a button on the main screen. This is really quite overwhelming to the newbie -- it would make a lot more sense to organize the options a bit better. For instance, the upgrade buttons probably would be better attached to a unit, rather than with the rest of the buttons, and some way to dim or hide buttons which represent options not currently available to you would also be a good idea. However, to the game's credit, it does a generally good job balancing units -- while some units are obviously not quite as good as others, there are apparently many viable strategies; some people swear by spec ops, others by snipers, and so forth, so it's good that there are many different ways to do well. (There are also, as you might expect, many different ways to get yourself completely killed.) However, even after you've played the game for a while (I played long enough to get the badges, which was pretty long, but there are many people who have tried to get all of the ribbons in the game, which requires a lot of effort), you may find that there are just certain options that you end up never using.

Despite the range of tactical options (or perhaps because of the range; it does make it a lot easier to end up with a poor strategy, after all), MaB2 is a very challenging game. (Actually, the more I think about it, the more likely I think it is that the range of options makes the game more difficult. The game doesn't always do a good job elucidating the strengths and weaknesses of your various choices, so you don't always know whether your Tactical Points have been well-spent until you actually send the unit in, and if it turns out that they weren't, you're often in deep trouble.) Even when you have what you think is a pretty good defense set up, oftentimes you just can't get enough firepower to kill all the Germans before some of them sneak through your lines. And it's not infrequent that they'll simply overrun you before you can get a good defense set up. This is not helped by the fact that there seems to be a large amount of randomness in the waves -- while generally they're pretty predictable, you also get "boss waves" from time to time which can be quite unpredictable, and quite devastating if they come at the wrong time. There's also a lot of waiting in the game -- since you accumulate Tactical Points relatively slowly, you'll often find yourself waiting to get that one last TP so you can get the one unit you desperately need (often, only to find that it's a little too late).

The graphics are pretty good, though relatively small. There's a wide range of sounds in the game, although they don't quite all fit together perfectly and sometimes they can get a bit repetitive. Still, they don't do a bad job. There's not continuous background music, but there are occasional musical cues at the beginning of levels and when boss waves arrive. The game is also subject to change -- for instance, when I first tried the game, there was no way to tell how many waves you had survived, but a wave counter was added a few days after the badges were added. This is good, but apparently also new units are occasionally added, which kind of bugs me; I believe that games should be (relatively) static once they've been released. Bug fixes or balance fixes are fine, of course, but major changes like this don't seem quite right.

Overall, while there's a lot of interesting things about MaB2, eventually the negatives begin to win out. You end up waiting too long to get TPs, which means that you just don't have too much to do; no matter how well set up your defense is, a lucky enemy shot can do a lot of damage; and sometimes, your guys just won't shoot at the enemies enough to prevent them from successfully crossing your lines. It's an entertaining game to play for a while, but ultimately it ends up being a little too frustrating to enjoy completely.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rage 3

Rage 3 is a pretty straightforward stick figure beat-'em-up, which is apparently a pretty popular genre on Kongregate. Fortunately, it's significantly better than the last game of that type that I played, Thing-Thing 2 (review here), but it's still not the world's most exciting formula.

So, you're a stick figure, and you're angry at other stick figures, for some unspecified reason. You go around and beat them up with either a variety of melee weapons (mostly variations on a sword) or a variety of guns (which I ended up almost never using, because I didn't need to). As you beat people up, your rage meter fills; once it reaches 100, you can unleash various rage attacks. That's pretty much it. Defeated enemies drop brightly-colored spheres which can recover your health or increase your XP; as you level up, your rage power gains more abilities.

In Adventure mode, you progress through four different levels, featuring the obligatory keys, locked gates, more weapons to collect, and so forth; at the end of the level, you fight a relatively simple boss. The locks and keys tend to slow down the pace of the game -- the first time through, there's plenty of enemies to beat up, but when you're crossing the level a second time in search of a key (or after having obtained the key), there's not much to do, which makes the level kind of boring. It would be much more interesting if there weren't these dead spots. The game is thoughtful enough to tell you what a key does when you pick it up, so at least you know where to go. However, a truly terrible design element is the presence of gates that you have to be a certain level to pass -- this requires you to do some mindless grinding in order to beat the game, which is not what I'm looking for in a fast-paced beat-'em-up! There's also Arcade mode, which is just a never-ending succession of enemies, which is a good place to level up if you need to but not really exciting beyond that. Oddly, the game doesn't autosave; you have to go back to the main menu and choose to save yourself in order to save your progress, which I'm sure can be quite annoying if you forget (fortunately, I didn't).

The animation is not bad; it's smooth, and there's a fair amount of variation, but pretty simplistic -- for instance, when you're fighting an enemy at close quarters, there's no change in the moves that you use. The graphics are, well, stick figures, though the various maces, swords, and other weapons are lovingly rendered. The sounds are pretty much your standard assortment of hitting noises. The music is not terribly exciting, but it's a good background which adds a bit to the game without being horribly repetitive.

The game is extremely easy -- at least, if you're playing on the easy difficulty level, which is apparently the default, as I discovered halfway through. By then, I didn't really want to bother trying at a higher difficulty, so I finished the game without any major difficulty. I'm not a big fan of games not asking you for the difficulty, so I was a little annoyed by this decision. Overall, Rage 3 isn't a bad game if you're just looking for some mindless bashing/stabbing/shooting action, but don't expect very much more than that. It's good for a few minutes of silly fun, but isn't the kind of game you'll want to play again and again.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Dreams is a simple spot-the-differences game, which managed to catch my eye when it appeared in the Hot New Games area on the Kongregate front page as something interesting but simple to do, so I gave it a try despite it not having any badges, and indeed it delivered. As you might expect, it's not terribly different from the other difference games I've mentioned, 5 Differences and 6 Differences (reviewed here and here), but it's still fun to play.

In each level, you have to find six differences, although there are occasionally (perhaps always, I didn't notice) more than those six to be found. Like 5 Differences, the differences are not always the same each time you play, so the game does hold some replay value. Each panel is hand-drawn, and the art is quite lovely. The differences are generally somewhat more conspicuous than in the other games mentioned, so you won't find it to be a terribly challenging game; there aren't any of those horribly frustrating moments where you get stuck on the last difference and just can't find it. The game keeps score, and deducts points for an incorrect click, so wildly clicking is not recommended (and, fortunately, not necessary). One nice interface touch is that, when your pointer is in one panel, there's a circle over the corresponding point on the other panel, to make it easier to tell if there really is a difference or not. I believe there are ten levels in all, although I may have miscounted. The sound effects are not bad, although simple, and the background music is very pleasant and soothing.

Overall, don't expect too much from Dreams; it's not particularly complicated or long. But it is very nicely done, and should be a fun little diversion for a few minutes.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Sorry about the shouting, it won't happen again. Anyway, Save Puggolon is the last Shootorial game (hooray!), and this one is the special Greg's Pick. As you might have noticed from Buried Treasure Week, Greg's tastes often run to the eclectic, and Save Puggolon is no exception. As far as the gameplay goes, it's not too much different from the Shootorial (with a few additions), but there's a lot of art happening which makes this a distinctive game.

Anyway, you're fighting to save Puggolon (as was hopefully obvious from the title), which is apparently some kind of pug-filled planet or something. The plot isn't really that well fleshed out. There is an ending, which I appreciate in a game like this, but to be honest I didn't really find it worth the bother to play all the way to the ending, so I can't really comment on it. The gameplay, as I mentioned, is pretty much the basic Shootorial gameplay -- enemies come from the right, you shoot them, there are powerups, they shoot you, you have a finite amount of health, bosses and subbosses come by from time to time. The pace is definitely better set than the basic Shootorial, though. Unlike the basic Shootorial, the game is divided into levels, and sometimes at the end of a level you have a choice of two levels to proceed to for your next.

The art is pretty crazy, as you'll see when you play it, but definitely high quality. The sound effects are pretty poor -- only a small blip when you destroy an enemy, but the music is quite impressive; the game designer apparently created it (as well as the art) himself, which is no mean feat. It's pleasantly hypnotic, although it does get a little repetitive after a while. In a pleasant surprise, everything in the game is correctly spelled and uses correct grammar. The interface makes a baffling decision in the difficulty select screen, though -- even though the "easy" and "hero" areas look like buttons, you actually have to fly your ship there, which is quite counterintuitive. Big arrows saying "fly here for easy difficulty!" would be much more useful. (I didn't really try the hero difficulty, so I didn't get a chance to experience the achievements the game offers.)

Anyway, while the basic gameplay is perhaps somewhat more interesting than the straight-up Shootorial, it's still not really interesting enough to carry the game on its own. The style, though, is pretty impressive. Combining the designer's artistic abilities with a somewhat less played-out gameplay idea could result in some really good games, however.