Saturday, December 27, 2008

Warbears Adventures: An A.R. X-Mas

There's apparently a whole line of Warbears games, but this is the first that I've tried. Maybe I'm missing out on a whole bunch of backstory; I don't know, but fortunately it's not particularly relevant to this game. Anyway, Warbears Adventures is a pretty standard point-and-click adventure: you interact with various objects in your environment by clicking on them to solve puzzles.

Overall, Warbears Adventures is a pretty good story. There's probably more dialogue than in your typical point-and-click adventure, but the writing is pretty good (if not flawless) and generally pretty entertaining. The puzzles themselves are not very complex -- most of them are quite simple indeed -- so you shouldn't have too much difficulty getting through the game; there's also more thinking involved than looking around trying to find usable objects, which is usually the bane of this type of game, so that's a nice feature.

Graphically, Warbears Adventures has a very clean look; the art is definitely high-quality. The sounds work nicely, and the music isn't too bad -- it's good background music for this type of game. It's not a particularly long game, though (which means that the music doesn't have as much time to get really annoying); you can definitely get through the game pretty quickly, as none of the puzzles is too difficult. There's no save feature, so you'll want to play the game in one sitting, which fortunately is quite feasible.

Anyway, Warbears Adventures is a pretty average game for its genre: it's fun, and you should enjoy solving the puzzles, but it's not a huge challenge, nor will it take up a lot of your time. I had a fun time playing it, but it's really just the kind of thing that you only want to play once.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Super Stacker

Super Stacker is a very cute, but very simple, puzzle game with a clever design, but not quite enough challenge to make it a really interesting game. In Super Stacker, you're given a bunch of shapes, and a few shapes fixed on the screen. Your objective is to stack all of the given shapes (in the order that they're given to you) on the currently-existing shapes so that they make a stable stack. (Or at least mostly stable -- your stack needs to survive 10 seconds after the last block is stacked, so even if your stack isn't necessarily perfect, sometimes it only needs to be good enough.)

The game shows you the shapes to be stacked at the top of the screen, along with their relative sizes, so you can plan ahead, which is quite important. At the beginning of the game, you only have squares, but rectangles, triangles, and even circles will need to be incorporated into your stack as you pass through the 12 levels. There's no save feature, but all of the levels are pretty quick -- it shouldn't take you more than a couple of tries for any of them, except for the last level, which is a little annoying and not quite in the spirit of the rest of the game; it seems to require luck more than careful planning and positioning as in the rest of the levels.

Graphically, the game has a charming look (it also feels very Japanese; I don't know if that's accurate). Blocks which are resting stably will have content expressions on their faces, while blocks which are in danger of sliding off will look alarmed or horrified. There's not much in the way of sound effects, and the background music, while also rather charming, does get annoying eventually.

Overall, Super Stacker is a short game -- it will probably take you no more than 15 minutes, and it won't be a terribly difficult 15 minutes, either. While it's a cute concept, and not a badly-executed game, there's simply not quite enough puzzle in the game for it to really be engaging. It's fine if you just want to get a quick badge, but it's not a game you'll come back to again and again.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Synapsis is a pretty standard point-and-click adventure puzzle. You're thrown into -- well, it's not clear where it is exactly; a set of connected rooms -- and your job is to escape by solving a bunch of puzzles. As is standard for the genre, various interactable objects are scattered around the landscape, and you can click on them to do various, hopefully useful, things.

The puzzles are, to be honest, not the strong point of this game. There's too much time spent hunting for objects (some of which are really small and inconspicuous) and not enough time thinking about how to use those objects -- indeed, most of the time, when you acquire an object, its purpose is immediately apparent; there's only a few exceptions. As a result, the game ended up being a little disappointing on the intellectual front.

Graphically, though, the game is very impressive -- the graphics are excellent, and the rooms, though each quite distinct, fit together well to create an overall unusual, disorienting atmosphere. The sound effects are also a cut above what you'd see in your typical Flash game; they definitely add to the general environment. There's also some background music which remains very much in the background, so while it contributes a little bit to the overall atmosphere, it's not something you'll really notice strongly. (Well, with the exception of the jaunty music for the ending sequence, which is really quite baffling. Then again, the game description implies that this is the first in a series, so perhaps we'll learn more later.)

Overall, Synapsis is not an easy game (at least if you don't avail yourself of the walkthrough, as we didn't), and the lack of a save feature is slightly annoying, since you may be best off playing it in more than one session (though once you've figured something out, it's pretty quick to get back to that point), so it was definitely a feeling of accomplishment to finish it. Still, while this is one of the finest-crafted Flash games I've seen on Kongregate, I can't help but feel that a little sharper attention paid to the puzzles would have made this a much better game.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Achievement Unlocked

Somewhat like You Have To Burn The Rope (review here), Achievement Unlocked is less of a game itself and more of a commentary on gaming. Designed by the prolific jmtb02, in Achievement Unlocked, you're presented with a simple playfield; your character is an elephant recycled from Elephant Rave, and he's on a pretty average platformer-looking layout with moving platforms and spikes and so forth. However, there's no goal in the game -- well, no goal in the traditional sense. There are, though, 100 achievements for doing actions from the very simple to the somewhat more complicated.

Anyway, the game is self-consciously silly -- you start racking up achievements from the moment the game is loaded, many without you even having to do anything. The graphics and sounds are pretty simple, while the music is relentlessly cheerful; it gives the game a bit of a circus atmosphere. This is one of the few games where not telling you what the achievements are is defensible -- most of them are pretty easy to figure out from the title, but there are a few tricky ones. Since one of the achievements is to look at the included walkthrough, though, I didn't feel too bad about using it to get the couple I couldn't figure out on my own.

Overall, Achievement Unlocked is good for a silly bit of fun. In some sense, the game is successful, if its goal is to point out how silly achievements in games can be. On the other hand, the achievements in this game are more interesting, varied, and well-thought-out than those in many other games, so it is actually a bit of fun. Perhaps the one departure from realism is that none of the achievements is particularly long or tedious -- you can get all of them without working too hard in less than ten minutes. This perhaps makes the game less realistic, but it also means it can keep being fun. So perhaps in that aspect it's not successful. Still, you'll have fun playing it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Super Crazy Guitar Maniac Deluxe 3

When I first tried Super Crazy Guitar Maniac Deluxe 3, I was rapidly convinced that it was even more impossible than SCGMD2 (review here). However, once I finished SCGMD2, it was only a matter of time before I would feel compelled to finish the sequel as well, and so I put in a little more effort and finally emerged with another impossible badge. It's not substantially different from SCGMD2, but it's good fun. Anyway, if you're too lazy to read the SCGMD2 review, SCGMD3 is a pretty standard rhythm game: arrows and numbers come from the right side of the screen in time with the music, and you press them when they reach the target zone on the left. Your right hand handles the arrows, which you tap, while the left hand deals with the numbers, which are held for a given length of time.

In the comments section of both games, there is a perpetually running flamefest on whether SCGMD2 or 3 is harder and/or better. Like most Internet arguments, this is terribly stupid; the two games are, like I said, not terribly different; each is hard in its own way. To quickly run down the differences, the SCGMD3 interface is slightly different -- there's now four rows, so each arrow has its own row. This is nice. There are now four hold keys (which are 1-4 instead of ASD by default, although you can also use ASDF if you prefer), which doesn't really make a substantial difference. However, the four hold keys now appear on the rows, like the arrows, rather than between, like in SCGMD2. This means that the arrows sometimes lie on top of the hold bar, which makes it a little harder to read. This is kind of annoying. The interface now shows you how many correct and wrong notes you've hit so far, which is useful when you're going for a perfect. The biggest difference, though, is in the songs. SCGMD3 has a total of 14 songs, and there's no division between amateur and pro any more. The songs themselves are longer -- they're mostly in the 2-4 minute range, which inherently makes them harder. Some of the songs have up to 700 keypresses, which means that even if you have a 99.9% chance of getting any one key right, you still have less than a 50% chance of finishing the song perfectly. So simply from the length, the SCGMD3 songs are more difficult, especially since a lot of the songs have their hardest parts towards the end, which can be really annoying when you screw up after three minutes of perfect play. However, the keying seems to be a little bit easier -- the harder songs, especially, derive their difficulty more from having tricky rhythms than simply throwing a bunch of keys at you. As a result, while the songs can be difficult at first, you can get a lot better with practice faster than in SCGMD2 in general.

As for the quality of the songs, there are more real songs and fewer instrumentals than in SCGMD2. The songs are generally decent, if not great, although the vocals on the songs with vocals are uniformly pretty bad. (Which is not to say that all of the songs with vocals are bad -- indeed, some of them have quite interesting guitar parts -- it's just that the singing is quite mediocre.) The graphics are still very similar -- the crazy stickman is back, although now he floats horizontally when you reach the highest score multiplier; he's also now somewhat better animated, in that you can see him pluck the strings. The game also gives you some aural feedback when you hit a wrong note (which often had the effect of disconcerting me into missing the next few notes too). And, of course, the lag problems are about the same -- I thought that SCGMD3 was maybe a little better on this score, but I was really having trouble with one song (despite having chat muted), and then I switched to another mostly-empty room and immediately got perfect on that song and several others, so it seems that it can still be a big influence on whether you get perfect on a song.

Overall, SCGMD3 is, like SCGMD2, a pretty fun game. If I had to take a side on whether it was harder than its predecessor, I would have to conclude it's slightly easier, but that may just be a reflection of my skillset; I can pick up tricky rhythms more easily than quick key sequences. It is still by no means an easy game; the long songs, especially, you'll have to play through more than a couple of times when you're trying to perfect them. While none of the songs is an instant classic, none of them is terrible, either, and they're generally well chosen and the keying is interesting. If you like rhythm games, it's worth trying it out.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kingdom of the Wind

Kingdom of the Wind is another game by Rudy Sudarto, the designer behind Epic War (review here), and apparently he decided it was a successful enough formula that he didn't need to change it very much, because Kingdom of the Wind is a very similar game. Frankly, I disagree with this -- by the end of the game, the formula here will feel very stale indeed, and it could really use a change of pace to make the game more interesting.

Anyway, so you have a floating castle you need to defend from a relentless enemy. You have mana, which you use to buy units. Your mana regenerates gradually over time, and killing enemy units also gives you more mana. In addition to units, you can spend money on upgrading your units' abilities, or on increasing your mana pool and regeneration rate. Unlike your typical game of this genre, there's no enemy side to destroy; rather, you just have to survive each level for a given amount of time. Usually, though, you reach a point of equilibrium at which you can easily survive indefinitely before you reach the end of the level, so there's often some twiddling of thumbs while you wait for the timer to finish. At the end of a level, you get XP for enemies defeated and units created which you can then use to buy various upgrades and unlock new units; unlike the similar upgrades you can buy in battle, these are permanent.

Like many games of this genre, one of the more annoying features is that you often spend a lot of time simply waiting for your mana to accumulate. (Unlike Epic War, there aren't even any arrows for you to shoot.) The behavior of the units is also not entirely understandable -- while I am glad to see a game of this type where the units don't simply advance in a line (the battlefield is pleasingly two-dimensional), sometimes your units will hang back towards your castle and sometimes your units will venture far forward to attack, and often what they do is the opposite of what you want them to do, and it's hard to tell why exactly they're doing one thing and not the other. (In the later levels, I found myself relying more heavily on turrets simply because I could count on them not to wander off.) One particularly unforgiveable design flaw is that buying the increased initial mana upgrade is actually harmful -- it means you'll have to pay more for every increase in the mana pool (and hence mana regeneration), which is really, really annoying.

The game is pretty tricky in the initial levels -- I died more than a couple of times in the first few levels -- but once you get the hang of the strategy, and have purchased some of the basic upgrades, the game becomes noticeably easier, so the last few levels are not particularly interesting. Fortunately, there's only eight levels in all, so the game doesn't take too long, but there's even still a lot of dead time toward the end of the game. The graphics are OK -- each unit is pretty nice-looking, but they're pretty small, and there's not anything in the way of attack animations; they just shoot colored balls at each other. The music is, much like Epic War, kind of stirring in a fantasy movie kind of way, but does get repetitive. The sound effects are pretty poor; they're just generic zapping noises and don't add very much to the game.

Overall, Kingdom of the Wind really needs something new to be an interesting game. It's not too long, so if you're just in it for the points (or challenge), it's not too bad, as long as you don't buy the increased initial mana upgrade, but the design is simply not interesting enough to make it an engaging game.