Saturday, January 17, 2009


Dodge contains all the ingredients to make a good Flash game: it's a simple, but interesting idea, and implemented well. The result is a game that's short, but satisfying; it's overall an enjoyable experience.

The basic concept in Dodge is clever (although I'm sure other games have come up with this idea before). It's basically a shooter, except you can't shoot -- the enemies can shoot at you, but all you can do is dodge (hence the title). However, the enemy's shots are homing, so if you dodge to the right place, you can kill the enemy with his own missiles. There's a total of 20 levels; the first enemies just stay put and shoot at you, but later levels introduce moving foes, exploding enemies, and teleporting enemies (which have a really irritating habit of blending into the background), so you'll have to stay on your toes to survive. You can refill all of your health between levels for the low, low cost of 25,000 points, which is quite a lot in the earlier levels but not too bad in the later levels, so as long as you remember to refuel when you're running low, you shouldn't have too much difficulty beating the game.

The presentation of the game is also excellent. The game is filled with pretty, pretty polygon effects, making it quite nice to look at, and generally operates smoothly (although there is some slowdown in the last couple of levels when the screen just gets completely full). The sound effects are pretty average; the music is a nice non-intrusive techno which complements the game well without being annoying. There's no save feature, so if you want to finish the game, you'll have to play all 20 levels in one sitting, but this is quite reasonable, as the game is not particularly long.

I'd be remiss, though, if I didn't mention one point which bothers me. The hard badge for Dodge is to kill 100 enemies without being hit. In general, I dislike badges which require you to avoid getting hit for a long period of time; since my game skills are more in persistence and learning than pure reflexes, this naturally does not play to my strengths. But, objectively, these are kind of annoying; the Frantic impossible, for instance, requires you to finish the entire game without being hit once; this is really annoying, because no one wants to spend 20 minutes playing the first nine levels only to get hit on the 10th. So, the existence of this badge seems like a poor choice. I would have much preferred a simple score-based badge; since your multiplier goes up when you kill enemies without being hit, this would accomplish a similar goal without being quite as annoying. (But, of course, this is not the game's fault -- the badge choice is entirely Kongregate's, as far as I know.) However, I (along with, apparently, quite a few other people) discovered that the best way to get this badge is simply to play extremely defensively -- merely circle around the perimeter and focus on avoiding shots rather than directly trying to kill enemies. The game designer responded by labeling this strategy "a BUG or EXPLOIT" and changed the game (by moving enemies closer to the edges) in an effort to make this strategy less viable. Obviously, changing the game after a badge has already been created in a way which makes getting that badge more difficult is kind of poor form to begin with, but this also speaks rather poorly of his testing efforts -- it's not like this is a terribly complicated strategy; if this is really not something he wants players to employ, he should have found it himself. Blaming it on people not "playing the game how it was meant to be played" seems like a poor response.

Anyway, sorry for the digression -- if you don't care about the hard badge, you probably won't notice this issue at all, and it shouldn't detract from the fact that Dodge is a pretty fun game to play, and quite pretty to look at. I'm not sure how much in the way of replay value it has, since there's only so much content in the game, but you should enjoy playing it through at least once.

Friday, January 16, 2009


N3wton is, as you might not be able to guess from the name, a game inspired by Newton's Third Law. However, the classic E&M Pong aside, making a game based on a neat physics property won't always necessarily result in a particularly interesting game. While N3wton is by no means a terrible game, there's nothing about it that makes it really engaging, either.

So, the basic idea behind N3wton is that you control a mobile cannon, and there are various enemy cannons strewn around the stage. (Most of them are stationary, though there are a few moving targets in the last couple of levels.) You fire bullets at the enemies, and they fire back. When you're hit by a bullet, you get knocked backward, and the objective is to knock your enemies off the stage without getting knocked off yourself. You also suffer recoil when you fire a bullet, but your enemies, somewhat unfairly, don't. I constantly found myself forgetting this last fact and firing when too close to the edge, with predictably disastrous results. Gradually, various other elements are introduced -- stabilizing wells which keep you in a certain location, teleporters for yourself and your shots, and switches which have various effects.

Overall, the game falls into kind of an awkward gap. It's got some puzzle elements and some action elements, but neither is quite sufficient to carry the game on its own. There are some tricky shots that you have to figure out occasionally, but they're not terribly difficult; conversely, sometimes you'll find yourself in close combat with an enemy, but it's usually pretty easy to keep your balance. As a result, the game isn't quite satisfying on either level. There is one level which is much more puzzle-ish, but it feels kind of out of place with the rest of the game, and as a result is kind of confusing and awkward (though, if it were by itself, I would think it was pretty clever).

The graphics are pretty basic, as are the sounds. My opinion of the music swings from "interesting" to "really annoying", but, like so many other games, it does get repetitive pretty fast. There's a total of 25 levels, and each one is pretty quick, so it shouldn't take you very long to make it through the game. The game also has a couple of glitches; I found myself being shot through a wall more than once. All in all, N3wton is kind of a cute idea, but there's just not enough of a game surrounding it to make for a really interesting result. It's not an unpleasant game-playing experience, just one which is missing that extra element.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bloons Tower Defense

Bloons Tower Defense is another game by ninjakiwi, the designer behind More Bloons (review here); there's also an original Bloons, but as it doesn't have badges, I didn't bother playing it. Anyway, apparently, having designed all this dart-throwing monkey artwork, ninjakiwi decided to make a tower defense game out of it, and the result is Bloons Tower Defense. However, while More Bloons is distinguished by its careful and clever level design, Bloons Tower Defense has none of that -- it's the most generic and bland tower defense game you could imagine, and as a result, it simply fails to be particularly interesting.

Anyway, if you've played any kind of path-based tower defense game, Bloons Tower Defense won't have any surprises for you. You have a few types of towers (but not many; only five) and each has a couple of upgrades. Balloons enter at one end of the path, and you have to destroy them before they reach the other end of the path; popping them gets you money, and you also get bonus money at the end of each level. Unlike your typical tower defense game, the balloons don't have HP; one dart or tack will pop them. However, the balloons do come in different colors. Red balloons simply pop, but when you pop a blue balloon, a red balloon comes out (so, effectively, they have 2 HP); this continues up the line to green and yellow balloons. (The bigger balloons also move faster.) Finally, there are white and black balloons, which are slower-moving and smaller, but also produce two yellow ballons when popped. There are 50 levels, each with an increasing number of balloons.

Bloons Tower Defense simply doesn't have anything that makes it stand out from the horde of other tower defense games that exist. Yes, the dart-throwing monkeys are kind of cute, but they don't make up for the fundamental lack of interesting features of the game. Once you figure out the basics of the strategy (namely, that tack towers are a bad investment), you should be able to breeze through the game without too much difficulty; there's simply too few choices to make it particularly challenging. The graphics are quite simple, although the dart-throwing monkeys are cute; there's no sound other than the sound of balloons popping, which could definitely use some variation, and there's no background music, either.

Overall, there are simply vastly better tower defense games than Bloons Tower Defense. In its defense, it does move the action along pretty quickly, so you won't really feel like it's a dreary slog if you're playing it to get the badge (like me!), but it's not really interesting action, either.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thing-Thing 3

Oh joy, it's another Thing-Thing game. If you've read my review of Thing-Thing 2 (here), you can probably guess I'm not terribly enthused about playing Thing-Thing 3. But I'm currently in a period of working through some of Kongregate's older badges, which often means playing games that probably wouldn't meet today's badge standards, so unfortunately there'll probably be some mediocrity in the process.

Anyway, Thing-Thing 3 is not terribly different from its predecessor. You're in a basic platformy environment, enemies constantly assault you from all directions, and you shoot them. They appear able to randomly spawn from any direction, and, in contrast to Thing-Thing 2, they now carry guns, so now dodging them is more a matter of luck than anything else. Especially annoying is when they shoot you from offscreen and you can't hit them back. The levels are much, much larger than in Thing-Thing 2, which is definitely nice, but it's very easy to get lost in them, especially in level 2, where you have to find a keycard which is nearly impossible to find (I finally gave up out of annoyance and looked in the comments to find where it is). A minimap would be incredibly useful. Thankfully, the doors which require a certain number of kills to pass are gone, so that at least makes Thing-Thing 3 less annoying than its predecessor in one respect.

The story mode does finally have an actual story. It's not a particularly interesting story, and mostly it seems to prove that your character is about as intelligent as a box of rocks, but it does actually exist. There's also a survival mode, which operates pretty much as you would expect. The graphics are pretty much as basic as they were in Thing-Thing 2; both you and your enemies are built from a variety of mix and match parts. The sounds are your typical gun sounds, and the background music is so ambient that you'll barely notice it at all.

Overall, Thing-Thing 3 is perhaps slightly better than its predecessor, but it's still simply too flavorless to be really interesting. There's just not enough variation on the basic plan of shooting people to make for a particularly interesting game, and all of the challenge comes from the question of whether the enemies will drop health packs when you need them to. Overall, the game is not particularly long; there's six levels, of which two are boss levels; the last boss is incredibly annoying, since you spend 80% of the time just chasing him across the screen, but not terribly difficult, so it shouldn't take you too long to finish the game, but at least for me, it grew boring and repetitive long before I actually finished.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I know, I have a problem with badges. I played Feudalism II (review here), and I didn't really enjoy it, so why would I expect the original to be any better? Well, I didn't. But there were badges attached, so how could I not try it?

Anyway, Feudalism is not terribly different from its sequel (I always feel a little silly writing these reviews backwards like this). It's slightly smaller -- there's only four nations, so the world map actually fits on a single screen, and there's no skills for either yourself or your troops, so this takes out some of the already-paltry strategy involved in battles. You also can't enchant equipment like you can in Feudalism II, although random magic equipment does occasionally drop from enemies. Finally, there's no national champions, so once you've conquered a nation, that's pretty much all there is to do.

The basic mechanics are the same in the two games -- you hire an army, use that army to conquer cities, and then recruit troops from the new cities to continue your conquest. Better troops are found in more powerful cities, so you have to gradually work your way up the ladder, but once you've conquered one nation, then you have its most powerful troops available and should have an easy time with the remaining three. All the basic problems are the same in the two games, though. The battles themselves are so busy that there's really very little for you to do except stand and shoot your crossbow (or whatever ranged weapon you decide to end up using). You can use the occasional potion or scroll to help out yourself or your troops (tip: Scrolls of Rage are very useful). Much to my surprise, the gold is actually slightly better balanced than it was in Feudalism II; it was only after I had conquered four or five cities that I reached the point where I had so much gold that I could never possibly spend it all.

The graphics, sound, and lack of music are the same as in Feudalism II, and the interface is still riddled with typos and annoying features. (I was particularly nonplussed by the existence of a "forged bow". Maybe it was a cheap knockoff?) The autosave is still annoyingly squirrely -- once it completely failed to exist after I died, forcing me to go all the way back to my older manual save. This got me in the habit of regularly saving manually, which kind of defeats the purpose of an autosave. The game also has several glitches; dead soldiers occasionally remain upright and on screen after being killed, and dying on the second stage of a large city attack frequently froze my game entirely.

Overall, Feudalism was even less interesting than Feudalism II, but at least it went by relatively quickly. If you, despite having read this, are still interested in these games, at least try Feudalism II first; it is the better of the pair. This really has nothing to recommend it at this point.

(As an aside, it must be kind of an awkward situation for Kongregate when a sequel to a game that already has badges appears. Most games are sufficiently different that it's not a problem to give them both badges, but for games like this or, especially, Monster's Den (which I'll talk a little more about when I finally get the impossible badge), it seems a little silly to give out two sets of badges for doing essentially the same thing. There's no good solution, though; it's not like you can remove the badges from the old game, and simply transferring the badges to the new game also seems like it would be problematic.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Whiteboard Tower Defense

I think I've been spoiled by the fact that my first encounter with Flash tower defense games was Desktop Tower Defense (review here), since it seems that every other TD game I play doesn't quite match up to DTD. Whiteboard Tower Defense is no exception -- while it does contain the one DTD feature that I think is the most innovative and interesting, the ability to build your own maze, there's still plenty of places where you can see that the design just doesn't quite match up to DTD.

Anyway, if you've played DTD, Whiteboard TD will seem quite familiar. Various critters enter the battlefield, and your job is to prevent them from reaching the exit. By placing turrets on the field, you can force the critters to traverse a maze, which makes their escape that much more difficult. Towers come in a variety of types, and can be upgraded to make them even more powerful, and boss critters come along once every so often; these have much higher hit points but a correspondingly higher reward. If a certain number of critters (depending on the difficulty level) successfully makes it to the exit, then you lose.

So, why does Whiteboard TD not quite live up to the (admittedly high) standards of DTD? Well, the first is juggling. In any tower defense game where you create your own path, juggling is a potentially hugely unbalancing strategy. (For those of you not familiar with the term -- "juggling" means, when the critters are about to reach your maze exit, you open up an exit earlier in your maze, and then close off the exit they're about to reach, forcing the critters to backtrack, and repeating as necessary.) DTD does a good job of recognizing this problem -- selling towers takes longer the more you sell, and since the waves come in continuously, you can't juggle indefinitely -- eventually your maze will fill up and you won't be able to open an exit anywhere without letting a bunch of critters out. In Whiteboard TD, however, there's no anti-juggling measures, so beating the game with juggling is embarassingly easy. I tried to keep my juggling to a minimum, just to keep the game interesting, but it's a serious flaw.

There are a bunch of other, more minor issues. There's only one entrance and exit, which makes maze construction a simpler affair than in DTD. Critters only come in three types (fast but weak, normal, and slow but strong), and you don't need to alter your strategy very much to deal with the different types. One clever feature of Whiteboard TD is that you can place electric floors, which go in the gaps between towers; this means that you're faced with a decision of whether to pack the towers in as tightly as possible, or leave room for some electric floors to slow down the enemies. This is a nice touch. There's also, however, not very much decision in which tower to pick; the increase in the price of the towers, as well as the increase in the rewards, is so rapid that at any given time, you really only have one viable choice for what kind of tower to buy. This eliminates a lot of strategic possibilities.

The presentation is kind of average -- the whiteboard motif is nicely executed, but it's been done before. The sounds fit the game well, although the whiteboard squeaking gets pretty annoying (I know, that's the point); the critters also do an adorable job of taunting you. There's no background music, just the soothing sound of your turrets firing at the enemy. The game also doesn't offer anywhere near the variety of challenges that DTD does -- there's just easy, medium, and hard difficulties, and they're all basically the same.

Overall, Whiteboard TD is not a terrible game; it was an enjoyable experience getting the badge. But it's simply overshadowed by Desktop Tower Defense in its genre; there's nothing that it really does better than DTD, and several things it does worse, so in the end I don't really see any reason to keep playing this when DTD is available.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Maze Stopper 2

I actually tried Maze Stopper 2 when it first hit Kongregate in September, but I was in full-on badge acquisition mode at the time and, since it didn't have badges, although it seemed kind of intriguing, I didn't really play too much of it. So, you can imagine that I was a little bit surprised when here, three months later, it finally gets badges. (And it's not like it's an API issue -- the API has been present since a few days after it was first uploaded. Have I mentioned that I don't understand the Kongregate badge process at all these days?) Anyway, Maze Stopper 2 isn't a game that will dazzle you with its glitz, but it's a very interesting and clever concept which makes for an excellent puzzle game -- one that will make you think, and one that can challenge you on several levels of difficulty.

Anyway, the basic concept of Maze Stopper 2 is quite simple. Your character, along with one or more foes, is present in a maze with some obstacles and a flag. The game starts with time frozen; when you start time, all of the characters will race towards the flag. You don't actually control your own character (or, of course, any of the other characters); all characters will merely take the shortest apparent route to the flag from their current position. However, you also have the power to add more blocks to the maze, which you can use to block the enemies from taking their shortest path, or, even more deviously, you can give the enemy a choice of paths, let them take one, and then block it off, forcing them to backtrack. (You cannot prevent any character from reaching the flag entirely, nor can you remove a block once it's been placed and time has started.) You can start and stop time at any time, so if you need to add a bunch of blocks at once, it's easy to do so.

In the early levels, you can place an essentially-unlimited number of blocks, but some levels also introduce a constraint on the total number of blocks you can place, as each block costs 1 mana and you may have a limited supply. In some levels, there are also powerups which speed up or slow down characters, and some levels also feature bonuses which grant you additional mana (although if enemy characters pick these up, you lose mana instead). Characters will not make any special effort to pick up or avoid powerups, so if you want them to grab something, you'll have to arrange blocks to steer the characters into them yourself. Each level is pretty short -- since the screen is not very big, there's just not that long it'll take for a character to make its way through the maze.

Simply beating a level is not too difficult; however, at the end of the level, you're rated on your winning margin. Merely winning only gives you one star; to reach more stars (up to the maximum of five), you have to win by increasingly large margins, which often involves constructing deviously complicated traps or mazes for your opponents. (In fact, in some ways, the maps where you have limited mana are easier to optimize than the maps where you have a large amount of mana, since there's a much smaller number of possibilities you have to consider.) The Kongregate hard badge is very well-chosen: you have to collect 100 stars over the 25 game levels, so you don't have to get a perfect on every level, but rather can try to optimize certain levels and leave aside other levels which may be too tricky. Getting the four- and five-star ratings can be frustrating at times, though, since often you'll need to stop time at just the right moment to place a barrier to thwart your foes, and if you miss you may have to start over again.

As far as presentation goes, the game is nothing special; the graphics and sound are pretty basic, and there's no background music, just some soothing forest noises. Overall, though, this is a solid enough idea that I don't mind the lack of flash at all; it's a very clever idea, and the individual puzzles are all well thought out. It'll require you to think, but does an excellent job of being challenging without being frustrating. I enjoyed this game very much, and would much rather see thoughtful, clever games like this get badges than overproduced but terribly-designed games like Epic War 2.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

StormWinds 1.5

At first glance, StormWinds appears to be a pretty typical survival shooter game -- you buy turrets, then waves of enemies attack, and you shoot them with your turrets. In between rounds, you have the chance to upgrade your turrets. Overall, it seems like a pretty standard formula, and I don't really find a generic survival shooter to be that entertaining. However, StormWinds adds enough details to the basic formula to make a pretty interesting game; it's a nice lesson in how carefully crafting the details of your design can really add a lot to a game.

Anyway, in StormWinds, you first craft your defense by laying out your turrets. You typically have four or five slots in which you can place turrets, and careful consideration is important here. Some turrets are designated primary weapons, which means that they have a high enough rate of fire to use more or less continuously, while some are secondary weapons, which can only be fired once every so often (but usually pack a punch when they do); there are also support turrets which passively do useful things for the other turrets. Being able to quickly switch between turrets (since you can only be firing one at a time) is an important skill; it also means that there's not much point in having more than one primary weapon, except perhaps as a backup. Careful positioning of turrets is also important; high turrets are useful against high-altitude bombers and to lob projectiles on enemies from above, while lower turrets can be useful for attacking the less-protected underbellies of enemy ships. Forward turrets are more exposed to damage, so you'll want to stick something there which can soak up a lot of fire, and so forth. Turrets come in a wide variety of different types of destruction, and are often operated differently: some turrets are as simple to use as clicking where you want to shoot, whereas others lob projectiles or even fire guided missiles; these latter types are harder to use but can be quite useful in certain situations.

Once you've built your defense, the enemy comes in. There's a wide variety of enemy types, and not all of them can simply be shot. Many enemies have strong or weak points, so careful aiming is important; later, you'll encounter enemies which may be entirely shielded from fire from one direction, so having guns that can hit them from unexpected angles is not only useful, but necessary. Your turrets will take damage as they are hit by the enemy, and it's not at all uncommon to end a wave with one or more turrets out of commission entirely (though, of course, if all of your turrets are disabled, then you lose), so you'll need to plan for this contingency. Between battles, you can repair your turrets, buy new turrets, sell your existing turrets, or upgrade your turrets. This last requires your turrets to gain experience (every kill grants experience to all turrets currently on the battlefield); as your turrets gain levels, you gain upgrade points to spend on an upgrade. This often creates a dilemma about whether you should spend your money to buy a shiny new powerful turret even though it starts at level 1 again, or hang on to your older turret which has already gained several levels.

The game offers five campaigns, each of which contains 10 successive waves. Overall the game moves quite quickly; unlike many survival shooters, which tend to be pretty slow (possibly because of the popularity of zombies), each wave is pretty fast-moving and also doesn't last very long, so it won't take you too long to make it through the campaigns. One occasional nuisance is that you may reach the later waves of a campaign and realize that the mix of turrets you've gone with simply doesn't work; this may require you to begin the campaign again from scratch. (Should you be defeated, however, you just begin again from the start of the wave, so you can also try different tactics to see if you have any better luck.) However, once you've figured out which turrets make the best combinations, the game is actually pretty easy; I breezed through the last campaign, which is supposed to be the hardest, without too much difficulty at all. In addition to the campaigns, there's also a few standalone challenges, which just consist of one (usually long) wave with some special properties.

Graphically, the game is very well-designed; the game has an overall steampunk aesthetic, and the individual ships, turrets, and backgrounds are all very well-crafted. The sound effects are a little repetitive, but they're also probably above average; the music is nicely martial, though, like so many games, it gets repetitive eventually. The interface is solid, although it seems like the hotkeys for selecting turrets change in different campaigns, which is a little annoying (although you can change the defaults).

Overall, StormWinds is a fun little game. It's probably a little bit too easy once you figure out an optimal strategy, although it can be quite tricky to figure that out, but it does a good job of keeping the action flowing. It probably won't take you a terribly long time to finish everything the game has to offer, but it's definitely a fun little challenge.

Friday, January 09, 2009


After playing and enjoying Warbears Adventures (review here), I figured I might as well try the original, since, after all, there was a badge attached. While Warbears is, at its heart, also a point-and-click adventure, it's actually a much different game from Warbears Adventures -- it's much more involved, complicated, and difficult.

The first thing that you notice about Warbears that sets it apart from a typical point-and-click adventure is that you have a four-man team (although only three are present at the beginning), and some of the puzzles require your team members to work together, as each has his own specialty. (This ability does seem somewhat underused, though; most of the time the team members are still working independently.) The game is also harsher than Warbears Adventures, or indeed most other typical point-and-click adventures on Kongregate; it is quite possible to die, and if you should die, you have to restart from the beginning, which is kind of annoying. (Fortunately, there seem to be fewer opportunities to perish in the later stages of the game, which definitely lessens the annoyance.)

The puzzles are quite tricky -- it'll take a lot of careful thought (and probably a few deaths) before you finally make your way through the puzzle. That said, it is quite solvable, though I did experience a few frustrating moments where I seemed to be out of possible actions and had to poke around for a bit before stumbling upon the correct solution. The interface is also a little awkward -- after clicking on a Warbear to select him, you move him by clicking arrows below him, which can get rather annoying when you're trying to move long distances. There are also a few times where dexterity is required, which is nice, but the interface for fighting is really awkward and confusing -- it could really use some documentation or explanation. Fortunately, it's not too difficult to win the fights just by fumbling around. The game also gives you point bonuses for accomplishing certain deeds, and also occasionally assigns penalties if it takes you several tries to accomplish a task you should have accomplished on your first try, so even if you beat the game, you can try replaying it to get a higher score.

The graphics are high quality -- the game does a good job of fitting a lot of action onto a single screen without it feeling crowded or cluttered, which is no mean feat, although like Warbears Adventures, the text is awfully small and hard to read. The writing is also pretty good, and does a good job of interspersing humorous moments into the game. There's no background music through most of the game, although there is some intro and ending music. The sound effects are also definitely better than your typical Flash game; there's a lot of distinct effects which are appropriate to the action. There is, however, no save feature, so you'll have to play the game in one sitting (or, alternatively, until you die, and then you can take a break).

Overall, Warbears is a very well-crafted puzzle, and quite a challenge to beat; if it weren't for having to restart upon death (instead of, say, just being able to undo) or other bad things happening, I would definitely give this game a 5/5. Unfortunately, it's just a little too frustrating to have to repeat the game when you screw up. Still, it's a good designed game which was quite the pleasure to finish.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Sometimes, after having finished a time-consuming badge, I look around for another game to play, but don't really feel like going for another badge, so my eye wanders to the "Hot New Games" section of the Kongregate front page to see if there's anything that looks interesting. In this case, it was Square2Ball that my eye landed on. Of course, the Hot New Games section is somewhat of a crapshoot; while Square2Ball is not a bad game, it kind of lacks anything that makes it really distinctive.

Square2Ball is a puzzle game with a familiar format -- you have to get a ball to the exit by pressing the arrow keys. When you press an arrow key, the ball keeps moving in that direction until it runs into a barrier, at which point it stops and you can move it again. The barriers come in various rectangular sizes; some are quite large and some are very small. You also can click on a barrier to cause it to temporarily disappear, but you only have a limited number of clicks that you can use in a given level, and it can only be applied to one barrier at a time (that is, clicking on a second barrier will cause the first one to reappear). Later levels introduce unclickable blocks and keys which unlock purple blocks; nothing too out of the ordinary there.

The game offers a total of 35 puzzles (20 "easy" and 15 "hard"), but even the hardest levels are vastly less complicated than, say, Excit, so none of the levels should take you too long to solve. They are generally well-designed, though; the solutions require at least some cleverness and none of them has any terrible flaws (at least that I can see). The graphics are pretty basic (and the text is, to be honest, kind of ugly); there's no sound, but there is incredibly repetitive background music which will probably drive you crazy in short order.

Anyway, while Square2Ball is not a bad game, there's not quite enough present to make it a really interesting game, either. It'll definitely give you a bit of a challenge, but not too much, and is nice as a quick distraction, but don't expect it to provide entertainment for hours.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Epic War 2

more like epic bore 2 amirite? lol

Sorry about that. But after going through the dreary slog that is this game, I suddenly felt disinclined to spend any more time on it. Nevertheless, I suppose I should write something at least a little more literate, so here we go. Anyway, as you can probably deduce from the title, Epic War 2 is a sequel to Epic War (review here), and features very similar action. However, a few cripplingly bad design decisions mean that, instead of being a decent if overly slow and long game like Epic War, Epic War 2 ends up being a terrible and overly slow and long game.

I totally don't understand Kongregate's challenge policies. Epic War 2 got badges and a challenge almost immediately after its release, less than two weeks after Kingdom of the Wind, a very similar game by the same developer, had also gotten a challenge and badges, while seemingly much more deserving games (with functional API, as far as I can tell) continue to languish. I can only guess that this is due to some sponsorship issues -- Epic War 2 is sponsored by Kongregate -- but this seems awfully shortsighted; Kongregate should be promoting the best games, not just the games that they sponsor, if they want people to keep coming back to Kongregate.

The gameplay action in Epic War 2 is not terribly different from the original. You have a castle at one side, and your enemy has a castle at the other side. You accumulate mana over time, which you use to buy units which march toward the enemy castle; your enemy similarly sends out units at you. They meet, and fight, and the object is to destroy your enemy's castle. You're also equipped with a arrow turret which you can use to shoot arrows at the enemy (just use the up and down arrow keys to adjust the angle of the turret). Winning a battle gains you XP, which you can use to research various upgrades between battles. Epic War 2 is also somewhat grander in its scope -- there are three playable races, each with its own set of units and upgrades, and a total of 18 battles, which can be fought with any of the three races (although elves are highly, highly recommended for the final battle). In addition to the race units, there are also six generic units which can be unlocked through various achievements and can be used by any race.

So, why is Epic War 2 so much worse than its predecessor? Well, remember how I mentioned that you can buy upgrades between battles? In Epic War 2, buying these upgrades doesn't actually upgrade your units or castle. Rather, it just gives you the right to spend mana during the battle to upgrade your units or castle -- you always start each battle with nothing except a small pool of mana and your race's most basic unit (and any units you've unlocked through achievements). This means that the beginning of every battle is exactly the same: you use your arrows to hold off the enemy (which they are entirely capable of doing, with only a tiny bit of skill required) while you patiently wait for your mana to accumulate, then buy all of the upgrades that you have. Only then can you actually send out an attack force at the enemy. This means that you're essentially completely wasting 5-10 minutes at the beginning of every battle. This is an annoyance that adds up very, very fast. (It's not helped by the fact that killing enemy units no longer gives you mana, nor can you upgrade your mana total or regeneration rate between battles, so the rate of mana accumulation is even slower than the original, where it was already pretty slow.) Worse, since each of the three races accumulates XP separately, you'll have to replay many of the levels if you want to level them all up, so the game isn't just 18 levels, which is already way too long; it ends up being much, much longer than that if you're trying to get all the badges.

The game is also fundamentally kind of unbalanced. Because you have the arrows, which is a pretty big advantage, and the computer doesn't, the computer has to cheat to make up for it -- it usually has better units available than you do, it can send out units in packs, which you can't do, and when you get the enemy castle half-destroyed, the computer usually sends out a huge wave of units as a counterattack. This has the primary effect of lengthening the battle even more, since then your attack force gets destroyed, you have to destroy the enemy wave, and then you have to build up another attack force, adding more time to what was already a very long mission. (That said, reducing the arrow power would make the game even more terribly long, so that's clearly not a solution, either.)

Epic War 2 is undeniably a pretty game -- there's clearly a lot of effort put into the art; the units, backgrounds, and castles are all very good. However, the price of all this is that the game does bog down terribly when too many units are on screen; this effect can be somewhat alleviated by reducing quality, but it's still pretty slow. The sound effects are pretty average, but the music isn't bad. One nice touch is that the music shifts when the conditions of battle change -- when you're mounting a strong attack, or the enemy is posing a grave threat, the music changes appropriately. This is a very good feature (although occasionally it can get a little silly as the music shifts back and forth several times within the space of a minute or so). However, balancing this out is the writing -- unlike its predecessor, Epic War 2 features a plot (which is, at least, appropriately epic), but the writing is abysmal. It reads like LOTR fanfic written by a 14-year-old with a not very good grasp of English. Frankly, the plot adds nothing to the game.

Anyway, while you may enjoy the first few levels of Epic War 2, it very rapidly becomes a tedious grind, and the more you look at it, the more its design flaws become apparent. It's also true that this is the third game with the same basic format that I've played from this developer, and they all seem to be getting worse; it's really time for him to change the formula. There's clearly talent as far as the art and programming goes, but the design is simply not up to par in Epic War 2.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Terrascape is another game by NegativeONE, the developer behind Newgrounds Rumble (review here), and the two games share quite a bit of similarity; while Terrascape bills itself as a "Adventure-Platformer-Brawler hybrid", let's just say that as an adventure platformer, it's a very good brawler.

Anyway, so the basic brawling action is pretty much the same as in Newgrounds Rumble -- you move, jump, and have strong and weak attacks; these can be nicely chained into combos, but apparently only in the air. You can also pick up items which give you magic spells. The game offers a couple of modes; there's a couple of variations on straight fighting, and then the story mode, in which you have to battle your way through three different stages to claim an ancient artifact. Each of the stages is quite short and simple, though, so most of the content in story mode is still pretty much beating people up. Most of the rest of story mode consists of falling off platforms and having to start over again, which is kind of annoying. There's also hidden coins in story mode which you can collect to unlock the full power of the artifact; however, when I tried collecting them, it seemed kind of glitchy -- it would sometimes fail to record coins I was sure I had gotten. Some of the coins are also extremely difficult to find -- they require taking a leap of faith off the edge of the screen into areas that aren't automatically revealed by scrolling, which is really annoying.

Overall, the brawling action is solid -- your characters have a variety of moves and the animation is good, but you don't need to be particularly skilled to triumph; since there's not a lot of different things you can do, a pretty straightforward button-mashing strategy can carry you through the game without too much difficulty. The graphics are good; the characters are each well-realized and each of the four different story mode worlds does a good job creating a distinct feeling. The sounds are pretty run-of-the-mill; the music is nicely varied, but does get a little repetitive.

Terrascape isn't a long game -- you can probably complete story mode in 15 minutes or so, simply because there just isn't too much substance there. While the core fighting action is not bad, the adventure components of the game just aren't well-developed enough to be really interesting. Overall, it would probably benefit from a stronger focus on one aspect of the game rather than trying to be several things at once.