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.