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.