Friday, March 16, 2012


Browser Rousers is, at least for a little while, going on a break. I need to finish other projects before I concentrate on these reviews again, which take up a fair amount of time each week. Give me a month or so and I'll be back, no worries.

Wanna know what I'm doing? Check out Dragomir's Diary, my primary storytelling focus. It has to do with video games in at least a token fashion.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Super Pig

As repeat readers of Browser Rousers have probably learned by now, I dislike posting reviews for games I haven't beaten. It's difficult to provide a well-rounded overview of a game when you haven't poked into all the requisite nooks and crannies - and besides, I like the feeling of beating a game.

Super Pig, though? Nope. Ain't happenin', ladies and gents. I didn't even come close to beating this jerkass of a game, and I doubt most of you will, either, unless you have a loooot of time to waste.


Super Pig is your run-of-the-mill porker. He doesn't want much out of life, aside from saving his girlfriend from, er, a certain period of the month... and he's willing to brave darkened corridors full of dangers to aid her.

And die in the attempt.






Who cares about the story, really. It's a play on periods. Yar har har, fantastic. It's throwaway - though it also PERFECTLY fits the theme of Super Pig, which is to paint invisible obstacles red with Super Pig's blood. That's really the only legitimate way to beat this game: run around invisible corridors until you hit spikes or an enemy, die, note the obstacles that have been unveiled by Super Pig's sprayed blood, then avoid 'em on your next life. Hurrah!

I sound sarcastic, but the concept behind Super Pig actually IS pretty novel. Have you ever played a game before where your death paves the way to survival? Assuming you can't remember where trouble spots are with memory alone? I sure haven't.


Super Pig is a precision game. Unveiling traps is not enough to ensure survival: you also need to circumvent 'em on your return trip. And, given that this game is billed as REALLY REALLY HARD, you can imagine that the controls are not ideal.

This is half true and half false. Super Pig is actually highly responsive to your commands, and will gleefully sprint at high speeds or leap to heights unknown by the average porcine hero. That said, Super Pig's sensitivity is a detriment to your survival in many cases, as he'll overshoot your intentions and crash into his untimely demise if you're even a little off on your calculations. What a pain.

I will give the programmer one thing, however: he (she? not sure) saw fit to include a few different jumping keys at variable strengths. If you just want a tiny jump, for example, hitting X will cause Super Pig to let loose a tiny hop rather than his normal high jump. Going through entire levels after dying is an ENORMOUS pain, so every little bit of help is appreciated.


Super Pig consists of roughly three things: the pig, the pig's girlfriend, and gore-covered environments in-between the two. Nothing spectacular, though again, I like the idea of unveiling platforms and spikes and so forth through the use of spattering blood. I'm sick like that.


A few goofy voices and ambient sounds aside, most of Super Pig's audio is invested in a) a level select and menu song that reminds me of SNES racing games and b) a constantly-repeating tune, more or less the game's primary theme, that runs whenever you're playing through a level. The music is very retro, which I dig, though listening to that same damn song constantly gets old.

Challenge Rating

Super Pig is, without doubt, one of the hardest games I've ever played. It was MADE with the sole purpose of preventing players from ever getting to the end, and the game more or less admits as much before you start playing. There's a reason the levels have names like 'Ragequit'.

You. Will. Ragequit.

That said, Super Pig is a teensy bit more forgiving than I make it sound. The levels I played ARE all solvable, for starters; you just need a lot of patience. And, to make up for Super Pig's extreme vulnerability, you don't HAVE to touch your girlfriend on each level to proceed. Get close enough and you'll win automatically.

Still, though? Freakishly hard. Even with God Mode activated, which strips away the lives system and lets you splatter yourself all over the place. Once you do that it's less a challenge and more an endurance trial.


Super Pig... good idea. Fun. Interesting. Innovative, at least to me. But not a game most people will like, because, as the game boldly declares, only a handful of people have ever actually beaten the damn thing:

And I, for one, will not run this gamut long enough to come even REMOTELY close to beating it.

Cheers, Super Pig. I hope you get your girlfriend some day.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Pandemic: American Swine

I've long enjoyed the Pandemic series, particularly Pandemic II. It's a classic game, despite its Madagascarian hangups, and worth trotting out every once and a while for another go. And, given its popularity online, I always wondered when a third installment might appear.

... turns out it already has. This time, though, it's focusing solely on the United States - and rather than being the disease, you're in charge of the cure. Consequently, I found this game to be much less interesting to play.


Unlike the previous Pandemic games, you're burdened with a very specific ailment in American Swine: swine flu. (Duh.) And, also unlike the other games, AMERICAN Swine focuses entirely on the United States. Probably a good thing, as well - keeping tracking of every area in every country around the world would prove hellish. (And wouldn't make sense. Countries don't band together THAT much under a crisis.)

American Swine more or less gives you control of the United States internal and external policy on all matters related to disease control. This includes, but is not limited to: vaccination research, deployment of the army, opening and closing borders to tourism, spin control for the media and, in severe cases, bombing infected cities into the ground to prevent the spread of the flu. It's a heavily-nuanced game, but the various facets are easy to understand with a bit of practice.

... but, again, I find it much less interesting than before.

Maybe I'm deranged in some fundamental way, but the Pandemic games are a lot more fun when you're playing as the disease. Once you become the center of a curative effort much of the fun is sucked out of the game, and it becomes little more than another resource-allocation effort. A solid one, at that, but... nothing terribly innovative or interesting.


Heeeeeeere mousy mousy mousy.


American Swine is visually similar to Pandemic II in that it's a giant map in various shades of green and orange, depending on the severity of the flu in the American states. This new game sports more advanced icons in each state to represent different services, however, and combining that with nicer-looking menus makes it an overall more attractive game than Pandemic II.


American Swine, like Pandemic II, relies on a single, repeating track to emphasize the threat of contamination, though in this case it's an operatic doom-and-gloom piece. It sounds nice, yes, but it seems a little out of place, given the setting of the game, and even if it was suitable it gets tiresome over time. Change it up depending on the severity of the pandemic, perhaps?

Challenge Rating

Like Pandemic II, most of the review meat for American Swine will come right here. How tough is this game?

Answer: it depends on your difficulty setting. Normal, though moderately troublesome, is fairly easy. Move up from there and you'll have a hell of a lot of trouble containing the flu. The gap between the difficulties is perhaps a little too huge for my tastes, but there you are.

The primary troublemaker in American Swine is the Panic indicator. As things get worse and press reports on your progress become more dire, the Panic indicator will rise. If absolutely every living soul in American Swine is panicked, it's game over. I found that Panic was the big separator between Normal and Hard: in Normal it seldom rises at all, whereas in Hard it jumps up at near-unfair intervals. Given the amount of money you're allocated each month, it seems damn near impossible to keep everyone happy.

Like Pandemic II, American Swine will eventually get to a point where you'll ignore the game and wait for the inevitable conclusion as sick people die off, leaving only the healthy, immunized population behind. Panic is no longer an issue. I have trouble ranking a game as good when ignoring it for long stretches is part of the required game play, but really, you won't have to watch American Swine at work all the time. There's little point.

(I'd also like to make note of the fact that MILLIONS OF PEOPLE DYING in some states doesn't seem to faze the population much, especially in Normal. I dropped a neutron bomb on Colorado Springs just for fun, and the Panic indicator didn't bat an eyelash. Maybe that was a glitch? Heartless, America, heartless.)

In Conclusion?

Pandemic: American Swine is a good enough game. It's largely glitch-free, it boasts an interesting, workable system of game mechanics, and it takes up more free time than your average browser game.

That said... it's just not as interesting as murdering the world with a customized parasite. Know what I mean?


Friday, March 9, 2012

Castle Commander

I've noticed in the last year that there seem to be a whole lot more RTS games available for browser-based consumption. This makes me happy, as I adore the RTS genre, and always get a kick out of obliterating an opponent with huge armies.

Castle Commander tickles that urge to a degree. Not as much as I would like, perhaps, but enough that I'd play it again in the future. Probably.


Bad mojo has befallen the kingdom of Davana. The land is sinking, and with the king dead the various factions have fallen to civil war. You, the king's heir, need to reunite the kingdom under a single rule (duh, yours) and grant your people the land they so desperately need by stealing from other people. What a nice fellow you are.

This plot boils down to a series of RTS maps. In each map you start with one or more castles, and you need to lead your constantly-spawning troops to victory against the enemy by stealing various fortifications along the way. Conquer every castle on a particular map and you'll move on to the next, gaining some prize money that you can spend on spells to make the whole process smoother.


Browser programmers have long struggled to create RTS games with convincing controls, and Castle Commander continues to hit the same potholes as developers in the past. The majority of the game is controlled by mouse: click on a unit and you now control it. Click and drag over several units and you control all of them. Click on a destination and they'll go there, fighting everything on the way.

Where's the problem? Well, it's twofold:

- First, clicking doesn't always work. USUALLY it does, every now and then your troops will wind up heading in exactly the wrong direction. Given the swiftness of the levels this is a very bad thing.

- And, second, you can't unclick. Once you've selected troops, you'd best pick a place for the to go. This is also true of accidentally clicking spells, as you're now forced to cast to move on and do something else.

The resulting experience isn't terribly problematic, but it's irksome. Still some work needed here.


Castle Commander is visually run-of-the-mill. Everything's cartoony. Nice cartoony, but cartoony nevertheless. I appreciate that they tried to vary the game's presentation with four different sets of soldiers and a few different environments for you to fight on, but overall there's a lot of repetition in this game.


Epic, thundering soundtrack, which for the most part is rather generic. Not bad, not terribly good. I will make one concession to the happy acoustic tune that plays whenever you enter the store, however - I've been listening to it strum as I write this review. Never gets old.

Challenge Rating

This is the area where RTS browser games always seem to stumble. Is Castle Commander difficult? I say, no, it's not hard at all.

I'll admit that I had to restart levels once or twice. If you don't move swiftly to take castles, you'll get trounced by the enemy. There's some strategy in knowing which castles to conquer first, and which defensive positions to hold before you stream out into the wider world to complete the level. But, uh, there's one thing... or one set of things... that makes Castle Commander consistently easy: the spells.

I'm fine with extra powers in RTS games. Having them in Castle Commander is nothing new. It IS problematic, however, that the spells are so damned powerful. Take Bloodlust, for example: it hits a group of your troops with extra speed and attack strength, allowing them to plow through enemies with greater ease. This spell is SO GOOD that this same group, especially if you decide to heal 'em along the way, can take out three or four enemy groups of equal number before dying. That's a ridiculous boost in strength, and it lasts for a fair while.

(Don't even get me started on Infection. Stealing enemy units as they emerge from an enemy castle, thereby conquering the castle in the process, is well past the unfair line.)

My suggestion? Tone down the spells. Force players to choose between two or three per map. Or, to make things really interesting, allow the computers to use a few spells of their own. Castle Commander will otherwise prove too easy a game to be memorable.


Don't get me wrong, I had fun playing Castle Commander. It was a good way to waste half an hour. In general, though, I prefer RTS games that last LONGER than half an hour, and Castle Commander... yeah... yeeeeeah.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Working Stiffs



Yep, zombies. Another game about zombies. These things just ain't scary anymore. Hell, Working Stiffs paints them as rather funny blokes - though they're still after your brains.


Every zombie story paints the origins of the outbreak differently, though I don't think ANY of them, prior to Working Stiffs, depicted it as a computer virus. Nevertheless the lolcatz have managed to turn most of the workers in an office building into mindless zombies, and those few who escaped infection (ie. don't stare at their email all day) must escape.

What this amounts to is an RTS of sorts. You're given a small squad of humans in each stage, ranging from one to a dozen, and you need to lead them all to safety vis a vie stage exits. Weapons along the way will help them kill zombies, and various other items - keys and documents, mostly - are necessary to make it through the exit door. It's rather a neat twist on standard zombie games where you gain control of a single person and have to wade through hordes of the undead on your own, especially given that these poor saps are understandably AFRAID of being eaten and will run if they stray too close to enemies.


Working Stiffs requires dual use of a mouse and a keyboard. The mouse, when clicked and move, will force nearby survivors to follow the path you've set, allowing you to swiftly dodge them around groups of zombies. The arrow keys allow you to scroll the map and see what's coming. Easy enough...

... in theory. In practice, Working Stiffs is a little problematic when it comes to controls. The fact that you can move the survivors about quickly is nice, and you'll usually get them past tight spots without trouble. Unfortunately, because you don't have pinpoint control over EVERY survivor at once, they're prone to run into walls or get stuck on objects you'd rather they avoid. This can prove particularly grating if you're in a race against the clock.

My biggest gripe, however, stems from changing weapons. Whenever a survivor comes across a weapon (or some other items), they'll pick it up immediately. Come across another and you'll have to hover the survivor over the item for a few seconds before they swap what they're carrying. A good mechanic for one person, perhaps, but when you have a cluster of survivors and you're trying to get only one to pick something up, you'll have to fight with the controls to achieve the desired result. And, yes, you can opt to move only one character at a time, but when you're stuck in a hallway full of zombies, your other survivors are likely to dash in and screw up your efforts.


Working Stiffs hovers staunchly in the SNES range graphically, and I'm fine with that. The environments are fairly varied, and filled with appropriately office-ish stuff, and everything looks more or less as it should. I would, however, like more variation in the survivors and the zombies - you're more or less staring at the same handful of sprites for the entire game.


Generic horror stuff that blends into the background for music, generic screams and haunting calls for 'braaaains' for ambient sounds. Meh.

Challenge Rating

Working Stiffs is a game about overcoming great obstacles in the pursuit of survival. In most levels you're forced to bypass rather significant amounts of zombies to proceed - as it should be. A lot of people work in an office.

That saaaaaaid, Working Stiffs is surprisingly easy. There are only one or two genuinely difficult levels in the whole game, and even these are usually one-trick ponies that can be circumvented once you figure out the major threat. Your survivors are just too swift and too capable with their firearms, not to mention aided by various other environmental factors, not to survive. What's more, you don't typically have a required survival limit, so as long as at least one person gets to the exit you'll proceed to the next level. A prerequisite for survival would ramp up the difficulty.


Working Stiffs is a solid game. Not too difficult, but more than innovative enough that it should prove satisfying to most RTS fans, let alone zombie lovers. Recommended.


Monday, March 5, 2012

The Love Letter

If there's one schoolyard romance cliche that's never going to fade, it's the love letter. True, most kids probably send each other love texts or PMs or whatever these days, but the idea is the same: one blossoming adolescent sending a token of their affection to another blossoming adolescent. Will they find true love? Or will one reject the other? That's kinda the point of The Love Letter - though it could also be a condemnation of nosy-ass friends.


You are the most popular boy in school (public, catholic, high, low, not sure what it is). You have tons of friends who will chat with you at the drop of a hat - and this is problematic, because you've just received a love letter from a mysterious girl. You need to read the letter and discover the details of her love... but you have only five minutes to do so before second period, and privacy is somewhat lacking in crowded school hallways.

That, then, is the point of The Love Letter: read the letter, in five minutes, without anyone discovering your furtive perusal. A novel concept, if not the most exciting, though the excitement comes more from the game's 'awwwwww' factor than standard browser game stuff.


The Love Letter offers two control schemes: use the mouse or use the arrow keys. Click with one to read the letter when no one's watching, or hold down SPACE for the other. (Or use a combo, up to you.) I prefer using the arrow keys, myself, as you seldom need swift motions to beat The Love Letter, and I found myself getting stuck on walls while using the mouse.


Pure retro, baby. The Love Letter is just another throwback title to add to the pile. The graphics are hardly glamourous, but they're clean and interesting enough for a game that only lasts five minutes.


The Love Letter has two MIDI-ized tracks: one that's a kind of standard jaunty tune, and one that's token luv. They're alright, nothing special.

Challenge Rating

The Love Letter is one of the easiest browser games I've ever played. There are lots of students roaming the halls, true, and they do seem to home in on your position while you're trying to read, but once you get the hang of corralling the little bastards on one side of the map while you run to the other reading the letter becomes a cake walk. I don't think extreme difficulty was foremost in the programmer's mind - this is supposed to be a swift, sweet romance, not an endurance trial.


The Love Letter is a tiny, interactive story, and not much else. You'll probably play this once, read the letter, meet the girl, suggest it to a friend or two, then forget it exists. Hardly a terrible experience, but not memorable, either. (That said, this mechanic COULD be used to craft a more difficult multi-level game without much trouble, and that might be more interesting to play.)


Friday, March 2, 2012


Ever wanted to play a game of Tetris that isn't Tetris? Well, you've got thousands of alternatives, some of them good, some of them bad. Drops is just another game to add to the pile - though you can probably drop it in the 'good' pile. Neither extensive nor terribly attractive, Drops is, nevertheless, a damn solid experience.


There's no story to Drops, as far as I can tell, so let's just skip to the game play. You are a platform, and a dedicated platform, at that, as you've decided to prevent any of the blocks raining down from the heavens (literally) from falling into what is, presumably, an endless abyss below. Unfortunately, squares and rectangles and circles and triangles don't always FIT together, so you need to maneuver yourself in such a way that they all manage to remain more or less upright - and once they've all descended, you need to keep them stable for at least three seconds.

Yep. Drops is a high speed puzzler. You've seen its like before - though to be fair I don't know if I've played a game where you need to balance the blocks rather than eliminating 'em. Points for turning Jenga into a computer game under a different name, after a fashion?


Couldn't be easier. Left takes the platform left, right takes the platform right. Huzzah!


Drops isn't a pretty game, but it's not an ugly game, either. I'd call it the ultimate in basic: it provides more or less the bare minimum necessary (plus some attractive clouds and rocky terrain in the background) to get by. And, in all fairness, it doesn't really need anything else. Thumbs up? Thumbs up.


Aside from the occasional Egyptian-esque theme when you complete a level and a few extra sound effects for flavour, Drops relies on rainfall and thunder for a soundtrack. I'm totally cool with that, as I love listening to thunderstorms.

Challenge Rating

Drops is a tricky game, but unlike a lot of other dropping puzzlers it's not a play-until-you-canna-play-no-more affair. There are twenty levels, each a little more difficult than the last, and though you'll screw up fairly often they're never so long that starting over is an arduous chore. Irritating, perhaps, but if you screwed up then it's your own damned fault.

I have but two complaints in terms of difficulty:

1.) Most of the later levels are fairly hard, but there are one or two that are stunningly easy. Reshuffle the order a bit, perhaps?

2.) The further you get in the game, the more you'll come across red blocks that will 'explode' upon making contact with another red block. ('Explode' because it's more of a pop and a rejection of each other than an actual explosion.) I'm fine with the mechanic itself, though every now and then the blocks would pop WITHOUT making contact with another red block. A rarity, this, but still aggravating.

Overall? Drops is pretty fair. Puzzlers should enjoy the challenge of wrestling with physics.


Drops ain't gonna blow anyone out of the water. It will, however, provide a nice, roughly twenty-minute-long diversion, and it's more than good enough to warrant a sequel or two. I approve and recommend.