Monday, April 30, 2012

Pestilence Z

I've been waiting, for a long time, for a good zombie-based RPG to come out. Zombie games are typically shooters or survival horror deals - for obvious reasons - and the genre could use some branching.

As far as I can remember, Pestilence Z is the first zombie RPG I've ever played. (Feel free to argue that if you've read the archives. I honestly can't remember.) First GOOD one? Ehhh... that's debatable. Pestilence Z ain't bad, but it could use some work.


Pestilence Z is like any zombie movie. You're a survivor in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Time to   escape your home and fight your way through massive mobs of the undead. There's a bit of a plot involved, mainly in getting to the home of a doctor who may be linked to the outbreak (read: probably), but for the most part it's an out-and-out survival-fest.

One with surprisingly high numbers of zombie fatalities. Run away? Meh. You're a one-man-woman-whatever wrecking machine.

As the screencap above hints, you can choose to be one of three people: a sexy nurse, a high school jock, or an army vet. (I, naturally, chose the nurse.) Each has different starting stats, skill progressions and specialties, and each appears differently in cut scenes. Consequently, each play through IS a fair bit different from the last, though the main goal is, as always, to blow the shite out of zombies.

And how do you do that? Via turn-based, strategic combat. The game is laid out in a series of grids, allowing you to move only a few spaces each turn before the zombies get to move. Once you get caught in battle with zombies (which can be done from a distance or at close range), you duke it out in long- or short-ranged combat with a variety of weapons. As is typical with RPGs, new weapons are scattered all over the place, and skills earned while leveling make killing zombies a little easier.

Yep. Pestilence Z is a bonafide zombie RPG. One that could use some spell checking, true, but a zombie RPG nevertheless.


As far as I can tell, you can't play Pestilence Z without a mouse. There are tons of menus, and you have to click on the map to make your character move. That said, many of the in- and out of-combat actions have hot keys that greatly speed up game play. Entire battles can be waged without touching the mouse.  Be careful using these keys, as it's easy to accidentally hit the wrong one. 

The primary issue as far as control is concerned lays in the turn-based nature of Pestilence Z. When you're on the map, it's a very slow game. Your character can only move two squares at a time when there are zombies about, which means there's a hell of a walk from one side of the screen to the next. This isn't so bad when the zombies ALSO move towards you, but there always seems to be one or two on each screen who refuse to budge. Either you hoof it to them or you tolerate a long, annoying search when looking for items in boxes or shelves or whatnot.


It's hard to classify Pestilence Z's visuals, because they're both 'good' and 'meh' at the same time. Everything is clean and identifiable, there's a lot of variety in the surrounding environments, and the artwork is many steps above other browser-based games. I give extra points to the menu symbols, which are all easy to identify thanks to efficiently-drawn symbols.

And the meh? Again, it's a matter of speed. Everything looks and feels sluggish. There's no sense of urgency in this zombie apocalypse. The zombies never feel alive, which is an odd thing to say about the undead. Even your survivor seems detached from the whole scenario. I know RPGs can be slow, but this... this needs a few jolts of excitement.

Also? More variety. Seeing the same six or seven zombies over and over and over is so damn blech.


Pestilence Z is, by far, weakest in the sound department. There's a tiny handful of subdued songs, none of which real capture the flavour of the end of the world, and almost no sound effects. No groans, no fleshy thumps of a bat, no crazed screams... the best you'll ever get is the rat-a-tat-tat of a gun. The outbreak is devoid of menace without sound.

Challenge Rating

Because it has four different difficulty levels, Pestilence Z's challenge rating can fluctuate. I played it on Normal and it was fairly easy, with lots of findable weapons, med kits, ammunition and armour. That doubtless changes on more fiendish play-throughs, granting the game more replay value. Expect to take at least a couple hours for each complete circuit of the game.

Problem is, most run-of-the-mill RPG players probably won't replay Pestilence Z. The combat system is way too tedious and repetitive to maintain much interest, regardless of a different character choice. Movement alone will keep me from touching Pestilence Z again, or at least not for a long time - and if I DO replay it, I'll focus all of my efforts on head shots and one-hit-kills. They speed up the game significantly.

Oh, and one major problem for an RPG: though Pestilence Z allows for game saving, once you refresh the screen the save game disappears. No saving in cache. Thumbs down.


This game doesn't knock the zombie genre out of the ballpark, nor does it grant much innovation to RPGs in general. Hell, it didn't even seem that strategic to me, despite the grid system. Pestilence Z IS still a decent game, however, and level-grinding fanatics will probably enjoy the pace.    

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Super Mario Summary

Video games have come a long way since the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES, yet they always seem to wind up returning to that one, iconic game. (Understandably so - SMB is hella fun.) Nowhere is this more true than with Flash programmers, and, thus, we have yet another SMB-esque game: A Super Mario Summary.

A Super Mario Summary was created as an entry for the Ludum Dare competition. The goal is to make an entire video game in 48 hours. That's a tough prospect for even the strongest programmers, assuming those programmers actually care about playability.

This little entry tackles a rather novel idea: it compresses the levels of SMB into single-screen puzzle platformers, forcing the player to guide Mario to the flagpole on the right side of the level. Each screen is an homage to a level in the original game, so expect to find the same hazards as you would in SMB: goombas, koopas, bullet bills, whirling fireball chains, Bowser... the usual. It's a groovy enough concept, and for a game created in 48 hours A Super Mario Summary is rather impressive...

... but, overall, this isn't the best Flash game in the world.

When he's just walking and jumping, Mario controls well. Smooth controlling allows for precision jumping, and precision jumping is kiiiiinda important for a Mario game. It would be nice to just hit up rather than the Space bar to jump, but that's a minor complaint.

What irked me most about the controls was the rebound factor. Take the springboards as an example: you need to hit Space at exactly the right moment to make the damn things work. Like, EXACTLY the right moment. Otherwise, Mario performs a tiny hop and flops to his doom. The same goes for bopping off the heads of enemies to reach new heights, which is ESSENTIAL for beating one of the levels. Grr.

I should also point out that Mario is a little glitchy. He likes to lodge himself in walls every now and then, and occasionally the pint-sized plumber vibrates uncontrollably, as though he's performing a bunch of teensy jumps. Hardly game-killing, but annoying.

The visuals here are charming. I can't think of a better word to describe the experience. They're better than the original Mario in that they allow for more detail, yet they're rendered with a minimalist eye. I would have liked a bit more animation for some of the enemies, but, meh. No biggie.

Bop, ka-ching, beeooooo. Yep, A Super Mario Summary is all about sound effects. There's no music anywhere. The lack of background music seems to deflate the experience, turning an otherwise decent Mario game into a hollow experience. I hadn't realized how much I relied on the classic Mario tunes to enjoy the game. And, yes, it would be damn difficult to compose all new tunes in 48 hours, but why not just ask for permission to use somebody's remixes? Or, hell, stick the original songs in the game? I know rights are always an issue, but it's not like Nintendo seems to care about Flash programmers using their property. If they did, Super Mario Bros. Crossover surely would not exist.

Challenge Rating
Theoretically, A Super Mario Summary should be about as difficult as SMB. And, to an extent, this is true - but only if you try and collect every coin in the game, as well as hit the top of every flagpole. Performing both of these tasks without getting hit is fiendishly tricky. Especially when jumping off enemies is so hard. (I'll be honest, it seemed impossible to collect some of the coins. Maybe I just don't spend enough time puzzling over puzzles...?)

If you just want to see all the levels, however, A Super Mario Summary is pretty dang easy. There are a couple challenging bits, but for the most part it's just a matter of running and jumping to the other side of the screen. In some late levels it's ridiculously easy if you ignore getting the coins up top, 'cause the challenge was clearly balanced just to make the coins hard to collect. A little more balance in the other direction is advisable.

A Super Mario Summary looks better than a game created in 48 hours normally would, and with some tinkering it could easily stand among those titles that took months to program. As it is now, it's more a fun novelty than a super-awesome game. Still worth playing if you enjoy SMB, however.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kill the Heroes

It's nice to see the bad guys get more of a spotlight in recent fiction. Yes, it's fun to uphold truth, justice and the American way and all that nonsense, but it's ALSO fun to trash the truth, thwart justice and spit on the American way.

(No offense, American readers. I'M not doing the spitting.)

Thus it is that Kill the Heroes, which is VERY aptly named, came into being. Guess what you wind up doing?


Kill the Heroes begins as an amnesiac awakens in a high-tech facility. Groggy and disoriented, he finds and dons a rather villainous-looking outfit that he assumes is his own. Soon after a bevy of heavily-armed heroes try to infiltrate the facility and kill him. Cue a tower defense game! You must defend Mastermind, who just wants to be left alone!

... and possibly to kill people! There's always a chance.

Kill the Heroes has a surprisingly well-developed storyline for a Flash game. Not in the sense that it's terribly deep or complex, but that it's consistent. Every level is introduced with some dialogue, used primarily to showcase new weapons or abilities, and there is some interaction between characters that's occasionally funny. My favourite part of the story bits by FAR were the captions on the 'Next Message' buttons, which were usually sarcastic and/or remarkably apathetic to Mastermind's plight.

Plot aside, Kill the Heroes is a tower defense game with a twist. The heroes walk along a set track in a pre-determined pattern. You must set up defensive turrets, drones and traps to kill them. Their destination is Mastermind, the bulbous-brained fellow at the top of this screenshot:

Mastermind can shoot back and take a decent amount of damage, but leaving him exposed is a bad idea. Thus the game also includes a set of teleporters which, at the cost of a bit of money, allow Mastermind to zip from place to place in a hurry. The end result is as much a tower defense game as it is a quasi-shooter. Interesting combination, and fun to play.


Got a mouse? You're set. Click on stuff. The menus are unobtrusive and respond to clicks, so controls should seldom ever be an issue. I played the whole thing on a laptop trackpad without difficulty.


Kill the Heroes is kinda fifty-fifty on graphics:

- The characters are nifty. They don't move a hell of a lot, but I liked the chibi look. Mastermind himself is just about the goddamn weirdest-looking villain I've ever seen, and as a comic book fan, that's saying a lot.

- The backgrounds and environments are boring. The tracks all look the same. I don't know that variation would be appropriate to an industrial setting, but... bleh...

Final say? It looks okay. Not spectacular, not offensive. It's easy to keep characters and defenses sorted, which is probably the most important thing for tower defense.


The oratorical offering of this game is kinda bleh. There's one track throughout the majority of the game, a 'let's go kick some ass' tune that gets old after a while. Variety would be nice, but this is a free game so I won't complain too much, yadda yadda.

Challenge Rating

Kill the Heroes manages to hit a nice little difficulty sweet spot that's too high in some other tower defense games. It's challenging, but not impossibly so: the defenses and money provided are usually just enough to get you through a level with three stars. What's better, the game doesn't typically force you to use gadgets you'd rather avoid. All of them are useful throughout Kill the Heroes. And if you don't like how you upgraded your weaponry? No prob, you can reset your purchases.

That said, I found that upgrades made the game a little too easy. It's not that hard to earn stars for upgrades, and those upgrades - along with some proper placement - can shred enemies. The teleporter exacerbates this ease: for a rather paltry sum Mastermind can jump out of danger with little to no effort at all. In many cases it's just a matter of idly watching the heroes run the circuit, then hopping to another teleporter whenever they get too close. Whittle whittle whittle, success. Perhaps a cooldown time on the teleporter and applying upgrades would notch up the challenge?


I think I may actually have pointed out more flaws than high points, so believe me when I contradict myself: Kill the Heroes is a lot of fun. Every level presents a new challenge... literally... and playing through the story is neither a chore nor ragequit-worthy. I recommend giving this villainous little game a chance.


Monday, April 23, 2012

I Saw Her Standing There

NOTE: Reading this review will spoil a funny little fact about the game that's worth discovering for yourself. I recommend at LEAST watching the intro before you read the review, 'cause from here on out, it's spoilers aweigh.





All done? Okay. Yeah. Then you should know that this game is, surprisingly, about zombies. And that, piled on top of the puppy love, makes it a weird, sweet, funny little title.


I Saw Her Standing There is the classic tale of a boy and a girl. Boy loves girl, girl loves boy. Something is separating them, however... and in this case, it's 'cause the girl is a freaking zombie. Bit of an obstacle for a relationship, eh?

Not for the boy. He loves his girl. So much so that he keeps her locked in a cage. And whenever she escapes, he happily lures her back to captivity. It's a rather twisted dynamic, but judging by the little cracking heart over the girl's head whenever her boyfriend dies, she doesn't mind.

That, then, is the point of the game: lure the girl into her cage, using the guy as bait. When necessary, and it's OFTEN necessary, avoid other zombies. Proceed through the story. Aww, how cute.


For such a simple game, I Saw Her Standing There is surprisingly well-tuned. Your little boyfriend goes exactly where you tell him to go, and his jumping skills are quite amazing. The controls actually make it a little difficult to die, which is... quite a reverse...


The boy's love for his girl is simple, and the graphics perfectly reflect his affections. Everything in this game is little more than a symbol. I might bemoan the lack of detail in other titles, but here, nothing else would be suitable. The love story would lose its subtle impact if the girl looked anything more like a zombie.


I Saw Her Standing There is virtually silent, save for one thing: one acoustical song that plays forever in the background. I LOVE THIS SONG. It carries the pleasant, grassroots theme of the game from beginning to end, completely robbing a zombie apocalypse of its threat. Never has the annihilation of mankind seemed more relaxing.

Challenge Rating

This is not a hard game. It's only fifteen levels long, and most of them can be demolished in a minute or two. Disrupting the pleasant little story with too much difficulty would rob the experience of its charm, however, so I'm fine with that.

And for those of you who might complain that games SHOULD be challenging? Once you beat I Saw Her Standing There, you'll unlock a series of little cheat codes that can make it REALLY hard. Namely, by tossing more zombies into the mix... and allowing them to jump. Yeesh.

In Conclusion?

Quirky, cute, eminently playable. I Saw Her Standing There is a short-lived experience, true, but one you're likely to remember for a while. Enjoy.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Utopian Mining

Indie games have been redefining what's popular in video games, and though quick-and-dirty shoot-em-ups still probably reign supreme, more technical games are slowly creeping upward in popularity. Indeed, it's entirely possible to not kill a single person while playing these games, yet still enjoy the experience.

Utopian Mining is one such game. It's not perfect, but it does hint at some intriguing possibilities for the future.


Ever wanted to be a mining robot? Yes? No? Maybe? Well, if you play Utopian Mining, that's exactly what you are: a helpful drilling machine. The town of Utopia has largely been destroyed by a storm, and you're called upon by the citizenry to help restore order. This involves completing a series of missions for needy people, as well as upgrading your own equipment.

How? You mine. You mine 'til you can't mine no more. The ground beneath Utopia is absolutely lousy with valuable ores. Dig deep, collect as much as you can, return to the surface to sell them at the local store. Use the money to recharge your batteries, repair your chassis if you accidentally go too deep, and help people out.

Utopian Mining isn't the only digging game on the indie market, and it surely won't be the last. That said, there's some level of originality in this RPG-esque game in that the resource gathering is about as relaxing as a video game is likely to get. Utopian Mining is an excellent way to unwind after a stressful day, 'cause even though you're helping people, you never feel rushed.


Utopian Mining is easy. Most of the action revolves around the arrow keys, as you dig simply by moving through the dirt. X allows interaction, C backs out of menus, and a couple other hot keys trigger menu options. Very simple, very straightforward, and, in the case of the movement where functionality is most important, very smooth.


Ahh, another pixelated wonder. Utopian Mining is a humble game: the visuals are tidy and clean, much like the rest of the experience. They get a bit repetitive after a while, as the dirt beneath the ground never REALLY changes, but I hold no deep reservations. It is what it is.


Three tracks, one of which you'll only hear at the end. That's about it. The two prominent songs in Utopian Mining are gentle, acoustic pieces that are perfectly suited to country life. No heavy diggin' here.

Challenge Rating

To call Utopian Mining a difficult game is a stretch. It's not. It's very easy. Time-consuming, perhaps, but easy. There's no way to lose, unless you fill up your robot's ore larder and then go around wasting the remaining pieces of ore. And that would take a veeeeeery long time to accomplish. Even overheating or running out of battery life is of minimal consequence.

I never got the sense that Utopian Mining is MEANT to be difficult. It's relaxing. Therapeutic, even. Just sit back, relax, and let the guitar strings and dirt clods carry you away.


My only beef with Utopian Mining is its anti-climactic conclusion. The game just... kinda... ends. I'd hoped for a little more story behind the town. Shrug?

That aside, Utopian Mining is fun. Could use some more missions and upgrades, perhaps - by the end money is pretty much useless - but worth playing nevertheless. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to lower their blood pressure.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Puzzle games online seem to come in three different flavours:

1.) Mostly original
2.) Not terribly original, but with just enough kick to keep it fun
3.) Blatant ripoff

Sichiken is not number one, and it's not definitely number three. A solid number two is this puzzler, and thus a comfortable play for anyone who wants to kill a couple hours.


Sichiken has no plot. The overarching point of the game is to collect coins and guide your character to a box. Doing so moves you to the next level. Standard for puzzler.

So what's the catch? Well, let's analyze this level:

Your little dude needs to touch the buttons to make the small red and blue dots turn into crossable blocks. But how can he cross those blocks if he has to keep the buttons depressed? Death is inevitable - and that's the point, really, because dying in Sichiken generates a little ghost which will mirror your previous actions. You need to plan your second set of motions in conjunction with the first, then let both recorded ghost and living character collect all the coins and get to the end of the puzzle.

Like I said, not horrendously original. The Company of Myself, for example, offers a similar mechanic, and includes a story to boot. Sichiken nevertheless tosses in enough curveballs to keep the ghost recording idea fresh, and is more than challenging enough to tantalize puzzle fans.


Sichiken's success is utterly dependent on accurate controls, and it only partially delivers. The little alien you're controlling is very sensitive to player input. Even a teensy bit too much force in one direction or another is bad. I got killed numerous times because the little dude decided not to stop near a ledge. It's also easy to overshoot jumps, so expect the occasional irritating death.

I should also note that Sichiken is NOT a game to play on a laggy computer. True, Flash games always suffer if their browser lags, but lagging in Sichiken has some weird results. Several times before resetting my computer I found the little guy leaping almost twice as high as is normally possible because he hit a spot of lag. Sometimes handy, usually not.


Sichiken is pretty basic. New levels usually offer a slight backdrop change, but other than that - and the occasional addition of different-coloured blocks - the general environment is static. Yet there's some charm in the simplicity, and I'm now rather fond of the tiny bouncing alien dude who puts his life in my hands.


Sichiken relies on tiny, cutesy sound effects and one song that's reminiscent of Gameboy midis. Don't get me wrong, I like Gameboy midis - hence this song is just fine - but there's too much repetition. Even tossing in one or two more tracks would considerably improve the game's oratorical aesthetics.

Challenge Rating

Sichiken has a lot to offer to casual and hardcore games alike, as it's neither too difficult nor too easy. Even puzzles that seem to be impossible at first glance usually require only a couple minutes of thought to solve, and thus are much more satisfying than the absolute brain-busters found in other games. These solutions can also be derailed by mucking up in movement, so platform players should enjoy Sichiken as much as puzzle fans.

Unfortunately, as mentioned before, this enjoyment is marred a bit by the controls. It's rather too easy to fall into pits. Tightening the keyboard sensitivity would go a long way to addressing this issue.


Sichiken ain't bad. It could use tweaking, and perhaps a little bit more aesthetic variety, but otherwise...? Solid. Enjoyable. And, since the programmer seems content to expand Sichiken's offerings through new levels, an enduring experience. Give this sucker a shot if you've got some spare time and an itch to flex your brain.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Straight Bullyism

Welcome back, indie fans! After a month's hiatus Browser Rousers has returned, bringing with it a review of bullyrific proportions. Straight Bullyism has earned its title.


Take a wild stab at what you do in Straight Bullyism. Chances are damn good you'll be right on the first try: you bully people. Yep, you play as one of the school bullies, a hard-driven, career oriented fifteen-year-old who's wiser than he looks... but still a big jerk. It's your sacred mission to uphold the standards of bullies everywhere through fighting, extortion, theft, vandalism, and other such noble pursuits.

Straight Bullyism is an RPG, but the story is pretty much as labelled. You complete missions, gather homework and beat the snot outta the less fortunate. The bully is not quite so stereotypical as he looks, but the end result is probably not the best role model in the world. Still, it's nice to see a depiction of a bully that isn't one hundred percent brainless lout.


Straight Bullyism is clear-cut from the beginning. The arrow keys and space bar are your primary friends, allowing you to steer through hallways and menus and interact with objects. The I and P keys have small roles, but nothing substantial. Clean and functional, this one.


Designed by Flash animator Snubby, Straight Bullyism bears his trademark style. From far away, the characters are stunted blobs. Close up, they turn into semi-ugly caricatures. I quite like the close-up graphics, as they suit the game's sense of humour and overall goofy tone. The 'world map' miniatures are meh, and the backgrounds and exploratory environments are kinda repetitive.

One thing I CAN appreciate is the amount of effort put into cut scenes. Every time you cut between levels or enter a mission, the bully has a conversation with his employer. Given the number of missions, that must have taken quite a while - especially since the conversations are littered with jokes.


Straight Bullyism has a lot of voice work. Granted, a lot of the characters (male and female) sound like the same person, but that much attention to vocalization in a Flash game is admirable. Even the enemies in the midst of battle have things to say... though after a while some of the 'funny' lines get stale.

I was not quite so impressed by the soundtrack. Straight Bullyism features a handful of acoustic guitar tracks for background tunes, none of which are impressive. Adding in just one more instrument would spice up these tracks immeasurably. As they are now? Meeeeeh.

Challenge Rating

Straight Bullyism is not that difficult a game. It plays similarly to an old Final Fantasy game: battles use an Active Time Battle (ATB) system to regulate turn order, allowing the player plenty of time to make combat decisions. So long as you choose your stats somewhat wisely at the beginning, most fights will be a piece of cake. Even the addition of the Self-Esteem bar, which can depress the bully into Game Over, isn't enough to make Straight Bullyism terribly difficult.

More trying to circumvent is the game's propensity for repetition. Yes, it's funny, yes, it's interesting, but the battles get very boring, very quickly. Special moves attempt to spice up battle options, but they're seldom necessary to beat most enemies. The majority of the time it's a simple matter of getting into a battle, setting the game to fight automatically, going to another screen to look at something else, then coming back when the enemy gurgles and collapses. Shrug.

Also: no experience. Which means no leveling until you complete a level. I'm not sure if I liked this or not, though it did drag out the game play. Longer than it had to be.


Straight Bullyism ain't bad. The premise is fun, the jokes worth the effort and the game system manageable. It's a fairly plodding game, however, and the laudable points may not be enough to hold everyone's attention. Fun to play, could be better.

I should also point out that Straight Bullyism is a very LARGE game. Consequently, at least right now, you can't play it in a single window. After completing the first level you'll be shunted to the official website for the rest of the game. This could be an advertising ploy or it could be a legitimate technical concern. I tend towards the latter, as it IS rather a huge game, but who knows.