November 22, 2017
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Author: Ian Beck Beckism.com
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Location: Walla Walla WA, U.S.A.
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Skaak on, Skaak off

For now, Skaak off

Unfortunately, thanks to school taking all of my free time and mercilessly destroying it, I won't be able to update this blog much for a bit. I have started getting a bit more active with some IMG reviews (see Gish and Airburst Extreme), though, so I'm not abandoning the cause just yet.

Just taking a brief hiatus from the blogging bit.

Posted on November 16, 2004 at 10:23 pm
High scores...

If you peruse some of the reviews that I have done of shareware titles over on the right of the screen, you may note that they seem to all have phenomonally high ratings. Perhaps you wonder to yourself if I am truly objective. Perhaps you consider that perhaps my review of a game might be suspect and highly biased.

Well, if you suspected these things, you would probably be right. After all, that's the nature of reviews. However, the reason that all of the things that I have reviewed so far have had pretty good ratings is that they are the things that I have bought. I don't really think that you can write a review for shareware that isn't unlocked, but I generally don't unlock shareware that I don't like...and so you get the creme of the crop. I don't really write about the stuff that's lower on my list because I don't have a chance to give it a chance.

It would be cool to change this, but I really have no idea how. If you have any shareware that you think I should look at, however, let me know, and if you develop shareware and would like a review feel free to contact me and we can see about sending keycodes and such.

Until such things actually take place, however, I'm afraid the ratings that I give will be rather high. Such is life.

Posted on August 29, 2004 at 1:54 am
Gish

Quick and dirty: being a ball of tar just totally rocks. This game is beautifully made, and addictively fun.

Download the demo here.


Actual review:

Perhaps I have a soft spot for games that are different, strange, and basically just totally unlike anything else. It's certainly true that these types of games are the ones that I am almost guaranteed to fall for, and to the list of wacky games that I absolutely love I must add Gish, a crazily cool sidescroller whose main character is a ball of tar, brought to you by Chronic Logic and the twisted mind of Edmund McMillen.

First, the story: Gish's girlfriend Brea is grabbed one day while they are out walking and dragged down into the sewers. Gish follows her down to rescue her. Not exactly the next War and Peace, but it's a platformer for goodness sake. And the story does get more interesting as you go...

As for the actual game, Gish just has everything going for it: first off, you control a ball of tar, which is so incredibly weird yet works so well that it may well be genius. Gish is capable of clinging to almost any surface, which allows him to move along walls, ceilings, and many other surfaces (shades of Aliens vs. Predator, but without all the sharp edges). He can also become slick enough to slide down incredibly small cracks, or bounce up and down by expanding at strategic moments, and then become heavy to crush foes.

While these abilities are intriguing on their own, combined with the incredible physics engine that drives Gish they become truly awe inspiring. The gameplay created by the physics engine and Gish's interesting talents make playing this game really fun. When Gish jumps, moves side to side, or clings to a spinning ledge his body flows and changes shape as if he were...well, a blob of tar. It makes the game truly a joy to play.

The physics system is also supplemented by things like dynamic lighting; not something that you would normally expect in a platformer, but the shadows cast by swaying platforms and tossed blocks--yes, you can throw bits of the environment around on occasion--work out well.

Even better, the game's graphics and audio combine to really bring Gish's world to life. McMillen has designed a rather gothic world, full of bouncing round piles of little more than flesh and teeth and giant Frankenstein-esque dolls whose button eyes turn into x's when they die. The levels Gish travels through are filled with traps, villains, and assorted dangerous situations, and each level has its own look and music. Hellish lava-filled levels, green-tinted underwater passages, and more secret areas than you can shake a stick at make the game continually interesting. Each set of levels (usually around 5-6, with a boss level at the end) has it's own unique character, and the traps and challenges are constantly changing.

If the single player game doesn't give you enough to do, there are also versus modes for two players on the same computer, most of which are very well implemented, and a collection mode in which you try for the best time gathering coins, complete with high scores. The only difficulty with the two player implementation is that having both players on one keyboard can be slightly awkward given the nature of the controls, but this is a minor quibble. Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed the two player game types (sumo and football in particular stand out), and collection games are a good practice controlling Gish if a story level becomes frustrating, or if you just want something a little different.

You really have to try this game if you enjoy platformers at all. This is the best platformer I've seen since the old Earthworm Jim days, and has enough character for two games. If you haven't already, download the demo.

Why the rating: Gish definitely deserves a solid score of 9, since while it is one of the best shareware games I've played in a long time it isn't perfect. I have been playing Gish regularly since I purchased it, and it never fails to be a good time. Additionally, it passes the 20 minute purchase test for me: it was only about 20 minutes after I had first downloaded and played the game that I purchased it. Gish is a breath of fresh, tarry air for anyone who likes a good platformer.

Edit: I have adjusted my rating to more accurately represent this game's worth. It remains as high as it does because Gish is honestly the best shareware game I have played in a years; priced as it is at $20, this game has a very high enjoyment-to-cost ratio. If you haven't tried it yet, you really should.

Posted on August 26, 2004 at 11:22 pm
tranquility

Quick and dirty: tranquility is unlike any other game ever made, and is, to put it simply, basically awesome. Try it out.

Download the demo here.


The actual review:

There are very few really creative games out there, when you come right down to it. You can take basically any game and describe it by describing the games that it's like. It's an RPG along the lines of Baldur's Gate; it's a first person shooter like every first person shooter ever made; it's a sports game.

And then there's tranquility. I don't really know what this would be classified as. Maybe one-of-a-kind. Quite honestly, there is nothing quite like it.

The premise is very, very weird. You are floating in space above a relatively small floor with a grid on it. There are a varying amount of multicolored floating geometric platforms moving around in patterns. By bouncing off platforms, maneuver to hit a colorful "spinner."

Needless to say, this isn't quite like anything else out there. No competition, no violence, just you in space trying to hit a spinner in order to advance to the next "realm."

To be quite honest, it doesn't sound that great. But that's only because when describing tranquility it is impossible to due it the credit it deserves.

This is a freaking awesome game.

Believe it or not, it is incredibly addictive. Rooms are created by the tranquility server and then sent in small packages to your computer (and they are very small, the load time is minimal). As you play the server learns what your style is, and tailors levels to relfect this. Each level has three rooms, each with seven spinners you must hit, and when you hit the seventh spinner, you advance to the next level room. With seven spinners to the room, three rooms to the level, seven levels to the realm, and twenty-one realms that you can eventually play, there is plenty of tranquility to experience.

The server also creates music to accompany the rooms, and each platform makes a distinct sound when you bounce off of it or move through it. The platforms have a huge diversity of shapes, although different levels have different shapes that occur more often, and they are very colorful, shifting in patterns between colors. The combination of the colors, shapes, patterns, and music works to pull you into the game.

What makes the game strangely addicting is the challenge of moving to hit the spinner. You can move with your mouse in any direction, and there is a light gravity. Additionally, by clicking you can propel yourself downwards faster. By aiming at platforms you bounce gently about the screen, maneuvering to hit the spinner. The normal speed reactions of other games are not required, and in fact can be detrimental. Instead, tranquility forces you to relax and become totally immersed in order to do well. This tranquil state of mind is the point of the game, really, according to the tranquility website; that and the happiness or contentment that can go along with it.

Of course, it isn't all some sort of meditative experience. The need for control and relaxation can sometimes make it quite irritating. Platforms don't always cooperate with your movements, and there is often a different trick to the different levels. If at first you don't succeed, however, the server is quite willing to create a new level, and in my experience playing the game the new level often has decreased the difficulty slightly or integrated a shape that you are more used to.

The price can't be argued with, either. For $24 you get a lifetime membership, and for the amount of fun that you can get from this game that is definitely not a bad price.

I've been playing tranquility for the last couple of months, and it just doesn't get old. I really can't stress how different and involving this game can be.

Why the rating: tranquility is a visual, auditory, and gameplay experience unlike any other. With a free limited membership to try it out, and a gameplay experience that can appeal to any age, this game is not one to leave untried. It may not be quite the thing for everyone, perhaps, with it's need for finely controlled motor movements, but it is nonetheless a beautiful and unique experience, and thus fully deserving full marks.

Try tranquility. You likely won't regret it.

Edit: I've adjusted my rating for this game; I would give this game a 10, but the truth is that it will not appeal to everyone, and the price could be slightly daunting for some. I originally was going to rate it an 8 instead, but because it is so unique (which is definitely a pro in my book), I've bumped it up to a 9. Since it's shareware, you should try the demo, and feel free to form your own opinion.

Posted on July 15, 2004 at 8:37 pm
Creepy Mines 2.5

Quick and dirty: an interesting perspective, good ambience, challenging levels, and a good range of powerups makes this game addicting and fun to play. Slightly clunky graphics and a purely online high score system are the only real cons.

Download the demo here.


The actual review:

It seems like the popular thing to do among game makers is to take old standbys that have had mounds of spin-offs and make them 3D. The one that sticks out in my mind most was the commercially produced Frogger, but there are others. I'm surprised that there isn't some sort of 3D Minesweeper by now, but I expect it's only a matter of time.

Joining the ranks of these retro-classics cum 3D is Creepy Mines 2, an interesting little gem from Dan Lab Games. Creepy Mines 2 (not to be mistaken with the original Creepy Mines which was strictly 2D) takes the classic game of brickout to a whole new three dimensional level.

The premise of the game is simple. You are in a mine. It is creepy. Gather the crystals that are lying all over the place, and at the same time avoid the rather nasty little bugs and flying things that try to complicate your gameplay.

At the bottom of the screen you have your paddle, which is on a mining track that keeps it on the same plane. The small metal ball (or balls, depending on powerups and other things) all roll across the floor, and by moving the paddle back and forth you hit the thing and try to destory the cement bricks that are lying around. Crystals are hidden behind bricks, lying on top of bricks, and occasionally just right out there in the open. When the last crystal has been hit, regardless of whether the bricks are all gone, the level is over.

Admittedly, adding another dimension of play hasn't added that much except a different perspective from any other similar game and the possibility of having to destroy X number of bricks in order to reach the crystals, but it certainly helps to establish the ambience. From swinging lanterns on the early levels to conveyor belts and flying creatures dropping bricks on later levels, the addition of a ceiling allows for much more ambience to be created and well maintained. You are definitely looking into a creepy mine (or dungeon, or toxic factory, or...).

What really makes the game interesting, however, are the little dudes that run around your screen and make life difficult. Different levels have different nasty little creatures in them; the mine level has little dudes that when hit by the ball release the dreaded Moutchik powerup (don't ask me where they got the names), which gives you a paddle half the size of your normal paddle. Trying to avoid the obstacles that show up in your path makes the game much more varied.

Other powerups are called when some bricks are destroyed (as far as I can tell, this is largely random). All powerups change give you a new paddle, be it a magnetic one, one with an unlimited amount of extra balls that you can shoot (which basically wins you the level as long as you keep it), or one that is just huge. Figuring out how best to use these powerups takes a little skill, and basically just adds to the fun.

This is basically just an addicting little game, well executed and fun to play. The camera by default follows the paddle, which can make judging distances a little difficult, but for those who don't like this it is quite possible to make the camera show the entire area and stay in one place through the Options menu. The graphics tend to be a little square edged, but it isn't a big deal. For a shareware game, they're pretty impressively used.

The game has five levels, each with a large number of stages to work through, and promises to give anyone a good long amount of playing time. An online high scores system allows you to see where you are at against other players on a day to day basis (highest of all time high scores are also available on the website), and a passphrase system can help you out if you get stuck on a particular level (assuming that you can find the passphrase you need online). One downside of the passphrase system, however, is that you have to make sure you jot down the passphrase of the level that you finished on, or you will have to start over at the beginning when you run the program the next time. This isn't a big deal, though, especially since the passphrase of the last level you completed is displayed on the Game Over page.

As of the 2.5.1 update, the game also supports 3D anaglyph glasses, but since I do not own a pair of these I cannot say how that changes the game. Anyone who does own a pair is welcome to leave a comment to let us know how that aspect works.

Why the rating: I found this game to be a very fun distraction that could be played for just about any amount of time, and often, because of its addicting nature, made that amount of time longer than it probably strictly should have been. At $19 it is well worth the money it costs to register, and the demo allows you to play just enough levels to be able to decided whether it's a game for you. The graphics can be clunky and square (most of the time) but this is definitely a forgivable sin. Overall, I personally really liked this game, but must admit that it will not appeal to everyone (and the high scores which are only online could indeed be a pain for those with dial-up access), hence my giving it an eight. It is definitely worth checking out the demo and giving it a try, though.

Edit: I've adusted the rating for this game down to a 6. This is because while it is a good distraction, it is not as polished as I would like (and it has not withstood the test of time; I do not find myself playing this game very much any more). Realistically it probably deserves a 5, but this game (like so many of the ones that I've reviewed so far) gets a point bump for its unique approach to an old theme.

Posted on June 11, 2004 at 11:02 am
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Feeding Frenzy 2/16/2005
   
Gish 8/26/2004
   
tranquility 7/15/2004
   
Creepy Mines 2.5 6/11/2004
   
iConquer 5/27/2004
   
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