Monday, September 1, 2014

Stuff That's Just Okay, Maybe



You know, I've been racking my brain the last couple months trying to figure out what to talk about.  I'd say to myself, "these games seem interesting enough to talk about" when I start them, but then turned in "I'm not really feeling it" as I played them.  And by that, I don't mean "bad", but rather just "uninteresting" and/or "did not click with me".

LEGO Star Wars: Microfighters

So, a couple months back, LEGO released a few kits of miniature Star Wars kits:  X-Wing, Millennium Falcon, TIE Interceptor, Star Destroyer, Trade Federation Hover Tank, and the Clone Turbo Tank.  Don't quote me on this, but I think they were part of a cross promotion for this, their new-ish (when I played it a couple months ago, anyways) mobile game.
Basically, its a vertical-scrolling shooter, and thankfully not of the "schmup"/"bullet-hell" style.  You pick a the Light Side or Dark Side, which is largely a cosmetic choice, then progress through a handful of stages based on a handful of major battles from the Star Wars movies.  You control your ship via touch controls: pressing the screen fires weapons and dragging moves the ship, with a few onscreen buttons for pausing and activating a super weapon.  In each stage, you destroy enemies that consist of various LEGO Star Wars models, most of the miniature versions of the ones available to buy, but a a few that are the full size versions of the models.  Destroying enemies nets you studs, weapon power-ups, and the elusive red bricks  Stage completions net gold bricks.  Red bricks unlock various boosts that, before each stage, can be bought with accumulated studs, while the gold bricks unlock the more powerful ships (Millennium Falcon and Star Destroyer).

Really, there simply isn't that much to this game.  The graphics are nice and bricky, actual Star Wars music is used, but the level backgrounds are static for each area.  The levels themselves seem to move slow, and feel overlong.  The gameplay itself is rather simple.  Enemy waves are small and predictable, and some enemies occasionally feel like damage sponges.  The few enemies that do attack, most of the time their attacks either don't stand out against the backgrounds, or they're fast and easily obscured by your own shots.  Only the bosses actually require any kind of skill to defeat, because by the time the stages actually start to become difficult the game is just about over.  Most of the difficulty comes from the game, like most scrolling shooters, being stingy with the weapon powerups.  But unlike most shooters, where you can at least tell what enemies hold powerups, here they don't tell you at all.  Similarly, the red brick in each stage seems to drop from a defeated enemy almost at random.  Most of the difficulty I had with the game was not from what the developers programmed in, but rather from the simple fact that this is a game made for touchscreen devices.  Though movement works anywhere on the screen, touching anywhere on the screen has the issue of covering up areas of the play field that you might need to see at any given time.

I know if sounds like I'm being overly harsh about it, so please understand that most of my gripes are basically nit-picking.  Its simple and fun, but it was almost certainly made for a younger age group than the one I inhabit.  Younger people need something that isn't as complex or crazy as most of the modern scrolling shooters, but that doesn't mean I'm going to gloss over shortcomings that could have made even a children's game better.  There is a good game in here, but it could be better.  And hey, it does have LEGO's and Star Wars, both of which are pluses in my book.

Disclosure:  LEGO Star Wars: Microfighters is available on iOS and Android.  The version I played was the Android version on a Nexus 7 (2013).


Hammerwatch

There's a castle on the hill, and you're part of a group of adventurers, maybe you should go check it out.  Sure, there are probably loads of monsters and deadly traps, but what about all that loot and gold?  It could be worth it.

Hammerwatch is an overhead view dungeon crawler in the vein of Gauntlet.  You pick a class, and wander through a set of dungeons of increasing complexity killing hordes of monsters (and a few bosses), avoiding traps, finding hidden rooms, grabbing keys to open doors, and breaking lots and lots of breakable objects for the cash monies.  Money buys upgrades to health, magic, damage, and other useful things, eventually.  If you have friends you can even do it with online multiplayer.  I have no friends, and thus did not try this, though I'd hazard to guess that it probably makes this a bit funner.

To progress you need to activate 4 sets of switches that located around each level to open a portal to a boss, then the next level.  Each level is broken up into several floors connected by staircases, with all the aforementioned stuff happening in between, and the level layouts tend to be somewhere between too big and too big.

Graphically, it uses a nice, pixel art style that's easy to decode, and use some minor light and shadows for effects.  Enemies range from bugs to skeletons, elementals to giant eyes, all the things that are regularly associated with high fantasy.  It does have controller support, but getting it to work can be a minor annoyance if, like me, you don't always keep one plugged into the PC.  Music is, well, I don't have the proper vocabulary to really talk about music on anything more than a cursory level.  So, the music fits well with game, and is generally unobtrusive.  It uses a hard save, checkpoint save, and a lives system.  Its very save-scum-able in single-player, but bad luck on the checkpointing can make it difficult to progress, and I don't do regular saves as often as I should.


The crux of the issues I've been having in the time I've played: everything seems to happen eventually, but that "eventually" feels like it takes longer than it should.  The individual levels are large and labyrinthine and take a long time to go through, and movement speed still seemed slow after buying several upgrades.  Finding the various merchants that sell upgrades can be an exercise in itself, sometimes easy to find, and sometimes hidden, sometimes early in the stage and sometimes later.  And woe be to you if you finally get enough gold to afford an upgrade and where was the one merchant I have to find again?  All the way over there through two specific staircases and the over half of the floors I traversed between them and how do I read this map anyways?

I mentioned that I thought the levels were too big and the map can be hard to navigate.  The switches needed to progress, sometimes there's a semblance of path between them, sometimes not, and the size of the levels make it worse.  Personal opinion and all, if the levels were smaller, even if there were still directly connected, but there were more of them, and the merchants were a little more evenly spaced, I'd be happier.  The only way I felt like I'm making progress is the massive swaths of the map I've cleared of enemies, and trying to figure out where to go next sends me putzing along at my character's slow speed through these empty areas, and it breaks the pacing.

I'll say it again, there's nothing specifically wrong with Hammerwatch, but there are definitely things that could have been done better.  As it is, I feel like the pacing is really weird, and not in a good way.  So I'll say, multi-player its probably fun, but single-player, I just wasn't feeling it.  Everything else is just gripes with how the game was built: nothing really wrong, just things that I feel could have been done better.

Disclosure:  Hammerwatch is available on PC via Steam, GoG, and the Humble Bundle Store.  My copy was obtained via a Humble Bundle sale, my play time was as the Archer class, I did not play any co-op.

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