Steam’s Potato Sack Part 4

The penultimate post about Steam’s Potato sack sees yet another game I hate, one I quite like, and one that’s “Meh”. In this case, though, the “Hate” was “Meh” for a while, and the “Meh” is so close to being both a “Hate” and a “Like” that it’s almost in a category of its own.

The Wonderful End of the World
For a while, I was going to give this a “Meh” rather than a “Hate” but 1) I hated to break the pattern, and 2) Since I never actually enjoyed this game and was only going to give it a “Meh” because it was a little different, I decided to play it again and realised that what was different after one 5-minute play was already boring after a 10-minute play.

You start out each level as a tiny little…. thing. No idea what. It’s probably specified somewhere but I really can’t be bothered finding out. You gain size by eating things smaller than you, and because there’s a set of objects in just the right sizes you keep getting bigger and bigger until you’ve consumed the whole level. Now that might not sound enough even to justify a “Meh” but I did quite like the way in which the perspective shifts pixel by pixel until you realise that what was small is now tiny and what was big is now munchable. The trouble is that it’s so repetitive. On the second screen you find yourself in a maze filled with eatable pills and ghosts that will hurt you (make you smaller) until you get big enough to eat them. And the walls. Yes – you’re playing first-person Pac-man. Now I’m just about old enough to remember Pac-man the first time around. I wasn’t old enough to go to arcades and play it for real, but I had a Mini-Munchman during my primary school’s craze for them (this would be… 1981ish [and BTW – Wikipedia is dead wrong: the ultimate achievement was to get HHH with six lives without completing a level, but I can’t add that as it would be original research]) and I really have no desire to go back to it now.

It’s worth pointing out that this makes a perfect 3/3 on “Hate” for Dejobaan games. I’m sure they don’t care, but I certainly won’t be thinking buying anything from them in the future.

BIT.TRIP BEAT
I live in a small flat. Very small. But I appreciate it a lot more after having played this game because the bathroom has a great feature. When you turn off the hall light, close the bathroom door, and turn off the light in there too, it’s dark. Perfectly dark. Pitch black. There’s not a single photon by which to see. I discovered this phenomenon a little while ago by accident, but I’m incredibly grateful my house has such a feature because I needed it after playing this game.

Last time’s “Like” was Audiosurf, a game that starts with one of those “Flashing lights can be dangerous” warnings that are always so annoying (unless, presumably, you suffer from epilepsy, when they’re probably quite useful). I don’t suffer from that particular condition, but I came damn close to a seizure while playing this baby. On my first playthrough, the relentless flashing lights got the better of me after about 10 minutes, and I had to quit and head to the afore-mentioned bathroom to stand in total darkness for a short time before my head cleared.

At first glance, BTB is a Pong game missing a paddle. Blocky balls come from the right of the screen and you use your blocky bat to hit them back. In the background, things start to explode, fire lasers, flash and do anything they can to put you off. Eventually, you’re trying to return balls that fly through elegant parabolas, in groups, with changing speeds whilst doing it all through a fog of pixels caused by the various explosions going off in the background. If you miss enough hits, the same level continues but in black and white form and without the music. In other words, the sensory overload is part of the whole deal. It’s intended. If you miss too many balls while in BW mode, the game is over.

As well as just hitting back a ball when you hit it, you play a note in an 8-bit style tune that goes on throughout the game. This is a brilliant feature, and the way in which incoming projectiles are scheduled to hit particular beats is genius.

Scoring is the ultimate bitch. When you hit your first ball back, you get a point. Your second gets you two; your third, three. You can probably tell where this is going. By the time you hit your 250th consecutive projectile back, you’re getting 250 points per hit… which is roughly where I stop being able to do it. As soon as you miss one ball, it’s back to 1… 2… 3… so obviously the big scores come by never missing a hit. I completed the first set of levels with a score of around 77000. The leaderboard showed that two people had got scores of ~68000000 – that’s getting on for one hundred times higher than me. In other words, I suck.

You might have noticed that this is longer than any of the other reviews so far, and it’s because – as I said from the start – I’m not trying to give you a full review, I’m just trying to write down my thoughts, so let’s do that now. If I was playing this 20-25 years ago, I’d probably be awesome at it. One’s reactions slow down with age, and a predilection for neat whisky doesn’t help. This is a game at which I know I will never be any good. The constant flashing is enough to drive me to a darkened room. The graphics consist of big blocks of pixels. I hate this game. Every time I quit, I do it in a feeling of high dudgeon. On the other hand… I keep coming back. The music isn’t brilliant in itself but the way in which the blocks you hit influence the tune is damnably clever. It’s… fun! And why else do we play games?

Defense Grid: The Awakening
I’ve saved the best until last. This is the game that wins the rpeh “Nobody Cares What I Think” award for best game in the potato sack. The concept is fairly simple. There are MacGuffins called Energy Cores. Most of the time you need to stop some bunch of aliens stealing them but occasionally you have to steal them from the aliens. To achieve this, you build towers. These towers hurt the aliens in some way, and when hurt enough the aliens die, dropping any cores they hold. These towers start with simple guns that fire bullets, go through “Inferno” towers that are big flame-throwers, lasers that fire… lasers, to advanced things like “Temporal” towers, which cause enemies to slow down, and “Meterors” that hurl huge balls of energy at the invaders.

There are several catches. First, towers can only be build in certain places. Next, they only have a certain range – that varies from tower to tower – so you need to work out your killing zones. A gun tower only costs 100 “resources” but a laser costs 200, so you need to judge when to buy the expensive towers. Towers can be upgraded, so you also need to judge when one cool tower is better than two new towers. Later levels let you upgrade twice, but the cost is huge.

As you progress, you get enemies that can fly, and are immune to certain weapons; enemies that have shields, and are immune to “heat” weapons like lasers until those shields are gone; and huge powerful enemies that just take a huge amount of hittin’ to kill.

Early levels are easy to complete, but there’s a medal system that means you have to save a certain number of cores and get a particular score to really win. For instance, though I completed it on my first go – and it’s almost impossible to fail – it took me seven goes to get a gold medal on the very first level

So far my one complaint is that the difficulty curve isn’t quite right. I was doing pretty well until I hit a level (fairly early on – I’m really not very good at computer games!) where almost every square let me build a tower. I got my pasty white ass kicked all over the map.

You can learn from your mistakes, though, and there’s a “checkpoint” feature that even lets you rewind within a level, so you can play around a bit with your strategy.

I suppose you can argue that this is another case of me liking the logic games, because when you only have a small number of options, it boils down to a set of choices that can be determined through fairly logical choices. There’s much more to it than that, though. Definitely my favourite game. In fact, I feel an urge to play it again.

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