I should’ve hyped this at least a week ago on this blog, but since I didn’t a) I’ll hype it now and b) this will serve as a dumping ground for ALL of the things I’m giving away tomorrow. There are so many. I will update this as games, skins, and keys are claimed.
I’m streaming at twitch.tv/littlesisgaming for 24 hours starting noon MT 11/21/2015 and giving away ALL THIS STUFF! For donations to my Extra Life page, of course 🙂 Deets found under the “How do I get this stuff” heading!
Steam Game Giveaways for Extra Life!
- 2 copies of Bastion*
- Broken Sword: Director’s Cut
- Dear Esther
- Dust: An Elysian Tail*
- Gone Home*
- Hotline Miami*
- The Swapper
- Organ Trail: Director’s Cut
- Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP*
- Thomas Was Alone*
- Waking Mars
The entire Humble Bundle 4. It was awhile ago, but has some of my favorite indie games of all time. The bundle will be 12 games total! The games are: And Yet It Moves, BIT.TRIP RUNNER*, Cave Story+, Cogs*, Crayon Physics Deluxe*, Gratuitous Space Battles, Hammerfight, Jamestown, NightSky, Shank*, Super Meat Boy*, VVVVVV*
*Games I can personally endorse because I love them so much. You should try to get this bundle!
3 closed beta keys to the new arena shooter from Hi-Rez, Paladins
How do I get this awesome stuff!?
Donate any amount to my Extra Life page and be sure to say what game/skin you would prefer to get. Want more than one entry? Donate more than once! Want to be in the running for more than 1 game/skin? Donate more than once and write different donation messages! Supa easy.
I’ll put it in a spreadsheet and every so often, use a random number generator to pick a row and get that person their game or skin!
To get the Humble Bundle 4, donate $10+ and say “Humble Bundle 4” in your donation message to be in the running! I can’t split up the bundle so it’s all or nothin’, baby!
Stream Perks for Donations
Donate $15 or more to my Extra Life fundraising page and you can choose what game I play on stream for at least an hour! Check out all my games here (be sure to click Platform and sort by PC – can’t play console games on stream at the moment). I will also snag NES or SNES ROMs if you donate and want me to play anything retro 🙂
Yesterday I was torn between streaming Monaco or Mark of the Ninja. In the end, technical reasons forced me to roll with Mark of the Ninja and I thought “hey, you know what? This is great. I saw this game in person at PAX 2012 in the Indie 10, and I thought it looked rad, and now I am finally allowing myself to play it. This is gonna be great; let’s do this!” Can you read all the fake pep? Can you decipher my lies better than I can myself? Here’s the thing – I know I hate stealth. I have always hated stealth. And I knew Mark of the Ninja has gotten oodles of praise for it’s comprehensive and impressive implementation of a great stealth system. So how was this really going to go, huh? COME ON, LAURIE. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.
Sure enough, I lacked all patience. I would spawn and run blindly at obstacles and difficult enemies over and over and over until I would throw my hands up and say “I must be doing it wrong! I must need to Google it!” then I would try to speed-Google a solution, on-stream, on my phone, realize I can’t because there are no level names visible when I pause the game and I have no idea where I am, then go back and due to the very brief rest I gave my mind and muscle memory, I would be able to get through to the next checkpoint without dying. Sure the assassinations were so deeply, profoundly satisfying (top notch animations and sound effects, fo’ sho’) but all the in between of trying to sneak up to someone to kill them, etc – no thanks.
I knew this when I played The Last of Us only until Joel and Ellie got to the town with the crazy guy and I had to stealth through the graveyard and the houses to the bus yard at the school and I died so many times I stopped playing until I got the game again, remastered, with my new PS4 at the end of last year. I don’t have the patience for stealth, which is indicative of the very little patience I have for most things in my life. And yet. Here I was. Again. And the “why” finally dawned on me after I slogged through a (to be honest) mediocre stream of the entirety of Mark of the Ninja.
I am deeply impressed by stealth game mechanics and systems. There is honestly so much technical precision that goes in to very well made stealth games, it’s remarkable. The genre itself hones so closely down on level design and character/NPC interactions, I think I subconciously want to observe it all but subsequently hate it all the way through. Even when I was at the peak of frustration with Mark of the Ninja I said out loud “But I mean . . . I still want to finish it.” And despite my lack of skill or interest in games like Bloodborne or Dark Souls, I believe the entire genre of stealth is at it’s best when it’s most punishing. Unlike the pandering flip-flopping of Assassin’s Creed, Mark of the Ninja does not allow multiple play types. Sure there are multiple paths and different strategies to implement your stealth throughout rooms during a level but at the end of every experience, you had to be the ninja. You never really have to be an assassin with Ubisoft.
I’m ecstatic to never play Mark of the Ninja ever again. I’m also ecstatic to recommend it to every stealth game lover I know. I’m also ecstatic that I got to experience a quintessential stealth experience in a polished, satisfying, beautiful indie game. Now please, critically acclaimed stealth games – never sneak your way into my life again.
When I was planning what to play on my 3rd day of full-time Twitch streaming, I was at a loss. I had decided to start two days earlier with Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor but after lackluster intro content (including tutorials) and visuals that disappoint for just having come out in 2015, I wasn’t engaged and excited to play the game, and therefore put out fairly poor stream.
The next day, I decided to finally give The Banner Saga a shot and while the visuals and music and emotion of the game were portrayed excellently, it just didn’t seem like the type of game that would give a good stream experience and I wasn’t particularly excited to continue playing it. Did I mention that I am also just abhorrently bad at tactics games and brought my usual talent to The Banner Saga? Yeah.
So there I was, needing something to really pep up the “Past Broadcasts” on my channel. And then I stumbled over Dust: An Elysian Tail in my Steam library. It was in my wheelhouse – platformer, button masher, indie, great art, jammin’ tunes. This was my time to shine.
And bless Dust‘s heart, it totally worked! I had a blast playing the game during the past 3 streams and finishing it up last night. I might stream it a 4th time to wrap up the 117%. Which is actually a perfect segue to the nostalgia-laced trip it was in this final stream. SPOILERS ABOUT THE SECRET FRIEND COLLECTIBLES AHEAD (no main story line spoilers) (oh and 117% was the full completion percentage of Spyro so . . . nostalgia).
A kind Twitch passerby stopped to watch the stream and while we were chatting back and forth about the game, which he loves to death, we were talking about all of the extra “secret friends” you can get by unlocking special chests throughout the different regions. I had already collected Super Meat Boy, Howard the Duck*, and the main male character of Spelunky. He was super in to helping me find the rest of the secret friends before I called it quits on the game (I’m not generally in to collecting achievements or completion percentages for Steam games and I was playing on Steam) so I beat the story mode and then together (via chat) we started going through the game to unlock all the secret friends.
The first secret friend the Twitch chat lead me to was Bandage Girl, also from Super Meat Boy. When I unlocked Super Meat Boy himself, I was tickled pink. It was an obviously frivolous addition to the game, but at the same time, it was the perfect level of non-committal to making the game different in anyway. And it wasn’t a super dose of nostalgia. If anything, I read the secret friends in the game as nods to great indie games of our generation.
I got some others, including the female Spelunky character which made me smile wide, but I also kept thinking about the beginning of the game. The first time you hack down a wall a “Mysterious Wall Chicken” pops out, which when eaten grants back 80 health. The first time that happened I also laughed out loud because come on – Castlevania! Why the hell was cooked poultry popping out of the walls in that game? No one knows, and Dust made me laugh about it.
Later in the night I got to a secret room and I couldn’t quit tell for the first few jumps what this room was hailing to until I realized that the music and particle effects were only moving when I moved. I was about to unlock Tim from Braid. Perfect. What a masterful game to quote in a game that might not be on par with Braid but one that perhaps acknowledges it and doesn’t feel bad for falling short. Later there was an area that populated isometric-view blocks as you ran forward. Bastion. And the final secret friend I unlocked was in a pixel area with three brain-busting puzzles to get through. Fez. The whole time my smile was growing as I was shaking my head. This is the way homage is intended to be. A slight tip of the hat, a comfortable acknowledgement of past greatness, and a shrug at the naysayers who don’t like what they’re playing as much as what they played before. This was perhaps the first game I had played that didn’t feel like it was pandering but was instead honoring. And that is 100% the nostalgia I can get behind.
While the story had some facepalm moments and the voice acting was a bit try-hard at times, the gameplay, the art, the BluePrint system, and the music all made this some of the most enjoyable 14 hours I’ve dumped into an indie arcade in my life. If I play a game that has some Dust easter eggs in the future, I’ll tip my hat, smile, and remember fondly what came before.
*I googled this to make sure I was saying the right thing because I don’t know my Marvel lore and don’t know anything about Howard the Duck, but lo and behold this was actually someone named Hyperduck? Which makes more sense when they both become Daft Punk. . . But anyway, I’m going to keep calling him Howard the Duck because I don’t know who Hyperduck is either. Sorry.
Little bit of cross promotion here, but last week my co-hosts at Go For Rainbow interviewed Ian Snyder, creator of an indie game that’s quickly picking up press (and recently got put on Steam Greenlight) called The Floor Is Jelly. Unfortunately my schedule didn’t allow me to chat with Ian and the guys but I just finished listening to the episode and finally got a minute to sit down and play the game. I swiftly concluded I must write a blog post, because you all must play it (and vote for it on Steam Greenlight . . . just sayin’).
The protagonist is a small two-legged creature attempting to traverse each level to make it to a window (and after a certain number of stages, an elevator to go to a new environment). The floor isn’t exactly jelly however – it’s a non-Newtonian fluid (or at least behaves like one). Any of us who spent extensive time on a trampoline as kids have a slight advantage, because it operates much the same way; propel yourself higher with the momentum of the rippling ground.
The artwork is simple, warm, and beautiful. Rounded edges combined with a stellar soundtrack make the stress of continually dying in this challenging platformer seem to fly away on the digital wind blowing leaves across the background. The music is minimalist, but full-bodied – just my style. I haven’t gotten very far but each environment thus far in my quest has introduced a new gameplay mechanic (most recently, hitting a bullseye rotates the entire world to make what was previously a bouncy wall, turn to a bouncy floor). In short, it contains absolutely everything I love about the very best indie games have to offer.
If I had a wishlist, I suppose I’d add some story to it but I bet players across the world are coming up with their own backstory just fine on their own. When you have a game this full of character, it would be hard not to.
Right now you can pick up the game for $10 USD from thefloorisjelly.com, but you could wait and share the Steam Greenlight link if you’d prefer and pick it up in your Steam library because I’m sure in the very near future, this will be picked to make a Steam debut. I’ll tell you honestly – I forgot that I got a free copy of the game, went to the site after listening to the podcast and bought a copy, remembered I had a free copy already, played the free version (lamenting that I had just spent $10) but after playing three full stages (and itching to play more), am so pleased I supported Ian and his game, despite having a free copy. Pick up a copy, and leave a comment letting me know what you think of the game!
Heeeyyy yooooouuu guuuuuys!
Shoutout to the Goonies fans.
Thank you thank you thank you thank you to everyone who liked the Facebook page, commented on my last post, and gave me some feedback about video content. I responded to Robyn’s comment explaining that I have some video content coming and I’d like it to get as much traction as possible, so maybe tinkering with it a bit to better address what you guys want to watch will help me in that. Also, all the Facebook Page Likes give me Facebook Insights (which is essentially Google Analytics for the Facebook page) which again, will maybe help me get some more readers, and gain some more traction.
Because so many of you graciously said you weren’t really participating in the giveaway, you just wanted to help me out, I made this a contest of two: Mikael and A4man. Drum roll please . . .
Out of the 50/50 chance (I flipped a coin; Mik was heads, Adam was tails) Mikael won! And because Bastion is cheaper than Portal 2 right now, Mik, you won Bastion! Also because I love supporting indie devs and it’s a stellar game (and soundtrack) and you should definitely see what it’s all about!
I’ll get in touch with Mikael and send him the game, but again, thanks to everyone who commented!
If you haven’t ever heard of Kentucky Route Zero, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Although the indie title from Cardboard Computer didn’t make a huge splash across all gaming news outlets, I had happened to read a rave review of it on Kotaku. After that, I didn’t hear much about it. I believe it’s in a humble bundle of some sorts, but I can’t confirm (is humblestore.webs.com really affiliated with the official Humble Bundle website? Can’t tell).
I bought a this game full price on Steam because after reading it’s description, wouldn’t you?
“Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realist adventure game about a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it. Gameplay is inspired by point-and-click adventure games (like the classic Monkey Island or King’s Quest series, or more recently Telltale’s Walking Dead series), but focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill.”
Fun fact about me – magical realism is MY JAM. I love the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I love the idea of magical realism (inexplicable [“magical”] things happening in a seemingly realistic world), I just . . . love everything about the genre. I haven’t ever been a big sucker for point-and-click games, particularly if they involve guess clicking, but that last clause, “focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill” put a grin on my face as soon as I read it. I knew I had to buy this game.
Since the Steam Summer Sale is well under way, I had to start looking through my unplayed Steam games from last year’s sale and picking up the slack. I decided to force myself to start playing some of the games I had been looking forward to but never got going on, I would install them, so they would be staring me in the face. I finally installed Kentucky Route Zero and started it Sunday evening. Because it’s episodic (five parts), I’ll publish a series of posts as I play through each episode.
The intro menu is minimalistic, asking which chapter to start on – simple Courier New text on a black background. The title displays across my entire monitor, again, just white text on a black screen. Immediately I am charmed by the polygonal, geometric art work. All the colors are muted, and much of every scene is dark, but it helps that much more to see where you click to move forward the protagonist, Conway. The graphics indicating gameplay are clever: an eye to look at a person, animal, or object; a notecard to speak with someone; two stick figures holding hands when you and another party member can interact with an object or location point.
After a simple introductory fetch quest with an old man at a gas station, you jump in your moving van (Conway is a driver for an antiques shop) and hit the world map, which is essentially just a road map. Major highways are numbered, but only by driving down a road do you then learn it’s name. A handy logbook keeps track of your conversations that had driving directions. Your position on the map is indicated by a wheel that rolls along as you click on various roads. Points of interest only come up as you pass them. Some allow you to get out of the van and interact with a new scene, while others are strictly text-based wanderings through buildings (e.g. churches, museums, stores, etc.).
The aesthetic of the whole experience is very minimalist. There is no soundtrack – only sound effects that vary as you move through areas. One outstanding example of creating an atmosphere is when Conway enters a bait shop, and the game informs us that he sees a cashier and a row of tanks filled with water. As this text is populating, a faint water-bubbling sound fades in as though we’re standing near the tanks. If you choose to approach the tanks, the bubbling grows louder. If you choose to talk to the cashier, the decibel level of the tanks remains faint. These kinds of details aren’t new to video games, and we all know that good details like that are the best way to achieve immersion in a video game. All the same, that attention to detail from an indie developer, who is very aware that there are few sensory inputs in their game so every detail counts, is delightful.
By the same token, that minimalism creates a very . . . uneasy feeling as I played through the game. I don’t believe this is in the horror genre, and yet something fishy is going on. There are ghosts, and no one seems to be able to give you a straight answer about this mysterious Route Zero. I don’t ever feel like something is about to pop out at me, but . . . I also never feel completely secure in my chair. As someone who thoroughly dislikes being scared, this is a perfect medium. I am completely head-over-heels into this environment without being forced to jump out because it wants a cheap thrill. The sound effects and lack of soundtrack are what really bring these feelings home while playing through episode one.
My only concern as I gear up to jump into episode II is that there are sometimes a dozen different story options in one conversation. I’m playing by gut, just kind of approaching situations as though I were Conway, but because I’m a completionist (I’ve played Mass Effect 3 four times to make sure I’ve seen every different conversation choice), I’m wondering what I’m leaving behind by not repeating conversations. I hope all hanging plot points (there are a lot) get resolved by the end, but I suppose I’ll wait and find out!
Currently, Cardboard Castles has episodes I and II out, with promises of III-V coming before the end of the year. The two-man dynamo team also has an experience available for free called Limits & Demonstrations: A Lula Chamberlain Retrospective. From the page itself, it says “Marking the first major public showcase of her work in over twenty years, this retrospective exhibition of work by pioneering installation artist Lula Chamberlain comprises a diagonal slice through time, place, and form.” You know me. Any labor of love I’m definitely going to be checking out. Post forthcoming about that title, most definitely. Also, what a great way for me to be introduced to artist, Lula Chamberlain!
Thus far, a huge round of applause to the Cardboard Computer developers, Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy. Playing Kentucky Route Zero is a treat audibly, visually, and intellectually. I can’t imagine the future chapters going anywhere but up. Pick it up now for 25% off at the Steam Store!
My people! I would love to give you something to show my utter appreciation for all that you do for me by just reading my blog, or clicking the “Like” button on a post, or even commenting. I love you all, and that is no lie. So! I figured I have at least one Steam game I can giveaway, perhaps more by the end of this Steam sale, but to make this so super legit it’s like I’m actually getting paid to do this or something (ha, wouldn’t that be great . . .) I’d love to use this chance to get some feedback! Here’s what I would love to see, if you want a free Steam game:
1. Like the Little Sister Gaming page on Facebook (here’s a workaround – just add it, then immediately click the drop-down arrow on a post in your Newsfeed from LSG and click “Hide…” THEN YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO SEE IT, but the Like still helps me! How does it help me? Once a Facebook page has 30 Likes, Facebook starts giving you analytic information about that page. Kind of silly for a blog as small as mine, but hey – it’d be nice).
2. Comment on this post about what kind of video game video content you like to watch. Do you love browsing Let’s Plays, or something more specific? Do you only watch machinima, or do you prefer vlogs about video game issues? Do you only watch video game video content if someone is livestreaming a game you really like?
3. IN THE SAME COMMENT AS ABOVE, say what Steam game you’d love to buy but can’t because you’ve sworn to not spend any money during the Summer Sale. I have a copy of Mass Effect 1 to give away. Old, so probably not a great incentive; if your wishlist game in your comment goes on sale for cheap sometime this week, I may or may not pick YOUR wishlist game to buy and let you choose which of the two Steam games you’d like (if your name gets picked). ALSO, if everyone really wants Half-Life 2 or something and it goes on a daily or flash sale, I’ll DEFINITELY buy it, so there is some extra incentive.
I’ll give this a week! On 7/21/2013, I’ll assign every comment a number in a spreadsheet, use a random number generator to pick a winner, post about it by 7/22 at the latest, and gift that person his or her Steam game.
Simple enough? Let’s get crack-a-lackin’! I want to spread some Steam love! A big, fat, serious, thank you to all of your!
MAN! I am two for two this week of just being inflammatory, borderline rude, in my post titles.
I saw this post by the Geek Force Network (check ’em out, lots of great content, but only after you read my blog, please don’t leave my blog, sob) and then proceeded to read the comments and was once again struck by the overwhelming popularity of the Dragon Age series. Based on the hype alone, I bought Dragon Age: Origins in a Steam sale ages and ages and ages ago (truly, I think it was one of my first Steam purchases ever). At the time, I tried to get started on it, but my laptop struggled so hard the game would just quit after about an hour of play, so I just shelved it until I knew I could get a better gaming rig.
Enter last summer, after I built a sweet-a gaming machine, and told you guys that yes indeed-y, I would inaugurate the beast with Dragon Age: Origins, to really get back into the story that so many gamers I respect, really love. I started. I tried so hard. And yet, I got to the first city area, and I just . . . can’t care. I just . . . have so few f—s to give (hi, Mom).
I think in this last attempt, I got to the camping waypoint after that first town, after I handle the thugs on the road heading out of town. I’m pretty sure my lack of interest stems from the difficulty of combat in that first town. The story, when I stop and think about it, is legit. Trying to save the world, recruiting people and help on the way, rich conflict between “races” if that’s how the magic-users are designated. I have multiple characters die in the first few battles. I often have to go back to previous saves to try again, so I don’t lose my power house when fighting that thing at the top of the first tower. And perhaps that’s the only reason I haven’t gotten really invested?
On a side note, I think another aspect of my lack of caring is that I am way out of practice of managing character parties. That was THE THING of Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, all those wonderful SNES RPGs, but lately, I just play who I play and who has to come with me is who has to come with me, and I like getting off easy in that regard. The little bit you have to do in Mass Effect 2 doesn’t even matter that much (for the most part . . .). So getting all of these characters in the beginning and having to immediately use them intelligently? Also adds to the difficulty, even though I’m just playing on normal.
That’s sad and troubling to wonder if that’s really the reason I don’t love this game. Am I so lazy, such an entitled gamer, that unless I succeed for the first half of the game, I can’t appreciate the experience? The thought really terrifies me. Enough to dive into Dragon Age yet again to try to find the joy in it. Also, I recognize I’ve devoted very few hours to the game, and where I am is not very far at all, so it deserves from me (if for no other reason than I should get my money’s worth out of it).
So educate me, friends of the internet! What do you love about Dragon Age? What do you hate about it? Worth my time, or should I finish Tomb Raider, and AC3, and Saints Row III, and To the Moon, and my million other Humble Indie Bundle games first? Rant at me in the comments!
Forget about blogging, do you remember when I had the time to actually play games? Ah . . . those were the days. The days before freelance gigs and significant others took up my evenings and weekends. OH MAN! IN A GOOD WAY. I MEANT THAT IN A GOOD WAY. . . . Yikes. Anyway.
I did just get Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations to educate myself and catch up before I buy Assassin’s Creed III, so you know . . . I’m coming back to the fold. But! Since I haven’t gotten far enough in Brotherhood to give a definite blog post/opinion, I decided to use this blog post to knock out a review that’s been circling my dome for weeks now. You should all play Orcs Must Die!!
Er, that needs a little clarification. If you like tower defense games, then this is one of the best of the genre. In all the hubbub of Orcs Must Die! 2 coming out, Orcs Must Die! was supa cheap on Steam some time ago. This was one of those Steam sale games that had been staring at me like an orphan for months because I never played it. So I finally did, okay Robot Entertainment?! Stop judging me for not installing your game sooner!
The game begins with your wizened master dying in a sea of orcs in battle, lamenting that he has to pass his torch on to his apprentice, who is an idiot. “We will surely die,” is is his concluding thought. I was laughing right from the get-go, not just at the deprecating humor, but at the cartoon-y, charming artwork as well. You then take up the main character, only known as the Apprentice, to place a few traps and helps at your disposal (limited by how much money you have an how expensive an item is) around an enemy entrance to guard the Rift, a magical opening between worlds. Once you’re ready, you start the orc onslaught, and you get to shoot with magic, bombs, or arrows, or just melee attack orcs along with the other weapons you placed, like arrows that shoot from a wall or slime on the ground that slows enemies down. Maps get bigger, and enemy numbers increase, as well as enemy types, as the levels progress. There are multiple Rifts throughout the game, so you go to different locations to guard them.
I’m not certain that Orcs Must Die! was the first to put a 3rd person perspective on the tower defense genre (drop knowledge if you have it, in the comments), but I feel like it was the first that got a lot of attention for it. Or maybe I’m making stuff up again, who knows. It was the first I heard about it, anyway. And it was intriguing. I really like tower defense games, and have wasted many work hours in a tiny flash window in a browser trying to destroy hordes making a break for my pile of jewels, or whatever their incentive might be, depending on the game you’re playing. And that’s just it, isn’t it? They’re all pretty much the same. A few different items, but the mechanics are rote.
That’s not to say that a lot of the familiar and perhaps boring pieces of the genre aren’t in Orcs Must Die!. Getting some prep time to set up your traps before the enemies start swarming the map, guarding the sacred object, and getting more money as enemies die, to keep buying and placing more weapons to stop them. The gameplay elements that diverge from the norm that I loved were getting to attack enemies myself, as a solo character while my traps and weapons from below, above, and all other sides do their worst as well. That also adds the challenge of not being able to monitor every enemy entrance because you are only one guy, in one spot, and that is getting more and more difficult the more I play (which is awesome).
We’re deep in an era of nostalgia gaming, where people take beloved genres or stories and recreate them and make a million dollars on Kickstarter. So when something like Orcs Must Die! comes along and seems to say, “Listen, we get it. You love what you know. But we can also help you love something beyond what you’re most familiar with,” I’m totally on board. And you should be too! Play this game for smiles, laughs, and as the levels continue, a healthy impulse to rage quit, followed by a satisfying win to yet another map.
When I read the synopsis of Splice in the back of the PAX program, with the rest of the PAX10 games (ten indie games at PAX, highlighted by industry experts for how awesome they are), I was pretty sure it was going to be over my head. But I had made a goal to try and play all ten PAX10 games before the doors of the convention center closed two days later. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to play all ten games (I couldn’t find six of them whatsoever, so that’s on you, PAX), but I did get a chance to try out Splice and pick up a coupon code so I could buy it on the cheap after PAX, which I did.
Splice was made by Cipher Prime Studios and is currently available in the iTunes app store as well as on Steam for Mac and PC. The marketing copy boasts over seventy levels, and the company also offers a deluxe edition that comes with the soundtrack. That was my first tip off about the music. Just like Catch-22, in the exhibition hall at PAX I couldn’t hear the soundtrack but when a game starts offering their soundtrack along with the game, not as an afterthought months later, you know it’s going to be a good soundtrack.
I didn’t get to talk much to the Cipher Prime guys at the booth because some “big wig” who “voted for their game to be in the PAX10” or something lame like that walked up right when I did. Sheesh. The nerve, huh? /sarcasm. Anyway, I pieced together a little bit of the game play, got stuck on the seventh strand of the first sequence, congratulated them on the game, and left. I finally got around to buying, installing, and playing the game last night.
As for the actual game play, all the player has to do is move around microbial units (sure, that’s what we’re gonna call them) to fit in the frame that the level provides. But when you move one microbe, it effects where the others are and they move as well. You have a limited number of splices, or moves, to get all the microbes to match the shape of the frame. In later levels, microbes get special actions, such as splitting in two to make more microbes, and other actions that are harder to explain. I heard one YouTube reviewer compare the sequences to worlds in a platformer, and the individual strands of Splice to levels in a platformer. So when I say sequences and strands in the rest of this, think of it like that. Strands are levels essentially, and they’re grouped into sequences, which are pretty much only there for organizational purposes. The funniest phrase of this paragraph is “all the player has to do,” because for its simple objective, I found Splice stupidly hard.
My previous admission about how terrible I am at puzzlers still stands. So it shouldn’t be surprising when I got stuck on the same strand of the same sequence two weeks after I played it at PAX. I eventually got it on my own, but it took me so long, it wasn’t even gratifying. I was still shaking my head, like “Man, how could I have figured that out faster?” I got stuck again on sequence two, strand three but not wanting to waste more time (which is how I always view beating my head against puzzles, i.e. as a waste of time), I googled a solution. Thankfully (for my pride, anyway) the reviewer explained some more mechanics of the game so I didn’t have to watch the full solution; I realized the solution now that I understood what the new microbes actually did.
I stopped my brief run through at sequence three, strand five. Like all puzzle games I play, it might be awhile before I actually finish this one because I am impatient and apparently an idiot. I recognize the deliberate choice to go minimalist on the game play by not explaining how to play the game, but at the same time, players get nothing to go on . . . For as much as I love progressive gaming, the lazy, puzzler-handicap in me shakes its head at setting up gamers to fail. And it’s more than others. Limbo, for instance, explains nothing. But it’s such a familiar backdrop (i.e. platformer) we instinctively figured out what to do. Splice is breaking boundaries all over the place, so our frame of reference is limited, if not gone entirely for those of us who don’t play puzzle games often enough. I think at the end of the day however, I’d rather developers assume I’m too smart than assume I’m too stupid. This rant is just because I’m mad that I’m really bad at this game.
Far and away though, this has got to be one of the most beautiful indie games I’ve ever played. There isn’t a ton to go on visually throughout the game, it’s true, but again the minimalist art style and controls, as well as a superb soundtrack (officially called Flight of Angels) that I’m going to buy off of Bandcamp in just a few minutes, creates an ephemeral place in which to ragequit. Ahh, how pleasant.
If you like puzzle games, you will love Splice and you should definitely spring the $10 to buy it. It’s only $4 for the iPad, and I don’t see anything telling me that it has any fewer levels, so if you have an iPad, save some dough and buy it in the app store. If you don’t like puzzle games, I think this is still a beautiful enough game that if you like being challenged in non-puzzle games, you’ll appreciate the experience in Splice. Just wait until it goes on sale.