Welcome, readers, to the first installment of Deadshirt’s new sometimes-column: The Humble Rumble! Join Deadshirt video games editor Kyle Herr and plucky newcomer Yen Nguyen as they bumble, fumble, and occasionally mumble through the contents of the newest Humble Bundles. For those of you out of the know, Humble Bundles are a (usually) bi-weekly collection of PC or Android games sold on a pay-what-you-will basis. The cool thing about them is that you can decide how you split your payment among the developers, the charities that Humble Bundle supports, and Humble Bundle’s own bandwidth costs.
What does your dollar(s) get you?
Kyle: Cellphones – we all have one, but how many of us use them for gaming? I certainly don’t. But thanks to the newest Humble Bundle, I can continue ignoring my Android-based phone as a gaming device!
Yen: I once emulated a Pokemon game on my iPod touch and that was a low point in my gaming career. I was so desperate.
Kyle: I’ll admit to playing a few phone specific games and also trying to run Final Fantasy VIII on a Playstation emulator before realizing that I was playing Final Fantasy VIII and promptly throwing the phone from a moving car. This bundle, however, does not include any strange, half-translated emulation programs, but rather PC versions of six popular Android-based games.
Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror
A remastering of a 1997 adventure game considered iconic by some people somewhere.
Yen: I like point-and-click adventure games. You get to point at things and click on things; what a blast! Basically the perfect type of game to bring to mobile devices. As for the quality of the game itself…
Kyle: Do you like your heroes bland, blonde, and reminiscent of Scott Summers from the 90’s X-Men cartoon? Then you’ll love going on a Mayan-themed adventure with George Stobbart! If you’re not a fan of the old adventure game trope of “guy cracking bad jokes to himself as he crashes wildly though houses groping at the furniture,” then this game may not be the best fit for you.
Yen: It’s not the absolute worst, though. The game is streamlined well and the puzzles are of the mundane-but-make-sense variety, so you won’t find yourself stuck very often. The hint system is nice but packed away in a menu, so you can use it if you want or completely ignore it. As for the protagonist, I can’t say that I’m a fan of characters who so constantly smarm at themselves, but at least the voice acting and the writing are decent, considering the era.
Kyle: It definitely feels like a product of the time, and it makes that glaringly obvious from the start. The intro cutscene reminded me of the arcade classic, Dragon’s Lair, which I thought was kind of fun, but it certainly looks dated. While I’m a fan of that old animated Hobbit/Lord of the Rings look, it doesn’t hold up incredibly well in a game with a resolution set for the average cellphone screen. That aside, I agree that the voice acting is pretty well done for a game of that era, but the humor often falls flat. For instance, one of the first puzzles that I solved involved using a pair of lace panties to pick up a hot compressed air cylinder. I assume that it’s some kind of “ha ha underwear” joke because those panties weren’t made of asbestos as far as I could tell!
Yen: So, expect some puzzles, some jokes, and some characters that look like lesser Don Bluth designs brought to life with floaty, bouncy animation. The dream of the 90s is alive in adventure games. Now, lest Kyle goes off about that panties puzzle again, we should move on.
Kyle: This isn’t the last that you’ll hear about them. Mark my words.
Remember K’nex? The developers of this game do.
Kyle: Were you like me? Did you spend your formative years playing with building toys, only to realize that half the shit that you built wasn’t even close to structurally sound?
Yen: Yes and no; I played for hours with my K’nex but I always followed the instruction booklet. Guess I was the smarter kid.
Kyle: Then this is the game for you, nerd!
Yen: Walked into that one…
Kyle: Bridge Constructor is basically one of those old DOS games that you would play in wood shop class on their ancient computers because you were too afraid to get near the circular saw that you witnessed split open the teacher’s thumb earlier that semester. It involves a gap between two pieces of land that you must bridge with – follow me here – a bridge! The catch is that keeping the bridge from collapsing is not as easy as you might think. But then again, this island apparently lost every single bridge after an earthquake, so I don’t really trust their engineers.
Yen: I like to imagine that it was some sort of horrific dystopia where no one built bridges until the invention of modern motor vehicles demanded it. You, as the protagonist, are the only engineer capable of understanding the great maxim: that triangles are above all other shapes and the strongest among God’s polygons. With this knowledge, you must go forth and make bridges and nothing but bridges until you curse the heavens for granting you said knowledge. Do you have the wherewithal to forge infrastructure from thin air, over several levels, over several islands, until you hate the three-sided shape that gives you power?
Kyle: I did not. After finishing about one and a half “worlds” I was tired of crafting triangles out of wood and steel. Even after adding in the exciting elements of concrete beams and steel cables I was sick of watching my bridges collapse because I forgot to attach some part or another to an anchor point. I did enjoy watching my projects collapse under stress and watching the test vehicles tumble around for a little while though. Overall, it’s a fun little game for a bit, but unless you have a serious triangle building fetish, this may not be your cup of tea.
A light puzzle platformer that teaches you about typography; oh boy!!!
Yen: Call me a nerd again if you want, but I really liked this one. Granted, I’m a typography freak and I love fonts and kerning and the benefits of sans serifs and all that so I really liked this one, OK? I’m gonna name any future daughters I have after fonts I rEALLY LIKED THIS ONE OK
Kyle: While this may be the game that led to the naming of Ms. Comic Sans Nguyen, I wasn’t super thrilled by it. It’s a pretty good example of edutainment, but it kind of reminded me of Sonic the Hedgehog. If he was a colon and not a hedgehog. Also he solves light puzzles to classical music instead of rescuing tiny birds to ska music. So really it’s not that much like a Sonic game.
Yen: As a sentient punctuation mark, your destiny is to travel through levels inspired by different font families throughout history, collecting letters and factoids along the way in a edutainment collect-athon. The game might not play super great, but the love and care is evident in the visual design. Levels are made out of a collage-like smattering of giant letters and images synonymous with printed and visual media of the time e.g. the colorful shapes of the Futura level that evoke the work of Malevich, or Arp. You’re really playing for the presentation, but they certainly tried to make it “game” enough to entertain. Oddly enough, the puzzles and hazards reminded me most of LIMBO – the game is surprisingly, if only lightly, challenging in certain sections.
Kyle: Yeah, I’m not going to lie here, I didn’t spend a ton of time with this game. I mean you are a nerd, after all. I guess I’m just too cool and handsome for this one. I give it some extra kudos for not making me pick up hot, metal objects with non-asbestos panties though.
Like Skyrim if Skyrim had been made as a free-to-play Korean MMO, and not one of the passable ones.
Kyle: I don’t even want to talk about this one. I’m angry just thinking about it. I’M VERY PISSED OFF.
Yen: But, Kyle, there’s so much to say about Crowrapier: Darkrealms.
Kyle: You want to know how I spent my time in Turkeycutlass: Silhouetteburg? I ran around a brown valley killing nondescript dark elves for no discernable reason and then I was crushed by a falling grey wall. Why were we even fighting? How do I know that it wasn’t some kind of awful race war? Maybe this game is just about the futility of war, and life in general. I know I sure felt like a husk while running around the low-poly environment that was apparently built in its entirety on a 30 degree angle as the juggalo version of Robb Stark.
Yen: I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that so violently attacked me with how generic it was. From the dark elves this to the last battle that – right down to the point that you are the ~Lone Survivor~ and therefore ~Chosen One~ of this AWESOME and UNIQUE world, Dodoscimitar: Gloomacres was basically holding the pillow of overdone fantasy tropes over my face harder and harder as I kept playing. Though I suppose I wasn’t the most important of the various chosen ones out there because the best use that the suffering people of Whateverland had for me was as a fetchquest dogsbody.
Kyle: I’m punching a wall right now and I don’t care that it hurts and that my mom is crying and telling me to stop. I still live at home and play a lot of video games and the fact that I spent a very brief time playing this still makes me irrationally angry! Peacockzweihander: Murkcountry was not good and I did not enjoy it.
Yen: Goodbye, Hoothootkatana: Umbraterritories. If there’s one negative to digital distribution, it’s that you can’t actually bury every copy of a game in a desert dumping ground so that it might be forgotten for the rest of time.
Kyle: Instead, those games crawl out of whatever holes they congealed in and some guy says “Yeah, this is a great product that should be sold to kids that know their parents’ credit card info!”
You’re not buying this tower; you’re financing it!
Kyle: Alright, now that my meltdown is over and the police are standing down, let’s talk about a game that was pretty ok as a time-killing phone game. Kingdom Rush assigns you a dirt road with some predetermined plots of land to construct defensive towers in to protect your, uh, red health circle.
Yen: I am thinking about other sentences to write about this game that aren’t “Kingdom Rush is a tower defense game,” and I’m having a hard time. Like, I guess it’s not butt ugly i.e. ugly as a butt (like, an icky butt) and it plays at a good pace. I might just be done here.
Kyle: If you like games like Plants vs. Zombies that are fun time wasters for sitting on a bus or waiting around a dentist’s office, you might get a kick out of this game. It’s pretty simple but has some nice little customization options for your stationary army, such as magic powers that you can drop every few minutes and hero units to bolster your defenses.
Yen: The strongest positive emotion that I can feel for these sorts of games is not-hate and I guess I don’t hate this one. If the creators of Kingdom Rush would like to quote my glowing praise on any future physical printings, they should feel free.
Knights of Pen & Paper +1 Edition
I put on my robe and you know the rest of this meme
Kyle: At some point, Dungeons & Dragons became a profitable asset to toss onto the pile of “nerd culture.” Print a T-shirt with something about magic missiles or rogues doing it from behind and you’ll make a cool hundred mil from Ren Faire attendees and guys that spend their weekends playing Magic: the Gathering in stores that reek of Dorito sweat. Sometime later, a game designer said “Hey let’s take some dated pop culture references, sprinkle some Doctor Who on them, and throw in the combat system from Dragon Quest!” Let me just summarize my experience with Knights of Pen & Paper by again saying that it might be a fun little diversion for commutes or playing in study hall or something, but as a full-fledged game it doesn’t seem like much more than lots of boring combat with some collectable room decorations as rewards for the grind.
Yen: It’s quite disappointing that a game with an actually fun concept (a meta-RPG starring the members of an actual D&D campaign, traveling and fighting across far-flung lands, all while seated at a rec room table that is always visible) chooses to squander the promise of its premise by being nothing more than a terrible grind of a time-waster. Experience and gold start low and only go lower, and despite the well-designed visuals and menus and all that, the game’s entertainment value only lasts for so long as you start to lazily spam the attack button, since there’s not much else to do but grind, grind, grind.
Kyle: It is a shame since there are some moments of humor that don’t fall flat and the pixel art is pretty great and basically everything Yen already mentioned. I think this game’s worst sin is just the fact that it has so much potential, but fails to deliver on pretty much all of it.
Yen: One of the best things you can do in the game is buy furniture or table props for the actual room in which your characters are playing, granting them stat bonuses in the game world. If only the rest of the game had this sort of winking meta-flair to it, then we might have had something truly worth playing. However, what we got are the basics of a good concept, inundated by the boring simplicity – the kind that the worst designers expect all mobile gamers are looking for. Oh well.
Should you go for the average or stick to the cheap seats?
Kyle: When it comes to Humble Bundles I generally always opt to match/beat the average donation. In doing so you get an extra two or three games and soundtracks, usually the best ones. In this case it was Kingdom Rush and Knights of Pen & Paper. So with that in mind I’m going to have to say, yes, beat the average. While I didn’t particularly think that these games were amazing on a PC, this is much more of a cell phone bundle anyway and those are the two games that I would most enjoy playing if I went ahead and installed them onto my phone.
Yen: But if you’re like me and you’re just looking to expand your computer’s gaming library, this bundle doesn’t have much going for it. If you’ve already got a passing interest in typography and graphic design, you can’t go wrong with the base $1 for a Type:Rider Steam key, but I’d sit this one out otherwise.
Kyle: I agree for the most part. If you’re looking to play these games on your PC, I would have to pass, but if you’re looking to enjoy them on your phone, I think that it’s a decent buy. It definitely seems better than some of the other Android bundles of recent memory.
Yen: Cockatootomahawk: Duskproperties, GOTY 2013.
Kyle: Pigeongladius: Nightprincipalities. So long folks! See you next time!