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DW Does Indie, part one

By Damien Wilkens
01 October 2010 If you're anything like me, you've no doubt found yourself with a midnight craving for some horrible, cheaply made fast food, only to arrive at your grease haven of choice and discover that the loose change in your pocket is not nearly enough to cover the Number Seven Value Meal that you had your eyes on. So you settle for some fries and hope the guy cleaning the tables doesn't see you hoarding ketchup packets as you leave.

Recently I found myself in a similar situation regarding my Microsoft Points. As a gamer that insists only on games of the highest quality, you could imagine just how quickly my balance depleted as I scoured the Live Arcade for all of its gems, eventually finding myself with an awkward 400 points, which is enough to buy nothing. I'd already outfitted my Street Fighter characters with the hottest fashions, and I refuse to spend three dollars for my avatar to have a cat, so I ventured into the strange and mysterious world of the Indie Games Marketplace.

I somewhat randomly picked five games in an attempt to expand my horizons and see what exactly a dollar is worth these days.

8-bit Girlfriend
Marketplace Description: Now you can do what most 8-bit RPGs never let you! Court up to four lovely 8-bit ladies. Choose from the Princess, Elf, Thief, or Item Shop Girl in this comical adventure. Be brave, Sir Knight, you will get your 8-bit girlfriend!

The Game: If nothing else, this is the most accurate description of all the games I bought, in that it actually tells you what the game is about. You simply pick one of the four pixelated ladies to court and are given a series of multiple choice questions to answer. It's really just a simple game of trial and error, but the writing is somewhat clever and it's pretty good at making sure that the obvious choices are wrong. Whilst trying to impress the princess, you can find yourself accidentally admitting that you fornicated with a dragon, or telling the elf girl that you like the fruit from mystical bushes only to find that she failed her mystical bush growing class at University.

Completing all four quests takes roughly five minutes, but there are some laughs to be had and even some cool music thrown in for the endings. And honestly, if I were to make a game about trying to pick up a lesbian ninja thief by convincing her that I'm pregnant with her child, it would probably end up something like this.

Dollar Equivalent: A Butterfinger. Yummy while it lasts, albeit too short.

A Killer's Dream
Marketplace Description: Some nightmares are real.

The Game: Something to keep in mind as we continue here, the shorter the description, the worse the game.

Here we have a killer on the loose, and the only way to catch him / her is to jack into their dreams in an attempt to figure out their identity. The game does absolutely nothing to explain how this is possible. Doesn't it imply that you should already know the killer's identity when you have the ability to see into their dreams?

There really isn't much in the way of interaction here. Imagine watching a YouTube video that you know has one of those screaming head pranks and having to press a button every time it happens. That's this game. You enter increasingly more intense dreams and simply wait for some random stock photo of horror to pop up and give you a letter in the killer's name. After each dream, you have a chance to pick the killer out of literally 30 names, meaning there's no chance you'll know the correct answer until the very end.

By the way, in case you were on the edge of your seat, it was Kevin. Yup, Kevin.

Dollar Equivalent: A used VHS copy of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. It's more annoying than scary, and you have no reason to revisit it.

Baby Maker Extreme
Marketplace Description: Are you extreme enough for Baby Maker Extreme? Experience the most embryonic event enhanced by your electronic entertainment equipment. Simulate the miracle of life in a way only video games can. Download Baby Maker Extreme and be prepared to be blown away.

The Game: This is why I said the picks were mostly random. There's no way I wasn't playing a game called Baby Maker Extreme, regardless of price.

Here you are tasked with aiding in the miracle of birth by launching a baby from the womb with as much force as possible. You must keep the rhythm of contractions and mash buttons until the magic moment the baby pops out and uses the doctor as a springboard into the air, the goal of course being to guide the newborn into objects that will boost its speed and height in an attempt to reach the furthest distance. Talk about your speed runs and your Call of Duty headshots all you want, but you haven't proved anything until you've mastered the art of projectile child birth.

My current high score is 1,346 feet. This is, of course, after hitting 14 doctors.

Dollar Equivalent: A Styx song from iTunes. You can play it over and over and it'll never get old.

Don't B Nervous Talking 2 Girls
Marketplace Description: Are you nervous talking to girls? All you need is practice.

The Game: What this game fails to mention is that on top of practice, it helps a bit to have good looks, money, plans for the future, and a nice car.

Aside from teaching horrible spelling and grammar, this game supposedly teaches you the correct method to go about wooing the lady folk. Though unlike 8-bit Girlfriend, this game isn't nearly as self-aware. The object of your affections is Jessica, a very pretty young woman clearly doing this to pay for her acting classes. You choose one of eight locations and engage in conversations with her in an attempt to get her phone number. Though it's the standard multiple choice guesswork that you'd expect, it at least tries to be realistic in that the path to success is to be an arrogant dick.

There's no reward or motivation for any of this, though the game does grade you on your efforts, and you're given a mild pat on the back when you clear a stage. There's really no point to any of it, and I'm not positive that I know what this game is supposed to be. Is it trying to be funny? Not intentionally. Is it trying to impart actual pick-up advice to use in the real world? I can't imagine that being the case, and if it is, then that opens up a whole other line of questioning that I'm not sure I'm comfortable with.

It's like someone sat an aspiring actress in front of a green screen, had her read really cheesy lines for a half hour, paid her in department store coupons, and then made a game out of it.

No, actually, that's exactly what it is.

Dollar Equivalent: A trial subscription to a porn site. The content is limited and afterward you'll feel cheap and lonely.

Mind Warp
Marketplace Description: Prepare to have your mind blown!

The Game: Short description. We're off to a bad start.

So you begin the "game" and see images of random people. You're then asked to look at swirling lines for 30 seconds before you're shown another picture of the same people looking slightly creepier. This is the entire game. I think it's supposed to play tricks on your mind, but all it did was make me dizzy, which is something I can do for free.

Sometimes the lines will be moving in different directions and such, but it really doesn't do anything. Maybe it's like hypnosis, wherein it only works if you think it does. I don't know, I'm still trying to uncross my eyes.

I guess this is one of those cases where I shouldn't be allowed to criticize the game because I don't really "get it," but I'm going to go out on a limb and assume there's nothing here to get.

Dollar Equivalent: One hard taco from Taco Bell. It's not filling, you have no idea what you just ate, and you're pretty sure it's going to lead to vomiting later.

Five dollars later, what did we learn? Launching babies is more fun than it should be, for one. It's definitely a mixed bag, but there are really only two games here that I'd call total crap, since they're more interactive movies than anything. With two and a half decent games, I find this data inconclusive, and may very well have to revisit the Marketplace at some point in the future.

Until then, don't stress too much about Kevin the killer or whether or not the Item Shop girl likes those mad pick-up skills you learned from Jessica. Just remember what Styx said: "I'm gonna be a blue collar man."

That doesn't really apply here. I just like the song.


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