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Bloodrun 2 Bloodrun 2

Rated 2 / 5 stars

Bloodrun 2 is likely a polished sequel for another arcade-like game I never played since I've been away for some time, and I would have rated this higher had it not been for several quirks that I found detestable in its design.

Setting aside the cut-scene you can skip, the story shouldn't even be there. Evidently, you're playing the bad guy--a zombie who, if he can eat enough humans, become this hulk-zombie thing and kill the cops as well. The core mechanic is to roam the streets murdering an endless supply of innocent civilians while trying to dodge a posse of increasingly better-armed law enforcement personnel, of which you have no chance to repel unless you're bigger than they are (in essence, in Hulk Form).

Now, the controls are straightforward with Pac-Man-esque simplicity we're talking about here, so let me be blunt: this game isn't all that great. It falls prey to some basic and unforgivable slights. First of all, you're the bully of this game. You have to play the bad guy, which is already unsettling in that you must go around and kill to survive--and that's pretty much all you do. You not only get to eat their corpses to instantly regenerate health, you can also bite them to revive them into guys like you, who will then roam around, eating other people and distracting the cops so that you may continue to survive.

Has anybody wondered why zombie media is not only pervasive, but threatening to society's moral fabric? The game establishes two factions: you and them--society and you, really--and the objective is to wander around a metropolis biting people for food and conversion, starting with the hospital. You'll eventually die and get graded on how much carnage you had inflicted upon society.

I know Newgrounds always had an edge, but this is ridiculous. Maybe I just grew out of this garbage. Perhaps, but I also appreciate a cool game concept that is well-executed as well. It's just too bad that Bloodrun 2 fails on both fronts. You see, not only do I have to play a bully being posited as an underdog beset from all sides without having the moral questions I had just insinuated being set aside by recasting the sides with an archetype or trait we can rally around, but it has some niggling problems with its hit detection.

A game as fast-paced and intense as this one should not put you in a situation where your Hulk Mode gets stuck on the edge of an invisible block that so happens to represent a parked taxicab while pursuing an otherwise hapless civilian. It can get you killed because the police fire rounds that strike you without any affordance such as being knocked away by the bullet, to better indicate that, yes, you're being shot (I've always found it dumb how zombies don't bother to recoil from a bullet, even if their nervous system doesn't sense the injury brought on by the impact). It also brings me to tears whenever your game can end with the sudden pincer attack of multiple cops (SWAT-armored ones in particular) that just arrive from magic and gang up on you. This means you can't afford to enter an alleyway or pursue a hapless civilian unless you're really, really hungry. That's like innumerable NES games where the spawn point is just off-screen but the ratio between civilian and officer gradually gets skewed. The rate that it goes is way, way too fast. Hit Detection gets worse when it's hard to tell how a second bite will turn the character into a zombie or be devoured until only the blood remains on the pavement. So, there's no real way to know what you'll get out of your trouble. The only constant is the Hulk Mode, which increases per successful attack, but it changes your character's hit detection to be bulkier and requires multiple attempts just to get a hang of it. Oh by the way, bigger box equals you absorb bullets faster, and there's no offsetting the damage despite your increased mass. All you get is increased speed to either bob-and-weave or just plunge in for the kill, getting yourself peppered with lead in the process.

Finally, you have one life, mostly because this is a score-based game where you're trying to get onto a ratings board. Ratings boards, a pinnacle source of personal achievement in an arcade-style venue, will get flooded with zombie enthusiasts and bullies alike thanks to how this game plays out. It's not all that fun to discover what percentile you happen to be in after getting massacred on your first try. You're better off adopting the Japanese style of arcade play and just moving onto some other game after playing one session of Bloodrun 2.



Pact Pact

Rated 0 / 5 stars

Having played a few games by Hyptosis, I can safely say he's coordinated better collaborative projects. "Pact", despite being a relishing chunk of Eye Candy, fails to deliver an experience appropriate and worthy of the browser format. Glamourous, but scratch the air with an outstretched hand and flakes of paint fall from the mural. Its utter failure to showcase the potential of Rogue-Likes as a genre is just the beginning of its problems. It might be because thirty-somethings like these guys have to look back two decades before and revile the elements of their childhood, which happened in the nineties and again in this era. Guess where they've decided to project their anger this time?

To begin with, "Pact" has a tale: one about a trio charged with slaying the demon inside a forest. Rogue-Likes don't need complex tales or character development, just an excuse to dump the player in an environment that changes by a set of algorithms. Still, there is a tale delivered through the characters' stilted conversations the further down the labyrinth you go; they're otherwise a progress marker. Their topics include the Placebo Effect, gender roles, indoctrination, child soldiers and persecution (going so far as to give the witch African descent to drill in the latter point). Too bad most players are here for the game, so these events are (safely) clicked through, without spoiling the experience (in
theory, since the story, while merely decent, is a relative highlight of the game. Keep that in mind). This should offend Hyptosis a little, since it was inspired by his Kingdom of Liar-verse, though it reminds us how rogue-likes and power players treat a plot.

Since Rogue-Likes operate on randomness, this one features randomized map creation, JRPG-style fights, and special stationary encounters where one may bolster one's stats without having to spend experience or gold. A Blacksmith appears in "E" icons, where for a (geometrically rising) price in gold, a character's stats may be enhanced via equipment--just a +1, with a new, flowery title to justify the exorbitant price. Better to spend Experience on Stats, since the Blacksmith never sells potions; they're found off of opponents. There are only three stats: Damage (called Strength--it affects Healing and Magic), Health, and Mana. During battle, Player Characters may Attack, use three unique skills, or quaff a draught. That's where their tactics end. That's the system. No dice -rolling or questioning the wisdom of picking up a magical item, just barebones "Random is Fight, Special always Good".

The upsetting linearity is just beginning. Enemies always appear in trios and have but one attack each, which gets grating since everyone always hits if they're still alive. Worse, random encounters let players strike first every time--no variable initiative or randomized damage. Thus, the player realizes that, if each PC kills one enemy per turn, every encounter is a clean-sweep. The enemies may get stronger, but since you always have the jump, exclusively raising Strength lets one force those drow rip-offs to chew on tree roots while the PC's stomp their heads. A power-leveler will forget there were ever mana-cost abilities that made a character unique; some will even revile a few of them, particularly of the Thief, and complain about Ability imbalance when there were no worthy abilities to speak of.

Pair this with the frequency of Random Encounters and you can have a truly dull game where you know the exact route toward victory. Just the same; after your paranoid assumptions pay off and you've become supernaturally and strategically air-tight against the expected massive confrontation, the anti-climactic ending only serves to upset and depress the player even further. There goes replay value, out the window. People will seriously wonder why they had dumped an hour or three into such a game.

These are signs of cripplingly poor game design, but they have never before been as pervasive than on the web. What happened here? Did Kildorf merely program the engine or design the gameplay itself? Who's responsible for this mess? Is this a prank? If the public perceives browser role-playing games to be this bad, then why showcase a game that offers all of the horrible drawbacks of the worst offenders? If this is meant to be a Rogue-Like, it is the Dada of Rogue-Likes.

Hyptosis can do art direction no problem, but not a game engine. He can illustrate and implement those impressive, randomized enemy designs, but he can't figure out what abilities those little figurines could have, making their linear one-trick mathematical escalation even more grating--a joke threat. Which brings us to graphics and sound, which, on the other hand, are actually excellent for the medium, with a catchiness reminiscent of the 16-bit era. There is a point behind this: much if not all of "Pact's" appeal rests in the graphic design, something Hyptosis has no trouble conveying. They even include a little voice-over work. There isn't much variety--only player characters ever say anything--so it gets old quick.

Rogue-Likes and browser role-play adventures are usually poor because there are few people working on each project. This means we consider a larger team should work on one, instead of a one-man wrecking crew, which includes editorial oversight and quality assurance departments. That way, we can achieve a safer, even more ambitious project, rather than merely yank players' cranks to prove a point that plenty of people have already established. How hard is it to incorporate random number generation into action-script? We've seen it in Absolem. I thought a math of 1+[0-5] represents a six-sided dice myself.

Just because it's in Flash doesn't mean we're supposed to think really tiny, or have a crew of one or two. The net deserves better. There are, of course, plenty of good examples, not the least of which include the Epic Battle Fantasy and Monster Den series respectively, that are single-guy affairs. Maybe a for-profit model will inspire them to communicate with their work rather than being merely clever. The designers' talents have been unceremoniously and irredeemably squandered on "Pact"!

Perhaps our criticisms about how this game sucks are trying to tell us something, as though this is another deconstruction, an intellectual exercise in literary analysis, of Eastern Role-Playing at work: a set path regardless of how it's painted, an emphasis on character development happening beyond the player's decision-making, and an oversimplified representation of the genre at large. But someone made "Press Spacebar to Win" already, making the idea of this being a satire even more unpalatable than it being just a bad game. Never put people through something horrible at their expense just to prove a point. That's not intellectual, that's crass.

The first duty of any game designer is to entertain an audience. Does "Pact" entertain? Not even on the initial play-through.


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Monsters' Den Chronicles Monsters' Den Chronicles

Rated 5 / 5 stars

Now THIS is what a browser-ready Role-Playing Game should look like: a ground-up dungeon crawl with enough randomness and variety to keep a savvy player at it for hours at a time. Garin-Dan's series has gotten its renaissance, but this is just a step on the way to his upcoming epic, Godfall, which he should not have told his fans about so early....

Okay, so this is a dungeon crawler with comfortable familiarities. By that I mean the story is a hack and the characters are blank slates. That's okay--they're meant to be customized. You can even upload images to stand in for ordinary artwork, so you can have the luxury of forming a dream team of characters. The only drawback to that is how you cannot yet program your own abilities to approximate your ideal setup. In other words, Mario, should you use something like a sprite image, cannot pull off his cape or fireball techniques. Other characters like Solid Snake, on the other hand, may be approximated by one of the Rogue units.

The objectives, listed in a series of campaign acts, involve heading into a random-generated dungeon with a few simplistic mechanics. In this version of the series, the icon travels through each corridor and passage to its clicked destination, an odious arrangement since you cannot select instantaneous travel, assuming you played "Book of Dread." Also, the screen is very small, because if you zoom in, the graphic effects, notably fog, start to wear down the CPU. I'm not sure if this game's source code of Flash accepts graphics card support, but I bet it somehow doesn't.

The Emporium is streamlined and always available. You'll need to invest in its departments to see an upgrade in services, but otherwise things are okay. You have far more space for equipment since you're actually eating for ten; all the units are unique; buy the premium edition for a buck and get five more, greatly expanding the tactical options. Equipment may be upgraded with multiple slots. There is a spark of legend that allows a good piece of gear to level up with the character, staying on their tier. This is remarkable and takes out the annoyance of having to upgrade every few levels, even if the purple is a purple. Tiers make a little more sense; it's easier to figure out what the equipment delivers and how much per tier.

Due to time constraints and continued project development on Godfall, Chronicles has three line-ups of opponents--Undead, Fanatics, and Demons--and gone are Dwarves, Orcs, Deep Creatures, and their subsidiary, the Legendary Creatures. Those that remain each have their own Act, where they exclusively appear, while a fourth act is a survival gut check where you fight wave after wave of villains, and the fifth act is a long, engrossing challenge where everything is featured.

There are far more abilities, along with countless individual Conditions divided into broad categories (that way, certain characters can heal different kinds of afflictions). Notable are Terrain Conditions, which adjust your stats according to what the panel provides you, and Stance Conditions--three options per Unit--which adjust stats between moves and last until the next turn, where you can switch them out. This makes for some interesting setups, though each one has a drawback, like not having the benefits of the stance you switched out. Quickness has become something like Final Fantasy Tactics' Active Turn, an ongoing process rather than being static.

All in all, Monsters' Den: Chronicles does not quite blow its direct predecessor out of the water--this is but a sample of what Godfall is supposed to be like. An overworld map and return of female counterparts (and all the previous classes) are just a few of the things that are rumored to be featured in the next game. Even so, Chronicles blows most games of this category out of the water, and while that might not sound like much at times, remember the format. Sometimes, it's brilliance in simplicity. Garin-Dan has accomplished that here. Let's hope the next game features dwarves, eh?


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College-Ruled Universe College-Ruled Universe

Rated 0 / 5 stars

Okay, so for a demo, this game would tell me that the hit detection is way off, there is a major lack of sounds, and the challenge rating overflows when the boss shows up. Suddenly, you're in a predicament that, after dying once, you start to die in rapid succession, never knowing where you are on the screen or anything. This suggests to me that the shoot-'em-up section of the game is pretty much impossible by design and the side-scrolling aspect is pretty much forgettable and even useless. In other words, whatever kind of project this will turn out to be, I am not looking forward to "College-Ruled Universe" because because the demo flat-out royally sucks.

Let's start with the fact that there is not explicit plot. Just maneuver a little character ahead--just hold down the Right Arrow because nothing else is necessary--and the game will begin. Here, you are taken to a four-way sideways shooter with some marginally interesting overheated-gun and limited bullet-shielding mechanics, as well as the obligatory super-attack that powers up the more you kill your enemies. If you overheat, you have to wait until the gauge is back to the top before you can use that function again. You have a limited number of hits before you die, and you have a number of lives.

Looks great on the surface so far, right? For Flash games, this is a promising arcade shooter. But you'll be glad you didn't plunk in anything else but time, but time is money so you wasted a quarter anyway. Why? This game has some major interaction flaws. The ship handles okay and the shooting is effective--doesn't take millions of bullets to hose down a single ship, that's for sure--but what will grate on your nerves is the lack of audio cues to indicate ships, their types, or successful downing except when they explode. They don't react to bullets until they take the prescribed amount and die. Also, there are no audio cues to indicate injuries on part of your craft, or successes in deflecting bullets. And the graphics are so intricate as to prove distracting, especially when the boss shows up. No warnings and certainly no indication on how to avoid some of its attacks (including the biting; that took me three ships before I said "Fuck this!"), and it's impossible to tell if what you're seeing is a foreground obstacle to avoid or something in the background. Everything here is just a big paper-cut psychedelia trip, or just a big clusterfuck. Semantics.

In short, the "College-Ruled Universe" demo does not give us any indication about the upcoming game, except for a few things: it's going to suck if more sounds and greater graphic clarity are added before release, because as it stands now, it's not a game you want to sacrifice time into playing. There are plenty of worthier games and especially demos that warrant our attention. This thing? I can't even tell what the pictures are supposed to be, except maybe a tribute to "Bitter Films" or maybe the crazy stuff they featured in the first season of Superjail. Whatever. It's too chaotic for the rational mind to make a game out of.


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LordDF responds:

Ronin,

Even though your review was harsh, I still find it super-useful. It's not often I get an essay-length critique! I'm actually fledgling in making games, (I'm an illustrator by trade)so any feedback/criticism helps to make better sound/ UI/ gameplay-mechanics.

Most of what I get is people responding that they had fun or enjoyed the visual style, but your review will help me improve for those that didn't!

Cheers
-Leo


This Game Makes Sense This Game Makes Sense

Rated 0 / 5 stars

Press Any Key to Kill Yourself

"This Game Makes Sense" is a parody of parkour enthusiasts who imbibe hallucinogens. About as fun as watching your mother die of throat cancer.

The plot is simple: manuver your Red Bull-guzzling grayscale pixel pixie to the exit. There are toaster switches, spike spring-boards, and insane shit that happens in the background solely to distract you. And don't touch L'Arc-En-Ciel panels for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ; it's like it's Miner 2049er all over again. By the way, you're always running at top speed. Really. Top speed. All the time. Because you're kind of on a clock, right? And that you have unlimited deaths, including the feature to literally fuck your face dead, and also the fact that you start at the beginning all the time, and it's the same scream over and over again?

I can see NecroVMX swearing at this piece of shit in horror. Angry Video Game Nerd would probably clench his heart and die after three minutes, or have himself committed. That's how difficult the game is. It seems "polished" enough for a game made in four days but, really, unless they revise and reboot the game that makes sense at a later date (don't cross your fingers; in this case, it'll hurt after awhile), we really shouldn't expect this game to be salvaged. Actually, it cannot be salvaged, or played for that matter.

The arrow-key controls are hypersensitive to a fault. At least the authors warned us, although they should never have to. The learning curve gets pretty damning and gives you plenty of reasons to scream at the computer and yourself, then at the game where it is truly deserved. The controls are extremely sensitive, enough for you to wish you could play this two-handed instead of one-handed. The arrow keys make that experience cramped and counter-intuitive, so the control scheme, let alone its hypersensitivity, isn't helping anything. This is far contrast to "Freigeist", which is so abrasively easy that it counters the philosophical struggle it wished to demonstrate. Here, there is no philosophy, there is no motive, there is no plot, there is nothing that says, "Hey, there's a reason you're getting killed this fucking much other than a Top Scoreboard," nothing of the sort. Of course that's supposed to make sense, to a game company executive maybe. If you're a parkour aficionado, this game is aimed straight at you, and you should be incensed by it.

After about eight minutes of constant death and nothing to gain, seeing no real objective to accomplish and stereotypical pixelated old-school graphics with too many colors to be truly dubbed "authentic" to their epoch, I clicked out of the game and suddenly felt that much better. Any game that causes your arteries to harden and fail to soften after clicking out is not a very good game. Its cheap attempt at embodying the cheap psychedelic garbage released upon Atari consoles back in the 1970s only makes the experience even cheaper, and the game never fails at throwing cheap shots at the players. In terms of parkour-themed games, this one runs in a perfect circle and yet also constantly into a single wall. My only recommendation is that nobody plays this game, period. To the authors I recommend they re-title the game as "LEVEL SIX TWO" and move on while they still can.


Manly-Chicken responds:

The game isn't based on anything, especially parkour enthusiasts.


Freigeist Freigeist

Rated 1.5 / 5 stars

Side-Scrolling Steath Games Can Suck

As part of the Newgrounds Game Jam, Freigeist takes the unsympathetic notion of losing touch with reality and brings it to its foregone conclusions. It tells a tale while attempting a rudimentary "switcheroo" game mechanic. While one can appreciate the direction it's taking, lack of polish and foresight sinks it down.

You play as an unnamed Jew who has been unjustly incarcerated and experimented upon by the German Nazi regime. Take it with a grain of salt, because there are a lot of anachronisms and hand-waving with the history here. Still, they have experimented upon the player character and his bid for freedom requires tripping (literally, figuratively, and literally in another fashion that I found miserable) through a series of 1960s-esque psychedelia sequences freely switched between using the Space Bar. This is a bid for freedom, so you have to "avoid" Nazis although there really is no point since sending you back a few paces isn't gonna hold you back any.

What kept this from being a true period piece was incorporating computerized ECGs. Not to knock the presentation, but the device's modern appearance brought me out of the fold from the start. Even a short search for reference material online before drawing it means the difference between authentic and merely okay artwork; the graphics are still solid if not excellent for the time restriction. Also, the knowledge or desire to experiment with hallucinogenic drugs was not until at least a decade later; there is no well-known, current historical evidence of the Nazis experimenting with entheogens, and by their ideology and purposes surrounding their original medical experiments, such experiments would be considered minute compared to the more practical ones that they did do. We can conclude that Freigeist has less to do with Nazis and more with what the Nazis represent in a modern context, especially for one desiring freedom. In other words, everything about the game is suspect, and it's all very intentional thanks to this guy's state of mind, so it works a bit.

What I struggled with is the core mechanic of flipping between two states of being: the real and the psychedelic. This works well in a top-down setting, as seen in "The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods/A Link to the Past", but in all seriousness, choosing to create an escape-themed stealth game in a side-scroller format is just wrong on so many levels. You have to switch between the two worlds since platforms are mutually exclusive and thus you warp in and out of standard reality to get around rudimentary jumping puzzles. Really...?

The awful part about Freigeist is that the game is too easy. Sure, getting caught by the Nazis is bad, but here, it just sends you back a few steps. This is hand-waved as part of the delusion, as the protagonist is failing to differentiate between fantasy and reality. In the end, we catch this pseudo-philosophical bullshit about freedom being only a state of mind and not a word or concept or even a state of political power held by every individual instead of a few chosen authorities. Pair that with delusions of a little girl running for the exit (unnecessary due to the linearity of the stage design) and you get the notion that this isn't really a tangible victory in any stretch. The fact that I beat this in a short period of time with little trouble except a few annoying pratfalls suggests to me that the format is completely off.

Now, the game is pretty, the music is okay, and the premise is worth exploring. But if you want to give a Game Jam like this a reboot, here's my suggestion: switch to top-down perspective and augment the stealth mechanic ala Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Seriously. The side-scrolling format needs to die and the authors need to revise their approach--not to get rid of the Nazi elements, or the inclusion of totalitarian regimes--but to incorporate the use of entheogen/psychedelic pharmeceutical experimentation in another context wherein it won't be as historically suspect.

Freigeist? An okay premise set in a deeply flawed game.


Wallross responds:

I appreciate your review, you put a lot of work into writing it out, and a lot of the stuff is justified.
As far as the historical context goes, we were definitely off. We weren't really trying to create an accurate period piece, but a little flash game people can identify with. Sure the Nazi's didn't do a lot of experimentation with hallucinogens, but the Nazi's do embody those sought of fears in people. And if the main character had have been an innocent Muslim wrongly imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, drugged up on some CIA torture program, then every hard-liner american on this site would have gone and been really harsh.
The Gameplay stuff is really your opinion, some prefer it your way, others will prefer it in other ways.

I think you made good points in your review, but you were a little bit harsh when it came to score.


SHMUP SHMUP

Rated 1 / 5 stars

Murderously Difficult

"SHMUP" is polished to a fault in the sense that this belongs in an actual coin-op with its "Shop" element retooled so that you can only pick a single new setup for the next mission. Yes, that way it will go down in history alongside "Haunted Castle" as virtually UNPLAYABLE.

This is another stupid one-ship-against-armada stories that fail to incorporate any true sentiment of wartime realism. Thus, the plot and story are worthless.

Now, anybody will tell you a shooter game is often the epicenter of graphic detail. True to form, Hyptosis and Afro-Ninja took great pains to ensure that this game looks good and doesn't handle like a kangaroo with a brain disease. Josh Kemp's techno-driven soundtrack is passable but forgettable. A good deal of technical prowess went into creating this game. Those are the only good sides, because when it comes to challenge, pacing and overall fairness, "SHMUP" is just another token hog.

Okay, so you have to go around shooting everything and collecting these gems to exchange them for improved engines, weaponry, and ray shielding, which sucks because every new area has a shop that replaces every last customization you made in the previous area. Let's not forget that Leveling Up corresponds to only marginal improvements in your stats. Finally, the bosses are vindictive, emotional, and almost pornographically horrifying. Then you learn that the one weapon you shrugged at in the shop turns out to be a veritable panacea against the relentless hordes that NEVER DIE FAST ENOUGH, but if that's not all, your head is spinning from all the frustration that you wonder why in the name of Christ did you ever begin to play this game? The awards and achievements?

Afro-Ninja wanted to cover the top-down shooter genre, but seriously, he should have left this one alone. A pretty bunch of space debris isn't worth looking at if the debris is and always will be your fucking ship.


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Treasure Mania Treasure Mania

Rated 2 / 5 stars

More Like Depression, but not Suicidal or Anything

Rudimentary and tricky. This will keep a player diverted for around one to five minutes. It starts simple, then gets progressively tricky. The graphics are on par with Atari consoles, so don't expect a miracle. Actually no, they're a little better defined. It's not a great game but doesn't pretend that it is. A little more effort and one could have an action game engine in there. Still, if given a choice, I would not recommend this to anybody, so more effort needs to be taken for the second game. Seeing how primitive the programming is, the ability to cheat is likely there.



Story of the Blanks Story of the Blanks

Rated 5 / 5 stars

Wish They Developed NES Games like This

I don't get why creative properties and franchises get resurrected twenty to thirty years after their fad/vogue status is dissolved. I don't mean revised marketing and merchandising campaigns for companies to make money... I mean the fans themselves! And of these franchises, I never expected "My Little Pony" to get so much attention. Now, I have friends who used to collect this stuff back in the 1980s--they're far more versed and might be able to rationalize the franchise's appeal--and if I remained in contact, I would refer this peculiar little game to them. Then again, I would also direct others to it, namely game emulation enthusiasts, NES aficionados, and even flash developers. On that note, might as well tack on authors of the comic and literary type as well, because this game sports one of the fiercest twists in flash art games seen to date.

In "Friendship is Magic: Story of the Blanks", you play Apple Bloom, a Pony with slick architectural leanings who appears in Lauren Faust's current cartoon series as a "Cutie Mark Crusader"; she is on a quest for her identity. One day, while Twilight Sparkle runs an errand, Apple Bloom begs to tag along. During their venture, several large tree trunks mysteriously appear, blocking their path, and a mysterious pony catches Apple Bloom's attention. Following her into the wood, she comes upon a bright-lit, welcoming town with several ponies wandering about during a celebration, although things are never what they appear....

This plays out like an actual episode of a television cartoon. It furthers the background of Apple Bloom as a fan fiction "one-shot" would. The presentation mirrors an NES game, although I bet 4.8MB is beyond that system's capacity; the differences between modern Flash programming and NES design packs are made obvious here. The chiptunes are not chiptunes; they are MP3 loops of chiptunes, more specifically. The attention to detail in the look, feel, and sound are pretty close, but you would expect greater detail; you would consider this an early beta test. Also, the environment's structure and your character's hit detection do not perfectly represent the qualities of an actual NES game, but it's worth discussing with fellow players and designers familiar with the system.

Also note that the story takes a peculiar turn you will likely never see in the official cartoon, which I'm certain has a lot to do with its extremeness. It will scare the little children, perhaps even adults. I just knew something was going to break the mold, but never expected it to end happily. The "T" rating is more or less here for what resembles foul language thematically toned down to approximate the cartoon dialog. However, I am pleased to see a flash author who sticks to what "My Little Pony" is actually like, rather than slathering it with gore or sarcasm like all the Newgrounds folk have come to expect.

By virtue of its design as an art game, though dubbed as "Adventure" (the game is best identified with one of its literary sub-genres), there really isn't much game content. There is a minor puzzle-solving element, such as pushing objects or collecting key items, but nothing complex... and nowhere near even kiddie games from the NES. It's a failing of the art game genre in general. This game rises above the pack by presenting itself with an actual substantial story, rather than throw up some shiftless, nameless creature who tries to wittily escape the "Rogue Aperture" (most art games shamelessly draw upon Valve's "Portal" for inspiration). In place of that, it is a chance adventure of Apple Bloom, a character with an obvious strong personality, in the My Little Pony franchise, a pairing I would frankly call ironic. Oh... and nobody waxes philosophic.

And it works. "Friendship is Magic: Story of the Blanks" turned out far better than my expectations. While still an art game, innovation substitutes pretension, with an approximation of NES design marrying a commercial license you'd never expect to be on Newgrounds without any gore. Daily Feature indeed!


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The Outsider The Outsider

Rated 4 / 5 stars

Excellent Tribute and Atmosphere, So-So Game

H.P. Lovecraft's contribution to literary circles, no matter how the debates roll, has influenced modern media today. "The Outsider" is one of those creepy Gothic horror tales about rediscovering one's identity and the sordid reality behind it. It's not easy to discover what a monster you've become, and it should be one of man's greatest fears alongside of waking up with half your body gone... or falling asleep without your soul. Team "New World Order" has adapted the setting and character of "The Outsider" into a simple, short point-and-click game. The puzzle-solving element is strictly a modern creation. The game nearly failed to be completed in time but, having experienced no visible bugs, it turned out to be a perfectly playable experience, as the authors' comments indicate.

There are few actual puzzles to solve, so it should not take forever to complete. Still, a few solutions, like in any point-and-click game, are opaque and rather vague. Sometimes you'll stumble into them when, having grown tired of wandering through areas and clicking screens at random just to make sure you missed nothing the first time around, you'll do something you would never have thought was possible. In other words, the game doesn't contain an "Examine" option where hints about a prop or tool's actual function is revealed. Such a device might have taken more time to implement, with coding and text, and might have been considered game-breaking or erasing of any difficulty in the game. Not if they put thought into it, but then again, these guys had a deadline to keep.

Honoring Mr. Lovecraft's convention of his protagonists perusing intellectual reserves, the game features books scattered along the way that cite the story itself, but they do not present any hints or solutions to actually navigating the murky domains themselves. There's a schism between the story and game; they lack any real synthesis between their respective genres' conventions. In other words, the book didn't really have a problem-solving element beyond figuring out one's identity, which omits the necessity of figuring out how to travel through a sordid landscape (they're mutually exclusive). The books in the game are, therefore, better off considered a garnish that pays tribute to the author and works that inspired the game, rather than as a functional element.

"The Outsider" is good for one complete play. Not much replay value after that. It has the aesthetics of horror burnt through the experience, but it isn't a "shock" scare, but rather it emphasizes dread and doom. For a modern video game analogy, it is rooted in a more Silent Hill sensibility than a Resident Evil/Biohazard one. It isn't the very best in Newgrounds' fifth Game Jam, but it is among the top three... just not quite taking the crown.

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Post-Script: Team "New World Order" should consider creating a game based on Lovecraft stories in general, because this entry is on par with other Lovecraft-inspired flash games such as "Necronomicon 2.0". Brian has the programming experience to create role-playing games, while Ian and J-qb's gray-scale art direction (including a slick Ouroburos-inspired interaction window sill) can definitely fill these eternal voids. A Lovecraft-based adventure game from these guys would be slick beyond measure.

Of the Game Jam 5 games I've played, this one has the most going for it. Why? The sense of authenticity, from the writing style that emulates the author to the spooky overtones, this one has it all. It plays much like an interactive storybook, so while it would typically suffer a beating with the point-and-click hater crowd under normal circumstances, it is compact, lightweight, doesn't take forever, and accomplishes what it set out to do.


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