Epic Shiny Reviews
Shiny Review #18 — Dungeon Ascension

This is a game which seems to follow a near-perfect formula to be frustrating, unfun, and unfair.

Dungeon Ascension is a rather glitchy platformer, the main draw of which is that the levels are very short and in a random order. However, the extremely incompetent programming and design has somehow managed to screw up this idea, which I thought was interesting and could serve as the basis for a fantastic game if all this thing’s millions of flaws were ironed out.

The first thing one notices is that the graphics are extremely amateurish and ruin the game’s impression even before it begins. I usually don’t give a crap about graphics, but this is really a mess. You’ve got some objects and backgrounds with different degrees of pixellation to others, some sprites look like they’ve been very lazily scaled, and I’m fairly certain some of the graphics were stolen from somewhere else. In addition, they’re boring as hell. Everything seems to be trying way too hard to be dark and moody; there is very little colour, and most of the game, at least what you’re going to see, uses a single background and a single type of platform.

One thing that isn’t screwed up is the controls. They feel great, they’re intuitive, and are very much like in Tower of Greed

The goal on each floor is to reach the open door on the opposite side of the screen. As is expected, there are traps and other obstacles in the way. On the 10th floor and I think every 5th following that, there are bosses, which are okay but nothing special, and must be fought by throwing knives, which is very annoying; the best way to so this seems to be rapidly changing direction. Still, this is the least of this game’s problems.

The game is randomised to some degree, but it’s still the same game every time you play; you go through the same levels, just in a different order. This is the first reason why permadeath doesn’t work here; replaying it is tedious.

Glitches impact on gameplay quite severely. For instance, you can’t jump or at least not very consistently while on a downward-moving platform. It’s fairly easy to glitch into the sides of walls, and not to mention the pain that ladders cause.

The game has a poorly-crafted atmosphere. Most of the music consists of some sort of horror ambience, which doesn’t fit with the gameplay at all.

However, the most unforgivable thing of all is the godawful hitboxes. It’s damn near impossible to tell the difference between just dodging something and just clipping the edge. This, in a game with ONE-HIT-PERMADEATH.

To add even more frustration and insult, many of the floors you’ll need to go through require trial-and-error. This is the other reason why permadeath doesn’t work here. For instance, one of the first nine levels is an arrow trap which is a simialrly dull colour to the background, which shoots at you at a particular spot which requires almost inhuman reflexes to avoid if you don’t know it’s there beforehand.

A mess of poorly-selected elements and mechanics tacked onto a decent idea with even worse programming. That’s what Dungeon Ascension is. It gets a resounding “Not Worth Playing” from me.

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Shiny Review #17 — A Nation of Wind

With a learning curve that puts Dwarf Fortress to shame, A Nation of Wind is one of the most terrifyingly confusing games I’ve ever played. Someone please help me.

It’s an RTS which is rather difficult to describe. The goal is to capture obelisks, and you win if you capture enough.  This is done by surrounding them with churches, and gijfdhgjdshgiuhguifdshgiufdshu I don’t even know.

At the same time all the buildings in the world are undergoing inconceivably complex interactions, you’re directly controlling an airship which controls really clumsily and also has dozens of different options, using it to kill mushrooms. I think.

I really like how the game looks though. It’s colourful, you can tell what everything is, and it reinforces the game’s theme quite well.

The music is nice too, it really contributes to the feel the visuals go for; it’s reasonably good in my opinion. Not much to say about either of those things, other than they’re bright and cutesy.

The game DOES have a tutorial, thank goodness, although it’s truly lackluster; basically, it crams about ten hours’ worth of information into the span of a few minutes, then throws you in at the deep end. That is not okay. It would be greatly preferable if it taught you about the mechanics one by one through the game itself, without needing a segregated tutorial.

They say that some amount of complexity should be used to its full potential to create depth, which is where A Nation of Wind falls apart completely. None of the choices that are there to be made — provided you can work out how — are partiularly meaningful or interesting. In fact, a lot of the time it feels like a pile of mechanics, loosely tied together.

The one thing it really did well was genre blending. I liked how you only controlled one ship, but the whole thing still plays exactly like the RTS it is.

Congratulations; A Nation of Wind is a new and interesting experience. Now make it playable for mortals.

Shiny Review #16 — TowerClimb
Ok, this is technically still a beta, but in my opinion if it’s finished enough to be released to the public, it’s finished enough to be reviewed, so let’s go.

TowerClimb is a VERY Spelunky-ish action platformer incorporating many of the same mechanics. You’re a tiny man with a random name, climbing a tower for no reason other than to get to the top. Along the way, you pick up items and talk to witches. The game’s divided into worlds of 3 levels each — the levels are long, so each world takes rather a long time, but variety is added using gimmicks — some levels have rising lava, or less platforms, or more enemies, and so on. In each level, you start from the bottom and need to reach the door at the top. There’s a lot of stuff to go through, so let’s go right in.

My first complaint is with the platofrming physics. Each “block” of terrain is far too large. You can climb walls, and in fact need to in order to progress, but climbing walls takes forever, gravity is uncomfortably high, and the fall damage threshold is ridiculously small. I also have problems with the procedural generation algorithm; it frequently produces terrible maps which you have no choice but to use items to pass.

The items themselves aren’t good, but they’re not bad either. My personal favourite are the double-jump potions. The corrosion potions and teleportation potions are just too difficult to handle.

The control scheme is one of my biggest complaints. Anyone who’s playedSpelunky  expects Z to jump, X to throw items, and C to cycle the inventory.TowerClimb truly messed this up; Z cycles the inventory, X jumps, and C throws items. The rest of the controls are largely identical; Shift runs and A/S/D are hotkeys for items.

A minor quibble, but the game has no mute button. I want a mute button, damnit!

Before I focus on the positive side, I’ll take the time to say the colour scheme is terrible. World 1 enemies, which outright kill you in a single hit, are a very similar grey to the background. In world 4, lava drips can kill you — they’re tiny dark orange things which look like harmless particle effects and don’t stand out much. Both of these suffer from the game having so much crap in the foreground which can completely obscure them.

The variety of enemies is poor and the gimmicks get stale very quickly — the whole game gets boring faster than it should.

One thing I like is the special levels — occasionally, there’s an extra door to “the path of exiles”, which leads to one of three very difficult levels, which if finished skips forward three levels in the main tower. It’s basically a warp zone for experienced players. As usual, just three variants is NOT a good enough variety — especially considering one — the Fatal Flight level — has such terrible procedural generation that it’s pretty much a death sentence.

Still, despite all of its major flaws and imbalances, it can be quite an enjoyable experience. Now, at this junction, I WOULD recommend everyone to at least try it just because it’s new and interesting and all that, except for one thing: it isn’t freeware. It costs five dollars. Now, if it sounds like your thing, then sure, go ahead. For everyone else… spare yourself the effort.

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Shiny Review #15 — Advanced Invasion 3

Advanced Invasion 3, summed up in one sentence, is a good example of a Virus Invasion fangame done WRONG.

If you haven’t played the Virus Invasion series yet, I highly recommend that. It’s a charming little platformer which will waste a good two hours of your time.

Advanced Invasion 3 contains a lot of what made the VI series successful, but it’s all done wrong. The level layout is decent, but the variety of enemies is disappointing for being so long in production, the bosses are extremely boring, and there is a particularly nasty game-ruining ascended glitch.

What to start with?

Ok. Similar to the original games, you play through several mario-ish levels and then fight a boss, rinse and repeat for the remainder of the game. This format works nicely, but in this case the platforming levels are overly frustrating due to their extreme length and complete reset after each attempt. and the bosses are insultingly boring. Like, boring as all hell. Two bossfights involve running from one end of the room to the other pressing alternate buttons. One more has the boss flying above you, dropping boxes. After it drops 100 boxes, you win.

The levels get rather obnoxious at times — it’s really a pain when you reach a string of enemies, where each one is either immune to jumping or immune to bullets.

There is a gun system, but for some reason you inexplicably lose your gun at the end of each level. Other games, such as the official demo of Virus Invasion 7, pull off this mechanic much more successfully. It is nice to include it, though.

That game-breaking bug? If you jump on two things at once, you die. Some idiot thought it was a good idea to leave it like that.

Occasionally, you get hover-tank levels. These aren’t too bad, but they’re not good either, as they interrupt the flow of play rather badly.

Finally, one last quibble. About 75% of the way through the game, you reach an ice zone. Everything here is some shade of whitish-cyan and it’s nigh-impossible to see anything.

This game isn’t irredeemably awful, but I can’t honestly recommend it to anyone at all. Don’t bother to play it, not even once. It’s just not a good game.

Shiny Review #14 — JADE

JADE stands for Java-based Ancient Domains Engine. It is the sequel to ADOM, which I hate due to its unbelievably stupid balancing decisions — just WHOSE idea was it to have monsters get tougher when you kill a lot of one type?

is JADE better? Well, read on.

Firstly, let’s see how it measures up to the other 3rd-generation major roguelikes. The controls are rather inefficient — There are four pages of commands, when the majority don’t do much. It could probably do just fine with one page. The controls resemble NH more than any up-to-date roguelike, which can cause confusion.

Balancing? Just because it’s a beta does not mean it gets a free pass on this one. I didn’t play long enough to find problems in the skill system, but I did notice the difficulty to be rather inconsistent. Sometimes when you enter the first dungeon it’s brutal, other times it’s not so bad. Still, that’s preferable to ADOM.

The game layout is good. I particularly liked that some dungeons were randomized in name and location.

Now for the part I hate. JADE aims for a Dwarf Fortress-like level of realism you can’t expect anybody to understand unspoilered. For instance, it was once mentioned in the game’s official blog that being hungry would temporarily reduce stats, and if you were hungry for too long you’d lose some permanently. This is ridiculous. Stuff like that doesn’t improve balancing or the player’s experience.

It irritates me that you can never see any of the statistics that count — What’s your armour class? What kind of damage does your weapon deal?

It certainly isn’t a bad game, but it’s not interesting enough to play for any meaningful length of time.

Shiny Review #13 — Forget-Me-Not

Forget-Me-Not is an interesting pacman-like game that had only recently been released for PC.

You’re a white square moving around a small procedurally-generated maze. The procedural generation is great; it works well and looks good. The maze starts off with one empty square containing a key and the rest containing “flowers” — basically, funny-looking cross-shaped dots. When all the flowers are gone, a locked block will appear somewhere, and you need to take the key to it to complete the level.

Almost immediately, monsters will begin spawning around the maze. If they touch you, they cause damage, but unlike most pacman-like games, you can take multiple hits without dying. They can be killed by bullets, which you constantly spew out from your front end, and you can also kill things by running them over if you’ve been “wall scraping” for long enough. Wall scraping basically means attempting to move into a wall while travelling parallel to it.

And that’s where the game begins to fall apart; balance. It’s so easy and convenient to use the wall scraping technique than relying on bullets. This makes the game feel shallow for some reason.

It can also be very frustrating if some enemy type you haven’t seen before spontaneously kills you because you don’t know what it was, but such things happen so it’s not really an issue.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff for you to figure out on your own; I don’t want to spoil any of that.

One last nitpick: When you lose, entering your name is really annoying — You can’t just type it in, because it’s not really designed for PC, so you need to select characters using the arrow keys, and seeing as there are about a hundred different characters, about half of which are nonsensical, it’s really a pain.

Forget-Me-Not is deep and addictive, and an all-round good idea, but is unbalanced and really suffered from porting side-effects.

Shiny Review #12 — The Name of this Game is Ocean Insane

Alright. Where to begin?

Ocean Insane is a short, intense platformer that reminds me of Nezumi Man. You’re underwater and have a laser cannon, and need to get out of the water. Simple enough. However, it’s riddled with problems that wreck the entire experience.

You begin the game with 8 HP and 10 minutes to escape. To do that, you need to go through five levels full of malevolent fish and then kill a boss. If anything touches you, you lose 1HP, except for the spike traps which are instadeath, which is kind of harsh and frustrating, seeing as you’ll probably think they’re paryt of the background first play through.

The five levels are procedurally generated, and the results are usually quite good, although you sometimes get occasional oddities like treasure chests sitting on top of and obscuring spike traps, and it’s very slow to generate, so there’s a lengthy delay between levels.

I can’t complain about the variety of enemies. There are about ten kinds in total, with five on the first level and one more introduced in every subsequent level.

There isn’t any single factor that makes it bad, but it’s just frustrating and unfun. My recommendation is to play it like, twice, and then delete it.

Shiny Review #11 — Mindbane

Mindbane is one of those games that even though it’s highly enjoyable, it’s so short that it can be over before you can properly like it, or even understand the controls. It’s a gimmick-platformer, like VVVVVV, except here the gimmick is a variety of floating powers that allow you to hover, double jump, lock the vertical component of your velocity, and so on.

Despite being excellent all-round, as I just mentioned, the game really suffers from its bad controls. You have a lot of abilities, and it takes a lot of getting used to before you properly know which key does what. In addition, collision detection is slightly off and movement is unpleasantly slippery.

The music is very good. However, as the same song plays over and over again all through the game, it gets slightly grating. A couple of extra songs — such as one that played whenever you entered a secret area — would do a world of good.

There is some sort of plot about suicide, but it’s not really that deep or developed so I won’t go in to the details.

I like the mood of the game; Dark, but not gloomy or creepy.

Mindbane is nice, but it has some very serious flaws. It could be amazing with some polish.

Shiny Review #10 — Luna 0

The Luna Game series, a series of MLP:FiM fangames made in GM, is infamous for being absolutely terrifying.

The latest, and quite possibly the best, entry, is Luna 0, a prequel. It’s more substantial than most of the previous games, 

It’s not considered good because of the gameplay, it’s considered good because of how it affects people, just like, for instance, Passage. As such, Luna 0 could be considered an art game, although less so than the previous games.

Basically, you’re Princess Luna and you need to help out everyone else. I would go into the plot a bit more, but I don’t want to give spoilers. 

It’s about as long as the four previous games combined — Although that’s not really saying much as even so it’s less than ten minutes long. Still, it actually has substance in the form of a few levels of platforming, something which the pointless and gimmicky Yume Nikki lacks.

It must be said that the game can only be played once; You’ll need a program to reset it in order to see all six levels.

The game is solid, reasonably fun, and the ending is thrilling. I’d say play it.

Shiny Review #9 — BubbleTime

At first I didn’t like BubbleTime, but I warmed to it later.

It’s a sort of asteroidsy freemotion shmup where you’re a large purple bubble. Controls are WASD and the mouse. You go around shooting things - duh - such as smaller green bubbles which do nothing, and later on, malevolent bubbles.

In order to make the game less boring, there are little blue powerups which appear from time to time and give either an extra life, enhanced firepower, or reduced recoil. It’s always nice to see one pop up on the screen.

There’s a pleasant variety of enemies, and they generally aren’t thrown at you one after the other — some have only a small chance of appearing, others wait until you have a very high score.

The sound is a continuous loop of music with 8-bitty sound effects. The music’s quite catchy, but becomes grating after a while. The game offers functioning online high score lists, which is good for a change because most online  high score lists are extremely laggy and hardly work.

One unpleasant aspect is the small variety of possible powerups, but really there’s not much to complain about.

It’s worth a try. There’s nothing horrible about it. It’s GOOD, even.