Game Review: Kill It With Fire

Pop quiz hotshot, there’s a spider in your bath. Do you:

  • a) Do the glass and a piece of paper trick to trap and then release the little blighter?
  • b) Turn the taps on and try to drown the eight-legged monster?
  • c) Be one of those insane people who pick the arachnid up in their hands and gently place it in the back garden.
  • d) KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!

From developer Casey Donnellan Games and publisher, TinyBuild Games comes a new first-person shooter/action game, that correctly chose to answer d) to my little question. Kill It With Fire does exactly what you think it does just from reading the title. Or, as described on the official website:

The common spider – mankind’s most ancient and deadly nemesis. As a licensed Kill It With Fire exterminator, it’s your duty to fight back! Gather your arsenal and hunt the eight-legged menace on a journey across suburbia…and beyond!

To defeat spiders you must exploit their one weakness: FIRE. Or bullets. Or explosions, throwing stars, gettin’ smushed by stuff… OK, pretty much anything, really. But that doesn’t mean it’s gonna be easy – first you’ve gotta find them. Utilize state-of-the-art spider tracking technology to pinpoint your prey’s location among hundreds of potential hiding spots – then light everything on fire and smash it with a frying pan after it runs out. It’s the only way to be sure.

The game really is as madcap as it sounds. You play as an exterminator working for the Kill It With Fire company and you have to kill spiders…. that’s about it. Your job is to kill those arachnids, but not (as the title suggests) just with fire, with anything that works. The premise deceptively simple, just kill spiders, but there is a little bit more going on that adds quite a few layers to the basics of the gameplay. The game takes place in a small town, and each of the levels is a locale in that town. You start in a house with very little else to really see and explore. There’s the main living area and several locked doors, to unlock those doors, you need to kill a certain amount of spiders. So let’s say as an example, there’s a number five on the door to the bathroom, then you need to kill five spiders to unlock that door. Other doors require more dead spiders to unlock, kill enough spiders and you can unlock the main door to progress to the next level.

KILL IT WITH FIRE TOILET

Killing all those eight-legged monsters is as easy as it is hard. Sometimes, you’ll just see one of them walking across the floor, so you squish it. However, other times and the spiders will be hiding, you can hear them moving, you know there’s a spider nearby… but you don’t know where it is. This is where the interactivity of each level comes into play, as you can pick up pretty much anything you see and examine it. See a bookshelf and think there could be a spider there somewhere? Pick up the books, turn them around and just maybe… there might be an arachnid hiding around the back… KILL IT! The little bastards hide any and everywhere too, under toilet seats, in bins, behind TVs and more. This adds a layer to the game that requires you to be pretty thorough as you explore each level. What I thought was going to be a fast-paced action romp of a game is actually more of a slower-paced, leisurely explore and investigate type of game. But it is how you do choose to kill those spiders where the over the top gameplay begins to come into play.

KILL IT WITH FIRE CLIPBOARD

You start with nothing, only to find a clipboard on the first level. This clipboard is actually very handy as not only does it list your level objectives (more on those later), it can even be used as a weapon to squish spiders. After a while, you’ll begin to find ever increasingly more powerful and fun weapons to use. Soon enough, you’ll get your hands on an aerosol can and a lighter that you can use as a makeshift flamethrower (it’ll do until you get an actual flamethrower later), a handgun, an assault rifle, C4 explosives, Molotov cocktails and so many more means to dispatch all of those spiders. There’s also a very helpful spider detector that you can use to help in the search of the ever hiding arachnids. There’s even an upgrade system where you can learn new skills and beef up that spider detector too… you can put a freaking laser on it!

Oh and about those previously mentioned level objectives. Aside from the killing of spiders, each level has a selection of alternate and completely optional little objectives to complete. Those objectives range from things like killing multiple spiders with one shotgun blast and solving various puzzles to finding secret rooms and even blowing up a gas station. And if you do complete all of the objectives on a level, this unlocks the ability to take part in an ‘Arachno-Gauntlet’ type challenge, and each level has its own unique challenge to try and beat. As an example, the first level has you having to kill five spiders with a six-shooter pistol in a strict time limit… oh and you can’t reload the gun either. So you can only miss once.

As simple as Kill It With Fire is (and it really is), the levels are wonderfully varied and there’s plenty to do along the way. But there are some negatives. It is a rather short game, I got to the end credits in around three hours or so. Granted, I didn’t finish all of the secondary objectives, find all of the upgrades and weapons, but still, three hours is a fairly short game. The spiders can’t harm you at all, you are essentially invincible from the only enemy in the game. There are various types of spiders, little white baby spiders, your standard black house spider, queen spider who when killed births several baby spiders, jumping spiders, zombie spiders, radioactive spiders and even exploding spiders…. but none of them can hurt you. So, there’s very little challenge from the game in terms of trying to stay alive if you can’t actually die. You’ll instinctively back away from an exploding spider even though it can’t harm you.

KILL IT WITH FIRE SHOTGUN

Still, I have to admit that even though I did get through the game in around three hours, I’m really aching to get back into it and mop up all the little things I missed. I really want to go back and do the optional objectives I skipped over, I want to unlock all of the upgrades and weapons I have yet to do. The gameplay here is simple, but it has also drawn me in via its addictiveness. It may be a small-ish game, but there is still a lot here to keep you entertained, there are several secrets yet to find even though I have seen the ending.

Already released on Steam several months back now. Kill It With Fire sees a launch on the 4th of March for PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch. And there’s currently a 20% off offer if you pre-order before release. With a £12.49 price tag (£9.99 with the discount), I think the budget price suits what the game offers very well indeed. Arachnid murder has never been so much fun.

Game Review: Speed Limit

I do love me some indie games. I often find they are more creative and interesting than your average AAA title that gets released. A small team of dedicated developers seem to push original ideas more and further than those big name studios who, more often than not, fart out endless sequels of tired old franchises. Which all brings me to the latest indie game to be discovered. Speed Limit from developers Gamechuck and published by Chorus Worldwide.

Now, from the title alone, I’d be expecting some kind of arcade OutRun style driving game. But what Speed Limit actually is, is so much more. I’m not even sure which genre to define the game as. Is it a driving game? Yeah, kind of, there certainly is some driving in the game… But it’s also an action-shooter, a platformer, a genre bending and blending title that melds various game genres into one. This is how developer Gamechuck describe the game on their site:

Speed Limit is a super-fast-paced tour through a variety of retro action genres, set to beautifully animated pixel art. The difficulty curve ramps up to breakneck levels while you run and gun in a side-scrolling shooter, weave through traffic in a faux-3D bike racer, dodge incoming missiles in an isometric shoot ’em up, and more!”

First, the story. Well, I’m not a really sure there is one to be honest. The game just starts with your character on a train and some ‘random’ guy handing you a gun. Then you are hunted down by men in black types. From that point on, Speed Limit is a non-stop action romp until the end credits.

I guess I should explain how Speed Limit actually works as a game. Split into five different gameplay styles, each style has its own level and each level features an increasingly faster form of transport. So, you start off on a train and this level is a side-scrolling shooter/slight platform game. You have to make your way from the back of the speeding train, to the front while being chased by enemies. Armed with a simple pistol, you can shoot the bad guys, jump and duck obstacles and shoot even more bad guys. Get to the front of the train and you move onto the next level and gameplay style.

SPEED LIMIT TRAIN

Next, you find yourself in a red sports car and the action shifts from a side-scroller shooter to a top-down driving game. The bad guys are now in cars, trucks and on bikes as you speed along a multi-lane freeway with oncoming traffic and roadworks to dodge. Thankfully, you are still armed with your gun, so you can take out the enemies with relative ease by shooting them… Or ram them into oncoming traffic and such. Get to the end of this one and an enemy bike rides up next to you. That’s your cue to jump from the car to the bike and start the next level.

SPEED LIMIT CAR

Now on a more powerful motorbike, the game changes once more to a third person, pseudo-3D perspective. Tearing along the road, there’s more traffic to dodge and more bad guys to shoot, all while being chased by a juggernaut of a truck ready to run you down. Here, not only do have to contend with the usual obstacles and bad guys, but if you go too slow, then that massive truck will catch and plough over you. You have to maintain a decent speed while still dealing with everything else thrown at you. Survive this and there’s an attack helicopter at the end wanting to take you out. Use specially placed jumps to leap into the air on your bike and take out the pilot. When that’s dealt with, you do one final jump and leap from your bike into the pilot seat of the attack helicopter.

SPEED LIMIT BIKE

So we’re now on level four and the action shifts once more. You’re now in an isometric shooter flying over water. The helicopter is armed with a machine gun you use to take our ground targets as well as missiles you shoot at air targets, like other helicopters and fighter jets. Throughout the level, aside from the enemies (that attack from both in front and behind) there’s a steady flow of obstacles to fly around and under. Rocks, lighthouses and bridges have to be avoided along with taking out bad guys. Get to the end of this level and you face a red fighter jet, only you don’t shoot this one down. Oh no, you shoot yourself on a missile (stay with me) toward the jet, to take over as the pilot.

SPEED LIMIT HELI

And then you’re on the fifth and final level of the game. Now in a red fighter jet, the game becomes what could be described as a reverse Tempest crossed with After Burner. You fly into the screen with other planes trying to shoot you down following behind. Here, you need to deftly use the speed to slow down and get behind the jets giving chase. Once on their six, you can shoot them down pretty easily. Take out all the other planes and it’s on to the final boss. A stealth bomber with multiple individual areas that need to be destroyed before you can finally blow it out of the sky. A very tough challenge right at the end of the game.

SPEED LIMIT JET

So there you have it, that is how Speed Limit works and plays. Five distinct and different levels (each level split into two stages, ten stages in total… With an extra stage when playing on the harder difficulty) of intense, non-stop action and varying gameplay genres. The way the game transitions from level to level is seamless. The action never stops, there are no breaks (except for the few seconds as the game shifts between levels). It’s all out action form start to end and Speed Limit hardly gives you a chance to breath. This is old school arcade action in its purest form, just given a unique and modern twist. As you can see from the trailer and pics here, Speed Limit also uses a pixel art style for its graphics. They look great, beautifully animated and full of little details. It really is a great looking game and does the pixel art style proud.

Right from the off, Speed Limit is hard. You will die… A lot, even on easy mode. This really is a game of trial and error, you have to pay attention and learn each level, each gameplay style as each level changes genres. That difficulty only gets increasingly harder as you progress too. Yet, the difficulty curve of Speed Limit is absolutely perfect though. It throws you in at the deep end as soon as you start and you’d better learn fast if you want to see the end credits. Each death you suffer, you learn something new, where a enemy will spawn from and when. When to jump, duck or dodge at the absolute pixel perfect moment and more. Speed Limit really took me back to gaming in the arcades in the eighties. Really tough games that were designed to swallow your coins as fast as possible. Thankfully, Speed Limit doesn’t require you to throw fistfuls of coins in order to play. The difficulty here, while rock hard from the very first second of gameplay, is still extremely well balanced and each level features a generous amount of checkpoints that make the huge amount of deaths you will most definitely incur a lot more reasonable. Die, try again and die again. But you’ll still make steady progress despite the game’s rock hard difficulty.

SPEED LIMIT AGENT

Now, while I thoroughly enjoyed playing Speed Limit… There is a negative. It’s just too damn short. I mean, I received my review code on Friday the 22nd of January and the embargo for reviews, etc was up today on the 8th of February. So that’s a little over two weeks. My first playthrough, I finished the game in a little over forty minutes on easy setting. My second lasted just under forty minutes on normal when I understood the game more (side note: finishing the game on normal does answer the a rather big question asked at the start). A little over an hour and I had seen the whole game, I really didn’t need that two weeks. Now to be fair, there is an unlockable infinite mode where you just keep playing the game on a loop and you can unlock a time attack mode too. But the thing is, you are still just replaying those same five levels over and over. There’s very little more to the game than those five levels, as great as they are and as much fun as I had with Speed Limit, there’s just not a huge amount of game here. You unlock some art when finishing each level on normal difficulty… And that’s about it. Now of course, Speed Limit is trying to emulate old school arcade gaming of the past, and it does precisely that, really damn well too. But gamers just expect a bit more game for their money these days. Speaking of money, Speed Limit has a price tag of £7.99/$9.99/€9.99 and that makes this one of the hardest and most frustrating reviews I’ve ever had to do. That’s a great price point for sure, a low budget cost which certainly takes out some of the sting over Speed Limit’s lack of content. Plus as I said, the gameplay is really bloody great… But personally,  it still feels just a bit too pricey for what the game offers. I do love this game, but it really does need more meat on the bones.

I guess value for money in this one really boils down to the kind of gamer you are. I think speed runners will get a real kick out of this one. Each level is timed and so is your overall play from start to end. I can see speed runners really enjoying this and pushing themselves to beat their best times. But for me, I’m just not a speed runner gamer, so that aspect just doesn’t appeal to me. I finished the game on easy and normal difficulty settings in a little over an hour, and that’s about it really and I don’t think the infinite loop and time trial modes really add anything of value. I can’t honestly say if I’m sure I’d come back to Speed Limit now I’ve finished it. I’ve had the game for over two weeks and just not felt the pull to play it again since finishing both difficulty settings in just over an hour and dabbling with the infinite mode. In fact, it’s taken me longer to write, format and edit this review than play through Speed Limit… Twice.

So, the big question. Is Speed Limit worth buying? This is a lot harder to answer than it seems. Look, I love this game for what it is. The gameplay is amazing, the mixing of genres is brilliantly done, the difficulty is hard but very fair. The game really captures so much of what I love about old school gaming. All in all, Speed Limit is a wonderfully created title that really took me back to my childhood, and I have to thank Gamechuck for that. But I just can’t dismiss how short it is, I mean, there’s an achievement/trophy for finishing the game in under thirty minutes. Yet its got a reasonable price point that I can’t ignore. Still, I feel I do need to get across that as great as Speed Limit is, it is a very, very short-lived experience. How much mileage you’ll personally get out of the game really boils down to the type of gamer you are. If you’re someone who’s obsessed with beating your old times, if you’re a speed runner, then I think you’ll get a lot more out of this than I did. But for me, this was very much a one and done experience. I loved every second of it too… But there isn’t enough game here to me to really get my teeth into and I’m not feeling that Speed Limit is doing much to pull me back in now I have finished it.

I do think people should buy it. The team at Gamechuck really are onto something here. I’d love to see them expand and build on this concept. Maybe a sequel, maybe an all new game with similar ideas and themes. Buying Speed Limit is a sure-fire way to show support to the devs and get them working on more titles. So yeah, definitely give it a go (try the demo first), but I guess you need to decide if the price tag is worth the amount of game you get. I recommend the game, but with the caveat that it’s is a short lived experience.

Speed Limit is coming to PS4 on 15/2, PS5 on 16/2, Steam on 17/02, Nintendo Switch on 18/02, and finally seeing an Xbox One & Xbox Series X/S release on 19/02.

Game Review: HyperParasite

Well this is it, the start of a new year. A quick outline for 2021 from me before I get into this review. I have quite a lot planned for 2021, more books, with a new gaming book to be published this summer. My first gaming book, MICROBRITS is still available on Amazon. More articles, including me finishing my gargantuan GamesMaster retrospective that I started last year. More writing in general. I’m also currently messing around with giving this blog a facelift too, a new design just for a change, which (when I make up my mind) will be ready in a week or so.

But my first blog post of 2021 is a game review… a game that is several months old already as it was released back in April of 2020. I do have a reason why I’ve only just gotten around to this though. The truth is that I never really intended to review HyperParasite at all. In fact, I never even really knew about it until my pal Badger over at Stoffel Presents (his review is right here) kept going on about it. He reviewed the game back in April, 2020… that’s how behind I am with this. Anyway, I kept seeing Badger talking abut HyperParasite on social media, and his continual praising of it. As of writing, I’ve not even read his review yet, I want to get mine done first before see what Badger thinks. But as for the last eight months, he has been lauding the game a lot, even calling it the best indie game of 2020. So, I just thought that I may as well give it a go myself. With that out of the way, on with my review.

As I get older, I find myself less drawn to the big AAA games released today. Instead, I find most of my gaming enjoyment comes from smaller indie titles. I mean, the side-scrolling, action rouge-lite game, Dead Cells was released in 2017, and I’m still playing it today. For an indie game, that’s a hell of a lot of longevity. There are some really great games in the indie market (some not so good ones too) that often get overlooked, but is HyperParasite one of those great gems?

From developer and publisher Troglobytes Games comes this fast-paced, action packed shooter with a very eighties flavour. Using the now very much ‘on trend’ rouge-lite gameplay mechanic, HyperParasite is a top-down, twin-stick shooter where you play as a parasite. Basic? Yes. But like an alien taking control of a human, there’s a lot more going on under the skin.

So the plot for this is (as mentioned) you playing as a parasite, an alien with the ability to take control of humans. As the alien is pretty weak (one hit deaths) you seriously need those human host bodies to complete your mission. And your mission is it to take control of the POTUS and then press the ‘big red button’ to take out the human race. Oh yeah, you’re the bad guy… or bad alien. With this being a rouge-lite game you will die… a lot. That is the very nature of the sub-genre, you die, you make a little progress, you die, you learn more of the game, you die, you get a new upgrade, you die. Rinse and repeat… and die. It is this trial and error gameplay mechanic that turns a lot of people off, if they don’t understand what a rouge-lite game is like. It can be frustrating, it can be annoying and many games in this sub-genre get the balance wrong between being frustrating but also fun. Thankfully, HyperParasite strikes that balance right, almost perfect in fact.

If you’ve ever played a twin-stick shooter before, then you’ll know what to expect. The controls are simple, one stick moves your character, the other aims your weapon, then you have a button to shoot. But don’t let that simplicity fool you, cos HyperParasite is tough, very tough. Every time you die (and you will), you go back to the very start of the game. There are no save states, no checkpoints, this is permadeath territory. So this is where the whole being a parasite comes in handy as every time you take control of one of the humans, that acts as an extra life. Each of the humans have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own unique weapons and stats too. This element of taking over humans adds a wonderful element of strategy to the game. Do you go for a long range human, who will be less accurate with their attacks, or do you go for a close range/melee and stronger attack putting you closer to the danger? Then you have to take into account you target’s speed, some humans are quite nippy, others lug about, but may have other talents that will prove helpful. Then there’s the luck stat, as the higher the luck is, the more likely they are to find decent loot, loot that will come in very handy. I love this aspect of HyperParasite, this level of thought instead of just running around gung-ho. You really do have to think about which human to take control over for specific situations, be very aware of each of the character’s unique skills. For instance, I tend to like using the fast ninja character with high luck to get my hands on some much needed in-game money. But his attack isn’t great and going up against an end of level boss with the ninja will often result in death, so I’ll swap out with a more robust and weighty character for a big showdown.

HYPERPARASITE TITLE CHARACTERS

Aside from the basic shooting and taking over humans, there are a few other tricks at your disposal. You can dodge, use special attacks (when in control of a human) and more. There are upgrades to be found or purchased from the in-game shop. It is also this shop where you can unlock new humans to take over. You start out with only four, but as you massacre your way though the areas of each stage, you’ll find the brains of those you have killed dropped by stronger versions of those characters. Take said brain back to the shop and that will unlock that human, but you then have to use in-game money to buy the human to make them available to take control of. You can also store up to three human bodies at the shop for use later (see my swapping out the ninja point above). This is an extremely handy feature as you can keep hold of some of the harder to find characters for use when needed. Speaking of the humans, I think this is a good time to talk about the game’s setting.

As I mentioned at the start, HyperParasite is set in the eighties… and it’s not shy about that either. Aside from the very neon looking 16-bit stylised graphics, there’s also a rather impressive electronica/synth-pop soundtrack, it sounds like something from a Chuck Norris/Cannon, direct to VHS film… and it’s glorious too. Then there are the sixty-odd humans in the game you can control. Some of them are fairly generic, but a lot of them are obvious (but non-copyright infringing) eighties pop culture character references. Each of the five acts in the game have their own unique setting and graphics. As an example, the first being ‘Downtown’ with its grimy and sleazy back streets, where you will cross paths with the likes of Delivery Girl (Paperboy from the game), Ghost Hunter (Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters) and Drug Lord (Tony Montana from Scarface) to name a few. Each act has three sub-bosses that needs taking out too, and yes, these are also eighties pop culture references. Just sticking with the Downtown area for this bit, you will have to face the likes of an off-duty detective (John McClane from Die Hard), a Rocky Balboa parody and my personal favourite sub-boss character, Michael Jay Wolf, and if you need me to point out who that’s supposed to be, then you didn’t grow up in the eighties. The eighties references even extend to the background details, posters on the walls parody famous films of the decade, there are some really cute little details in the in-game shop from eighties toys to film and gaming references.

HYPERPARASITE TITLE CHARACTER ALMANAC

Being a rouge-lite game and the fact you will die… a lot, could begin to grate after a while. But like all good rouge-lite titles, every time you do restart, everything is procedurally generated. So each time you play, you play a different game. The act layouts are different, the items found are different, upgrades are different, the stock in the shop is different, the sub-boss you will face is different and so on. What you basically have to do in HyperParasite is it make your way though the acts, which are split into multiple different areas, kill all humans in an area and move onto the next. Clear all areas, all humans and the sub-boss character to go onto the final area, which will be the main boss of that stage. Kill the end of act boss and move onto the next act… simples. But you have to lose to advance, it’s straight up impossible to go from the start of the game to the end on your first try, it’ll be pretty damn difficult to do it on your hundredth try to be honest. I’ve lost count of how many times I have died and restarted, and I don’t even care to be honest.

With five different acts to clear, each with their own set of unique characters to unlock based on each act’s setting. You’ll find yourself going from Downtown with it’s grimy back street look to Chinatown with a certain Kurt Russell film influence (and yes, Jack Burton is even in the game… sort of) and an Industrial area where you’ll meet a Robocop, Mario and a Toxie The Toxic Avenger parodies… and I don’t know what the last two acts are as I’ve not got to them… yet. But I can use the in-game almanac to see the characters you’ll meet. There’s Crocodile Dundee, Rick Deckard, Xenomorph, Ash Williams, Mr. T, John Matrix and so many more fun eighties pastiches to unlock. It’s also worth reading their bios for some funny references and jokes. Each of the five acts also has a loads of secrets to discover along the way, like underground areas and hidden upgrades. There’s plenty here to keep you coming back an exploring, even if you are playing the same (procedurally generated) areas over and over again. 

HYPERPARASITE ACTION

Well now I’ve got how HyperParasite works out of the way… did I enjoy it? Let me put it this way, when I got my review code, I put it on for an hour just to see what it was like. Played that hour and that was it, I got an idea of the game. The next day, I played for another hour and that’s when I began to get a feel of the whole rouge-lite mechanics and unlocked a few more characters. The next day, I told myself I’d play another hour then begin to outline this review. I began this hour long play at 8PM, the next thing I knew, it was 3:30 in the morning. HyperParasite is one of those ‘just one more go’ games that sucks you in, and that ‘one more go’ often becomes several dozen more goes, and an hour becomes seven hours. Since getting my review code, I’ve been playing the game every day, hours at a time… I’m officially hooked. Even more so, though I was given a review code for the Xbox (thanks to Troglobytes Games), I still bought the game on Steam regardless. I tend not to buy games that I’ve been given for free as there is little point, but I have with HyperParasite because I really want to support these guys and hope to see more from them in the future… and it means I can have a cheeky play on my laptop when I should be working.

I adore this game, adore it. Seriously, I have fallen in love with this beautifully crafted piece of software. It is sublime, balanced and frustratingly hard… in a good way. I mentioned my friend Badger at Stoffel Presents at the start of this review, he has said that HyperParasite is the best indie game of 2020 (a lot) over the last few months. That’s a statement I simply can not argue against, but I’m willing to go one better. I think it’s the best game I played in 2020, indie or otherwise. If the team over at Troglobytes Games can keep updating this with new features, areas, weapons, enemies, etc, then just maybe this could be my new Dead Cells and I’ll still be playing it three years later?

I may be late to the party with this one, but it’s a hell of a party to be at. My only niggle is that I had to stop playing HyperParasite to review it. A niggle I’m going to rectify as soon as publish this.

HyperParasite is fast, frantic, frustratingly-fun, frolicking fare. A must buy for anyone who enjoys a good, well balanced rouge-light game. Just buy it now.

Game Review: Airplane Mode

Nonsense games (as I like to call them) have become rather popular over recent years. Titles like Goat Simulator, I Am Bread and Octodad: Dadliest Catch, et al. Those games that are really stupid and often offer completely pointless and irrelevant style gameplay. Games that put you in the shoes of weird and wonderful protagonists… or a slice of bread, and allow you to just play around with the game’s world and physics. While nonsense games have become en vogue recently, they’re not exactly new. Back in 1993 there was Monty Python’s Complete Waste of Time game, and it was exactly what the title suggested. I think perhaps one of the more infamous nonsense games came from the unreleased, Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors for the Sega CD. While the game was never officially released, it has been leaked onto the interwebs. Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors was a collection of pointless mini-games, the most (in)famous one being Desert Bus. In it, you have to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada, around a 415 mile trip… and you have to do it all in real time too. The bus can’t go any faster than 45mph and the in-game journey takes around eight hours of non-stop ‘play’ to complete. There’s no racing, no interactions, no traffic. Just you, an open desert road and a bus.

Well, developer Hosni Auji has thrown his pilot’s hat into the ring to try and make a nonsense, long haul travel game for a new generation, Airplane Mode. In the game, you are a passenger on a flight in economy class… and that’s about it really.

The Game

Your flight is from New York to Reykjavik, which takes around six hours, real-time remember. But if you don’t fancy that, then you can opt for a shorter New York to Nova Scotia, a two hour trip… and yes, I’ve spent the last few hours as a virtual airplane passenger just to to this review. I went for the latter, shorter flight, but I did stick it through till the end.

So, the game doesn’t bore you with having to wait around in the departure lounge, nor do you have to board, find your seat and store your luggage. Airplane Mode starts with you already in your seat… but you do have to go through all the pre-flight safety, taxi to the runway, etc. You even have to endure the pilot’s chit-chat they always do. Being stuck in an airplane seat in economy class offers you a few options. There’s the screen in the back of the seat in front of you. Just like real life, you can use it to watch movies, play games, check on flight info. You can even order your in-flight meal… oh yeah, you get fed on your flight.

FOOD

Aside from the screen, there’s the pocket on the back of the seat that houses the safety card you always get on flights. The magazine that has articles to read, endless ads for perfume, etc. And it’s all recreated in the game too, yes you can casually flick through the magazine and discover all sorts. There are even puzzles you can enjoy crosswords, sudoku and more.

I must admit, I couldn’t work out how to actually fill in said puzzles as you can’t use the keyboard to type in. So I just put the magazine back, a bit dismayed that I couldn’t actually interact with the puzzles. See, the game doesn’t tell you how to do anything, you just have to move the pointer around and click, see what works. That’s when I discovered my carry on luggage under the seat. My bag was then placed on the seat next to me and I could open it… and there it was, a pen I could pick up and use. Honestly, I felt like I had just discovered the Ark of the Covenant. I quickly picked the flight magazine back up and found not only could I now write with the pen to do the puzzles, I could write, draw and scribble freely.

Putting the magazine and pen back, I explored my bag some more. A novel, an actual novel I could read in game. Against the Grain (À rebours) by J K Huysmans, it’s a real book too that you can buy in real life. There was a USB cable, no idea what it was for, but I plugged it on to the USB slot in the chair regardless, shortly after, I discovered that you have a mobile phone. Yes, you can charge your in-game phone, it has a battery life and everything. So I left my phone charging while I turned my attention back to my bag.  A pair of Bluetooth headphones that you can use with the previously mentioned screen to hear what’s being played. Oh, and there’s also a blank note book that you can use to write and draw with the pen,  anything you like too…

DICK

Now I had my headphones working, I played around with the screen some more. There are three (public domain) films you can watch and even a Buggs Bunny cartoon. I kept exploring, but that was when the flight attendant came over and told me to do my seatbelt.

I began exploring my cramped space and found you can interact with the light and air-con above the seat. Close the blind in the window, pull down the tray, recline the seat. There’s even a sick bag and yes, it is useable too. The PA system interrupted my enjoyment of the Bugs Bunny cartoon as the captain spoke to detail me in on the flight, then after the safety video, we were off into the sky. Honestly, I was really quite impressed with how much detail and interaction there is… for a game where you sit in a seat of an airplane.

When we were firmly up and away, I noticed a little toilet symbol further down the aisle of the plane and I clicked on it. Yup, you can go to the toilet in the game and there’s even more interactions. Turn on the taps, get some soap, use paper towels, lift the toilet seat, flush the toilet. Even the baby changing table can be played with. After which pointless playing around, I returned back to my seat. There was a baby crying in the background, a few minutes later and we hit some turbulence. All of theses in-flight events are random too. You can even sometimes get a faulty screen that refuses to work properly.

PA

Anyway, after the flight attendant dished out the snacks and beer, which I got to choose, it was soon time to land. That’s when I decided to play around with my in-game phone and found even more stuff. Music, a camera option so you can take and even view pics, podcasts. You can listen to podcasts via your phone. I mean, I have told an abridged version of events here, but that two hour flight (no pun) flew by as I was too busy enjoying myself, playing around with all the little things the game allows you to. I’m still not sure that I found everything.

Overall

You know what? I actually really enjoyed this. Just remove the concept of you being stuck on a long haul flight and you have a fun little toybox to play around with here. Crosswords, sudoku, real films, in-flight magazine to read, a book, music to listen to and more. There are a few things that let the experience down. More puzzles in the magazine would be great. It seems to be the same puzzles in the magazine every time you play. I did restart the flight several times to check, even launched the longer six hour flight too. Every time I did, I got the exact same magazine with the exact same puzzles. So it would be nice to see some variation in the puzzles that are there and even add more variety of puzzles too. How about some spot the differences, word-searches, etc?

BOOK

Maybe some more (public domain) books? There’s loads of great, classic short stories and novels out there that are free to read which could be included in the game with ease and at no cost. More PD movies would be great. If they got that Bugs Bunny cartoon as PD, then there are plenty more that could be included. How about different classes? Being stuck in economy is something many of us are used to. So why not let us experience business class or even first class flights?

In all honesty, I really enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. If they add more features in future updates (see my suggestions), Airplane Mode could really get very interesting. In all honesty, it really is just a façade for being able to enjoy public domain works or draw cocks in a notebook, there’s nothing wrong with that either. I had a load of fun playing around with what the game offered, it just needs a bit more meat on the bones to add to it’s value. But what is here is surprisingly fun. I mean, just how many games can you think of where you can watch Bugs Bunny cartoons while drawing a picture of some huge (if somewhat angular) boobies?

BUGS

Game Review: 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin

I grew up watching seventies chop-socky flicks. Those distinctly cheesy, bad effects, badly dubbed, masters with long beards teaching students type of kung-fu films. Before Bruce Lee came along and revolutionised Hong Kong cinema, proving that kung-fu films could be so much more and even break down boundaries with Enter the Dragon, there was this unique brand of martial arts films that captured my heart from a young age.

SHAOLINS ROAD

Over the years, there have been a few games that have tried to emulate seventies kung-fu flicks. Titles like Shao-lin’s Road, Kung-Fu Master or more recently Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao, among others, have all tried to bring some of that Hong Kong, chop-socky love to gaming. From developer Sobaka Studio comes a new game hoping to capture some of that stylised kung-fu cinema magic with 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin. But is it Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury amazing or Jackie Chan’s New Fist of Fury atrocious?

The Plot

Set during the Chinese Year of the Water Monkey in 1572. You play as Wei Cheng, who’s parents were killed by Wokou (Chinese pirates) when Wei was a child. Taken in by his grandfather, Wei learns all about the family fishing business… as well as how to fight with a staff. Now a grown man, Wei’s village is attacked by bandits, his grandfather is killed and Wei is left for dead. Buddhist monks find Wei and nurse him back to health. This is when Wei learns those bandits were actually deadly Wokou. With the help of the monks, Wei sets out for revenge.

The Game

At heart, 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin is very basic scrolling beat ’em up fare. If you’ve ever played Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Battletoads (just not the new one) or similar, then you’ll know exactly what to expect here. Move around the levels and smack the crap out of bad guys with various attacks. Even though 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin does have that basic style gameplay, there’s a lot more going on beneath which adds so many more layers to the gameplay.

9 MONKEYS OF SHAOLIN ACTION

You have your standard quick-light attack, a slower-heavy attack, a thrust raged attack and a dodge move. Then there’s a deflect/parry move which is used for defence, stringing together moves by mixing things up will build your combo score, bigger combos give you more points. Finish levels to earn reward points and use those points to spend on upgrades and for your moves. You can swap your standard staff weapon for something else, with different weapons having different modifiers and abilities. Special equip-able items and footwear, numerous variables that allow you to create a character they meets your own playstyle. These weapons and items are earned just by finishing the various levels ion the story.

There there are the additional attacks by holding down the left or right trigger buttons and pressing one of the three standard attacks. You’ll soon be learning acrobatic moves and magical attacks that will cause enemies to float, slow down and even pull enemies toward you, all of which can be upgraded. The story is split into five different chapters, each representing a clan of the Wokou that attacked your village. With each chapter featuring multiple levels and a boss fight. The levels themselves can be really creative and often offer something unique along the way, fight in a sawmill and you’ll find saw blades that need to be dodged, storms can bring lighting strikes that can hit you and the enemies, levels in long grass will slow you down and make enemies harder to see. Honestly, 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin really does offer a lot of little nuances that add layers to not just the levels but also the fighting itself.

9 MONKEYS OF SHAOLIN ACTION 2

Different enemies have their own strengths and weaknesses, meaning you’ll need to experiment with your variety of attacks to discover the best way to deal with each enemy type. And if that’s not enough for you, the game still offers more. There’s co-op action so you and a friend can play though the entire story together. Either online or even some old school, couch co-op. There are little statues hidden on the levels which unlock amusing gameplay mods. Remember GoldenEye 007 on the N64 with it’s big head, paintball mode, etc? Well you have some of those style unlockables here too. Give your character a big body, the emeries big heads and so on, just to add a little comedic slant to your game.

I did manage to finish the game in one sitting, in around four hours or so. It’s not a huge title at all. There are twenty-five levels, which does sound like a lot, but each level can be finished in just a few minutes. Still, you don’t really want a title like this to needlessly drag on anyway. 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin doesn’t outstay it’s welcome and neither did it feel too short. Besides, even though I finished it, I am going back to find all of those secrets and even try to finish it on the hardest difficulty. I really enjoyed this slice of retro beat ’em up action.

9 MONKEYS OF SHAOLIN ACTION 3

Overall

The only thing negative I really have is that the game never really goes full seventies kung-fu flick style, aesthetically speaking. I’d loved for it to have had a Chinese language with English subtitles to add a layer of authenticity. Maybe some seventies style film grain (could be one of the hidden extras, I’ve not yet found them all). A funky seventies soundtrack. But those really are just very minor niggles. 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin is fantastic and as an old school beat ’em up fan, this really scratched an itch.