Steamroll: Tiny Coaster Magic
When your gaming criteria depends solely on how cheap a game is, it’s easy to get clunkers or unexpected surprises. It’s rare to get both in the same week, though. This is one of those weeks. At least I managed to gain inspiration from both extremes on the quality axis.
For example, Roller Coaster Rampage ($10, 300 MB) made me realize I could give games a numerical score after just an hour of play: I can rate them based on how many times I quit playing out of frustration in just an hour. On that scale, I would give Roller Coaster Rampage a ‘one’. It’s an intriguing idea: you “race” a roller coaster around a theme park by building it in real time, controlling its speed and path to pick up gems and make it through all the loops and jumps without crashing. It just feels like the game never made it out of beta.
The biggest problem is the camera: it’s fixed far enough away from the roller coaster that trees block your view (causing you to crash into the ground) and you can’t gauge the height of the gems you’re collecting. Speaking of gems, there’s no sound effect when you pick them up either. The music cuts out after several minutes, the menus seem to seize up, and after 9 levels of dealing with tight aerial turns, paths you lose track of, and speed warning signs that pop up too late, I had no desire to continue playing this game at all. How do they justify paying $10 for this? I would pay $3, max.
At least Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planewalkers 2013 ($10, 1.1 GB) is a tried-but-true formula. They’ve been releasing & refining Magic for almost 2 decades now. The base mechanics are simple: create a deck with a mixture of lands, creatures, spells, and artifacts. You slowly build up your lands, which you then tap to play creature and spell cards, then you tap those to attack your opponent and kill him, as long as he can’t tap enough land to blow them all up with a spell. The details are a lovely, tangled mess of combos, strategies, counters, and counters-to-counters, blossomed from quarterly expansions over many years.
I won’t go over my opinions on the game of Magic here; that’s like spending a Madden review discussing the rules of football. Nor will I go over any improvements to the 2012 edition compared to the previous two editions, because I haven’t played either of them. All I’m covering is how well this game translates from the tabletop to the computer. How tough is it to get new cards? Customize decks? Create multiplayer games? Play single player?
The single player mode seems competent, at least. I grabbed the Red deck (“Burn it all, BURN IT ALL TO THE GROUND KEKEKE-”) and launched feet first into the campaign. I zipped through the tutorial to learn about the interface, skipping the parts about how to tap lands, play artifacts. The 4 single-player missions I played were enjoyable, although a bit of a cakewalk. So far, there’s been 2 types of missions: Duels, where you play against an AI opponent using a deck just like you, and Encounters, where you test your deck against a specialized deck that plays the same cards in the same order each game. The Duels have been the most challenging and nail-biting, while all I had to do for Encounters was counter a simple strategy and then curbstomp my opponent.
My multiplayer match was even better. I joined a 4-player free-for-all match online. Each player had a long timer that showed how long they had to finish their turn; whenever they performed an action, a short timer also appeared, showing their opponents how long they had to counter that action with one of their own cards. Once I got the hang of it, the game moved at a quick pace while still giving people a chance to react to their opponents. It also swiftly eliminated an idle player from the game, replacing him with an AI opponent when he didn’t act for a whole turn. I made some mistakes trying to activate the weirder abilities on a few of the cards, but that’s probably unavoidable when you have as many strange exceptions as Magic. (“Okay, so I get 6 damage I can split up amongst every creature & player, however I want… er, how do I assign them? Whoops, ran out of time…”) I probably should have tried that deck in single-player mode before I played it in multiplayer.
Speaking of decks, after the multiplayer match I went into the Deck Manager to create my own deck, only to discover I couldn’t. The only customization you can do is swapping a few cards into the premade decks. That’s a dealbreaker for me: what good’s a Magic game where you can’t customize your own deck? I would complain about how you can only swap cards you’ve unlocked, or how they charge you to unlock the whole deck at once, but the fact you can’t create your own decks frustrates me much more.
It’s a good port of Magic for fans that are new to the game or just want to play a few quick matches, but the lack of deck customization is a glaring omission for Magic veterans. I was going to say it’s worth the $10, but without that customization I would only pay $5 for it.
We finally come to Tiny & Big in Grandpa’s Leftovers ($10, 950 MB). I didn’t expect much from this game; it promptly smashed me with awesomeness. It’s like someone gave Hunter S. Thompson plenty of drugs, had him play Half-Life 2, then made a platformer based on what he wrote down afterwards.
“The thieving crook had stolen his grandfather’s underpants because they gave him psychic powers, which is as good a reason as any for this kind of insanity. Of course, the best counter to one act of insanity is another equally insane act, perpetrated by someone much younger and thus ignorant of the restrictions that might make experienced men falter. Most men who cut support pillars with industrial laser beams do not live long enough to become experienced. Fewer still can see a giant pyramid rising from the Arizona desert, like the drug-addled mirage of a geography drop-out, and think it’d be a good idea to run across a rickety bridge to it. That’s why the young man had to do it. It was like war, except weird in a different way.”
I kept thinking of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as I played this game. Maybe it was the cel-shaded desert. Perhaps it was the eclectic music tapes of jazz and siesta music you collected to expand the game’s soundtrack. I’m sure cutting, toppling, and blasting chunks of ancient architecture into orbit just to clear a path to my family’s underwear had something to do with it. Everything but the controls felt skewed in an interesting way. The controls themselves handle like a fine-tuned shooter, which is really appreciated when you have to start slicing apart rocks in midair. It looks great, it sounds great, it plays great. This is Grade A professional work disguised as a cheap indie game. I am sorely tempted to finish the entire game (I stopped after Level 3) and then write a complete review of it, which doesn’t happen often in my lineup. $10? Hell, $15 for this game would still be a bargain. Pick this up; I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
And with that, I look towards the horizon for next week’s pack of games. One ship in particular stands still against the horizon. Is it a ghost ship, or has a lost vessel finally made its way home? It has been 4 years since the last episode of Penny Aracde’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness was released; we shall see how the ravages of time have affected the old gal.