Saturday, December 25, 2010

CK: Game of the Year

This is going to be a fairly quick post, because there isn’t a whole lot of point in pussyfooting around it. There were many great ridiculous games to come out this year, but one of them stands far and wide above the crowd, and that game is the Flash/Smartphone game, Robot Unicorn Attack:
Where do I even begin?

You know, I’ve played more than a few of the flash games over at Adult Swim, and honestly, I’m impressed. Sure, not all the games there are winners, necessarily, but they’re generally pretty well made, surprisingly savvy, iconoclastic, and revelling in just the right sweet stop of immaturity and bad taste.

Robot Unicorn is a prime example of this. The whole game flippantly plays off the outdated and vaguely insulting idea that in order to make games “for girls,” you need to make everything pink and magical and filled with fairies and rainbows and unicorns. This concept is pushed to it’s farthest possible extreme, making it the pinkest (well, more of a warm violet, but same difference, really), most magical, most rainbow filled game ever.

So, it’s a 2D auto scrolling game where the titular robot unicorn is constantly running. You press Z to make him jump, and X to make him do his dash attack. So long as you’re alive, you’re accruing some points, and along the way you get bonus points for collecting fairies (in order to make wishes come true) and even more points for using your dash attack to plow through giant silver stars. With either of these two actions, there’s a multiplier in effect. So for every fairy you collect in succession, the amount of points you get increases by 10, and likewise by 100 for every star you smash. Jumping causes rainbows to fly out of your backside, and every now and then, sparkly dolphins will appear along the bottom of the screen. “Always” by Erasure plays on a constant loop in the background.
Basically, it’s the gayest Canabalt clone ever.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Canabalt was a much loved and much praised flash and then iPhone game in which you played a man in a suit jumping along rooftops in order to escape some kind of robot apocalypse in this noir-esque, black and blueish grey city. The little man runs constantly, and all you really control are his jumps. Gritty, serious sounding music plays in the background. You only get one life, and your “score” as it were, is measured in how far you were able to run before dying.
Canabalt is a fine, fine game, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the sort of thing that the “Games are an artistic art from of artistic expression, and also they’re art.” crowd tend to drool over, almost to the point where it actually being fun (which it is) is incidental. Also, aside from some small bits of humour in the death captions, it’s very serious business. So while it’s certainly a fun game that I have no compunctions about recommending to friends, it’s just begging… absolutely begging to have the piss taken out of it.

But even if we were to equalize the presentation a little, or better yet, disregard it entirely, the gameplay in Robot Unicorn outdoes Canabalt as well, by adding things like score multipliers, multiple lives and such. You also have access to a double jump, and can string together jumps and dashes in different ways, making for a more technical game overall, and giving you at least a little more control over your character. To be fair, it is building on top of another game whose core design it copied wholesale, so credit where it’s due, I suppose, but I can tell you which one I’d rather play.

And then there’s that song.

Never before has a game had such a wholly appropriate soundtrack, to the point where I actually like, nay, love this song as a direct result of it’s inclusion in this game. It’s not just that Andy Bell is considered a gay icon, or that the song is from the 80s; there’s no shortage of fruity synth pop songs of that decade. This song in particular, which has the benefit of not being overplayed on every “hits of the 80s” compilation album (speaking of retro), it has just has the right combination of whimsy (or cheese, if you will) to go with the aesthetic, and the right energy to go with the constant forward momentum of the game, never too dull, but never too intense or too serious either.

Rumour has it the song was originally just a placeholder while the game was being programmed, and the plan was to eventually replace it with an original piece of music. At some point, the team came to the conclusion that the game just absolutely needed that song to feel complete, and then they set about getting the rights.

Incidentally, later this year, Adult Swim released Robot Unicorn Attack: Heavy Metal, which replaced the rainbows with fire and blood, turned everything into skeletons, and replaced the song with some hardcore metal track that I couldn’t be bothered to look up. The setup itself is kind of clever, take the exact same game, and re-skin it with a slightly more macho aesthetic, and basically just make fun of the people who were too thick to get that the original game was satire, and thought it was legitimately meant to appeal only to very young girls and a particular stereotype of gay men.

It’s a clever joke, but the charm and appeal of the original game is somehow lost in the process.

Anyway, these being flash games, here’s some links

Play Robot Unicorn Attack

Play Canabalt

For being equal parts fun, absurd, and fabulous, Robot Unicorn Attack is Camp Kusoge’s game of the year. All of us here (aka me) salute you.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Obligatory Holiday Whatever

This is as much of a holiday post as you're getting, take it or leave it.

So anyway, I haven't really gotten started on any of the US games just yet, though every now and then, I get this inexplicable desire to be timely. Apparently, some famous dude's birthday is coming up, and a bunch of people think it's a big deal. This might sound like a bit of a surly way of describing it, you should know that I'm smiling, and basking in the warm glow of smug self satisfaction. Well, that and Tetris turned me into a Bolshevik atheist years ago. I think I've been over that part already.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Our Patron Saints of Kusoge: US Games and the Chuck Wagon Legacy

Over the years, there have been many companies that have had, by all accounts, no business getting into the making of video games, but that siren song of crazy profit proved irresistible, and we’ve found ourselves with games that range from mere shameless cash-ins (like that ramen noodle version of Gradius), to the ill advised (LJN) to the downright inexplicable (Captain Novolin) all the way to the “somehow accidentally awesome” (that David Beckham platform game for the GBA). I won’t claim to know the very first example of a random-ass company trying blindly to cash in on the video game craze, but I’m sure most people would point to Chase the Chuck Wagon as the earliest example that matters.
Chuck Wagon was a game for the Atari 2600 that was distributed by (wait for it) Purina, makers of such fine products as Dog Chow and Cat Chow… and presumably other types of animal food named by combing the name of the animal with the word "chow." (they also own such brands as Beneful and Alpo, but it just doesn’t have the same comedic zing) The game itself, which was available only by mail order if you bought Chuck Wagon dog food and then sent in your proofs of purchase, was loosely based on a popular commercial for the product, in which a tiny chuck wagon pops out of a TV screen and a dog proceeds to chase it around the room.

What can I say? These were simpler times, advertising was a lot more innocent back then.