The Games of TOJam 4: Part 2

RoshamBlaster

RoshamBlaster

Continuing the reviews of TOJam 4‘s releases; today we’ll look at Carot, Penguin Cow Tipper, Sim Arson, Steam Ponk, and the OTHER People’s Choice Puce winner, RoshamBlaster.

[Edit: Apparently, I mislinked Miguel Sternberg’s site — he’s actually from www.spookysquid.com! Go visit there instead!]

Carot

Carot

Carot is a geometry wars game set in a maze, from Benzakhar Manashirov. It’s a got a nice arcade vibe and feels smooth, but is ultimately a work-in-progress.

Unfortunately, Carot is only playable with a controller — luckily I have a DualShock USB plug sitting around. It plays smoothly with dual analogs, and experimentation revealed some sort of strange effect with my Triangle button, but it wasn’t explained. The game is fairly empty, featuring only a single type of enemy and a single type of terrain (a wall that is ultimately more of a suggestion then anything else); it’s devoid of sound, and lacks any kind of ‘game over’ reaction once the player runs out of life. There’s a number of things to be addressed before it is a complete product.

Despite it’s short comings, Carot feels good, and runs smoothly. It’s lackings aren’t a fault of design of ability, just a sign that it needs more time to incubate. Hopefully Benzakhar agrees and we’ll see a more finished version in the near future.

Penguin Cow Tipper

Penguin Cow Tipper

Penguin Cow Tipper isn’t just a random selection of words; it’s the latest game from Team Sushi. The game was in fact a multinational effort, with virtual Jammers joining us from around the globe.  The game is a puzzle that is fairly literal of it’s title — you’re responsible for a group of penguins who aim to tip a cow (or cows). Thankfully, the whole idea can be traced back to a dream, rather than anything lucid.

Penguin Cow Tipper works well enough — place goat tiles to rotate the penguins to direct them around to the goal. The puzzles are generally simple enough, though they’re occasionally fairly devious. While playing I observed some odd behavior — normally harmless, though occasionally Penguins will ignore some tiles, which is more mystifying than anything else.

The game is set on a very nice base; it’s 3D engine has a fully functional camera which you can rotate and zoom, and it has sound and music. The game has a nice amount of polish on it; a great effort in TOJam’s short span. I feel the game has room to grow, by offering more puzzle elements and more intricate puzzles, as well as refining out superfluous elements from the existing puzzles — I’m not sure why most of them have multiple Penguin spawns… seems unnecessary — to create a more devious set of brain teasers.

Sim Arson

Sim Arson

Sim Arson, from Darryl Barnhart, feels less like a game, and more like a tech demo (with a side of inside joke). The game has a single stage, where water pours from the top of the screen and the player is tasked with having more fire on screen than water.

It’s not entirely clear how water and fire are quantified, and winning is simple — quickly light up the stationary terrain pieces, then sit back. I had a hard time reconciling my end results with my actions, making everything feel very random.

However, Sim Arson does have one thing going for it — it’s VERY pretty. It implements a number of very attractive effects, from the distortion of the water, the overall physics, and the glow of the flames. It could use sound of some kind, but the visuals are quite spectacular otherwise.

What Sim Arson needs is some sort of direction; a plan for a greater game. While interesting, the entertainment value of Sim Arson fades fairly quickly.

Steam Ponk

Steam Ponk

Steam Ponk, from Team Invisible Ninja Squid (Gillian Laidlaw, Miguel Sternberg, Parrish Ziganian, and Andrew Brykcznski) is a re-imagining of Pong as a modern Steam Punk game for the Nintendo DS. It’s got a lot of technical excellence in it — a real stand out product, with only one key flaw.

Foremost though, Steam Ponk is gorgeous, featuring magnificently rendered pixel art, as well as very entertaining and well themed introduction and instruction screens. It has a really clever implementation on the DS, having each of the two players hold an opposing side to control their paddle, making the console in essence a tiny table, and the use the upper screen as a preview of incoming terrain, power-ups and obstacles.

The game also features some new elements: water and forests, which hasten and slow the ball respectively; buildings, which are solid obstacles; a power-up to make the paddle larger; enemies which fire upon the players and shrink them; and clouds which obscure your view. Players play with lives and gain an advantage of size when they score a point, and shrink when they’re scored upon.

It must first be said that Steam Ponk is a quite fun, assuming you’re actually playing with an opponent. (You can’t lose points for being a multiplayer game that’s boring played solo.) It’s really a brilliant use of the DS and a fun revision of a classic.

However, the new elements don’t really add anything to the overall experience, except a sense of randomness. Since the control players have over the ball is limited, it’s difficult to control the timing of the ball to the point where it’s perhaps unreasonable to expect the player to be able to do so. Unfortunately, this means that while you can see hazards and bonuses coming toward you with the second screen, you’re more or less powerless to avoid or take advantage of them. Of all the additions, only buildings seemed fair to me, but even then, they penalize on player at a time, indiscriminately. Clouds, forest, water, enemies and power-ups all seem like unfair benefits and punishments which take much of the skill out of Pong and offer it to the code’s random number generator.

While not un-fun, it does kill potential long-term enjoyment. And to that, I think there’s a simple solution; if players could press back (or forward, or a shoulder button — whatever) and ‘hold’ the ball when it touches the paddle, if only for a second. Just a tiny bit of additional control would take the randomness out of the random elements, making the whole thing a level playing field (and a very devious game of timing).

RoShamBlaster

RoShamBlaster

RoshamBlaster takes on the polarity switching spirit of Ikaruga and generations of shmups in an awesome Flash rock-paper-scissors shooter, by The Glace and The Vert (Ehsaan Hossain, Isaque Hossain, Bao Nguyen-Huu, Duy-Khang Nguyen-Huu and Evelyn Yoa). It’s a monumental showing of effort and a well deserving winner or the Puce People’s Choice Award.

Besides being playable in your browser, having three awesome stages, borrowing a great game play concept and having fun with it and a smattering of nostalgic Mega Man sound effects, RoshamBlaster is an impressive outing for three day’s work. It’s got two player co-op, fully realized weapons and a fairly large spread of enemies (including great bosses!). It runs smoothly, and feels pretty close to finished, barring the infinite lives and uncompletable third boss, and could be pretty quickly pushed in to a completed final game (especially if these guys were capable of bolting this game together in just 3 days).

It’s not a perfect game, however. It’s dying for more thorough sound effects; particularly with bosses (especially the third one) where the effectiveness of your attacks isn’t exactly clear without greater feedback. The game also features a very wide spread of art-styles; all quite enjoyable, but a bit too divergent from one another to make the game feel polished.

The scale of the players, and their element aura are a bit problematic, as it’s a bit unclear as to what does and does not hit you. Additionally, while the Rock-Paper-Scissors idea is cute, it doesn’t meaningfully add to the established idea of Polarity introduced in Ikaruga — when the screen fills up with enemies of multiple colors, it becomes sort of silly to switch your element.

This leads to the greater issue, and that’s that RoshamBlaster is unfortunately slow — not in code, but in pace. Enemies come in dawdling waves that are frankly nonthreatening and regularly make it easier to simply avoid rather than attack — and there’s no benefit (score, power-ups, requirements — anything) to killing the baddies, bosses aside. Most of the enemies are actually fairly tough (for a shmup) and with their slow pace (presumably so that you can switch to the appropriate element and defeat them) the game lacks the intense sense of power and danger that makes most shmups so fun.

But, despite all this, RoshamBlaster IS fun. It’s a great game to plug in to with a friend, and it’ll be excellent if the team decides to polish it up and fix the few bugs and problems. Maybe we’ll even get more levels.

Images in today’s post shameless stolen from TOJam’s site. Visit them!

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8 Responses to “The Games of TOJam 4: Part 2”

  1. Miguel S. Says:

    Hey Greg,
    Thanks for the great review of Steam Ponk! The randomness is an issue we definitely want to address in a future version either using the method you describe or finding a way to direct the ball in a more precise manner.

    Also there’s an error on the ToJam page that unfortunately made it into your review. My website is not the one linked to on the TOJam site, it should have linked to http://www.spookysquid.com/

    Thanks for taking the time to do these detailed reviews, great job!

    • Greg Says:

      Hiya Miguel! I’ve updated the link and posted the edit to the front page — sorry about the link mix up! I’m glad to hear that the game is getting more attention; you guys did some impressive stuff during the jam, but the reality I think we all understand is that such a short production time leads to some problems one way or another. It’s not enough time to soberly step back and really refine any idea, which makes the amazing games produced all the more impressive.

  2. Alex Says:

    Im liking the reviews so far except the Steam Ponk review seemed a little harsh, thats just my opinion though…

    “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has them and they all stink”

    😉

    Roshamblaster was fun but had low replay value once I had beat it twice. I did see the end game, for I “have justice”, but I agree with your assessment about the final boss and it being very hard to determine what is going on there.

    • Greg Says:

      “the Steam Ponk review seemed a little harsh”
      Yeah, so says Jim, too — I certainly didn’t mean to be harsh, but I guess it came across that way. It can definitely be hard to be critical and express the sheer awe at the skill and effort placed behind these games. I hope I’m not offending anyone, but I also don’t want to change the reviews; it seems like it’d be dishonest. Ya know?

  3. Jim McGnarly Says:

    You’ve gotta keep the reviews honest and straight from the heart! Otherwise what’s the point! I >expect< to find some reviews harsh, and others glowing. Keep up the good fight, and I look forward to brute honesty.

  4. The Games of TOJam 4: Part 3 « The Art of Game Says:

    […] you haven’t been following along, you should check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this […]

  5. killing games Says:

    You’ve gotta keep the reviews honest and straight from the heart! Otherwise what’s the point! I >expect< to find some reviews harsh, and others glowing. Keep up the good fight, and I look forward to brute honesty.

    thanks
    killing games

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