The Games of TOJam 4: Part 6

Blow them away in Category 5!

Blow them away in Category 5!

These TOJam 4 reviews are getting close to done — with 13 games left to review. Today we’re looking at Attention Shoppers, I Think They’re INSECTS!!!, Light Cycle and Gold People’s Choice Award, Category 5!

If you haven’t done so yet; check out the other 23 TOJam 4 games in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5! Next week we’ll be covering the last two installments and a wrap up! 9 more games to come!

Attention Shoppers

Attention Shoppers

Attention Shoppers, from Paul Forest, is an attempt to upset the usual ideas of Tower Defense with the theme of shopping. It’s a really great idea that is unfortunately among the unfinished entries from the jam. The basic premise as I had it explained to me was to create a grocery store with displays and products placed through out; upgrade displays to make them flashier and sell better products, aiming to make sure no customer leaves the store with a dollar left in their wallet.

The idea behind Attention Shoppers is top notch, and while I’ve seen it attempted a few times before (primarily in ‘tycoon’ formula) this was by far the most interesting concept for implementation. More over, it filled in a lot of gaps in the reward logic of tower defense games as a whole. The tragic downside is, as it currently is, Attention Shoppers, doesn’t work — from my examination, it doesn’t work even a little. While you can buy and place displays, and enemies get spawned and seem to be ‘killed’ by the displays, there’s no path finding, no enemy logic, and the tower/enemy interaction is almost (if not completely) nil.

Still I can’t help but see my expectations in this; placing cashiers to reduce lines, stock boys to keep displays running, and a giant maze of aisles, not unlike the No Frills I frequent. I’m not sure if that was Paul’s vision, but I doubt his is any less awesome in it’s final state — so let’s hope we get to see it finished.

Light Cycle

Light Cycle

Light Cycles is an exceptionally simple game, totally free from superfluous elements, by Ante Bralic. My first impression was that Light Cycles is a little dull — it doesn’t change in difficulty (that I found), it’s just the one level, and it doesn’t take too long to master. However, after brief reflection, it struck me that this game is remarkably polished, conceptually and graphically — it’s beautiful, and really well put together, and well worth anyones look.

The basic idea is to move a ball across a series of concentric rings from an in pipe to an out pipe; each ring has alternating direction, which will direct the ball along it’s path, at decreasing speeds each ring inward. To get in your way, there’s a number of yellow pulses that travel along the rings which will destroy you with a touch. So ultimately, it’s a comfortable timing game.

The art is a great series of glowing, Tron inspired vectors that look quite sharp in their simple style. It’s abstract style is a rare and fantastic example of minimalism in game art, which does an excellent job complimenting the simple play style.

There are a few things I didn’t quite enjoy in Light Cycles; there’s no audio, the failure animations are a bit slow, there isn’t any change or increase in play over time (that I observed) and I wish there were keyboard controls as well.  Minor complaints, though the lack of change in difficulty limited the replayability of it all.

After a few plays of this though, I can just imagine how well this would work on a touch interface — iPod Touch, for example. It’d be a great little app — spectacular if over time it got faster, more rings and more opposition.



I THINK THEY’RE INSECTS!!! is an awesome little title with a loud name from Andrew Tarzwell. It’s a Geometry Wars clone with some fun additional mechanics. Now, unfortunately, this game requires an XBox 360 controller to play — which I currently don’t have. However, I got a great look at it at the Jam, and hopefully I can review it from memory.

Pretty standard set up; I THINK THEY’RE INSECTS!!! uses two analog sticks, one for movement and the other to fire, and a shoulder button to use a gravity device. Monsters swarm you in great quantities and you’re tasked with blowing them away. You can use the gravity device to push enemies away from you with a spiffy visual distortion, though it’s use is limited (but recharges quickly). As the levels progress, the swarm becomes faster, tougher and more numerous, while you remain unchanged — with steady resources, the challenge of this game is to see just how insane a horde you can tough out.

The game has a single major downfall, and that’s it’s super simple opening difficulty followed by a brutal difficulty curve. You’ll breeze through a lot of the early levels, but there’s a wall a short ways in where the game rapidly becomes absurdly hard. If the game started at the difficulty of the end of the easy stages, and then ramped up to the difficult levels over a dozen levels or so, it’d probably be more compelling and less frustrating.

As for the Art; I can’t exactly comment without bias, since Andrew gave me mostly free reign over the artistic direction of the game and it sort of grew from a few sketched seeds. So, if you hate the art, don’t hold it against him! Still, it was a fun exercise, creating alien shapes and some trippy backdrops — it went somewhere between alien invaders and bizarre abstractness.

Overall, when I played I THINK THEY’RE INSECTS!!! at the jam, I had a blast despite the difficulty problems — this game is an easy to recommend, easy to enjoy arcade shooter.

Category 5

Category 5

Finally, we come to an outstanding product — TOJam 4’s Gold People’s Choice Award winner, Category 5, from Team AnyKey (Jason Bourne, Chris Brown, Mike Darmitz, Will Hua, and FanFan Huang)!

It may seem surprising at first glance — the game’s graphics are a rougher than Flock U, and the play is a little more frustrating than Cheese-ohol and less nuanced than RoshamBlaster — but it the voice of the people made itself heard. In fact, it was obvious to anyone attending the Arcade, because Category 5 drew crowds, and the victorious cheering and sympathetic ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ that accompanied the player’s successes and victories spelled Team AnyKey’s entry as an obvious winner.

The game is unique — it’s a great hurricane simulator, where players are encouraged to rip up the world around them and smash buildings down. It’s not unlike the familiar formula that produced the hit Katamari Damacy, except here it’s jacked up on speed. Players are required to grip a mouse and use it to draw counterclockwise circles, over and over to produce faster, stronger winds in their tornado. Of course, the mouse only plays part; the other hand on familiar WASD keys directs your movements, letting the player drift over objects. Like Katamari, small things you pick up, big things get in your way.

The play is easy to grasp; grab stuff, get bigger, smash in to bigger stuff and grab it, repeat. You win by smashing up all the ‘boss buildings’, the largest, heaviest buildings on the map. It’s all very straight forward, though surprisingly tricky. The game constantly wants you to move the mouse faster, but that makes movement faster and more difficulty to control. Slow down too much and you won’t do as much damage when you crash in to things.

Admittedly, I found the play kinda frustrating. When you get up past cars and trucks, it’s very difficult to make the leap to the next stage up. If you collect to zealously, you won’t have any way to work you way back up if you make a mistake and crash out. Working buildings and other giant objects down just seems… almost impossible at times, and the game really should provide more feedback as to what’s working and what needs to change to progress — the simple model has some short coming when the scale of things becomes less smooth.

The whole thing is a top notch production, with fun music, great sound effects and adorable graphics. While each of these areas could be well improved, they work together very well, providing something greater than it’s parts. And while the game play may not be the smoothest experience you’ll encounter, it IS exceptionally rewarding — there’s something to smashing buildings and airplanes with high speed winds, the sound of screams and moos as you suck up people and cows, that’s just all so satisfying.

So sure, the game wouldn’t suffer from some additional polish, but it hardly needs it. Category 5 plays well on the player’s urge to do damage in a senseless way and it’s very, very fun. It’s a great experience, great fun, and is well deserving of the People’s Choice Gold. And you’re unlikely to find a better wrist workout, so it has that going for it too.

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


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6 Responses to “The Games of TOJam 4: Part 6”

  1. Alex Says:

    I want to try Category 5 but keep getting put off by the heavy installation process that was outlined. Any recommendations on an easier way to play this game?

    • Greg Says:

      I don’t know if there’s a way to bypass the installation, but I’m under the impression it’s standard XNA requirements. I installed most of those packages a while back for Infiniminer, and haven’t had to do it again since. It was distinctly less traumatic than I expected. I’d frankly just recommend biting the bullet and installing it — I don’t remember it taking long or being troublesome, and Category 5 is quite worth it. 😀

  2. The Games of TOJam 4: Part 7 « The Art of Game Says:

    […] If you’re just joining us on these reviews, check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6! […]

  3. FanFan Huang Says:

    Yes I’ll admit Category 5 needs some sort of indicator to help teach the players how to move up to the next sized buildings.

    We have talked it over a lot and aside from health bars for the huge buildings like skyscrapers we haven’t really found a nice way of doing it without staying with our “clutter free” interface philosophy.

    We (Team AnyKey) are open to suggestions if you have any to reduce frustration. The frustration was part of all the oops and ahhs. It may surprise your readers that the sources for Category 5 are available online as after ToJam4 we made the project opensource just search for us on Github.

    • Greg Says:

      I can understand the frustration with trying to make things clear AND keep the interface clean. Sound and Color coding are the first things that come to mind to me — perhaps a sound that plays when you approach objects you can’t pick up? Or colored outlines on objects that change from red to green as you become capable of picking them up? (Perhaps on a graded scale to differentiate possible or easy pick ups?)

      And still — don’t get me wrong. Category 5 is awesome.

      It’s really cool to hear that you guys are running it open source. I can’t wait to see it completely realized!

      • FanFan Huang Says:

        We can take a look at your idea on Colour / Sound for objects you can’t pick up the issue is it’s dependent on how fast your spinning so it’s easy for us to give false info we could probably flash the tornado itself to signify “danger” it would be more obvious to the player something’s wrong.

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