Saturday, 24 September 2011

Yep, still here

This time my absence is not because of boredom or annoyance, but just because life is very hectic at the moment. I have a game I very much want to try, and so with luck that will be reviewed in the next few days.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Game review: Escapa!

Genre: Arcade
Author: Guyfawkes
OHH download: vGBAX2007 (12/07/07)
Size: 3.6 MB
Licence: Freeware

Based on a Java game of the same name, Escapa is a reflex/concentration-centric arcade game. The mechanics are very simple: you control a red block (with the stick) and four blue blocks of differing rectangular shapes move around the board. If your block touches any of them, or the edge of the playing area, then it's game over. Every ten seconds, the game speed increases. The time you've stayed alive is shown (in seconds) and there is only one object: keep going as long as possible!

Addictiveness: 5
Frustratingly hard to start with, and then just very hard. That stops you wanting to go back more than a few times -- but for those few times you will get a feeling of achievement if you happen to beat your previous high score. (These are ordered simply by the time you lasted, in seconds.) I doubt you'll keep this game around for all that long, as there's no real reason to return after a while.

Depth: 2
Given that you're doing well if you last more than 20 seconds, there isn't a lot of this! Only the one level, and no options to change anything.

Controls: 7
The basic controls are simple enough: you just use the stick to move your red block around. Selecting from the main menu is also easy (see Graphics, below). The high score entry is a little unnecessarily complicated, though, and does make Escapa! feel slightly less wieldy than it might. If you have the appropriate hardware you can also play with a USB mouse, but as I don't I can't test that.

Graphics: 5
Very simple indeed: a white playfield, the red and blue blocks, and score and "Game Over" messages in a virulent light green (that last one wasn't a great choice, in my view). Excellent, smooth animation. The high score entry page is white on black, but unfortunately uses a "show-off font", by which I mean one that looks all fancy and in theory sounds impressive, but in practice is too hard to read. I do like, though, the menu screen, which apes the game mechanics: you move a red block to one of four blue blocks representing Play, Highscores, Credits or Quit.

Sound: 7
This is reasonably impressive. The background music is (again) a repetitive techno-style piece, but it has a vaguely eerie feel that somehow fits quite well. Mind you, it's likely to drive you mad if you play for more than a few minutes at a time! There is also some decent speech, which makes up for the absence of any other sound effects. (The tune plays continuously.)

Documentation: 6
Surprisingly for a three-hour contest entry, there's an adequate readme, containing the basic controls and aims (of what is admittedly a simple game) and contact details for the author. It's not exactly "The Dark Wheel" (the novella that came with the original Elite) but it does a job.

Completeness: 6
The credits state that Guyfawkes (and musician Donskeeto) finished the game in two hours and 45 minutes, so it's a little churlish to complain too much. There certainly are things that could be added, such as sound effects (and the option to turn off that damn music) and an easier difficulty level. Perhaps also there could be custom levelsets with different types of block design and/or movement. But the core game is there, and it works.

Overall: 5
An average rating for an average game. Escapa! is an interesting challenge for a little while, but most people will find that interest palls after that. It's well presented (with particular points for the smoothness of the animation) but few people will go "wow!" upon seeing it. One of those "play for a bit then delete" games.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


I thought this would happen sooner or later: I've lost the little bit of rubber that covers the power socket. Not a big deal, but mildly annoying as it was so obviously flimsy.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Game review: Vektar

Genre: Shooter
Author: GBAX
OHH download: v? (09/04/09)
Size: 69.1 MB
Licence: Freeware (ex-commercial)

Vektar is a shoot-em-up game based loosely on that old classic, Asteroids. You fly a ship around a screen populated by rocks, ships and so on and blast them to bits. There's a time limit in certain levels, and you have a limited amount of shields to give you brief protection against damage. When you beat a set of waves (there are bosses, of course) another and more extensive level set will be unlocked.

Addictiveness: 8
Pretty good. It is a little bit frustrating at first if (like me) you're not particularly adept at games like this. (Memories of the original Defender, and its BBC Micro clone Planetoid, still haunt me.) However, Vektar is so well made that once you do get into it, the game grows on you greatly. It's not particularly difficult to make it onto at least the lower reaches of the high score table, which helps here.

Depth: 6
The game isn't astoundingly deep, but a reasonable amount of thought seems to have gone into the level design, and it doesn't suffer from having level after level that's nothing more than a simple rectangle. There's also an element of depth in learning how to use the power-ups, some of which are more obvious than others. You also need to judge your shooting, since (in what I think is a very nice touch) these too can be destroyed by your zapping!

Controls: 7
As with Asteroids itself, it can take a little time to get used to controlling your ship in Vektar. Stick left and right rotates you, up and down control thrust and braking, while holding down Y raises your shields. Pressing Select and Start together brings up a pause menu that allows you to continue, quit entirely or begin a new game. In the menus, you can use X to bring up the quit menu, though here you get slightly insulting messages if you leave. (Remember Quake doing that?) I wasn't entirely thrilled with the high-score entry, which worked in the usual "three initials" way but seemed a little imprecise.

Graphics: 9
These really are excellent. If you've ever played a Vectrex console (or at least an emulated one) then imagine the graphics from that, brought into the 21st century and given a beautiful colour-filled makeover. There are explosions everywhere, but even with heaps of things happening at once the animation remains decently -- if not quite perfectly -- fluid, something so important in a fast-moving arcade game. Little touches such as the angular font used for the high score list, and the "fuzzy" look in what you might call "attract mode" are welcome too.

Sound: 7
As usual, the default volume perforates your eardrums if you're using the official GP2X earphones, so you'll want to turn it right down. The music is provided by means of .ogg files, and if you do a bit of fiddling about (which will require a little internet research) you can replace the rather predictable techno-y tunes with whatever you prefer. Still, there's nothing wrong with the default ones.

Documentation: 3
Surprisingly little; really, a game that takes up almost 60 MB of your SD card ought to do a bit better than this. You have to work out a number of things, not least what the power-ups actually do, by trial and error, and while I'm all for a bit of mystery and surprise in a game I think this goes too far. Possibly the boxed commercial version had a manual, but even if it did, that's no use here!

Completeness: 9
Loses a point for not having proper documentation, but otherwise it's all here, and as it's the "registered" copy you're not going to find yourself booted out halfway with a demand to buy the full game -- since this is it!

Overall: 8
Vektar is a very good game. I might have rated it 9 had it had in-game help, and I could imagine some people marking it as a perfect 10. For me, it's a little too difficult to score quite that highly, and it does take up an awful lot of card space (though over a quarter of this comes from two thinly-disguised and mildly annoying videos). Still, it ends as a very creditable 8, and those who like their old-school arcade shooters will lap this up.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Chess2X updated

ParkyDR has released v0.5 of Chess2X. This is a useful update, which contains the following improvements and fixes, as described by the author.

1) Tighten up promote check
2) Auto repeat for joystick, L/R and volume
3) Get rid of 2 pixel gap on right of screen
4) Combine move and in game menus
5) Provide feedback on volume change

I originally rated Chess2X as 6/10 because of something of a lack of polish. This update makes enough of a difference that I am now bumping its score up to 7/10.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Game review: BubbleX

Genre: Puzzle
Author: PotA
OHH download: v1 (18/11/05)
Size: 0.1 MB
Licence: Freeware

BubbleX is a tiny little game: the archive contains nothing but a .gpe file, under 140 KB in size. It will be immediately familiar to anyone who's played "SameGame" or the like. You are given a screen full of randomly-coloured bubbles on a 2D grid. When there are two or more of the same colour touching orthogonally, you can select those and "pop" the group. Bubbles will fall if left hanging in mid-air, and gaps of full columns will be closed up. The object is to remove all the bubbles from the screen; if no legal move remains, you lose.

Addictiveness: 5
Not bad as far as it goes, and its quick gameplay helps here. The trouble is, as I'll mention in a moment, it just doesn't have much of a lifespan. The lack of any sort of scoring really hampers your ability to challenge yourself to have just one more go at beating your best.

Depth: 2
Virtually none: what you see is what you get. There's no level progression, no tightening timer (or indeed any timer), no larger grid options, nothing. This is a game you can play in two minutes at the bus stop.

Controls: 7
Very simple indeed: move around the grid with the stick and press B once to select a colour group, then again to pop the relevant bubbles. Start brings up a simple menu -- New game, Option and Quit game -- and B selects from there, although Option doesn't seem to do anything. Otherwise, nothing special, but they do a good job.

Graphics: 7
Simple and colourful, just as they should be for a simple puzzler of this sort. The grid is very clear, and the background squares don't clash with the bubbles. I'm not so taken with the menu design, which has an irritating Comic Sans-type font that seems a bit too "wacky" for BubbleX.

Sound: 4
There are precisely two sound effects: a sort of "boylp" when you select a colour group, and a "pop!" when you, er, pop it. They're quite nicely chosen, though, and for once not stupidly loud through headphones, so I'm not awarding a terrible mark here.

Documentation: 2
"Remove the marbles with the same color", on the OHH page, is the extent of it. No readme or in-game instructions whatsoever. Luckily it's a very well-known game and simple enough to pick up that you don't really need documentation, but one sentence can hardly be worthy of a good mark!

Completeness: 4
This shouldn't really have been given a v1 version number, as it's clearly still in the v0.x stage. The basic gameplay all works, but there is no score, high score or timer function, and the "Option" menu item does precisely nothing.

Overall: 5
BubbleX is a pleasant little puzzle game that can be quite fun to play for a few minutes. It has no pretensions to being anything more, though it could have rated a little higher had it not been so obviously unfinished. The file is so small that you might as well bung it on your SD card anyway, though: everyone likes bursting bubbles, surely?