Catch-22 (is Addicting)

Last year I attended the IndieCade festival hoping to learn a thing or two about video game development. While the discussions were disappointing in several ways, I had the chance to play some really interesting games which redeemed the whole event. I plan to cover several of the games I first experienced at IndieCade so expect more!

Inside of a little tiny tent, far too many interesting looking games were set up at far too tiny little stations. One tiny table was set up with a few iPads showing a weird looking game. I picked up one of the iPads and dived right into to one of the coolest ideas at the festival.

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You, too, can catch this game on the App Store for $.99

Catch-22 is all about points. In the classic arcade-style way, the only goal is to do better than you’ve ever done. The basic premise is that you control either a blue or green orb on a non-stop rotation around a large circle trying to collect little floating tokens. Using an incredibly intuitive one-button control scheme, you must avoid colliding with the opposing orb while trying collect the tokens as fast as possible (their point value decreases the lower they get). While this sounds simple, the game becomes unique and complex once you collect the first token.

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The trails show the path the orb will take after you switch.

After you collect the last token of a stage, it instantly switches control to the opposing orb and you must avoid the orb you just were. In an creative method to inject strategy into a simple concept, the opposing orb will always mimic the actions of it’s last revolution, the revolution you had direct control of. By performing a lot of complex jumps to get the last token, you’ve just created a whole mess for yourself. Your previous jumps are faithfully recreated by the opposing orb which you must now dodge. You’ve got to be very careful because one hit means game over!

To further spice up the strategy, at the beginning of every stage, you have a couple seconds to safely crash into the opposing orb. Doing so will lose you some points and take you back down one stage but it also erases the orb memory. This lets you “undo” some horrible pattern you may have made, giving you a chance to reach the next stage a bit more cleanly.

This safe-crash can and should be exploited for big points.

This safe-crash can and should be exploited for big points.

While Catch-22 has only one action, jumping, you have a lot of control over how it works. To jump, you just poke the screen anywhere you’d like (except for the music and pause buttons, of course). The apex of your jump is always the same but you can alter its speed by holding you finger down. Long presses result in huge leaps while just a tap will have you making small hops. Since long jumps cause your orb to move more quickly around the circle, you can use combinations of jumps to optimize your spacing with the opposing orb. It may sound a bit strange but after a few minutes it feels very natural.

The soundtrack is very ambient and adds to the experience but it isn’t anything special. Come for the gameplay not for the audio. At $.99, it’s difficult not to recommend this game. Yes, the gameplay is simple and may feel a bit shallow but the concept and execution are solid. If you like high-score types of games, give it a try.

Bugs

Take note that there are little to no features beyond the game. There are many achievements via Game Center but they do not seem to trigger despite me matching what the description says will unlock it. In addition, the “personal highscore” listed on the title screen never seems to update. To check my (accurate) high score I have to view the Game Center leaderboards. While I assume these bugs will eventually be fixed they do not alter the gameplay in any way unless broken achievements is a deal-breaker.

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Shantae: Risky’s Revenge (is Okay)

I recently purchased Shantae: Risky’s Revenge on the iOS App Store. I’ve known about this game for quite some time as it was originally released as DSiWare in 2010. I am slowly becoming a fan of WayForward and had heard great things about the Shantae series but had yet to play one. When I saw that it was on sale in the App Store for $2, I had to make the purchase (on Christmas gift card credit!) immediately.

That skull top is pretty cool, though.

Don’t get excited people: she’s 15.

For those who don’t know, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a non-linear 2D platformer. You control half-genie Shantae in her quest to save the land from Risky Boots, an evil pirate (maybe?) type of thing. While the game is played in a strict progression, it is not level based. Shantae is free to explore anywhere her current powers will allow and backtracking is prevalent. There are plenty of upgrades throughout the game that keep the game fresh and interesting.

For what is effectively a Nintendo DS game, Shantae looks and sounds fantastic. I was really pleased by the sprite work and animations but that is to be expected from WayForward. The graphics, not including UI elements, appear to be exactly the same as its DSi counterpart, which isn’t a bad thing. My only gripe about the music is that it sounds a little compressed like a DS game, not an iOS game. I understand the graphics being the same but you’d think they could up the music quality given the platform.

Shantae is a really great game but WayForward really dropped the ball on the iOS implementation. Yes, it looks and sounds great and the overall design of the game is terrific but the controls are not up to par. Most people who play games on the iOS platform play games that were built from the ground up on the iOS platform. Games that were ported from platforms that have physical controls and buttons need extra love to make the transition to capacitive touchscreen. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge did not get that love.

There are a couple signs that WayForward did not thoroughly think through and test the controls.

First, there is no pause button. None whatsoever. You can go into the inventory menu to pause the action but otherwise, there is no way to pause. What this also means is that there is no way to return to the title screen except for restarting the app or killing yourself. This seems extremely odd for a game with a multitude of achievements.

Awesome desert locale

Just chilling in the desert.

Second, the item button is on the top left. This makes no sense whatsoever. For whatever reason, WayForward decided the best place to put an extremely common action was the furthest point away from all other actions. It is very clunky to have to stop moving just to use an item. Just look at the picture on the left. To use an item, you press the circle in the top left. Does that look fun? It’s not.

Third, the attack, walk, and mode button is all the same button: the “action” button. Normally, if you attack and continue to hold the button, Shantae will begin to dance. During her dance, the action freezes until you let go of the button (dancing is required as it lets Shantae switch forms.) If you attack an enemy and hold the button slightly too long, the game will stutter for a fraction of a second while she starts to dance. This is not a major issue but it is annoying. What really baffles me is how to get Shantae to walk. In order to walk, you must attack and continue to hold the button. Sound familiar? That’s because it is exactly the same way you start dancing. Dancing takes priority over walking which means if you want to walk (which you could only discover by accident), you have to jump, press and hold attack and then land after your attack is completed (if you land before the attack is completed, Shantae will begin to dance.) Then, and only then, are you able to see Shantae’s walking animation. Yes, walking is not necessary, but it’s still a shame.

Last, the controls are not customizable in any way whatsoever. In fact, there are no options to speak of at all. This means that my complaints are set in stone. Certain much maligned iOS ports, such as Grand Theft Auto 3, were criticized for poor controls but at least in GTA3 you had a multitude of control options. If the controls were terrible, at least you had the power to make them as comfortable to you as possible. What Shantae: Risky’s Revenge really lacks is the feeling of comfort; it always feels a bit awkward.

More could probably be said but it’s not really necessary. The game is very fun, playable and well worth the $2 I paid for it.

What does it all mean, though? WayForward obviously put a lot of work into this game as it’s fun to play and engaging. You can get it on the iOS shop for $4.99 (or wait for a sale like I did) or you can get it on the DSiWare shop or 3DS eShop for $12. Here is what I suggest: wait until it is released on the PC. It may be released on the Steam platform sometime in 2013 and will be, as far as I can tell, the superior version. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a good game but the iOS port deserved just a little more love to make it a great game.