Facebook Ad Annoyances

on Sunday, March 20, 2011
Play Plants vs. Zombies online FREE! Free cool flash games here, comes with free toolbar! Come play [insert blatantly stolen popular retro game here] at [phishing/adware/data mining website].com!

This  is the first time I've ever written about something other than a specific flash game, but I feel this needs to be addressed. These taglines and many more seem to plague the sidebar of facebook. The reason why they are there is simple, people generally don't like paying for things they could possibly get for free, and the average facebook user doesn't know java from flash, let alone the difference between a website that offers a genuine service, and one that wishes to rip them off.

I don't mean to imply that every website that runs an advertisement on facebook is out to rob you blind and rape your kids, its mostly just the rob you blind part. The people who pay for the ads on facebook do so for one reason, it makes them more money than it costs them. It's not a moral issue for them, whether they are selling a legitimate mmorpg for tweens done by a team of seven, or one guy who set up a phishing website who will turn a profit in selling stolen information to interested parties. Facebook, similarly, has only the goal of making money, and doesn't make an effort to remove ads that are exploitative of users. The best facebook does is give you the option of personally choosing to not see specific ads by giving you the option to close the ad and report to facebook why you didn't want to see their ad.

In the wild wild west that is the internet, who is left to protect the hapless populace from those who wish to prey upon them? Well, mostly themselves. The snake oil salesmen will do everything in their power to extract the money out of you, whether by getting you to buy something directly, or selling your personal info. Facebook in this case serves as sort of the person who runs the town, but doesn't give a damn about what happens to it's citizens so long as it ends up paid.

So, who ultimately ends up suffering for this? First and foremost, the user does. Computer viruses, spam emails, and huge wastes of time are honestly the least of your worries if you are haphazardly clicking ads without knowing what the angle of the advertiser is. On the extreme end you could end up dealing with being tricked into buying something that doesn't exist, having credit card data stolen, or even ending up a victim of identity theft. Naturally all of these can be avoided with a tiny bit of net savvy, but that isn't exactly abundant in the facebook userbase. What people don't realize is that the targets of the ads aren't the only ones who get hurt. Any asset that is illegally used in setting up these scams potentially hurts the reputation of the owner of that asset. Never heard of Plants vs. Zombies and try to play it via an ad, only to be taken to a website that asks for your credit card info? Certainly doesn't make you want to try out plants vs. zombies in the future. Click an ad advertising a free tetris game only to be taken to a website that wants you install a malicious toolbar? Well, you certainly learned your lesson about trying to play games on the internet.

So, what can be done if facebook won't openly fix the problem and the people spending money on ads are obviously out to exploit the gullible? The most important thing you can do is get rid of the gullible people. Not with guns, knives, and mortar launchers of course, but with knowledge. Just about everybody who reads this knows someone who is by all means net illiterate, but uses facebook.  Simply and succinctly as you can, explain to them why they shouldn't trust certain ads, and what to look for to find a fake. If you wish to help the devs whose assets are being abused however, the route is slightly more involved. The first thing you want to do is screencap the ad, and save the image to send later. Then you want to go to the developer/publisher's website, and find the contact us button. Contact them via email, and tell them that the website in question is scamming people using their assets(make sure to attach the photo). After that, the work is on the shoulders of the devs to notify facebook of the DMCA breach and get the ad removed. You'll probably get a nice thank you in return, and you can feel good that you personally helped rid facebook of a malicious fraud.

Super Mega Balance Party 4

on Sunday, March 13, 2011
Remember how, in science/math class as a child your teacher would give you a scale, and you kept putting things in it , at different positions and kept changing the stuff to see what would happen? Ever stacked a bunch of objects(books, cans etc) to see how high you could get them before they toppled? Well if so, then Super Mega Balance Party 4 may be a familiar game to you.

SMBP4 is a stacking game, in the same vein as the perfect balance series. You have a bunch of various shapes, and you must balance them. Being physics games, they naturally rely on surface pressure for friction, so your circles roll, your cubes slide a bit, and your long, flat boards don't really budge much at all. The overall goal in SMBP4 is to build a tower of X blocks high without too many mess ups and without running out of time.

The game pieces are rather simple, yet are diverse enough that the levels are not generic. You have three basic surface types, normal, ice and bouncy, as well as static balance boards, and ones that teeter and totter like a scale. Normal ground works as you would expect, as does ice, the tricky one is bouncy flooring. From what I could see, bouncy flooring physics was pretty much a crapshoot, and kind of a hassle to deal with. As for the shapes, you have circles, wooden planks, boxes, and metal boxes. Circles roll unless another object is there to stop them, planks are generally used for supporting highers structures because of their stability, crates are your standard block, and metal crates are like crates, but they seem to weigh as much as 3 crates.

Graphically, its pretty polished, but it could've used more variety. The menus are pretty, and the backgrounds really do serve to set the environment. It may have helped to add more block textures though, because as you can see in the screenshot above, every single stone block uses the same pattern. More background/foreground variety for the different levels would have also been nice. It never hurts to mix things up with graphical assets.

Would I recommend this game? What I would instead recommend is that you go play Perfect Balance 3, and if you like it, then play Super Mega Balance Party 4. The latter levels are annoying with the advent of bounce flooring, but if you like stacking games, it certainly should appeal to you.

Notebook Wars 2

on Thursday, March 10, 2011
Remember when you would draw out epic dogfights on your notepad in school, in between pulling the ponytail of the girl in front of you and feigning interest in the teacher, who was explaining the water cycle for the third time this year? No? Well, maybe it was just me, and of course the DreamForge Studios devs, who bring us this piece of notepad paper known as Notebook Wars 2.

For once, I can not say that I've played the game's prequel, so I can't make any comparisons to improvements from the original, or unneeded flaws. However, judging the game on it's own merits, its a pretty fun game, with some pretty major flaws in design.

In notebook wars 2, you play as a pilot who is tasked to shoot down an armada of enemy planes and occasionally a bunker, tank, or gigantic robotic monstrosity the likes of which could have only come from the mind of Micheal Bay. It is never made clear why you are destroying all of these ships, but one must assume that zombie Nazis have taken over the world. This would also explain the flight skill of the pilots, because apparently having a half decayed brain limits zombie pilots to military parade and delta formations.

The game's upgrade system is standard shooter fare, though very well polished. You have ten ship and ammo types, and while they may have their strengths and weaknesses at the lower tiers, the upper tiers are your standard 'one bullet/plane to rule them all'. The pricing is really well done is most aspects, you really seem to get what you pay for, but a notable exception is in upgrade slots for planes. Some planes only have one upgrade slot, some have up to four. The problem is that the slots have to be unlocked on every plane you buy, and slot prices are both based on the ship's initial price, and grow exponentially each slot. So while that $100,000 might look like a pretty cool goal to go after, its pointless to buy unless you want to spend a half an hour grinding in the game, because getting four slots on it costs $200,000 altogether, twice the price of the most expensive thing in the game. Using the three slot helicopter on the other hand means spending $30,000 total, and is really a better option due to the way the system works.

The combat is pretty fun, but the enemies lack unique qualities by and large, and the rounds go on for way too long and don't do enough to overwhelm you. About 80% of the enemies fly together in lines and fire straight ahead, making it easy to edge kill the entire line, or swoop out of its way. Some of the more interesting AI in the units, these large green planes, were discarded after three levels, even though the different movement style changed up the game and made it more dynamic, and it would've been really nice to see more of that. The game is also very slowly paced. Its certainly not your average shooter, rather than short, frantic rounds with lots of impulse thinking and playing going on, the game sends an ungodly armada of planes at you each round, but at a leisurely pace. It may also be worth mentioning that the final health bar of each boss took far too long to deplete. At the point that the boss has lost all his extra guns, he has no hope of winning, the final health bar just delays the progression of the game by about 50 seconds.

As far the art style, I really do dig it. The crayon art is consistent, and and the animations of things like helicopter blades spinning don't distort at all. I could realistically look at a picture of this game with all the HUD removed and say that someone took crayons, colored pencils, and line paper and drew this out.

Notebook Wars 2 is a pretty good top down shooter, albeit not one that has you working much. It's a really good game to play while doing something else audio-wise, such as listening to music or a podcast, because with no story to speak of, the entire game is very light on requiring player comprehension. Definitely a game I would recommend for someone who has an hour or so to burn.

Sushi Cat 2

on Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Remember that one game with the fat cat that kept growing fatter and fatter as he continued to eat? It was called Sushi Cat and it has a sequel.

Sushi cat 2 is a cutesy little pseudo luck based puzzle game that plays just like its predecessor, with a few shiny new bobbles. It features twenty-five levels, four power ups, and a cutesy storyline that actually provides incentive to play the game.

the game starts out with sushi cat's stuffed animal/girlfriend being taken by bacon dog. He tries to give chase, but finds himself unable to use the elevator because he can't reach the button panel. Since he is conveniently in a grocery store, he decides to pig himself out in order to get big enough to reach the buttons, and this is where the game starts.
Much like Burrito Bison, this game is very minimalistic on playing, and you spend more time watching than actually controlling sushi cat. The difference is that sushi cat's boards are laid out so that there is a huge amount of strategy in what amount to moving your mouse and clicking once. The wonky physics do add quite an element of luck to the game, but are generally predictable enough to accomplish your goals, be it collecting a power up, golden sushi piece, or just a mound of sushi. The power ups also add a small additional amount of control; bombs let you blow up sushi to collect it, the fist power up lets you charge through anything, including solid objects, the pinball power up lets you temporarily turn sushi cat into a game of pinball, and the shopping special lets you click sushi to collect it for a short amount of time.

As far as the art goes, the game is unbelievably cute. If you can honestly look to the left and say that that cat isn't cute, you have no soul. The cut scenes are like something out of a child's storybook. The sun, the mountains, the shopping mall and pretty much every other large inanimate object has a face, and the story can only be described with the word "d'aww".

Sushi cat isn't a short game by any means however, its probably in the hour range for most people. It has 25 levels, and some of them (or maybe just the last one) will take multiple retries to accomplish. The power ups really speed things up, and give you a way to combat the physics engine's constant toying with you. It's not to say the game is difficult, but the most efficient route to getting all the sushi isn't always obvious.

Sushi Cat 2 is a really enjoyable game to watch, though little player input is actually required. The game has a decent length without overstaying its welcome, and its always fun to see just how big your cat will get. Definitely a worthwhile game if you have the patience to sit down and watch a get grow fatter and fatter on his way down a pachinko table.

Epic Fail

on Monday, March 7, 2011
Life as a bunny is harsh. If  it's not landmines blowing you to bits, its the aliens wanting to give you an anal probe. And to top it all off, you are expected to traverse a deadly maze for a few sweet seconds of un-PC bunny love.

Epic Fail is a game by mif2000, and sponsored by Mochi Games. You take control of a rabbit who must find his way through a deadly maze. Not only that, but it is filled to the brim with 3 foot wide flying saucers, and itty bitty landmines. Sadly, these things are both the right size for a rabbit, and will abduct and maim you appropriately. The maze will take you a bit to solve, since you can only see a bit of it at once, but since its a static maze, the game really lacks replay value.

The game is really short, as in under ten minutes if you look out for mines, which are actually fairly difficult to see while moving through a maze. The four mines in the picture is pretty obvious of course, but they get slightly trickier in placement as you go deeper into the maze.

I really do like the art style here, but it feels like it was wasted on the length of the game. The game play wasn't terrible, and it definitely could have stood to have a couple more levels to showcase the nice graphical work that was put into the tile set.

Epic fail is definitely useful for killing, oh say ten minutes, but once you know the map, the game is finished, there is nothing more to do, and it finds itself on the short side of the game length to fun bell curve.

Below is the full map for those who want it(via Newgrounds):


The Legend of the Golden Robot

on Friday, March 4, 2011
Oh no, an evil and generic wizard has taken over the countryside around the village and threatens the lives of all its citizens! What to do? I know, lets make that new guy, the one who looks like Indiana Jones, kill the bad guys.
 This plot may sound perfectly reasonable to everyone in the town, save for Indigo Steve. Unfortunately, you are Indigo Steve. Armed with only a sweet hat, a knife, and his wits, Indiana Jones Indigo Steve must set out to collect objects such as the crystal skull, King solomon's seal, and the holy grail, in order to fund himself enough to buy things, of course. The real prize is a shiny golden robot that can dispell any hostile magic, including that of completely un-nazilike wizards.

The legend of the Golden Robot is a game about a man, a blade, a shovel, a wizard, a robot, and an annoying guy who has to be the worst house side gambler in existence. You play as Indigo Steve, a brave adventurer who sets out to save a village (with a population of four men and two houses, but a village nonetheless) from an evil wizard. To do this, he must reassemble the 5 piece of the golden robot, an artifact that is known for dispelling hostile magic.

The gameplay is divided into a couple of parts. You start out in the village, where you can buy weapons, gamble,and learn about treasure locations. This is also where you manage your equipment. Once you leave town you go to a map that shows all of the game's dig sites. Most are locked until you have the proper equipment. Once in a dig site, the game becomes minesweeper in reverse, the objective is to get to the treasures by reading how many treasures are in adjacent tiles. Often while treasure hunting, you will be attacked my hostile minions of the wizard, which initiates the combat stage of the game.

Combat is pretty simple, but your stats are what make all the difference. You have four moves you can use on your turn. A normal attack, which is accurate, does normal damage, and uses 10 stamina, a block which reduces damage by half and fills your stamina, a rage attack which does 1.5-2.4 times normal damage for 20 stamina, and a buildup attack that does four times normal damage, costs 30 stamina, and takes 2 turns to use. As a bit of side advice, get attack and defense to 5, stamina to 7, then put everything into strength. If you do this, just about every fight near the end of the game will be a one hit fight, even the final boss will die in 3 rage attacks if you focus on strength. Other than than those skills you have a special that can be used once a day, most are pretty darned useful.

When treasure hunting, keep in mind the rules of minesweeper, so you don't waste daylight hours searching an obviously blank spot. if the tile shows and 8, that means every side and corner of it has treasure, if it shows 0 that means all of its adjacent tiles are blank. If you are having trouble finding treasures, gamble with Brian to earn locations of treasures. Remember to always bet higher if he rolls 27 or lower, and bet lower is he rolls above 27. Also keep in mind as far as treasure hunting goes, a better shovel can save you a lot of money in the long run by saving hours of digging, but you don't need to buy every single shovel.

The equips are probably the best part of the game. You have a hat, coat, weapon, pet, spade, and a special items to equip. The hats give defense and speed, armor gives defense, the spades reduce time spent digging, the swords give attack, damage, and crit%, the pets do random damage, and the specials have a variety of effects. Most of it is strictly tier up equipment, meaning you want to use the shiniest, newest weapon you have at all times, but there are exceptions, such as with Excalibur and the light saber. There is something about unlocking a new, secret item that is just addicting.

The storyline of the game is actually pretty anticlimactic, to the point where it actually makes me wonder why it was done so cheaply. The game play time from start to finish is about one and a half to two hours long, and pretty much ends with the final boss dying and the villagers being mildly happy that you succeeded. The fact that the final boss drops in three hits doesn't make it any better. For such a long game that was so story driven, it should have had more work done on the endgame.

The Legend of the Golden Robot is a pretty fun game, there is no doubt, but its not without its flaws. The game is far too slowly paced and grind happy, and collecting the final robot piece is a chore because you need to find all four map pieces to dig site twelve to even get it. This, coupled with an dreary ending, means that I'd recommend the game, but know what a long trip you are in for, and that a lot of it is pretty mindless grinding and searching.


on Thursday, March 3, 2011
Let me just start off by saying:
  1. I have no idea what I was even playing
  2. I'm not sure that it qualifies as a game.
  3. I'm equally perplexed and impressed.

Mitoza  is a flash game of many choices. While its more like a super simple choose your own adventure book than a game, it gives you the option of choice and I think that counts. It's a really simple little flash app, you start with two choices, and a seed. These choices branch off to two more, and so on until you reach an ending, which grants you a new seed, thus restarting the cycle. The art style is sort of abstract, but it looks pretty damned cool. This game only has an entertainment value of about 5 minutes, but its certainly a cool thing to watch.

Hack Slash Crawl

on Monday, February 28, 2011
What in the hell makes dungeon crawling so addicting? I'll be damned if I know, but the 150+ hours I put into diablo 2 means that there must be something to it. The fighting, looting, the leveling is all so addictive. Hack Slash Crawl follows just about every trope that makes a hack and slash dungeon crawler a hack and slash dungeon crawler, namely its focus on; hacking, slashing, and dungeon crawling.

Hack Slash Crawl is a hack and slash dungeon crawler by Void. It aims to boil dungeon crawling down to its purest form; character creation, fighting enemies, fighting bosses, getting loot, and leveling up. The fighting is pretty simple, there are two attack types, melee and magic. To melee you click on an enemy, to cast magic you hit the magic quick key and the game pauses until you select the target of your spell. The combat really doesn't have much depth to it, the real depth instead coming from racial traits, equipment, and how you choose to approach the mobs.

When creating your character, you have a few important options. You have the name, which really doesn't matter, but I'm preferential to naming my vampires Vlad, my werewolves Witherfang, and other blatant ripoffs. After the name you have the race, and the class. The races are the biggest game changers, you naturally don't want to play a golem the same way you play a celestial, at least if you plan on surviving. It seems to me a few of the races are pretty underpowered as they only give initial spells, which may be nice around level one, but by level five that werewolf will outclass your Atlantean in every single way, and probably have a chance to get both of your racial spells too. Classes are less game changing, but still are designed to fit every play style. The are classes for melee and magic, healing and shielding, etc. So long as your class and race match your play style you should be fine. The last options you have available aren't initially accessible. The titles are only gained upon death, and you only receive one when you die. You can equip two at a time, and some of them are crazy powerful, but you only get access to them by doing extremely well.

On the looting system, I have to say it works decently, but it's pretty lackluster. All loot is random no matter whether it was obtained from a skeleton with a rusty sword, or Deathmaul the Destroyer, or even a chest. As a matter of fact, every level has exactly one chest, and one boss, but the equips you obtain from either of these is no different then that obtained from random monsters. As for the equips themselves, they vary wildly, and the usefulness of each piece will change depending on your play style.

I think the biggest problem the game has is that it tries to setup a short, simple, re-playable game, with little reason to replay it. That seems like it is the goal of the title system, but since you can only get one title per game play, and each game takes around five to ten minutes, with thirty two titles you are talking about 3+ hours to get them all, and that is assuming you know the requirements for each one. Other than that, the game pretty much becomes impossible to lose at past level 10. I can rush a room with a boss in it, and peel off all the enemies around me one by one while my regeneration keeps me alive forever.

Despite my gripes, at the core of it is a very good game. Its definitely not a game to be played for as long as it wants you to play it, but who cares, its still fun while it lasted, and the flagstaff series could certainly gain a lot from making use of the dungeon crawler elements in place. Hack Slash Crawl is definitely worthy of your time, but I wouldn't recommend grinding past the point where the game loses all its fun.

Sugar, Sugar

on Sunday, February 27, 2011
Sure you may have your meat boys, and killer oranges, but what about the sweeter side of the flash game food chain? What about that all important pure white, pixel high morselette that is the common sugar cube? Fear not, for sugar, sugar is here to remind us of how important that tiny cube is, and how much of a chore it is to pour out of the end of a comma.

Sugar, Sugar is a game developed for Armor Games by Bonte Games. Sugar, Sugar's basic setup is that you have to get sugar into a cup by drawing lines. Using a simple physics systems, the sugar pixels glide down the paths you make and into the sugar cups. The challenge of the game comes in three parts. The first is that you can't remove a line once you've created it. The second is the fact that certain cups need cerain color sugar, which must be passed through goal posts to change the color. And the third is that the comma contains finite sugar. A fourth challenge that isn't intended by the game is the fact that lack of being able to draw smooth lines with a mouse can royally screw you because of the way the physics system operates. A straight line tool would've been much appreciated and made the game twice as easy by removing the fake difficulty of having a high sensitivity mouse.

The puzzley game is fun, until you realize that you are spending 90% of the time waiting on sugar to move. The sugar physics apparently does a collision loop and friction test of every single piece of sugar in a mound, meaning that large sugar piles will roll down hills at a speed of somewhere between a crippled turtle, and snail with a pebble tied to it. naturally, spending 30-60 seconds waiting on each mound of sugar to slowly roll down a hill does not a fun game make, and the less steady the line you drew, the more time the sugar takes to settle.

For a game that uses only sixteen colors at a time however, it looks pretty damn spiffy. Its all pixel art, naturally, but the way the sugar flows just looks so...right, and the sugar can pretty much fill up anything with a pixel wide gap in it, with no visual problems. All the backgrounds and foreground blend perfectly, and there is never any visual miscommunication.

As far as the actual puzzles go, they are rather clever, but about half of the levels feel like repeats. I think thirty was too high a number for the developer to shoot for. I personally only hit twenty-five before I stop playing, as I realized I had watched the same piles of sugar fill the same cups before, each board only changed slightly. I think twelve to fifteen unique levels would've been a better idea for this game.

Overall, I think Sugar, Sugar is a game with a hell of a lot of wasted potential because of how unpolished it is. If it weren't for the fact that sugar took forever to settle and that I was essentially being punished for having an unsteady hand, this game would be an amazing puzzle game. But as it stands its annoying, tedious, and probably not worth your time.

Elephant Quest

on Friday, February 25, 2011
Yesterday, I reviewed Treadmillasaurus-Rex, a game by jmtb02. Today is another, more recent (as in, this morning it released) game, Elephant quest. As the title informs you, jmtb02 is finally getting back to what he knows best, elephants. Elephant quest is a mishmash of platformers, RPGs, and metroidvania games. You play as an elephant who was robbed of his hat by a large mammoth, and naturally goes on a long and dangerous quest to get the hat back no matter what the cost. Why would you do all that for a hat? You obviously haven't seen how sweet that hat is.

The controls are pretty simple, and the game is both arrow key and WASD friendly. You start out with one turret, and the ability to jump about 5 blocks high. Through doing side quests you can unlock normal sentries, and flying autoguns which greatly boost the damage you are capable of. The basic goal of the game is to go to the 4 corners of the world (literally) to obtain four blue keys, so that you can unlock the door that holds wooly, and your sweet hat. Depending on how many sidequests you do, the game can take anywhere from 15-40 minutes, it honestly could have used a bit more length, as it had a good skill system in place, and all it would've taken would be more unlockable areas and more NPCs.

On a graphical note, I'm actually rather impressed. jmtb seemed to go far above his standard artistic fare with this flash game and it shows. The way the enemies health bars slide along the screen and display works well, the crazy physics of the turret string is cool to watch, and everything looks and feels like you are in some perfect magical world inhabited solely by Elephants (and bison).

The stats system is rather complex, and relies a lot on forethought about levels to come. You start out only being able to upgrade to one of four stats, each of which branch off further, ala dynasty warriors. There are also a few +15 bonuses scattered about and four huge +50 bonuses, on in each corner of the skill chart. As far as actual skills go, you without a shadow of  a doubt need to get 100 int first and foremost, because int has a skill increases the amount of points you gain per level up. Other than that, the jump skill is probably the most important, as the final boss would be ridiculous with the default jump. Damage is also nice, as is speed, and minion summons, though they are by no means required, and you can spend points on whatever you feel would benefit you the most.

The questing system is what you'd expect ofjust about any sidequest from an RPG, and there are three quest types:
  1. Talk to Person X
  2. Go find item X and bring it back to me
  3. Collect Y number of X's and show them to me

None of these are difficult, and in actuality, you can probably pop of nearly all of them without doing any real backtracking.

All in all, Elephant quest was probably one of the most fun flash games I've played in a while. Everything runs smoothly, and it feels very professionally done. Its the type of game I could see being up on the iPhone or android app store for a buck fifty or two bucks.