Jun 082015

Status: Decillionaire

Most Intriguing Idea: Attempting to monetize an idlegame.

Best Design Decision: Angel Investors

Worst Design Decision: No reason to click


The moniker “idlegame” isn’t entirely accurate, as the real favorites in the genre usually give the player quite a bit to do while they’re running. Cookie Clicker openly puts the expected activity into its name, but even the original Candy Box rewarded frequent check-ins. Somewhat surprisingly, this isn’t true of AdVenture Capitalist, an idlegame I saw on Steam and decided to download since it was free.

Given that it’s a standalone, AdVenture Capitalist looks surprisingly plain: Cookie Clicker is a much more attractive game by far. The base mechanics are also fairly uninspired, in that all you’re doing is purchasing businesses that earn a single resource (money) which is used to purchase more businesses to earn more money, etc. Naturally, the cost of each subsequent business scales up exponentially, not because this makes any sense but because it’s a necessary hook for this sort of game. This already makes AdVenture Capitalist a much weaker business simulator than Clicking Bad, an idlegame that requires the player to manage supply, demand, and even (in a sense) regulatory oversight.

The hook here is supposed to be the “angel investors”. By earning a large amount of money (that is keyed to your lifetime earnings) the player attracts these angels. Each angel appears to multiply earnings by 1.02, but the only way to activate this multiplier is to get rid of everything, “creative destruction”-style and start over. The problem here is that even with billions of angels the number of businesses that can be purchased in a reasonable timeframe is not that much higher than what can be bought in an early round. In any given round the player will quickly exhaust everything that requires even minimal attention, so the smart thing to do is just close the program and wait overnight for enough angels to be recruited to make starting over worthwhile. Of course the player can accelerate things using microtransactions, but this is merely a catapult into another wall of ennui, so there’s not much point.

It has been my usual policy to make at least one microtransaction in any free game I download, but I did not do this here. AdVenture Capitalist mismatches the yield of microtransactions (the amount of in-game currency an MT gets you) and the cost of MT-based upgrades so that there will always be a little left over. This is done as a hook to ensnare the player into another microtransaction. I’ve noticed this before (the multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed was rife with it) and always found it odious. I’ve decided I will no longer purchase any MTs in games I see doing it.

Verdict: Not Recommended

Jun 072015

Status: Completed once

Most Intriguing Idea: Making both the active game and the narrative be about travel.

Best Design Decision: Putting items on the match board.

Worst Design Decision: Poor information flow.


You Must Build A Boat is the sequel to the match-3 RPG 10,000,000, a game I really enjoyed even though it has a ludicrously bad title. In terms of its fundamental play YMBAB is not much different from its predecessor: the player character runs down an endless hallway as the player slides rows and columns around to create matches. As before, the game has swords, staves, shields, and keys for dealing with enemies and chests in the hallways, as well as resource tiles that reliably give items for use back at the base and unreliably produce items for use during the run (here these are strength, thought, and crates instead of the wood, stone, and backpacks from the previous game). YMBAB adds “traps” to the hallways that will damage the player in some way unless e produces a correct match in time, as well as special crates that must be opened with some specific combination of matches. It also distinctly improves on the original by placing found objects into the match grid rather than into a separate on-screen box. This allows the items to be used both for their own effects and as strategic entities, since the column of tiles they are in will fall when they are used, potentially forming a match.

YMBAB has more of a sense of story progress than 10,000,000, in large part because the running locales and home base change in clear ways as the player completes quests and recruits helpers. Most of the monsters the player encounters can be recruited by first completing a quest and then paying some amount of thought and strength to a particular vendor. Some, however, cannot be recruited this way, and it’s not clear what the player should do to get them. This sort of inscrutability and bad data flow is everywhere in YMBAB. It’s never quite clear how some recruited vendors work (e.g. can the gods ever be pleased with an offering?) and plenty of useful information (distance run, time run, shield level, quest progress) is absent from the running screen for no apparent reason.

My major annoyance with the game is its almost perverse habit of withholding, which may be programmed or may simply be bad luck. Happening on a chest that required specific tiles to unlock it was almost always a sign that none of those tiles would drop in the near future. Getting a quest that required a specific spell also generally meant that the spell would not show up as an item for the next ten runs or so. In what may be a bug, the shield spell never showed up again after I upgraded it completely.

Despite this, the boat with its ever-expanding crew of vendors and monsters has a lot of charm. I also like the symmetry of complementing the infinite runner gameplay with a story about a journey. These things make YMBAB a little bit of an improvement over 10,000,000, which was already a surprisingly good game.

Verdict: Strongly Recommended

May 182015

Status: Completed

Most Intriguing Idea: converting Assassin’s Creed into a stealth-focused 2D game

Best Design Decision: copying Mark of the Ninja liberally

Worst Design Decision: combat is too complex given how useless it is to fight


Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is not the first time AC games have gone 2D—side-scrollers focused on platforming and combat were created for Ezio and Altaïr. Chronicles: China discards that approach in favor of aping Mark of the Ninja’s design as openly as possible. This isn’t a bad idea at all, as Mark of the Ninja is among the best stealth games ever made. Chronicles: China isn’t quite that good. Without the vertical element and snappy movement brought by Mark’s grapple, it feels a bit ground-bound and sluggish, and its enemies scale up weakly, making the final bits feel more annoying than challenging. I thought the combat was overly complicated considering the outcome of fighting outside of the most limited one-on-one engagements was certain death anyway. A simpler system with fewer special moves (or even no sword at all) would have sufficed. I could also have done without the running episodes but this is purely a matter of taste. Nonetheless the fundamental design is sound, the game is reasonably well made, and the art style is really lovely.

Verdict: Recommended

May 112015

Status: Complete

Most Intriguing Idea: Revisiting the sequence of the original Wolfenstein 3D.

Best Design Decision: I am really partial to that pipe.

Worst Design Decision: Zombiezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


Last year’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was a refreshing blend of old-school run-n-gun FPS action with new ideas like optional stealth, cover, and actual characters. The Old Blood, its short-form followup/prequel, doesn’t reach the same heights. The brevity works against its efforts to be a character piece, as the span between a character’s introduction and inevitable horrific death can be ludicrously short. The pipe tool/weapon is an entertaining addition, but climbing The Old Blood‘s modest number of hotspots doesn’t add so much that the new option supports a whole game. This did not stop the developers from making an early chapter a mandatory stealth sequence built around the pipe’s limited capabilities. Still, The Old Blood recovers nicely from there and its midgame sequences were as strong as anything from The New Order, although it has a pervasive habit of dragging combat encounters on for too long.

The late game, however, falls apart. Shambling, on-fire zombies appear but are fundamentally uninteresting to fight, not even requiring headshots. I’d hoped that the ability to turn enemies into zombies would at least expand the tactical options, but that ends up being too unpredictable. The sight of flaming, undead Nazis falling from doomed zeppelins and then staggering to their feet is initially striking, but ceases to be once it has happened more or less continuously for 10 minutes or so. The Old Blood has further down to go, however, and reaches its nadir in an abysmal final battle against a giant boss with a glowy-weak-spot mouth. Aside from the technical problems (hits on the mouth registered inconsistently, dead adds failed to despawn and remained standing in the arena) this concept is innately dull and the fight it appears in is a bore. The Old Blood is more new Wolfenstein and had a few levels I’m eager to revisit, but it begins and ends badly and occasionally tries the patience in between.

Verdict: Cautiously recommended