Punching Robots Club

With your host, Rob Remakes

Simon’s Casual Cat

I’ve never really felt the urgent need to go ducking into a more recent block matching game when despite more than a few attempts from EA to trash it, Bejeweled 3 (or Bejeweled Classic as it is these days) has more than amply filled the niche for me.

However, I’ve been kinda more exhausted than my usual exhausted self (which runs at a baseline of 7 exhaustions out of 10 on a good day) and figured why not, so a quick rummage through Apple Arcade to find something and Simon’s Cat Storytime looked chill enough. One yoink and a few days later and oh sweet baby Molyneux, am I ever glad I grabbed this on Arcade rather than a game in a similar vein because it’s pretty damn evil.

And look, I know I’m the last to know here! I’ve sort of known that mainstream casual has been a shitshow for a while and I remember Em occasionally popping one on here and there when her more usual stuff was a bit too much and complaining about whatever one they gave a go of that time round but still, it’s a pretty grim state of affairs when this is the main face of games to the general public and that face is the face of non-stop exploitation.

Aside from the kinda middle class cute that is Simon’s Cat giving the game the appearance of being more gentle, it’s how absolutely unrelenting it all is. It. Never. Stops.

There’s always another currency to be drained, another temptation, the player perpetually kept on the back foot, another offer, another streak to keep up. Always. Never stopping. Of course the very core of the design has to feed all this so it’s going to be a game that’s happy to put the player on a losing streak, happy to let them churn through coins trying again and again, fighting the random nature of the game, forever convincing the player that this next time, they can totally beat the level and when they don’t? No biggy because it makes a number go down and a number going down amongst all this feeds addictions.

That in game purchases don’t even exist in this Apple Arcade release, it’s remarkable. Even without a way to empty your pockets, here’s a game that still manages to feel expressly exploitative. It’s depressing.

It’s depressing not just because of the sheer exploitation but because the effort that’s gone in to dressing this all up is remarkable. This stuff can’t be done like this – looking and sounding this good – without people spending a lot of time and a lot of money putting it together. Think of how many nice things we could have if that talent and expense wasn’t put to work on something ultimately designed to extract money from punters in the most distracting manner possible.

In some regards, I kinda choose to be perpetually shocked by stuff like this because I don’t want to ever be fine with it. And I’m certainly not implying that this stuff is the domain of casual games only. I mean, FIFA (or whatever EA have decided to call it when you’re reading this) exists, right? Games don’t half like to do some really shitty things. It’s also definitely not new, I’ve just wisely avoided things until I suddenly decided not to.

And yes, I know, I know, “Rob, you remember arcade games, mate?” and of course I do. I know videogames have forever been finding ways of getting someone to empty their pockets but this past decade or so has (much like in everything else, I guess) seen this stuff rocket out of hand.

And yes, I know, I know, “someone in games gets pissy at casual” is an eternal part of videogames. Fair enough, I’ll cop to that. Just think of it as my turn now. And yes, I also know that there’s a whole spectrum of videogames out there, some less, some more exploitative. I’m having a moan here, leave me alone.

Cats deserve better than this crap. Even fictional ones.

Switch Game Recs

An Incomplete List Of Arcade-y/Home Computer-esque Videogames I Like On The Nintendo Switch At This Exact Point In Time (69 of them)

Rainbow Laser Disco Dungeon. Enough to drive you berzerk.

Rainbow Laser Disco Dungeon (Rhythm Berzerk, basically)

JETBOY & The Randomizer Of DOOM (Jetpac megamix)

Shoot 1UP DX (XBLIG all timer shoot ’em up)

Horizon Shift ’81 (Remember Binary Zoo’s DUO? That kind of thing)

Mixolumia

A screenshot of the game Mixolumia. It has a minimalist pixel aesthetic against a black background. A series of small colourful diamonds sit at the bottom of the board. In the centre of the board, mid drop, is a larger diamond made up of 4 diamonds the size of the ones at the bottom of the board. Two are red, one is yellow, one is black with a white border.

Surrounding the board is a display showing time, level, blocks cleared and the current score.

Look, I’m not going to lie here, I absolutely bought Mixolumia because someone jokingly described it as “Lesbian Tetris” and I am genuinely that easily convinced.

Now, I’m severely underqualified to tell you how lesbian a Tetris it is but I can tell you that it’s a wonderful block dropping videogame with some fantastic music that had it been released on the GBA as part of the Bit Generations series, would be spoken of in revered tones. As it is, it’s somewhere around 2023 and the GBA is long gone so we’re just going to have to pretend it was, if only so it saves me on explanations.

So. It’s pretty good, right? I’ve been playing it for a half hour or so here or there since I grabbed it and I’m having a great time just trying to beat my previous best scores. 

Sometimes. 

The thing is, it feels so nice to play and the pretty damn fine visual effects, sound FX and music work so well that I kinda just enjoy matching colours up enough that I forget there’s any scoring at all. 

Luckily, the game has me covered there because nestled in amongst its handful of game modes is a chill endless mode that lets me just sit there happily matching stuff and making nice noises at myself as I go. It’s turning out to be one of the best fidget toys made videogame I have and yes, these days I’m so tired I go looking for that sort of thing.

Most of my time is spent on the opening mode that tasks me to clear 450 lines and get the best possible score as I do so. I’ve found Mixolumia takes just a little more concentration than the block droppers I usually go for (but not too much so as to exhaust my easily exhausted brain), as a result I’ve found myself more able to drift into the game and tune everything else out. Something I’ll admit a combination of age and easily distracted person living in a house where the distractions come thick and fast has made a lot more difficult to do these days. So that’s really nice!

It’s somewhere between ten and twenty quid on Switch depending on whether there’s a sale on or not, it’s really good and makes some lovely noises too. There’s a PC version on Itch and Steam if that’s more your thing. It’s gorgeous, loaded with tweaks you can make to shape the game around your own ability (again, handy for me these days!) and is pretty much in the spirit of Bit Generations. I can’t really offer a higher recommendation than that.

Well worth a buy.

Mixolumia – Home
Mixolumia is an entrancing musical puzzle game.
www.mixolumia.com

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New Rally X64

Absolutely love the look of this new homebrew conversion of New Rally X for the Commodore 64. The chonky C64 pixels and its distinctive palette are a really, really good fit for the game.

via Indie Retro News.

Indie Retro News: New Rally-X64 – An Arcade conversion of Rally X for the C64 gets its first release candidate
Jake79 with music by Merman and sound effects by NM156, has made available the first release candidate of their Arcade conversion of New Rally-X64
www.indieretronews.com

Top 5 Cutlery Videogames

A fancily dressed skeleton with a fine pipe and hat introduces the top 5, an occasional series of lists of 5 things not to be taken entirely seriously.
  1. Sonic Forkses
  2. Shovel Knife
  3. Prey: Spooncrash
  4. Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spork
  5. Mount & Splade

Read: From Outsourcing To Storytelling (via Eurogamer)

Think of Asian games, and Japan as well as China will likely come to mind first. But the industry extends to the rest of the continent, as we have seen with India and Taiwan. Perhaps less known to Western audiences, however, is the impact of the industry in Indonesia, despite it being the fourth most populous country in the world and having had a development boom over a decade ago during the Flash era.”

The Emergence Of Indonesian Indies, Alan Wen for Eurogamer

Tesla Force

A screenshot from the game Tesla Force. It is a floating stone Island, lit largely in purple and blue. Red Lovecraftian creatures roam and enormous glowing crystals break up the stone edifices.

Tesla Force has one of the most immediately disarming structures to a twin stick shooter I’ve played. In a good way, mind.

Picking up from the also wonderful Tesla Vs Lovecraft, Tesla Force reimagines the game as a more open, customisable, less guided experience. With co-op. I really like it but yeah, it certainly caught me off guard at first.

There’s a familiarity there, sure. If you’ve played Tesla Vs Lovecraft then you’ll be instantly at home with the menagerie of beasties, the mech/on foot/mech rhythm and the large array of weaponry, upgrades and whatever you can acquire. It’s all really solid, filling the screen with bullets and colourful explosions hasn’t gotten old yet and I’ve been playing this on and off for ages and ages now.

The surprising part is just how much freedom 10 Tons have built into the progression and how generous it is.

Sure, you’ll be exploding monsters into pretty colours in order to collect gems in order to spend gems to buy more ways of exploding monsters into pretty colours and repeat – fairly standard stuff – but unlike 10 Tons previous twin stickers, Tesla Force is (for want of a better phrase) a roguelike.

Each playthrough has you work your way through a procedurally generated map, moving from node to node until you reach the inevitable final boss. The first few rounds limits the choice of routes the player can take but a few upgrades later and the map is positively sprawling. So far so roguelike! I mean, it works doesn’t it? So, why not!

However, with the exception of the boss nodes, the stages don’t actually end. I can keep playing each one, rinsing them for gems and pretty colours until I decide to leave. As I say, it’s disarming at first. Even the lootiest of looter ARPGs tend to have a point where the player has exhausted things to do in a stage and they’re forced to move on yet Tesla Force leaves that up to the player.

Of course, there’s a wrinkle! This is a videogame after all and they’re tricksy things at the best of times. Once I begin the first stage, a countdown begins – the ominously named death clock – and each time the countdown reaches zero, the game gets a little bit more difficult, harsher, more abrasive. So the longer I spend on a stage, the more things get tricky, the more the stage will require more firepower, more health, more skill to survive.

Sure, I can keep grinding stage after stage but the longer I spend doing that, the more difficult the later stages are going to be. The more difficult the stage I’m grinding is going to be, never mind.

Whereas this would be a pretty oppressive system in most games, when combined with the brevity of each stage and the huge amount of skills and upgrades available to buy with your gems, it’s the other one. It’s remarkably freeing and lets me control the difficulty from stage to stage. If I fancy an easy ride? Get in, complete the objective, move onto the next node until done. Fancy testing myself? Stick around. No matter what happens, I’ll be collecting gems to spend on more upgrades or weaponry, each completed stage hands me a new weapon or ability to add to my arsenal, each game over nudging me closer to another unlock. In Tesla Force (as with a number of other recent roguelikes) a game over is an interruption, rather than an end.

There’s always progress and it’s hardly stingy, there isn’t an unlock that doesn’t make some tangible difference to the game and there is a lot to unlock. I’ve been playing for ages now and haven’t even got round to giving any of the other characters you can unlock a shot. I’ve been far too busy buying more weapons, more abilities, more slots to pop abilities into, more firepower, more time in the mech and on. I’m sure I’ll get round to giving them a go soon but y’know, I’m having loads of fun as it is. No rush!

Tesla Force is a wonderful game. I’ve been playing it on PS4 (and more recently on the Switch) and it’s not got any less enjoyable for all the (many!) hours I’ve pumped into it. In fact, I think I’ll just sneak another go in now whilst no-one is looking.

Forget-Me-Not

I like a lot of things about Forget-Me-Not but the thing I like the most is that it’s the videogame as fishtank.

Pic from Arcade Life.

It’s the sort of thing that I could just stare at for hours as these boggle eyed creatures inside my monitor go about their business, entirely oblivious to my ingame existence for the most part.

Of course, we all know that it’s just a few simple systems and rules really but it somehow feels like peering into somewhere where there’s life. There’s few games that manage to pull this sort of videogame ecosystem thing off and due in no small part to being inspired by the old C64 game Crossroads, Forget-Me-Not manages it really quite skillfully.

It’s rare I’ll use the term for most videogames but Forget-Me-Not is fascinating. It’s fascinating to watch and it’s fascinating to see how a few simple but well considered rules make for something so special.

Forget-Me-Not is out on so many things now it’s likely you’ll have a device that can run it. If you’ve not ducked in before, well, get on that.

(First published in 2015, post updated April 2022)

Zeroptian Invasion

You know, I was absolutely convinced I’d put words down on Zeroptian Invasion some time back but perhaps I should have double checked that one sooner because no, no, I had not.

I am really fond of Zeroptian Invasion.

I’ve long nurtured an appreciation of the single screen shooter, from Space Invaders, Galaga and the usual suspects through a whole bunch of home computer games, PD, homebrew and indie titles. In my old age, I’ve lost none of my love for the things and Zeroptian Invasion is no exception.

The opening stage presents the player with a really quite lovely Space Invaders-esque game in a gorgeous 70’s arcade meets ZX Spectrum style. Over the course of a fair handful of stages, it adds a wee bit more complexity to the mix, not a great deal because the game stays wonderfully true to its aesthetic and videogame inspirations, but certainly enough to ensure that it keeps the player on their toes.

Think a modern Gorf, you know? It’s that sort of deal.

It’s the kind of game that had it actually existed in the eighties, I’d have fallen in love with it pretty easily and would probably bend your ear off over even now. Given I’m still every bit as awed by similar games today as I was then, it was pretty easy for me to fall in love with it now, nevermind.

It helps in no small part by it being an absolutely gorgeous game! The sprite work is often wonderful and I’m a real sucker for the bezel artwork too.

I’ve been playing it on the PS4 and Switch. Other formats are available.

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