Punching Robots Club

With your host, Rob Remakes

Top 5 “If Steven Moffat made videogames” ideas. Do not steal.

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. Crash Bandiwandy
  2. Animal Crossiwossy
  3. Hitmanywany
  4. R-Typiwipey
  5. Bioshockywocky

Pity Pit

Rock hard

Bless any game where my first half hour or so is spent thinking “does this even have a level two?” as I once more smack into a passing bad guy, ending my game. Pity Pit is brutal like that.

Gosh, it’s compulsive though.

If you’re looking for an easy comparison, it’s Mr Driller meets Downwell as imagined for the Commodore 64 except the Commodore 64 is your modern device. Also, it hates you.

It’s all about digging down. Get to the bottom of a stage, start a new one. Along the way the player will encounter different kinds of blocks – some requiring multiple smacks with the pickaxe to clear, some requiring bombs, some the player is unable to dig through. Naturally enough, there’s a small menagerie of enemies to avoid en route and a copious amount of different rocks and coins to collect for points. All the time, a rockfall threatens to crush the player should they take too long.

It is a difficult game and that difficulty is defiantly home computer difficult. It’s the exact sort of difficulty I’d expect to find in a 1988 budget game – which is to say, precisely up my street. I can see how anyone expecting the springy bullet ballet fluidity of Downwell might be in for a shock here because, well, that’s just not this videogame.

What it cribs from Downwell is predominantly structural, the rest is rigid, controlled, convincingly 8 bit. And yes, that does mean the occasional moment that feels unfair! It isn’t unfair, just sometimes it’s nice to blame the videogame instead of my own crappiness. One of those “this videogame needs a referee” things.

I’m not sure how much longevity there is here but I loaded it up earlier to have a quick go, just to see what it was like really, and five hours later I still find myself going back for a quick go. And yes, there is a level two! Level three on the other hand? Well. I just don’t know…

I bought it aaaages ago for the PS4 and never got round to giving it a go but today, I’ve been playing it on Switch. Other formats are available.

The Pale Fountains: Bicycle Thieves

Some records certainly make me whisper “fucking hell” under my breath whilst listening to them and The Pale Fountains “Bicycle Thieves” is one of them. Okay okay, Mick Head records make up a good number of them but let’s ignore that for now.

From a swirling Animals-esque intro, it’s one of those songs that just gets better and better as it goes on and Mick Head absolutely belts the vocals out like their life depends on it. Lyrically, …Across The Kitchen Table might be peak Pale Fountains (that opening line!) but “and when I seen you in the subway station, you looked like you hadn’t seen The Queen’s face for a while” is still up there in my books.

What a record! Fucking hell.

Cataloguing The New Arcade: Glitchangels

The character select screen from Glitchangels, it's glitchy! And purple. There's a distorted pixelised angel in the background, a green hued user interface with two big icons in white, one some arrows to indicate 'dodge', the other a skull to indicate 'rage'. It's very nineties cybergoth.

Sitting at the intersection of glitchgoth and cybergoth, Glitchangels is Berzerk reimagined as a Nuclear Throne-alike. Throw out the unending maze of the arcade classic, replace it with discreet rooms with tight corridors, clear the enemies to open the exits, paper it with Droid Assault inspired art – strip out the Paradroid elements, keep the store and upgrades.

Glitch everything, movement, firepower, everything. Play the videogame as VHS, make a mistake, rewind and forward your angel to safety. It’s weirdly now. It could really only collect all these things together and vibe like it does in the now but yes, it’s an EBM arcade dancefloor Robotron.

What a heady mix for a twin stick shooter all this makes. Instantly familiar to anyone who’s even mildly been paying attention in our post Geometry Wars world and it’s not like the game makes any effort to hide or obscure its influences anyway, quite the opposite. It’s there in the credits, it’s there the moment you spawn into the first screen. 40 years of twin sticking, goth’d up, glitched up.

Buy it on Switch, grab a cider and black and sit in a tree to play it, preferably in a graveyard. In Whitby if you need to. Maybe get the flourescent gear out, meet the game on its terms, you know? Sod it, chuck a glowstick or two in your bag whilst you’re at it. If you know anyone with a dry ice machine, I’m not saying it’d complete the vibe but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Or, y’know, grab it on the PC or Xbox. Whatever works. But really, do grab it. It’s good. I’ve been having an absolute ball with the thing.

Fight. Die. Glitch. Win. It totally does what it says on the tin.

Saboteur!

A skeleton holds onto itself, announcing the ye olde videogame segment

Revisiting Saboteur for the first time in a very long time, all thanks to a slightly messy but the game is perfectly intact recent-ish port.

I was pleasantly surprised how much I still enjoy the game!

I can’t quite put my finger entirely on how it works as well as it does for me but a part of it is how irrevocably tied to a certain strand of VHS film it is. Look, I can’t explain why or how (I’m not entirely convinced anyone knows why), just know that the eighties had the most amazing preoccupation with ninjas and Saboteur gets that.

A screenshot from the PS4 port of Clive Townsend's Saboteur. A ninja rushes into a green tunnel to be confronted by a guard dog and armed security guard. There's a bunch of ladders leading up and down out of the room because it's an eighties videogame and they loved ladders.

Rather than just kick or punch things for points, you’re tasked with sneaking into a waterside warehouse to pilfer a floppy disk and, of course, getting out alive. Naturally the warehouse is crawling with guards, security cameras and guard dogs (which is only a Tadashi Yamashita short of everything you need to make this work) and you’ll have to make short order of them to escape in one piece. I find throwing bricks helps.

What I find most impressive about Saboteur is that it feels like a segment from one of these low budget VHS tat films. You ride in by dinghy, you creep through the warehouse kicking security guards in the face as you go, you fiddle with computer terminals and shunt through underground tunnels in train carriages. It’s probably a whole five or ten minutes of a film made game yet somehow it completely nails the vibe.

It is incredibly eighties action film in a way a lot of other ninja-y games just aren’t. Partly it’s the animations which though super limited, I just love the sneaky ninja walk cycle. Nobody ever ran like this outside of VHS ninja films, except in Saboteur! Partly it’s the vehicles – a dinghy and a helicopter? In the same videogame? Well now!

If you want a tenuous Rob comparison, Saboteur is the American Ninja to the Datasoft Bruce Lee’s Shaw Brothers film. I’d go out on a limb and say Bruce Lee has the better ninja, solely because they’ve got a big stick and don’t need to rummage around in rubble for something to hit somebody with BUT there’s always room for a bit of variety.

It is worth mentioning that Saboteur is very 1985 and from 8 bit home computers so don’t go expecting wonderfully fluid graceful movement here. It totally is clunky!

You don’t chain moves or combo or anything, you stand still to punch someone in the nose, you jump kick them in precisely one (1) frame. The port does very little to remove that old clunk and friction, adds a bit of its own if I’m being truthful, and I don’t think sticking with that hurts the game especially either.

I’ve rarely cared about clunky and that’s the case for Saboteur too. It works enough, you know? Perhaps it may not work enough outside of the hazy VHS moment it’s forever trapped in for me, I’m not sure. To be brutally honest. I don’t really care if it doesn’t – not while it’s still got that magic for me.

Saboteur, a port of its sequel and a new entry into the series (which I really must check out when I have some spare cash) are all available across the usual videogame formats. As usual, I’ve been playing on the PS4.

x_purrsonline_x

It's a mainly cyan faux chat client. In the top left, you have a magnifying glass, a gear and an I icon, below that a list of contacts with their avatars. To the right is the chat window itself which is filled with cat typing and a drawn picture of a cat. Everyone is a cat in the client.

I have got so much stuff on Itch I really need to get round to talking about, it’s embarrassing.

Rummaging through stuff earlier and remembered about x_purrsonline_x a toy chat client for talking to cats. My youngest absolutely fell in love with it when I showed it them and they had an absolute ball with it.

Originally made for the 2019 A Game By It’s Cover Jam, it’s name your own price and just one of those things that’s really sweet and I’m glad exists.

Settling Down In No Man’s Sky

It’s quite something that after five years and thousands of hours, I’m still having an absolutely lovely and chill time with No Man’s Sky.

The last time I put words to page about it, I celebrated its rediscovered messiness. Since then, so much more has been added and with that, so much more mess.

As I wrote last time round, it’s the good kind of messy. The messy that keeps things interesting, keeps everything from seeming a little too rote, ensures the game never feels clinical in its approach. It’s the rough edges, unfiled.

Case in point: settlements.

One of the more recent additions to No Man’s Sky is the ability to run a small settlement for a bunch of aliens.

As the overseer of the settlement the player is charged with making planning decisions, helping out with construction and settling petty complaints between townsfolk like some sort of cosmic headteacher meandering through a space playground dishing out space litter duties.

In my own infinite wisdom, I’d decided that rather than try and find the best or nicest looking settlement, I’d take the first one the game threw at me.

Molyneux save me, did I ever end up with a rough one.

The settlement I look after is on a freezing world with regular long and blinding storms. Vy’keen scatter themselves around, taking brief walks in-between the hellish weather fluctuations and sentinel assaults on the base, running for shelter and safety when it all kicks off.

It is rarely not kicking off. This is a settlement of tremendously healthy and well exercised Vy’keen thanks to the storms.

The weather is so terrible that it often takes me five or ten minutes to find whatever half built building I need to drop some materials off at. It’s so terrible that on the occasions where Sentinels (No Man’s Sky’s intergalactic robot coppers) decide my settlement is an anomaly too far and opt to try and shut it down, I often have to take the game’s word for it because like I can see anything through the storm.

For all I can see, the Sentinels could be stopping by to hold a Punch And Judy show. Either way, they’ll need shooting.

It is honestly ridiculous. It’s so extreme that it borders on unplayable. I get mere moments in the clear even as fully decked out with protective gear as the game permits.

I love it. I love it because yes, it really sells the whole harsh world thing. But also, I love it because it’s frankly funny. There is absolutely no need for the game to have planets this brutal and plenty of other games would knead the kinks out into something vastly more controlled, more palatable.

No Man’s Sky is all like “nah” and goes all in. Nobody really needs to see what’s going on anyway, right?

It’s all part of the joy of the settlement stuff for me and kinda why the addition of these microgames within a larger game, and the way Hello add stuff to the game, amuses me so much.

It’s how absolutely unnecessarily completely Hello Games commit to them. Exploring derelict freighters doesn’t have to be an over the shoulder horror minigame complete with spoopy tales of how the derelict came to be! But it is.

Settlement management doesn’t have to involve procedurally fleshing out the settlement with new buildings, it doesn’t have to involve petty disputes, citizens determined to go and wander into harm’s way because they’re bored and especially doesn’t need little management game style bubbles showing the current thoughts of each citizen. But it does.

And it certainly doesn’t need to include planets that are complete stormy horror shows, but it does.

I don’t think I’ve played any game ever that’s been quite this sort of journey. From the strange, janky, Out There but you can explore the planets for realsies of the game at launch to this beast of an MMO that exceeds most of the promises that Cloud Imperium have been struggling to even meet the basics of with more money and more time available to them to begin with.

I suspect it helps that whilst each addition over time widens the amount of things to do in the game, they’ve been discreet enough so as to largely be optional – it is a big dicking around in space simulator first, a videogame second and once you’ve got the initial speed bump done with, the game leaves you be. It is the agreement every good MMO makes with the player, an understanding that this is a world to be in, the entertainment to be found there is on you.

And, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, it’s definitely the jank too. That the game follows the all too rare Bethesda ethic of it’s better to have this stuff complete with all the problems it brings than not have it, we’ll worry about it falling apart later and it will forever teeter on the brink of falling apart. That, I find, is where the most magic has been found in recent years.

I know intimately the reasons why most games aren’t this, it’s because it’s bloody well difficult to pull off at scale. I don’t think I ever expected this silly little sci fi book cover generator to become what it is, I certainly don’t want every game to follow the same paths Hello have in transforming the experience so thoroughly into something else,

I’m glad this one exists though.

And I’m glad that for all the changes over the years, that little game I enjoyed taking screenshots of is still a videogame I enjoy taking screenshots of.

Yeah, that’ll do me.

Visage: Look What They’ve Done To Me

I realise I’m probably the only person on the planet who listens to The Anvil on quite the regular basis but I can live with that.

Whilst I reckon The Damned Don’t Cry is far and away the strongest song on there, I’ve long had a love of Look What They’ve Done To Me. Amongst other things, it sits really nicely next to Ultravox’s Lament on a mixtape/playlist, tried and tested since the eighties and still works for me now.

Whilst I still struggle to listen to the third album, the Visage stuff from just before Steve Strange passed away is some remarkably excellent new romantic stuff and well worth a listen if you haven’t given it a go. Shameless Fashion especially is solid pop gold and every bit as strong a pop record as Fade To Grey and deserves to be remembered as such.

Nonterraqueous

I’ve no shame in admitting that I bought Nonterraqueous because it had a really, really silly name.

Nonterraqueous. It’s a wonderfully videogame attempt at a Latin-esque wordmung, ‘not of the Earth or Sea’ the inlay proclaims with that sort of faux profundity we tend to imbue our most nonsensical of videogame things with.

‘Not of Earth or Sea’ Of air then? Or scones. Perhaps it’s made of scones. Whatever ‘it’ may be, is it a planet? A computer? A donkey. It doesn’t matter because just like many of the best pop songs can mean everything and nothing, who cares if Nonterraqueous is a nonsense? It’s a wonderful, intriguing, effective videogame name.

I’ve no shame in admitting I bought Nonterraqueous for its cover. A giant silver sphere smashes into an armed robot thing, exploding the robot’s chest as it does so. The word NONTERRAQUEOUS typed across it as if a bulletin, a report to someone, somewhere. To whom it may concern, the robot is smashed to pieces. Mission accomplished. Over.

Spheres are on of my favourite sci-fi/horror things anyway. The spiky blood siphoning of Phantasm’s spheres, the yeti controlling, window smashing Doctor Who variety (or the bonce hugging Shada variety), the Windsor Davies led Terrahawks variety. In videogames too, Equinox, Iridis Alpha’s Gilby, I’m easily pleased. Smash a sphere into a robot? Alright. This is acceptable.

I’ve no shame in admitting I bought Nonterraqueous because of the promise of over 1,000 screens. It’s 1985 and getting more than one still felt like a luxury. Of course, I had my doubts that they’d be 1,000 interesting screens. Still, worth a look.

I’ve no shame in admitting I bought Nonterraqueous because it cost £1.99, the cheaper end of the videogame spectrum but not insignificant all the same when you’ve only a few quid to spend.

I’ve no shame in admitting it wasn’t the best game. It’s kinda obtuse, unfair and kills you on a whim. The thousands of locations? They’re pretty much indistinct. I could barely tell the difference between room 5 or room 16 or any other rooms. Playing it now and it’s vastly more unfair than I remembered it being and I remembered it being pretty unfair.

It’s been over thirty years since I first picked up Nonterraqueous, bought for all the reasons I listed above. Thirty and a bit years since I discovered it maybe wasn’t the best videogame ever made. I’m still pretty happy with my decision, with my reasons, to buy it. I still like it, unfair as it is.

Thirty years on and I still hold that each and every one of those reasons up there, separate or all together, are really good reasons to buy videogames. As anyone who’s eyeballed my Steam purchases at any point knows, I still do it. I still buy games because the accompanying art is cool, because it’s got a silly name, because it’s got a vague promise that verges on worthless but might be interesting, because it’s cheap. I buy games, often, because they’re there.

I dunno. I can see how being more discerning works for folks, I really can. It’s never going to work for me. I’ve forgotten plenty of really great games I’ve played over the years but I still remember Nonterraqueous, flaws and all. It’s one of many games that gave me a love for the slightly janky fringes of videogames, where maybe ideas outstrip talent, where maybe just thinking of something cool doesn’t mean it’ll end up cool but let’s do this anyway.

I love all that stuff, it’s the best thing about videogames as far as I’m concerned. You never quite know what you’re going to get but sometimes, you stumble upon something really, really great.

Sometimes, like with Nonterraqueous, you sort of don’t but it sticks around in your head, fondly, for years anyway because there’s more to a videogame than just how it looks or how it plays. Sometimes it’s just the right game at the right time and that’s okay.

Flynn: Son Of Crimson

A screenshot from Flynn: Son Of Crimson. It's some absolutely gorgeous pixel art! A cave scene with purple lightning bolts blocking the exits either side. A rotund knight with a big axe meanders across the floor as the player leaps through the air.

I’ve been reading a lot of nineties videogame mags these past few weeks and as anyone around at the time can confirm, there really is rather a fixation on things always pushing forward -on the next new thing – around that time.

I mean, videogames nearly always has a fixation on the new but the nineties were all that and more so. A decade where a game would get puzzling looks if it didn’t at least do something different.

To be honest, I found it exhausting then and I find it exhausting now. No wonder I meandered off for a bit to do just about anything else.

It's Flynn again. This is a forest scene, there's an Audrey-esque plant sitting atop a platform, a few gems, Flynn leaping through the air (again) and a big cute doggo.

One of the joys of the past decade, for me at least, has been watching originality become an almost useless metric as the sheer volume of games released pretty much guarantees that folks will be working on similar games in their respective genres.

To the surprise of no-one who thinks about this for even a cursory amount of time, this hasn’t come at the cost of exploring new things – we’re still making remarkable progress in that regard – instead it’s allowed folks to put their own personal (or impersonal!) stamp on things. It’s allowed players who enjoy certain genres to rarely find themselves short of different games to play in those genres.

It’s a ridiculously abundant time. I say it often but I really do feel rather spoiled by it all. It’s nice!

Flynn again. He's riding the doggo through a dungeon. Careful now!

I grabbed Flynn: Son Of Crimson on a whim. I can’t say I knew anything about it or that I even read the store page properly before grabbing it! I had fifteen quid left over from grabbing the eldest something, it looked kinda pretty, I figured “why not, eh” and *click* bought.

I don’t mean this in any derogatory sense whatsoever, it looked like a safe purchase. This sort of platformer usually is (and I should know because I keep buying the things).

There is always the platform game curse to consider – that perhaps there will be a point where the skill and effort the game requires is more than I can manage – but for the most part, I’ve usually had more than my money’s worth at that point anyway and there’s always another one to play.

It's Flynn! This one is a bit Dead Cells with how the platforming arrangement looks. Goblins galore here and one is even riding something or other that doesn't look too friendly. Flynn is still leaping! He likes leaping.

At the time of writing I’m around 30% in (according to the save data) and it hasn’t had me beat for skill yet. I’m not sure how much that is in time spent as I’m forever having to put games down for a bit to go and tend to the kids or whatever so time is pretty much meaningless to me by now. It’s a while, anyway.

Mind, I wouldn’t say the game has a difficulty curve as much as it’s just a bit all over the shop from stage to stage. Sometimes it can be a bit all over the shop within a single stage. The consistently wonderful art and all round polish hide a game that’s rougher round the edges than you’d perhaps expect. Certainly more than I expected at times.

Flynn again! He's not leaping this time! He's on a rope (they got him on a rope) over some lovely blue water. A winged beasty carries an explosive barrel above him.

Dips and spikes aside, if you’ve played a modern indie platformer that isn’t fixated on brutalising you then you’ll have a fairly good idea what to expect of Flynn.

A world map, the odd village or stop off hub to chill in, discreet stages with the usual sort of puzzle platforming trickery at play. Fiddle with switches to open doors, move platforms and all the usual stuff, all punctuated by the odd moment of not too strenuous combat. Hit things, get gems, find the odd secret pathway. You know the drill.

It is very much a “if you’ve played and liked something similar and fancy more of that sort of thing, here you go” kind of game. It’s pretty in the same way a fair amount of these games tend to be. No surprises, basically. Oh, and it has a big doggo that’s really cute. Or at least, you might find it cute. It’s not a cat so it does nothing for me. (Meanie – Ed)

In summary, it’s a genre piece and a perfectly fine one at that. I’m not sure I’ve got it in me to be especially excited over it but I have been comfortable with it. I’ve mainly been having a relaxed time with it, give or take the odd niggle with the odd level here and there, and most definitely don’t regret the almost random purchase.

That said, they should take the dog out and replace it with a really big cat (or a really small cat. Just less dog, more cat in general). Cats improve everything, especially videogames.

As usual, I’ve been playing on the PS4. Other formats are available.

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