Three Games That The Agent Is Playing Now: Chrono.gg Edition

Well, I’ve been keeping busy these last few day with Halloween preparations and new management at work (we actually have a meeting about it today, so I have to make this quick), so I’m just going to put out one of my short and simple lists today because I’m not a fan of not having anything for you all on Thursdays.

So, I’m going to talk about the games that I’ve been playing lately… but with a twist. The catch is that all of these games were obtained through Chrono.gg.

For those that have not yet heard, Chrono.gg is probably one of the most useful resources a PC gamer and Steam user has at their disposal. Every day at noon (Eastern Standard Time), they have a new flash sale with one game marked down at a ridiculously low price – often 50-90 percent off the original price.

Even if there isn’t a game on sale that day that you’re interested in, it’s still worth logging in to check because you get daily coin rewards that you can use to get other games FOR FREE. These games are sold in limited quantities and new games get added every two weeks. So, there’s always a reason to show up every day.

So, today, I’m going to give this amazing service some free publicity by showcasing the games that I got through them that I haven’t been able to put down.

Loot Hound

Some of the most consistently enjoyable games I find on Chrono.gg are simple time wasters that are useful for just chilling out after getting home from work. Hence why I keep coming back to Loot Hound.

You play as an enthusiastic treasure hunter/dog lover in search of random bobbles and bric-a-brac. You have to train your three dogs – Marley (who specializes in digging through rocky terrain), Wifi (who’s small enough to fit into small hidey-holes) and Mr. Anderson (who can scare off stubborn wild animals in your way) – to be the best loot hounds they can be while dodging park security.

There’s not much in the way of strategy; the answer to any problem often boils down to use the right dog for the task and make sure they’re trained up properly to overcome obstacles. But, I can appreciate a game with a simple premise if it’s done right. And this game is just so bright and cheery with a light-hearted sense of humor (at one point, your dog will dig a steak out of the dirt and the game will call it “GROUND Beef”) that it’s quickly becoming my go-to title for unwinding at the end of the day.

Odallus: The Dark Call

Shifting away from bright and cheerful for just a second, let’s have some fun with old school, dark gothic fantasy.

Odallus: The Dark Call is a lot of things. It combines the level progression of Ghouls & Ghosts, the branching paths of Demon’s Crest and the overall visual aesthetic and many combat mechanics from classic Castlevania games. You’d think that would be a case of the game trying to do too much at once, but if you can ignore the clumsy writing and dialog, it plays extraordinarily well and handles exactly like you would expect a retro throwback game would.

By the way, I didn’t pick those three game comparisons at random; the developers REALLY want you to know that they were inspired by those games in particular. In addition to ripping the overworld map directly from Ghouls & Ghosts, they recycle a lot of art assets from various Castlevania games and modeled quite a few bosses from baddies in Demon’s Crest. What’s more, when I bought this from Chrono.gg, it came bundled with three DLC skin packs – the Vampire Hunter, the Royal Knight and the Red Gargoyle.

Creative bankruptcy aside, this is still a fun play and was a steal at only two dollars.

Plasma Puncher

Ending back on the cute and silly, I’ve heard of Endless Runners, but this may be the first case I’ve heard of an ‘Endless Beat ’em Up.’

Plasma Puncher puts you in the role of a lone white blood cell fighting off a seemingly endless army of viral infectors. It’s your duty to fisticuffs every one of them into oblivion and save the body you call home.

As you progress, you’ll have to upgrade your little badass antibody, learn how to use various power ups to maximum potential, and quickly acclimate to new enemies with every incoming wave that alters their strategy. It’s pick-up-and-play style of game that still provides a fair amount of challenge.

If you seek out any of these games today, this would be the one I’d recommend the most.

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First Impressions On The New DuckTales

Oh, hey; I can talk about something happy for a change!

At this point, you know that I have a bit of an axe to grind when it comes to Disney. However, don’t take that to mean that I hate EVERYTHING about them; I am a human capable of love after all and Disney was still a formative part of my child. And one of those parts I loved was DuckTales.

Looking back, it was a very simplistic show – very much your standard, 1990’s, baddie-of-the-week, action-adventure serial. It was light on plot and character development, but it was completely serviceable with high-energy action, decent humor,  and still holds up surprisingly well after over two decades.

But, you want to know what they changed in the 2017 reboot and if they stayed true to the original source material, right? Well, let’s rap about that (NOTE: SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT).

The first thing I took note of was a heavier focus on an overarching plot for the series. The first two episodes (conveniently mashed up as an hour long premiere in the video above) starts with Donald Duck struggling to make a home for his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie as the life of a sailor isn’t conducive to being a family man. Donald is forced to drop the trio off at the mansion of their grand-uncle Scrooge McDuck while he heads off to a new job interview. As the plot continues, new elements are added such as Huey, Dewey, and Louie being disillusioned with Scrooge’s greatness, Scrooge struggling to patch up strained family relations, Donald having to choose between family and success after unintentionally being hired by Scrooge’s arch-rival Flintheart Glomgold, and – end-capping the second episode – the discovery that Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s long-lost mother might have joined Scrooge and Donald in their early adventuring days.

With heavier plot came a greater chance for character development. This was where things started getting risky as this meant a chance of people complaining that the characters weren’t true to the originals. However, I didn’t have those concerns while watching. For the most part, I felt they were the same lovable goofballs I grew up with.

Donald is still a neurotic ball of rage, panic, and feathers (playing up the foul-mouthed sailor cliche… heh, FOWL… ’cause he’s a duck), but now he has the humanizing element of being an adoptive father figure to his nephews. Now his anger and frustration are justified because he’s constantly agonizing over the well-being of those in his care.

Scrooge is still the money-grubbing miser that he always was, but now he’s learning to accept family back into his life now that he’s made his fortune, thus making him a warmer and lovable character. Now, he has a chance to share his glory days with the next generation and has new meaning in his life by teaching them how to be, in his own words, “tougher than the toughies and smarter than smarties.”

Of course, the two biggest changes in character and the ones everyone wants to discuss are Scrooge’s maidservant Mrs. Bentina Beakley and her granddaughter Webbigail “Webby” Vanderquack. It’s understandable why the internet would go nuts over these two as their previous incarnations were a bit troubled from a modern feminist perspective.

Where the original Mrs. Beakley had almost no character other than being a doting nanny and mother figure to the child cast, this new incarnation is much more strict and professional – characterized as being very hard-nosed about how things are run around the McDuck mansion. She’s also not afraid to call Scrooge out on his B.S. when she smells it which has the effect of making her the Alfred Pennyworth to Scrooge’s Bruce Wayne. Her visual design reflects this by replacing her round rimless spectacles and frilly blouse with square horn-rimmed glasses and a broadly shouldered blazer to harden her appearance while keeping her bun hair-do, frilled apron, and giving her a classy brooch to remind us that under her sternness, she’s still a loving soft-hearted gentlewoman.

And she needs to be loving because she’s looking after the new Webby.

The original Webby was an example of one of the WORST kinds of female characters in fiction, the one that insists on being involved in everything with the boys for no discernable reason despite having no useful skills and calling sexism when someone tries to explain how dangerous that is for them and the rest of the team. Here though, she keeps this ‘up-for-anything’ personality while mitigating the problems previously attached to it.

For starters, there’s a reason why she wants to be with others on an adventure; she’s been horribly sheltered. Mrs. Beakley, fearing for her granddaughter’s safety sharing a home with a famous thrill-seeker, taught her every survival technique she knows but insisted that she be in a position where she’ll never actually need to use them by keeping her in the house. She’s bouncing off the walls with her growing social awkwardness. So when she finally meets Huey, Dewey, and Louie, she clings to them as the first living creatures she’s interacted with outside of the mansion.

Oh, and those survival techniques. Yeah, that means she actively contributes to the team instead of standing off to the side until she inevitably becomes a liability. It also makes my previous Mrs. Beakley/Alfred comparison stronger by suggesting that she’s a total badass.

And, of course, I’d be foolish if I didn’t mention the reworking of the original theme which is just as legendarily catchy as the before but doesn’t wear out its welcome nearly as quickly.

So, basically, this is just a REALLY wordy way of saying that I’m looking forward to seeing what else Disney comes up with. It seems they’re still making good use of those pages from the Cartoon Network school of plot and character development in animation that they borrowed when making Gravity Falls. The only difference is that they had the guts to apply it to one of their longest running franchises.

Now then, which of us is gonna start petitioning for a Darkwing Duck reboot?

The Agent Reviews a Game: Seek

I know; it feels like I just reviewed a mobile game. But I was so genuinely happy to discover this thing that I had to share it with you.

So, I’ve been on the hunt for AR games (short for “Augmented Reality) to encourage me to get out of the house and stave off the twin demons of idleness and depression. You’ve seen me discuss AR games here before in the form of Ingress and Pokémon GO. However, those games are a bit too competitive for a someone looking to game while taking a leisurely stroll. I need something that turns a walk in the park into a fun, casual treasure hunt.

In otherwords, I needed Seek.

Seek is simple enough to understand; there are digital ‘treasure chests’ scattered throughout the world and you need to find them and claim them. The chests come four colors that correspond to their rarity and, by extension, the quality of the stuff you find inside them. Rarer chests will also require that you have keys to open them. The rarer the chest; the more keys required.

And what do you have to earn from these chests? How about REAL WORLD LOOT?

Yes, the chests are filled with in-game items for the most part like keys, in-game coins for purchases, and doublers that boost your potential rewards when you open a new chest. But you can also find stuff like big discount coupons, gift cards, free mail-in prizes, and even ACTUAL MONEY PRIZES.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves; unless you have the speed of Mercury, the endurance of Atlas, and half the outdoorsman skills that Bear Grylls THINKS he has, you aren’t going to be paying your rent with this game. However, the potential of free stuff is a tempting enough promise to get almost anyone out and moving.

Also, remember how I said in my last mobile game review that I hate it when a game forces me to play on its schedule to be any good at it? Not the case here. There are regular log-in rewards that take the form of a free chest every seven hours. However, the rewards are already awesome in-game goodies that you need for better loot with no need for a cumulative build-up. So, if you’re too sick or too busy to go out that day, the game is understanding enough to sit and wait for you until you get back.

If I had any real complaints about Seek, it’s that it – like seemingly every AR game that boils down to a scavenger hunt – doesn’t make full use of its AR aspects. I was expecting to have to use my camera to scan the world for my hidden bounty, but it turned out that the answer was always, “look 20 to 45 degrees to your right.” Honestly, you’d be better off turning off the AR camera to conserve your battery life.

Basically, if you use AR gaming as a motivator for physical activity like I do and need something more friendly and more rewarding than an occasional gold star sticker, you may find Seek to be a great match for you.

The Agent Reviews A Game: Hyper Heroes

Hurrah for generic title screens…
Source: Google Play

I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of more introspective philosophical pieces here lately. And while it’s good to do some soul searching every now and again, I’m sure you need a break from that as much as I do. So let’s get back to a topic I don’t touch as often as I used to; video games.

When I last reviewed a mobile game, I made it clear that I wasn’t sold on mobile games as a whole but remained hopeful that one could change my mood. I still feel that way, but I think that Hyper Heroes may have helped me to single out my issues with the mobile market. But first, let’s talk about the game.

Hyper Heroes markets itself as a, “marble-like RPG,” and that description seems to fit quite well. You select a team of up to four heroes and do battle with your standard high fantasy monsters by click-and-dragging to literally throw them at the baddies until they drop.

It’s marginally more complex than that description makes it seem. Obviously, there’s the RPG trope of level grinding (more on that later), physics-based tactics requiring you plot your angle of attack and memorize how far each hero can travel, and probably the best mechanic in the game; the various attack styles of the heroes.

There are three styles; bounce, penetrate and stick. Bounce will ricochet off enemies making for complex strikes, penetrate can move through enemy lines while dealing damage to reach priority targets, and stick with stop dead on the first enemy struck for precise setups – especially useful for tank characters to draw fire away from frail heroes.

There’s also a promotion system where, as heroes collect required gear, they can be promoted and gain up to four skills; a ‘Unique’ skill that can be activated after building up a rage meter, a ‘Combo’ skill that activated when another hero crosses over them in battle, a ‘Finish’ skill that triggers at the end of their turn, and a ‘Passive’ skill that grants general buffs consistently.

So, a lot of interesting stuff to work with. But, alas, there are some things in design that just irk me and that I can’t shake off whenever I notice them. And I think they may be a the root of why I haven’t embraced mobile gaming completely yet.

For example, it feels VERY cheaply made. I know that it’s a free-to-play game and I shouldn’t expect much from it, but I expect a level of quality even from budget titles. If you can’t afford to do something right, you find workarounds – not half-assed solutions. Case in point; the voice acting SUCKS. The actors are totally phoning it in for a paycheck and it’s painfully clear that most of them just aren’t comfortable speaking English. Those misdirected, disinterested squeals are an assault on my ears and my own enthusiasm – how can I care about the game if they don’t?

Secondly, the writing is distracting. It felt like the crew helming this project knew they couldn’t fit an epic story into a tiny mobile game, so they relied on humor… humor that tries insultingly hard to get me to laugh and fails miserably. the cringe-worthy comedy ranges from dated references (Seriously, Pyro Monk? A reference to Nelly’s “Hot In Herre” 15 years after the single dropped?), pervy non-jokes (Why is the cute deer-centaur druid asking me not to look at her tail?), and just generally bad writing decisions (I’m sure none of my fellow feminists will be bothered by the sexy female fire mage being called Flame Dame).

And finally, we have game mechanics designed to drain time and money. Remember when I said I’d discuss the level grinding? Well, the grind is so slow when simply battling monsters that you have to rely almost exclusively on EXP potions that you can either collect or – more unfairly – buy with real world cash. Now, I’m no stranger to in-game purchases, but they’re meant to sell convenience; not power. When I need to stock my kitchen with EXP potions and fill my wardrobe with rare gear just to have a fair shake in the PvP arena, there’s a balance problem.

The only alternative is to play every day to get the cumulative daily sign-in bonuses and I’ve only just started to learn how much I hate a game that tells me that I HAVE to play it. Once the game puts me on a schedule, it doesn’t feel like a game anymore; it feels like a second job. And unlike a real job, I don’t get sick days. Instead, I get punished by losing by benefits and have to start building them up again from square one… Oh, and I don’t get paid for coming in either.

Still, there is some merit to Hyper Heroes. There is a germ of a good idea in here and I’m hopeful that a more competent studio attempts something similar in the future. If you can get pass the uglier parts of the game, there’s a well-made puzzle-RPG with cute character designs and unique gameplay that can hold your interest.

The Agent Reviews A Game: Teddy Terror

Can you BEAR the horrors? Source: teddyterror.com

Can you BEAR the horrors ahead?
Source: teddyterror.com

Wow, it’s actually been a while since I gave my feelings on a game I’ve played. In my defense, the budget has been tight lately and gaming is one of those luxuries I’ve had to forgo.

However, I found this early access game on Steam for dirt cheap. And with Halloween coming up fast, I felt a game about the nightmares of a small child and his attempts to literally conquer his fears was worth looking into.

Now, if my obsession with The Binding of Issac should teach you anything, it’s that I have a soft spot for the Rogue-Lite genre. I can appreciate a game that plays differently every time you pick it up. But if it’s originality we’re talking about, Teddy Terror has one of the most stand-out ideas I’ve seen in a Rogue-Lite.

Most of the games in this genre are top-down dungeon crawlers where you kick in the door, beat up the baddies, nab their loot and repeat. However, Teddy Terror mixes this up with one major change; you have no weapon.

The only thing you have to defend yourself with at the start of the game is your precious teddy bear. Teddy acts as a boomerang that can temporarily slow down the monsters but can’t damage them; a mechanic that will be familiar to my fellow old school Legend of Zelda players. Instead, you’ll have to guide the creepy crawlies into environmental hazards (which are just are dangerous to you, of course) and traps that Teddy can activate by throwing him into them. Clear out all the monsters and you’ll move to the next floor. If you’re lucky, you may even land in a treasure room where you have a chance at scoring some new gear.

This simple change in gameplay from Action RPG to Puzzle Strategy alters the entire feel of the game; you actually have to think your actions through and plan them carefully while dodging the ugly mother-hubbard’s chasing you. In other words, it recreates a horror aesthetic without most of the tropes of horror games by making you feel powerless and forcing you to Home Alone your way to safety.

That said, the game’s not without glaring issues. While the normal difficulty can be breezed through, there’s a massive spike in higher difficulties by virtue of the bosses regenerating their health over time – meaning that the game centered around careful timing and patience is now a speed run.

The game also features unlockable characters, but they don’t seem to play any differently. So unless you REALLY want to roleplay as YouTube gamer H2O Delerious (and I do), There’s no real reason to unlock them.

There’s also a recently added ‘Invasion’ mode where you fight waves of baddies and buy your stats bonuses instead of finding items, but it got very repetitive very quickly and didn’t hold my attention long.

That said, the game is still in the development stage (early access, remember?), so these issues could very likely be ironed out by the time the full game is completed. What’s more, even with its warts, I still had fun with it. I’d normally recommend waiting until development is finished and seeing how they change things before committing to purchase like this, but at five dollars, I can’t really complain about this cheap and cheerful romp through a child’s nocturnal hell-scape.

One Bad Movie Night: The Agent Watched The Company of Wolves

So, with Halloween quickly coming up, I wanted to talk about some horror/monster movies that I’ve seen. But, as I got ready to do so, I realized that most of the movies I’ve talked about here end with me being very charitable and positive afterwords.

Let’s not kid ourselves; I’m not the kind of person that gives praise blindly. I’m merely human and, as a human, I’m very much capable of dislike. And one of the things that I dislike is The Company of Wolves.

Giving a plot synopsis, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it would be a fantastic movie. A young girl named Rosaleen is dreaming about living on the edge of a dark wooded area and living with her grandmother(played by Angela Lansbury of Murder, She Wrote fame of all people) as she spins yarns of supernatural tales with a distinctly lupine focus to them – specifically tales of wolves disguised as men and how she needs to be wary of them. Oh, and in case you couldn’t catch the more subtle hints, Rosaleen’s most distinguishing feature through most of the film is her red hooded cloak.

Yes, this is a British, horror/fantasy re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood with werewolves. That should be AMAZING.

But, in one of the most frustrating moments in my life as a film lover (second only to counting the number of times I writhed in my seat in rage every time Star Trek: Into Darkness referenced and ruined a line or moment from the original series/movies), what could have been a great example of a fairy tale getting back to it’s darker roots through the art of horror cinema devolved into a pretentious, messy jambalaya of amateur metaphors and grade-school symbolism that would make even the most stuck-up art snobs hang their head in shame.

The plot moves at a snail’s pace as we spend most of the movie with Rosaleen’s go-nowhere, cutesy, burgeoning romance with a young boy that adds almost nothing to the film. Also, bare in mind that this and every other major event in the film is happening via dream sequence (which we are reminded of by occasional cuts back to Rosaleen in bed in modern times) thus removing their sence of agency.

Instead, the main focus is on the short stories that Granny tells which, while absolutely the most interesting parts of the film, seem to happen too far and few between the filler and just make me feel like the writers just really wanted to make a werewolf anthology film rather than waste time with the Little Red Riding Hood plot points.

Besides, the movie finds a way to ruin those moments as well by the end.

Turns out (spoilers for 30+ year old movie), Granny’s folk tales were real and were meant to be warnings to keep Rosaleen away from men in an effort to protect her womanhood.

Yep, they went with the single most annoying interpretation of the classic story; Little Red Ridding Hood as an allegory for female sexual awakening. Trust me on this; if you ever want to piss off an English major, just bring this up.

I hate this interpretation of the story and especially in this form. It’s incredibly sexist to men and women alike – painting all men as sexual apex predators and all women and their virginity as something frail and sacred to be coddled and protected.

To the movie’s credit, it is visually interesting. The sets and costumes are well designed, the wolf transformations are the best I’ve seen outside of Hemlock Grove, and I’ll be damned if Angela Lansbury doesn’t give it her all given what she had to work with (seriously, she’s the best performer in the whole movie).

That said, it simply wasn’t worth sitting through a 95 minute artistic depiction of puberty (Get it. Werewolves. Hair growing in weird places. Hurr hurr hurr) just to get there. If I may be so bold as to paraphrase “The Cinema Snob” Brad Jones, if I want to see Angela Lansbury in a tale of the supernatural, I’ll stick with Bedknobs and Broomsticks, thank you very much.

Sharing the Love and the Screams with Screaming Soup!

For those of you who never thought you’d see a skeletal cowboy, a humanoid catfish, a werecoyote, and a native american toilet paper mummy riff on bad movies over their favorite drinks – here you go.
Source: screamingsoup.com

 

As those of you who follow on Facebook and Twitter know, I’ve been getting a lot of love lately and I try to give it back with my #ThursdayThanks posts. But I wanted to give a special thanks to someone with big aspirations whose work I really enjoyed.

Not long ago, I got a message on Twitter about a horror movie review show called Screaming Soup! that seemed interesting. Normally, I ignore these door-to-door tactics, but I decided to check it out on a whim to see what it was about. I was not disappointed with the results. So, to show my appreciation and spread awareness for a fellow enterprising creative talent on the ‘net, I’m going to give a constructive critique in as close to the style of the show as a literary medium will allow.

Screaming Soup! seems to get it’s name from the now canceled show Talk Soup that spun off into simply The Soup. Just as those shows recap and review talk shows and general pop culture respectively, Screaming Soup! does the same with B-grade horror and monster films.

So what sets this show apart from other horror and schlock film critics? How about the fact that it features an animated cast? In other words, imagine The Soup revamped for horror films with a format akin to Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and hosted by Deadwest -a man that’s equal parts Ghost Rider, Jonah Hex, and Svengoolie. That’s Screaming Soup! in a nutshell.

Looking at the negatives of the show, or “the sours” as Deadwest would say, most of them fall on the show’s opening title sequence. Don’t get me wrong; the theme song is catchy as hell and I will catch myself headbanging to it if no one’s watching. But I do take some objections with it in some places.

For example, there’s one lyric in the theme that refers to “gay-ass monsters made of clay.” Really, dude? You’re using gay as an insult in 2015? I get that most of the humor of this show revolves around immature comedy that spoofs the man-childish glee of bad horror cinema, but there’s a fine line between immature and borderline insulting. I don’t think anyone involved with the show has a “God Hates Fags” sign in their closet, but it does make defending otherwise brilliant work that much more difficult.

Also, as awesome as the rest of the theme is, I feel it runs a bit too long. Episodes tend to run five to nine minutes and the title sequence takes up about a minute of it. If it was trimmed by half to make room for one or two more clever jokes and the lyrics were changed from “gay” to “lame”, I wouldn’t be bothered in the slightest.

Those jokes are a good jumping-off platform to the good parts of the show – “the sweets” if we’re still using Deadwest’s terminology.

As stated, the humor is very similar to Space Ghost: Coast to Coast tinged slightly off-color to reflect the nature of the types of exploitation horror that tend to dominate the line up. Recurring gags of this nature include the “Pissing Time” clock that counts the seconds and minutes of time where nothing happens in the movie and you can safely run to the bathroom, the “Bogus Scares” counter that tracks the annoying jump scares, an end movie body count, and a “Tit Counter” that tallies up the number of times the actresses go topless.

Another awesome thing about this show is how well characterized the cast is despite having just one guy, one girl, and a text-to-speech program for one lady to do all the voices. Everyone comes together to bring color to the setting of the Howl Inn. From Deadwest’s lovable invisible specter girlfriend Mandy to the urban hipness of the blaksploitation throwback monster Eb’nstein to the house sad-sack and Creature from the Black Lagoon parody Catfish, all of them add character to the show and help to keep things fresh (Sidenote: my favorite character so far has to be Peyote; the werecoyote trucker).

I mentioned before that the episodes run significantly shorter than the average review show, but I feel that works to it’s benefit. Animation, even simple animation like this, takes a lot of time and effort and you need to cut corners where ever you can. Screaming Soup! takes advantage of shorter running times by cutting out the plot-point by plot-point analysis style of other shows and removing the spoilers that they would have contained as a result.

Now, I’m not in the business of rating the films, games, and shows I talk about like Deadwest. But if I were, I’d have to say that Screaming Soup! is a solid four out of five that, with a little polish, could become a five out of five in future seasons. It’s inventive enough to stand out as welcome addition to the world of online film critics. I recommend this show to fans of Count Jackula and Diamanda Hagan who want something new, want fewer spoilers, or are just looking for something to enjoy during their lunch break.

But what do I know? Like Deadwest himself, I also like Killer Tomatoes.