Tuesday, June 17, 2008
When video poker meets KDE, KPoker emerges. At first glance, it's full-featured and grand, but appearances are - only a bit - deceiving. It's relatively grand, regardless.
Because poker is fun! When you're playing against someone, anyways, and the computer opponent doesn't seem to win as often as a computer should, making it enjoyable, while he does seem to win enough to keep you on your toes, making it satisfying.
Y'know how I said it seemed full-featured and grand at first glance? At first-glance, when you start a new game, it looks like you can have multiple players, configure their names, and maybe even play some local multiplayer instead of just playing against computer opponents.
In actuality, you can either play one player by yourself, or two-player with a player named 'Computer 1'. Who is a computer. Those are your only options. As a poker replacement for Solitaire, then, KPoker does fine. But as a full-featured card game, Hoyle's it ain't.
On the plus side, it's got lots of different deck facings - and you can mix and match fronts and backs for ultimate flexibility - some of which are actually quite decent. So it's at least as configurable as its chief rival, Solitaire for Windows. It also features persistent score-keeping in the form of how much cash you (and your opponent) have, and even has a save-game feature.
That's about all there is to say about it. It's got the grimy, low-fi look of what must be last-gen KDE games, but it's not ugly, just very plain. If you enjoy playing what is, if I remember my poker games properly, '5 Card Draw', you'll have fun with this one. Of course, it would be nice to have other poker variations, and a decent implementation of versatile multiplayer, but for what it is, it's competent. You know if it appeals to you; I don't need to recommend it, or warn you away.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Prepare yourself for a head-trip with Koules. It's crazy. It doesn't give you instructions, so I didn't even realize what I was supposed to be doing the first time I played it, and I never did figure out what one of the game-modes was supposed to be, but I think it might have been a multi-player only mode.
In the gameplay mode I did eventually figure out, you're a rotund little yellow guy with big blue eyes, and you move towards the cursor, if you hold the left mouse-button. Armed with this control-system, you have to bounce these little red balls into the walls, without hitting the walls yourself.
It starts out simple, and seems to get harder, but this introduces one of the flaws: there's seemingly virtually no difference from level to level. If you have a low threshold for sameness, you're probably not going to have any interest in tackling Koule's 99+1 levels.
I really wanted to like this game. The website shows a great sense of humor behind it, albeit one that speaks English as a second language and doesn't brake for typos. The core mechanic is pretty unique, and it's realized very well. I just kinda found it boring after a while, though.
The graphics are endearingly old-school, which I suppose is a label that could be applied to the entire game; it's from 1995. It claims to have sound, but I didn't hear any. Your mileage may vary. It's got local multiplayer support, and two game modes, one of which involves swinging around some weird sort of tail, which I think can be used as a weapon, but I couldn't really figure it out.
I'd recommend this to fans of the Orisinal games. It's got the same kind of one-trick mechanic, and repetitious gameplay, that you'll find there. Along with a completely insane backstory. If you're looking for the kinds of games most people think of when they think of videogames, this isn't really going to do it for ya.
If I were making a list of the most dull games I've ever played, Konquest would surely rank pretty high. It's the most simplistic turn-based strategy game I've encountered, in a long and storied career of playing turn-based strategy games a few times then quitting because I suck.
There's these planets, see. And they produce ships every turn. Every turn, you can send ships from your planets to other planets. And that's it. Send ships to other planets you own, to reinforce them. Send ships to planets you don't own to attack them - if you win, they're yours. The point is to control all the planets.
They added 'depth' by having each planet generate ships at a different rate, and also having each planets' ships be of different effectiveness. Wow. I'm so impressed. Linux gaming disappoints once again!
In all honesty, the only thing that could possibly save this game is networked multiplayer, because then you could engage in the social activity of chatting with someone while simultaneously engaging in this most boring of games. It doesn't work in person, because if you're playing this in the same room as someone, you'll both realize that it would be more fun to watch Die Hard 2: Die Harder, and quit playing the game around five turns in. Unfortunately, there is no network multiplayer.
It's funny, because the open-source gaming community is often running its mouth about compelling graphics being irrelevant, because compelling gameplay is all-important. Konquest makes this point nicely, by having a nice-looking GUI for what is essentially the least compelling experience I've ever had in a game that wasn't tragically broken. Did I say 'wasn't tragically broken'?
My bad. You have a good chance of opening the game up only to discover that the tool-tips that give you a planet's stats (i.e. make the game possible to play, basically) are cropped and invisible. I'm not sure what caused the problem, and whenever it happened, I just had to close it and restart it and it fixed itself, but man, it never rains but it pours...
To summarize: Konquest sucks. Don't play it. Download an abandonware copy of Master of Orion or something, if you have to get your turn-based space-game on. This is just too limited and simplistic to offer anything near a fun experience; if you want a simple but satisfying turn-based strategy game, just play Go.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
The big ole' 'K' that most of these KDE games get, along with the phrase 'color line' gives us Kolor Lines, which I can only assume will be a racist logic-puzzle. Only half right! It's a KDE remake of Gnome's Five Or More. You can read my review of that here; I'm just going to describe the differences in this review. There aren't many.
Kolor Lines doesn't have a 'shapes' tile-set, so it isn't color-blind friendly, and both of the themes it comes with are inferior to the default tile-set in Five Or More (this is debatable, and entirely a question of taste). Kolor Lines is also less configurable, in that you can't change the size of the field of play (no arguing with this one!).
There you have it. You know the drill, at this point: these games are so similar, it comes down to which one was installed by default on your flavor of Linux. If I had to pick one, I'd pick Five Or More but the differences are so small that it doesn't really matter. Unless you're color-blind.
Just when I thought that the KDE games had all become beautiful, playable, tiny little slices of cuteness, along comes Kolf to ruin everything. This brings to mind the first few KDE games I played, in that it's ugly as sin, a little bit broken, and not very much fun to play.
Which is a shame, because its basic underlying mechanics are fun - everyone likes minigolf - and when they work, it's very satisfying. Hitting a shot just right, and watching it play the course, rolling down hills and through blockers and catching enough speed in just the right way to bounce of a wall into the cup feels great in real life, and they mostly managed to capture that feeling with Kolf.
Maybe 1 hole in 10, at least, managed to capture that feeling. If you look at the screenshot, you'll see that I was woefully inept my first time through. I played with it enough to be consistently hitting par, at least, and all the frustrations I had with it the first time through were still with me.
The biggest problem is the graphics, namely the fact that they don't actually work very well whenever there's movement involved. Pieces of the course, like like sliding barricades, get all glitchy and drop in and out; most annoying is the fact that sliding barricades tend to disappear at the least opportune time, i.e. whenever they're actually barricading anything. You can't see them to judge when you should make your shot.
The other big problem with the graphics is that, backgrounds occasionally aside, they look like they were done in MS Paint. And not like they were done in MS Paint by someone who was trying to a good job. Slapdash and crappy is the only way to describe the look of this game.
This is doubly a shame because miniature golf is so associated with great picturesque setups. 'Over the drawbridge, through the castle, under the windmill and up the ramp,' becomes 'Around the brown jagged lines, through the brown jagged lines, over the yellow splotch, into the jagged-looking circle, past the crappy looking numbers.' A game that should be cute and engaging is a hideous fucking C.H.U.D. of a creature.
The controls seem a bit imprecise. You hold down the left mouse button to determine how hard you want to hit the ball, after lining up the pointer thing in the direction you want to hit it, which is fine, but it seemed like hitting the ball the same hardness, in the same direction, on level ground, three times in a row resulted in three wildly variant end-points for the ball.
It would be nice if the impact indicator would oscillate back and forth between the hardest you can hit it and the softest; instead it just goes until it hits the point where you'd hit it as hard as you possibly can and automatically shoots - sending your ball careening wildly about the course and more often than not leaving you somewhere right close to where you started.
On the plus side, it does have local multiplayer support. And it has a lot of different courses. On the downside, everything else about the game, including the fact that it doesn't have network multiplayer support. Thank god there's no sound; if it were on par with the graphics, it would sound something like a 4 year-old playing on one of those cheap toy keyboards. A really inept 4 year-old.
Screw this game. Don't bother. You can probably find a better looking, better playing, mini-golf game for five bucks in a bargain bin at the software/grocery store of your choice. It's ugly, it's broken, it's not any fun, and it sucks. If the project isn't abandoned, it might be great in a couple of versions, as the skeleton of a fun game is here, but at the moment, it's just a skeleton. They need to put some meat on these bones.
Hey, what's going on? Kobo Deluxe isn't a KDE game! Can it be? Blessed respite from the logic-puzzle/strategy doldrums, in the form of an action packed top-down space shooter? By Crom!* It is!
Maybe just because it was something different after the last half-dozen games, but I really enjoyed my time with Kobo Deluxe. Anyone who's played a video game in the last 30 years is familiar with the basic mechanics of these games; use the arrow-keys/number-pad to move your ship in the direction you desire, and press the fire-button to shoot.
Your ship in this game shoots out of its front and back (stern and bow?) simultaneously whenever its firing. The ship is always moving; there's no brakes, no accelerator, and no way to stop. You're in constant, uniform motion. With those two bits of information, you know all you need to know to play Kobo Deluxe. There are no power-ups, and on the 'Classic' difficulty level, one hit = death (the other difficulty levels have a life-bar, and the possibility for your guns to overheat, which didn't seem to have any affect when I played it).
This simplistic approach belies the frustrating, adrenaline-fueled nightmare of fun that actually makes up the game. The magic is in the level design. It's kind of hard to describe your goal... remember at the end of the first Star Wars movie (Episode 4, for the anally inclined) where Luke had to shoot that one spot on the Death Star? It's kind of like each level is populated with these squarish mini-Death Stars that have to be destroyed. Get 'em all, and you beat the level.
Each one has a central node, that destroys the whole structure when you hit it, and a bunch of other nodes (they're a different color) that hold up various pieces of the matrix. All of the nodes spit out something harmful, be it missles, weird spiky bullets, bombs, or what-have-you. So you have to dodge a constant stream of evil things while attempting to clear enough of the outer nodes to expose the central node and destroy the matrix/Death Star.
It's really fun, it gets really challenging a few levels in, and its addictive nature is enhanced by something the greatest gaming blog in the world mentioned when discussing Trials 2: as little interruption as possible between dying and trying again. The fire key doubles as the enter-key, so when you game-over, you can just tap it impatiently for a second and a half and you're right back in the game, at the level you died on. This makes it really easy to zone-out and kill shamefully long periods of time trying to get further.
It's got fifty levels, which will probably be enough to satisfy the person who only dabbles at the scrolling shooters, but expert sh'muppers will probably run through that, eventually. The levels are laid out in the same way (i.e. each Death Star matrix is in the same position each time you play the level in question) but the layout of the matrices, internally, is randomly generated each time, so they're slightly different - sometimes in maddening, level-altering ways - each time you play.
Hrmn... what else should I mention? There's a radar screen, that comes in extra handy in this game, as you can use it to line yourself up with targets that aren't on screen, and make strafing runs. I found the strategy invaluable, myself, but I have the reflexes of a garden-slug, so it may be less necessary to you able-bodied gamers.
The graphics are nothing to write home about, but they look coherent, with a retro style that makes the most of the low-fi visuals, and thanks to their relative simplicity, the game will probably run on just about anything. The enemies and obstacles are all clearly differentiated from one another and easy to spot - I didn't run into any of the sophomoric errors that haunt indie games, where stuff looks nice but is a pain in the ass to play with.
Sound-wise, it's got a typical retro sh'mup score with decent enough sound effects to get you into the spirit of the game aurally as well as visually. Of note is the fact that the game actually generates all of the music algorhythmically when the game is loaded, rather than including a bunch of .wav files in the install. That means less than nothing in today's world of broadband (even when the music's been generated, it only takes up a meg and a half of space; who cares about an extra meg in a game download?), but if you're using the game on a PocketPC or something, it might come in handy, and it's just neat. Go ingeniosity!
Add it all up, and you've rather surprisingly got a sh'mup that has my unqualified seal of approval. Tiny elements of a dozen games get mashed up into a thoroughly satisfying gumbo of gaming greatness. It's not going to change the world, or even change the world of gaming, but if you're in the mood for some semi-twitchy gaming you could do far worse. Check it out.
*- I've been using this phrase since I was 10, occasionally, so please don't think I'm promoting Age of Conan or anything. Though I can't wait to try it as soon as I get my PC upgraded to current standard. I'm just sayin'...
I'm thinking that KNetwalk may be my favorite KDE game so far. It may just be that I'm really, really sick of playing these damn KDE games, though. Remember the classic game Pipe Dream? KNetwalk is sort of like that, only you have to make the water flow through every piece on the board.
The difficulty that suggests is mediated by the fact that you don't have any time constraints; there's no 'water' per se, just electrical charge, so you have as long as you need to get 'er done. I can't believe I just used that phrase.
Anyway, the basic premise is, like I said, one you've seen before. You have to rotate pieces so as to allow the network connection to hit every PC on the LAN, and there can't be any pieces unconnected to the LAN.
It's a lot of fun, actually. It uses your brain, the game's over pretty quickly, it rarely frustrates for very long on the easier difficulty levels, and it features high-scores in the form of counting how many clicks it takes you to complete, so you get to compete against yourself (and anyone else who plays games on your computer).
Simple logic-puzzle gaming fun for those who like simple logic puzzles. It does feature sound effects, but I think they're only when you begin a game, and when you end a game. I tend to not hear them, because my speakers cut off automatically when they don't get any sound for a long time, and the sounds are so short that when they play, they get lost in the speakers re-powering up. I hate these speakers, for the record.
If you're looking for a quick game, this is probably more mentally stimulating than Solitaire, if not generally as fast-paced, for me. I'll go ahead and highly recommend it for fans of logic-puzzle games looking for a bite-sized snack.