Tuesday, June 17, 2008

KPoker


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

Koules


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.

Konquest


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

Kolor Lines


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.

Kolf


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.

Kobo Deluxe


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'...

KNetwalk


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.

KMines


I shouldn't take up too much of your time talking about KMines. It's a Minesweeper clone - like Mines for Gnome (see review here) which comes preinstalled with Ubuntu.

In fact, there's only one real difference: KMines has themes. Only three are installed by default, but I assume you can add more. Playing full-screen, the 'Gardens of Danger' theme looks quite sharp, and adds a much-needed splash of color into a traditionally grey game. Unfortunately, it's not so playable when it's small, and you're better off sticking to the 'Traditional' or 'Default' themes if you're going to be playing in a window.

Outside of that difference, it's Minesweeper, it's Mines, it's whatever other similar games you've played. In the end, who really cares? This is a well-done implementation of the Windows classic for KDE, but unless you're a true Minesweeper-ophile, I wouldn't bother installing it; I'd just stick with the game that came with whatever flavor of OS I'm using.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

KMahjongg


We return to an old favorite with KMahjongg, the KDE take on the classic Chinese game of solitaire (not to be confused with the classic Chinese game of gambling and multiplayer hijinks). There's very little to discuss if you've read my review of Mahjongg for Gnome. They're essentially the same thing.

Graphically, KMahjongg is better, as it has more tilesets, and they all look alright. The 'Alphabet' tileset is painful to look at, but it's amusing; the rest are all in the same basic vein and all well sculpted in seeming 3D. Mahjongg looks as good, mind you, but it has fewer tilesets, so it loses the battle.

Mahjongg also has more gameplay types (not real variations in mechanics, just different layouts to put the tiles in), and they have amusing 'Confucius-say...' sounding names, so it wins that particular skirmish leaving us in a vaguely familiar place, though it's been a while.

We have a tie! I can't actively recommend this to anyone who's installed Ubuntu, as Mahjongg is essentially the same shiznit and there's no point in installing a different piece of software that does the same thing as a piece of software installed by default. And the reverse is true: if you've installed Kubuntu and KMahjongg is automatically in there (I don't know if it is or not, as I haven't been able to get Kubuntu working on the laptop so far), then there's no reason to bother with Mahjongg. If you're working with a blank slate, I'd have to say to go with KMahjongg, as the extra tilesets change the gameplay more than the extra layouts do, in my opinion. Whatever. All mahjongg games that work are awesome.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Klickety


If only I'd known how temporary the insanity would be - after the inscrutable KJumpingCube that kept me from updating for a week or so (my downtime due to a dead power-supply doesn't count), I found Klickety quite easy to scrute. It plays like a couple of other games we've looked at before, most prominently SameGnome (review here). There's a bunch of pieces of different colors, and you attempt to clear the screen of all blocks.

It's basically the same game, actually, though there are a few more colors than you'll find in SameGnome, and consequently the game is harder. You clear blocks out by clicking on them - when there is at least one other block of the same color horizontally or vertically right next to that block, all of the blocks of that color disappear. More colors = less blocks of the same color residing in the requisite spots.

Outside of that, Klickety sucks compared to SameGnome. It's less configurable, it's ugly as hell by default and you can't make it prettier (SameGnome has themes). The only thing Klickety has over its Gnome sibling is internet-enabled high scores that allow you to compare yourself to the other people playing this inferior version of the same mechanic.

Did I say this game left me unflummoxed? My bad. I neglected to mention that I can't make any sense of the high-score list. The top players all have a score of '0' which I would take to mean that they were ordered according to who finished fastest, but... no. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to how the players are ranked.

Unless you're obsessed with comparing your accomplishments to those of faceless others (and don't mind a mindboggling metric for comparison), I can't recommend this game to anyone. What it does is done better another, equally free, equally open-source game. Why bother?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

KJumpingCube


There are many reasons for my extended absence, but the most recently relevant is that KJumpingCube was too smart for me. I got a new job, my power supply died, and I started playing Knights of the Old Republic but all of that had been dealt with a few days ago. All that's been keeping me from posting for those past three or four days is the fact that I can't figure this damn game out.

It should be simple. You click on squares in a grid, sort of like Mines (review here), only clicking on them doesn't uncover them, it just gives a +1 to the value of the square and, if the square is neutral, makes it yours. All squares start out neutral, with a value of one. The goal is to make every square your own.

It's a classic world domination game, if we assume that the world consists of a simple grid which itself consists of a collection of numerical values.

And it totally sounds simple, doesn't it? Things get complicated with the following statement from the rules: "If a square has more points than it has neighbors, the points jump to its neighbors and take them over."

Which, in and of itself, also sounds simple. But the way it plays out, I just can't scrute. I've tried off and on, for a few minutes here and there, for the past week and a half. And every time I think I know exactly what it means, it behaves in some weird way that belies the explanation for previous behavior I've so studiously developed.

I'm not even going to get into it. If you're really curious, or you think I've missed something extremely basic, feel free to comment. I'll respond there. The basic premise of the game seems either fundamentally arcane or fundamentally flawed, and either way, it both irritated and shamed me so badly I've been putting off updating this blog despite the fact that I got a new PSU days ago.

KJumpingCube makes me feel less a man. I have this sort of... faith, for lack of a better word, in the innate sensibleness of the open-source community. They may make games that are ugly, or boring, or broken, but they do not make games that I can't figure out. For god's sake, I figured out Einstein (review here). (That was a joke; Einstein is not a hard game to figure out) KJumpingCube is ugly, and would be boring (to me) if I could understand what was going on. It gains interest-points it doesn't deserve by virtue of being seemingly inconsisten.

I can't recommend it, but I feel like I can't pass a judgement on it at all, because I can't understand it. This game is a failure on my part. If you like two-player logic puzzles (with bad AI - I don't know what I'm doing, but still never managed to lose a game) then you might both enjoy this and be able to figure out by what method the game mechanics operate. More power to you.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kiriki


There's no need to dwell long on Kiriki as it's just a KDE clone of Tali (review here), which is in turn a Yahtzee clone. There's almost no difference - I think even the default names for the computer players were the same. All of the same features are used the same way to the same result: a decent game of Yahtzee.

The only real difference that's readily apparent is the way the dice look. Tali featured nice looking rounded red dice. Kiriki features nice looking sharpish-cornered red dice. For what it's worth, I like the rounded ones slightly better, but that's totally a personal-taste thing, and has absolutely no effect on the gameplay whatsoever.

If you're using Kubuntu, I assume this is one of the games installed by default. If you're using Ubuntu (i.e. Gnome), then Tali was installed by default. Just go with whichever one's the default for your system as there's no discernible difference at all, outside of the tiny little corners of the dice.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

KGoldrunner


I may be way off-base here, but I think KGoldrunner is what happens when you cross Dig-Dug with... Donkey Kong? Something else 80s arcadey, but you can jump in Donkey Kong so it's not perfect. It's an action strategy game where the player must collect all of the gold coins on a level, and then ascend the magic ladder to the next level.

Several things complicate this simple-sounding feat: there are bad guys, for one. But even without those nefarious fellows, levels are layed out in such a way as to utilize your only skill outside of walking. That skill? Digging. To the left or the right. NOT directly below the character.

That limitation is rather important, as it totally changes the way things play out when combined with the other aspect of the digging which is a bit different. That aspect? Blocks dug out fill themselves back in after a second or two, and if you're still where the block was, you diiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeee!

Do you like how I'm eliminating run-on sentences by splitting them up and adding fragments between the two halves? I'm a bit bothered by it, myself. I think next time I will just run on.

Ahem. So, there are two major results of the way those holes operate. Firstly, it's very easy to commit suicide by accidentally falling into a hole you dug. You have to operate in series of holes, if you're going more than one layer down, and it's tricky at times. Especially at first. The flip-side of that is that enemies also die if they're in a hole when it fills back up.

The enemies have a skill that is denied the players: jumping. They can jump out of holes, and will, typically before the hole fills back in, so you have to be strategic. They also never actually die; they just respawn somewhere else in the level after you off them.

All of this needless description of the game mechanics boils down to: real-time action logic-puzzle. Fun mix, to a point. It fails to hold my attention because it ships with hundreds of levels, divided into a half-dozen or so sets. That's actually a good thing, if you anticipate a mind-bending logic puzzle that also requires quick reflexes like I anticipate my next bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon. To me, however, it just seems like a lot of busy-work with no pay-off as there's no story or reward outside of amassing points and bragging rights.

Who would I brag to? No one else I know plays these games. Alas, I have been let down by not only myself, but also my peers!

Graphically, it's very basic. Call it hi-res Intellivision. Everything looks a bit blocky, though the actual movement animations are surprisingly smooth. Even at full-screen, things seem small and lack detail. There are a number of different, and widely variant, themes. This adds a bit of flair and personality to the game, or a bit of ugliness, depending on which theme you choose to go with, but they're all of the same basic level of quality.

There's no sound, which I mention because this seems like the kind of game that just begs for an 8-bit sounding beepy-bloopy sort of soundtrack. I don't mind, but if you're going to spend hours going away at it, you might wish for a bit of sound. I made up for the lack by listening to the 80s show on my favorite radio station, 97.3 FM in Richmond, VA! (shameless plug for the station I DJ on)

The controls are probably the most interesting thing about KGoldrunner. You can use the keyboard, in which case it plays rather annoyingly like Pac-Man. You know how Pac-Man keeps going until he hits a wall? Same here. The way these levels play out, though, it's really annoying. Sometimes you want to stop and it's counter-intuitive as hell to hit up or down to stop yourself, and not even always possible (if you're over or under a latter, one of those won't work, it'll put you on the ladder, moving in the given direction).

The other way you control the game is with the mouse: the character heads for the cursor. If the cursor's right on top of him, he stops. I've played Flash games that worked like this, but generally not in this kind of set-up. Running about in a 2D platformer with the mouse with a lot of vertical movement felt very odd and unique. I'm sure that's just because I'm ignorant, but for what it's worth, it's well implemented and doesn't take too long to get used to. Make sure your mouse is working well, though, and look out for the edge of the mouse-pad to avoid frustration.

My final judgement? KGoldrunner is a neat, quirky little game that should appeal to its target audience, although if you need eye-candy you're going to have to look at other action logic-puzzles (good luck; the genre's not exactly chock-full of entries). I wasn't a big fan, but that's a shortcoming on my part, most likely. I've had a gift-certificate to a fancy-schmancy restaurant for the last year that's about to expire: I haven't used it because they don't have anything on their menu I want. I know it's probably all good food, but it's not my kinda food. Same thing here, with KGoldrunner.

Monday, May 5, 2008

KFourInLine


My initial reaction to KFourInLine was simply "Wow! Pretty!" and now that I've played with it a bit, that still sums it up quite nicely. KFourInLine is a KDE clone of the classic Connect Four game that was done decently in Four-In-a-Row (review here).

The basic game is simple, so there's not much to say about it. You drop checkers into different columns on the board, trying to get four in a row before your opponent does. Your opponent always wins, in my experience. As far as features go KFourInLine doesn't offer anything that would differentiate itself from other clones.

Where it shines is its look: it's skinnable with different themes, and all of the themes it 'ships' with are fancy lookin'. The board and the score-card are very smooth looking, easy to interpret, and feature a coherent aesthetic that's quite attractive. I congratulate the dev-team for keeping it simple and yet not completely ignoring form in favor of function, as is often the case with open-source games.

One quick complaint: the game runs slow. Probably because my computer is a bit outdated, and it probably runs fine on a more modern machine, but I was still taken aback by the fact that it seemed a Milton-Bradley game actually had a low frame-rate. I never thought of board-game clones as being processor intensive.

Other than that, all I have to mention is the multiplayer. There's support for local as well as the all-important networked human v. human games, and it's very simple to set up. Props for that too: none of the godawful clunkiness and irritation that comes with match-making servers and the like. You just start the game, and your opponent connects to you, or vice-versa. No muss, no fuss.

This is the best Connect Four clone I've ever played. That's faint praise, I admit, but it does mean KFourInLine beats out the one that comes preinstalled with your Ubuntu installation. I recommend it to anyone that wants to play Connect Four on their Linux box. Obviously, if that doesn't sound fun to you, you're advised to pass it up.

Updated Ubuntu to 8.04...

... and it seems that the list of games is a bit different. I think I'm just going to keep going from where I'm at now, and once I finish (if I ever do) I'll go back and plug holes that have appeared due to new games in the repositories.

This quest will never end, apparently... hoo-yah. More reviews comin' up!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

KFoulEggs


I can't help but feel that Puyo Puyo clones were put on this earth solely for the purpose of causing me irritation. I'd love to complain about KFoulEggs a lot, just because I had to play it, but unfortunately the only thing I can really bitch about is the lack of network multiplayer. Oh, yeah, and being completely broken when playing against the AI.

It's another Puyo Puyo clone, in case you missed that. It plays like Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine only with graphics that lack personality and a better digital font than the last game I remember having a digital font. The original game of this type should have been called 'Bitris' because the pieces drop in twos instead of fours and it bites.

I'm being petty, I'm sorry. KFoulEggs is a solid clone, if you want to play by yourself against nothing. It's not pretty, but it works just fine, and it's not actually ugly, either. It's just uninspired. It attempts to offer up to four opponents, locally or AI-controlled, but... well, see the next paragraph.

The controls work fine. Pressing 'down' to speed the fall of pieces makes them go a bit too rapidly, in my opinion, but you just take that into account and wait on them to fall rather than hurrying them. I did run into one problem: when I was playing multiplayer against the AI, the keys didn't seem to work properly. Nothing worked, actually, except that 'down' button. Couldn't move pieces to the left or right, couldn't rotate them, but I could make 'em fall as fast as I wanted.

So really, I suppose I was justified in being petty. Never mind about my feeling guilty - this game sucks. There are other games of the same type out there, and they're all better. Some of them offer working multiplayer, some of them offer brilliantly varied gameplay, and none of them have a feature that completely and utterly doesn't work. So far, anyway. I'm sure I'll run into another totally broken Puyo clone at some point in this blog. Until that happens, KFoulEggs is the worst of the lot. Avoid it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Kill Everything That Moves


While it's currently unimpressive, I have high hopes for K.E.T.M.* - if it isn't completely abandoned. It's a shmup in the classic twitch style, or aims to be, and it's playable in this early incarnation but from screen shots on the website, it's going to be much prettier.

One thing it's not, in the current incarnation, is twitchy. It's kinda slow, actually. It's very smooth - there's no lag, the framerates are fine, and the controls are responsive - but it's not exactly fast-paced. Your ship moves like a fat man in molasses. Hopefully, they'll fix that, as it tends to make the game feel easy. It might not actually be easy - I didn't beat all of the levels - but it just feels like if I wanted to devote the time, it would only take patience to finish it.

The graphics remind me of DOS games towards the end of when they were viable. Not the top-notch ones, mind you, but the decent shareware ones. See the screenshot? Yeah. That's what it looks like. It's decent enough but low-res. I'm not sure if I was getting it as good as it got: I couldn't get fullscreen to work. It was turned on in the options menu, but that didn't have any effect. All of the other options as far as graphics go were set to their highest setting, but if the option menu isn't actually implemented then I'm not sure what meaning that has.

There's no sound. I mention it because sound was turned on in the option menu, and because many shmups have memorable soundtracks. Would have been nice to at least get a zap sound or something when I shot stuff.

There's a decent amount of variability in the weapons. Flame-throwers, homing missiles, bizarre lasers, a basic gun... they look decent, but don't seem to affect the play much because you just keep shooting and killing stuff with not much effort, regardless of what your weapon is. Maneuvering is basically useless, on account of your ship's slow speed, so that's probably a good thing.

K.E.T.M. is basically fatally flawed for fans of shmups, but it's a decent tech demo. The website that seems to be the official page for the project has a screenshot or two of what must be a much later build, but it also has no links to download any version at all. Unfortunately, it also has a blog, last updated early in 2006, revealing that the lead programmer decided to change the engine and recode the game in Python. I'm guessing that this was an overly-ambitious decision that lead to the project being abandoned, but they're still paying for the domain name, anyway, so maybe not. Here's to hoping: this could be decent.

*I can't actually tell if this is the website for this game or a website for a game with the same name, of the same genre. Looking around, it seems like they acknowledge some sort of debt to the game I reviewed in the article, if nothing else, but they have no playable release and their version looks a lot better. No idea on this one, guys.

Kenolaba


And so the revolving cycle continues, with Kenolaba being unique if not exactly engrossing. The best way to explain it is Othello if it were sumo-wrestling. Confused? My job here is done!

Honestly, that's pretty much how it plays out, right down to the annoying give-and-take tactics that take forever to play out. You start out on a hexagonal playing-field populated with balls. The point is to push your opponent's balls off of the playing field. You have to have more balls in the group you're pushing with than the group you're pushing.

My room mate cracked up every time I said 'balls' while trying to describe it to him.

It's graphically on-par with late 90s shareware for Windows, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The graphics are simple, but clear, and not entirely unattractive. I hate the color yellow, so I personally don't really care for the color-scheme, but the vaguely golf-ballish look of the pieces is fun. It compares favorably to most of the other KDE games I've looked at, meaning it doesn't make me want to vomit, so there's that.

There's no sound. Once again, and I'm tired of saying that, so I think I'm just not going to mention sound when it isn't present and isn't necessary, this game doesn't need sound. It's a turn-based logic-puzzle/strategy game. Without a plot, or any kind of dramatic tension at all. Sound would just be irritating.

Final verdict? Meh. Not my thing, but at least it's not a clone of something I've played six times already, and fully functional. It's got an AI opponent, with different degrees of difficulty, so it's cool for single-player. If they were to add networked multiplayer it would pretty much be perfect for what it is. Want another abstract strategy game? Check it out. Want another FPS? Pass.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

KeepAlive


Yumpin' yiminy! These GGZ games have reached a new low! KeepAlive is not only no longer being developed, the server for it is no longer being run, meaning it is 100% useless. I mean, the code-base may be useful for people developing something, but you can't play the game at all, so there's no reason whatsoever for it to be in the damn repository.

I have no idea if it ever worked. The screen pictured is all it does when I open it and I can't tell if it's locked up or just waiting for something from a server, or what. Nothing I do affects it. Which is what caused me to look it up and discover that even if it did something, it wouldn't do anything like 'be a game' because it has been shut down, dismantled, and removed from the GGZ servers' operations.

Ignore at all costs.

kcc


We seem to be doing an alternating thing, here, which means kcc sucks. I assume the acronym stands for KDE Chinese Checkers. It's vaguely functional, in an almost sort of way, which makes playing it that much more tedious. If it just didn't work, I could have ignored it. Instead, I had to wait for it, and deal with it, at great length, so I could give you my honest impressions.

It's Chinese Checkers, for your computer. It's low-res, it's sluggish (dear god, the eons I spent waiting for the five AI players to make their moves could have been used to raise a child... or even a village, which would then be utilized to raise a child, all while waiting on the AI to make their moves), the AI sucks, and there's no multiplayer. A boardgame without even local multiplayer (much less networked) is a boardgame which completely and utterly sucks. This is made especially ironic due to the fact that it's part of the GGZ package, which endeavors to be a one-stop shop for online gaming.

Playing kcc is extremely tedious. The AI seems to have no interest in winning, I couldn't find a way to configure any options that might alleviate the lag, and it's ugly as hell. There is no sound.

Oddly, the 'menu' window is separate from the 'play' window, which is star-shaped (i.e. in the shape of the game board, with no background). This was probably supposed to be a neat visual trick, and it is, as long as you're not actually playing it. When you are playing it, it's really annoying how the cursor changes to reflect what's behind the board whenever you cross a transparent seam, sometimes causing you to accidentally bring a program you're not trying to use into the foreground.

Outside of that interesting twist on making a bad game, the rest of its faults are quite run-of-the-mill. It just sucks on all fronts. It looks like there's a newer version available from GGZ site, as well as a GTK version that's quite nice looking, so once again the Ubuntu repositories prove to be woefully out of date.

I'm beginning to wonder if the perception that Linux sucks for games isn't actively being perpetuated by the poor maintenance of repositories - anyone who thinks that the games in the repositories are all that there is has to believe that there are virtually no decent games for Linux. Since one of Ubuntu's selling-points to less technically-minded users of Windows is that they can download all the software for it without having to compile or configure anything, I expect that most of Ubuntu's user-base never goes beyond the repositories. Just updating them, and getting rid of the going-nowhere, abandoned, non-functional projects would go a long way towards making Ubuntu seem like a legit project.

Those thoughts out of the way, here are my thoughts on kcc: Don't bother. Please. If you are in the market for a Chinese Checkers game, get the more recent version of this one from somewhere else or try a completely different one. The version of kcc Ubuntu offers you is horrid.

KBounce


Yet another KDE game, KBounce does alright. It's a Jezzball-clone (the second one we've encountered so far), and unlike the first one (IceBreaker (review here)), it's pretty much alright.

A quick refresher: Jezzball games are games where there are balls bouncing around, and you have to trap them in as small an area as possible, liberating all the other space. When you have freed up 75% of the field of play, the level is over. Difficulty is increased by adding an extra ball into the mix with each level. You lose a life when the walls you're trapping balls with encounter a ball before the wall is fully formed.

KBounce looks pretty much the same as its progenitor, Jezzball. This is an improvement over the much uglier version we tackled earlier this month. The balls themselves are very sharply defined, and revolve in such a way as to... 'look really neat,' I suppose, is the technical term. I would suggest that the developers change the horrible font - a sort of beveled faux-digital-clock look that's hard to read and ugly - but other than that, I have no complaints.

There is no sound. Does KDE suck for sound? I think I've encountered one game written for KDE that had any noise at all. This is another one where it doesn't really matter, but it would be kind of fun to have a sound play whenever the balls bounce off of a surface. It would get laughable once you had a bunch of balls in play, but that would be awesome. I like to laugh.

Final judgement? Solid clone of a neo-classical game with solid but ultimately uninteresting mechanics. If other games of the type do it for you, you could do worse. KBounce is a highlight as far as the KDE-based games distributed via Ubuntu's default repositories.

KBlackBox


A pox upon the House of KDE! KBlackBox was frustrating, in that I couldn't really figure it out. This could be because I keep trying to do so when I'm hungover, tired, and miserable. I kept putting off actually writing the review so that I could approach it with a clear head, but whenever I have a clear head I'm not masochistic enough to try, and so in the interests of progress, I give up. Is that ironic or oxymoronic?

As far as I know, it's a bit like Minesweeper in that the point is to predict where the balls (playing the part of 'mines') are hidden in the field of play. Unlike Minesweeper, where your only option is to randomly click a few tiles in the hopes that they will give you clues as to the locations without blowing up and ending the game, you have tools dissociated from the field of play. You have lasers. You turn on lasers, and then you get feedback in the form of a number or letter that indicates where the light-beam ended up.

I know what you're saying to yourself: How could Minesweeper plus lasers be bad? The answer: the feedback the lasers give you seems to run counter to the feedback they're supposed to give you, and even if they didn't, that feedback is hard to interpret. It's possible that I'm just interpreting the manual wrong (likely, even), but even allowing for that, it's still just amazingly hard. Almost on the level of that Einstein's Puzzle (review here) thing.

KBlackBox is not very appealing graphically. It has no sound.

I give up on making sense of this game. It is either impossible, or very difficult, or I am very stupid. I freely admit that a combination of the latter two is the most likely scenario. If you like logic puzzles that make you feel dumb, and have hard-to-interpret ASCII-art renderings of in-game screens as directions, you will love KBlackBox. If not, you had best pass. As per usual, this version is a release behind, and the most current release looks slightly better.

Friday, April 25, 2008

KBattleship


While it's hard to take serious, KBattleship* is actually the best KDE game I've played so far. Sure, it's a simple game from the getty-up and nothing is added feature-wise that makes it any deeper than the board game. But it works, it's not a hideous C.H.U.D. (this is not a C.H.U.D. reference, but rather a Clerks II reference, since I'm referring to the fact that KBattleship is not ugly, and not claiming that it doesn't kill people due to mutation (it may)), and it's kinda fun.

How does it play? Oh, come on - you know how it plays. There's a grid. You place a couple of shifts on that grid, of varying sizes. Your opponent does the same. Then you randomly pick spots of your opponents grid to blow the hell up, in the hopes of thoroughly decimating their fleet of battleships.

That's all there is to KBattleship. It doesn't add any weird modes of play, or power-ups, or anything at all, really. It's just a game of Battleship (that's right, I italicize game titles, but not board-game titles). On the other hand, it's a game of Battleship that features an AI opponent and support for network multi-player, so it's better than the board-game, all other things being equal.

And they are! The field of play is sprite-based, so it's not uber-sexy 3D but it's exactly what you get with the board-game: chunks of ship and ocean to be utilized as you see fit. Since the board-game is basically tile-based, you lose nothing whatsoever in the translation, and gain the ability to play it alone or with friends in Antarctica.

The sound is better than the talking version of the board-game, despite the fact that it does not talk. The explosion sounds are nice n' bassy, compared to that tinny crap-speaker mess I heard on the TV commercials back in the day. The sound of a missed shot, a shot scored on your opponent, and a shot scored by your opponent are all different in a lovable way. You get a basic explosion sound when you hit the other guy, but when you get hit, there's a hull-ringing clang of explosiveness that lets you know bad things are afoot.

To sum up in a slightly anti-climactic way, KBattleship is another game that I'm sad won't really appeal to anyone. Because really, who the hell is dying for a chance to play Battleship on their damn computer? On the plus side, I feel less guilty about not recommending it because it's really simple and I suspect that it didn't take all that much work (comparatively speaking).

If you are, by some strange chance, longing to play Milton Bradley's classic on your Linux box, KBattleship is everything you could want. Unless you want shiny happy pretty graphics that don't really add anything, of course, in which case you will probably be disappointed by 90% of what the open-source community offers anyway.

*Yeah, for the record, the screenshots on the official page on the KDE Games site look nothing like the version you get from the repositories. I hate to keep bringing this up, but I think this version I played (that you get from the repositories) is woefully out of date. Just, y'know, for the record.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

KBackgammon


Because I have journalistic integrity, I spent a really long time learning the rules to backgammon so I could review KBackgammon. I want those hours back, thank you very much. Short review: the damn thing works, much to my chagrin, but it's ugly as sin.

So yeah, now I know how to play backgammon. And I now know that a game of backgammon takes an hour or two to finish, when you're playing by yourself, against yourself because there's no AI. Which is probably my biggest complaint about the game: without an AI, it's not really possibly to play as a single-player game. I mean, I did but it wasn't like playing a game.

The interface is simple enough; drag pieces where you want 'em to go. Clicking buttons lets you do everything else you'd need to. If you're familiar with backgammon, you know that means rolling dice and doubling the points-value. There's a critically annoying one-second delay in between when one turn finishes, and when the game realizes that it's the next person's turn. Outside of that, the basic mechanics work fine.

KBackgammon makes up for its lack of AI with working online play, through something called FABS. I was able to make an account and login all via the game's UI, so that was convenient. In a two-player boardgame, I have to say that I think I consider online multiplayer to be the single most important thing. So good on them!

Visually, it's just ugly. Seriously, it needs a re-skinning really badly. The colors are mealy and unattractive, the pieces look a bit dithered, and it's very rudimentary. All of these KDE games are ugly as sin, but whenever I look them up, I hear people talking about how great KDE makes things look. I'm a bit confused at this point.

There's no sound. Doesn't need any.

The final summary? If you really want to play backgammon with friends on the internet, this'll git 'er done. It might not be as pleasant an experience as you'd hope for, but it works. If you have an alternative to KBackgammon, you should probably try that one first, cuz' this is just functional. Nothing more. If you want to get into backgammon, I'd recommend that you not do what I did and learn to play backgammon with this one.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

KAtomic


If you've read all of these reviews (and I pity you, if you have), KAtomic is going to look very familiar. It's a KDE version of the game Atomix I reviewed a few months ago. As such, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it.

The point of each level is to construct a given molecule by moving the pieces around the board in order to hook them up properly. The trick lies in getting them where you want them to go: they move until they hit a wall or another atom, so it takes some careful positioning to line everything up.

I'd love to say this plays exactly the same as Atomix, which worked perfectly fine, but KAtomix unfortunately falls short of the standard set by Atomix. Due to a graphical glitch, it's a total bitch. If you look at the screenshot, you can see two white squares. Those are the pieces that have to be moved. They show up as transparent squares, for some reason, and not as spheres. This has the effect of removing the tiny little pieces (on the sides, in this case) that show which one has to go on which side of the central molecule.

This makes gameplay something akin to russian roulette, rather than a game of skill, as you can line up the pieces perfectly only to discover that due to the hidden nature of the connectors, they don't actually connect. It wasn't a big deal on that first stage - I just had to reverse them, which only took a second. The next stage had six that were transparent squares. Screw that.

This is another KDE game, and I've had trouble with virtually all of the KDE games I've tried, so it's possible that they just don't work right under Gnome. If that's the case, they might think about not making them available under the regular Ubuntu repositories, but instead only for Kubuntu. Since they are available, I'm forced to assume that they just plain don't work. As such, I can't recommend this one at all. For the record, Atomix is also a nicer looking game, so I wouldn't recommend KAtomic anyway.*

*A bit of research determined that the most recent version of KAtomic is 3.0 - the version the repositories provide is 2.0, with a copyright date of 1998. That it's so outdated probably explains the graphical glitches; I'd guess that the libraries it uses have probably changed over the last ten years, if it isn't just that bugs were present in version 2.0. Ubuntu may make installing applications very easy, but the abysmal lack of maintenance I'm discovering is disheartening to the extreme.

KAsteroids


Being exactly what you would expect, KAsteroids is a KDE-clone of Asteroids. While it adds a few features, and looks a bit better than its Atari 2600 forebear, it's basic gameplay is unchanged. Fans of old-school arcade games would probably say that the original game was perfect in its design, and needs no changes.

You know the drill: you control a ship, which you point in a given direction and apply thrust to, in order to move about the screen, and which shoots a projectile in whatever direction it's pointed in, upon pressing the fire button. The object of each level is to shoot all the asteroids; when they're shot, they subdivide into smaller pieces which must then be shot, and so on, until you've cleared the screen, at which point you move on to the next level.

What features does it add? Powerups. You can collect shields, which you can activate to prevent death upon touching an asteroid, extra guns which allow you to have more projectile on-screen (you start out with only two), and brake upgrades which allow you to slow down without trying to turn around and apply opposite thrust.

They don't really change the way the game plays for me, because I'm not exactly a power-player. If you're the kinda guy who's thinking about setting the world record for the arcade original, they'd probably affect your strategy, but me, I'm just tryin' to stay alive and blow up asteroids. No strategy required.

Graphically, it's very simple - don't expect some Rez-like super-cool graphical effects here, or even anything along the lines of a classic 16-bit sh'mup. The font looks a bit amateurish to my used-to-stylized-lettering eyes, and the lack of any shadows or textures on anything except for the asteroids gives it that shareware-look we all know and love.

Musically, there isn't any music, and sound-effects wise, it's completely silent except for when you blow up. I found it weird that there wasn't a sound whenever you shot your gun; it made for long stretches of silence where I'd forget the game had sound, and then get surprised whenever my speakers erupted with the explosion noise.

The only real complaint I have is that it doesn't seem to support a joystick. Growing up playing similar games on joysticks and gamepads for decades, it just seems odd that they wouldn't support one. The keyboard controls work just fine, but it would be nice to have the option, y'know?

I can recommend this to anyone looking for an Asteroids-fix or youngsters who are wondering what Asteroids was. It adds nothing of substance to the game, and certainly does nothing original, so it's not going to satisfy anyone looking for a game that scratches the ever-present 'I wanna play something new' itch.

kanatest


While kanatest isn't a game in any real sense, it does have the virtue of doing what it's supposed to do. It's a flashcard game: it shows you 'kana' characters and you type in the 'romajin' equivalent.

As such, it's not an enthralling game for someone who a.) doesn't know any Japanese characters, and b.) wants to play a game, and not learn Japanese characters. If, however, you are someone studying Japanese and need something to assist you in memorizing the characters, rock on. You've found your saviour!

In all honesty, it's pretty full-featured. You can choose between what appear to the illiterate-in-Japanese-eye to be the two styles in which the characters are rendered, and further choose which characters you want to be drilled on, either by using one of the pre-created 'lessons' or by creation your own lesson.

Sure, there's no sound, and the graphics (read: fonts) aren't awe-inspiring. They don't have to be. This is an educational tool, and not a game, and while you can make educational tools as pretty as you like, their foremost function is... to function. As far as functional designs go, kanatest is great. Simple, clear, easy to figure out without consulting a manual or the internet, and best of all, in fully working order.

For the record, the version included in the repositories is two releases out of date. Click the link above to go to the website for kanatest and download the latest version. All of you broke otaku desperate to learn Japanese characters so you can feel elite, here's a great tool for ya. All others need not apply (except, obviously, non-otaku who still want to learn Japanese).

kamefu


Huzzah! We have yet another non-working, out-of-date, emulation utility, m'lord! It goeth by the name of kamefu. Only it doesn't, because apparently switched its name to gamefu some time in 2006, meaning this broken thing that I got from the repositories isn't just completely useless to me, it shouldn't even be in the repositories as there has been a new version (with a different name) out for years.

Opening it up launches a wizard that asks me where my roms are. I put one in a directory called 'roms' and pointed it there. Ehn, it didn't recognize it and locked up at 'updating collection'. Re-starting the program, I was told I had zero roms. Dammit, I have one rom: the SNES version of Shadowrun I downloaded to review the last broken emulator.

I suggest not bothering with this. If you are going to bother with it, pick up the most recent version from SourceForge as it probably works. Or at least comes closer to working. As near as I can tell, this is just a multi-purpose front-end, meaning that configuring it is probably a bitch, and you'll have to download a bunch of actual emulators and learn to use them from the command-line anyway.

Purpose-built front-ends for specific emulators tend to involve little to no mucking about with command-line switches, and also to actually work, so I'd instead recommend that you find one of those.

Jump n' Bump


Well, I'm one up on Gen. MacArthur because I have returned. After a week-long hiatus spent not playing the game I took a week off for, I'm back with my nose to the grind reviewing Linux games, and we take up the quest once more with Jump n' Bump. Remember Mario Bros.? Not the 'super' one that got everyone so excited, the earlier one that was just Mario and Luigi trying to score points by killing each other on single-screen levels that also had monsters. Jump n' Bump is like that, only with bunny-rabbits that explode in a shower of viscera when they're offed.

Out-of-the-box, there's only one level, and the closest thing to a website for it that I can find is an empty blog that according to other websites actually had over a hundred extra levels for download at some point. With only one screen, the novelty wears off mighty quick, so here's to hoping that whoever's got that website adds their old content back at some point.

It's basically multi-player only as there's no AI, but I'm reviewing it anyway because I could play by myself using the keyboard and the mouse to control competing rabbits. The controls are good on the keyboard, and even decent on the mouse, which surprised me. You left click to go left, right-click to go right, and click both buttons at the same time to jump. I thought it would be awkward but it works well.

The mechanics being so simple, it's a decent formula for competition, and it supports four-player simultanous play both locally and via network. If you were pining to relive the game that lead to the game that started it all, this is a great version.

The graphics are cutesy, and therefore amusing when the gore happens, but itsy-bitsy when playing windowed at the default resolution. Checking the 'double resolution' box fixes that, leaving you with a game that looks like something from the SNES-era with decent art-direction. Oddly, it's in widescreen, but it may be that I only find that odd because I'm way behind the times and have a standard-ratio monitor.

The music is also of the cute, old-school shareware style: think games for kids. Thankfully, it's quiet and manages to be complimentary to the gameplay rather than a soul-destroying annoyance.

Honestly, if you're into competitive multi-player gaming enough to download and install a game, and make your friends download and install the same game, so you can play together, you're probably more into Counterstrike or Halo than Mario Bros.-meets-bunny-rabbits. This is definitely not for that crowd. It's also not for the famed 40-year-old-lady market that devours puzzle-games.

I can't imagine there are a lot of people out there who would be into the experience this game provides. If, however, you're a parent with a four-year-old who could benefit from the practice at audio-visual coordination the simple mechanics provide, and looking for something mostly non-violent (toddlers don't know what those chunks are, do they?), this is something you could play with them. It's a shame the appeal is probably quite limited, because it's a polished release with solid mechanics and a decent-enough feature set, reflecting what must have been a lot of TLC.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Just for the record...

... I'm taking a break from reviewing Linux games to play Pathologic under Windows. I read the beginning of a complete breakdown of the game on RockPaperShotgun and it was so intriguing, I forced myself to stop reading so as to not spoil anything for myself, and sought out a copy.

I was getting open-source-fatigue anyways, so hopefully taking a week off to explore a thoroughly broken but narrative-filled and professionally-done-for-the-most-part retail game will restore my flagging spirits and get me through the next few months of reviewing Ubuntu's repositories. Expect more content to appear here in a week or so. Until then, have lots of fun playing whatever you play, and feel free to listen to my weekly radio show on Mondays, starting at 11PM EST, at www.wrir.org (yes, that was a shameless and completely unrelated plug).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Have No Tomatoes


While I Have No Tomatoes is unlikely to amuse you for longer than five minutes (which is unfortunate, considering that a game takes exactly ten minutes to complete), it's a well-done and interesting arcade-esque game with a nice visual style. It's another skill-based game, which to my way of thinking is at least a nice change from puzzle-based games, but as such it just didn't have the depth or progression necessary to captivate me for very long.

Basically, you're a little Q-bert lookin' guy in a small maze-like grid-based level. You move by pressing the arrow keys in the cardinal direction you want to go, made a bit awkward at first by the game's isometric view. The maze is also filled with constantly re-spawning tomatoes, who run amok and kill you if you touch them. Hitting space tosses a bomb, which will explode in a linear fashion after a second or two, killing anything its explosive force encounters.

The point is to kill as many tomatoes as possible. The twist? Rather than being limited by the number of lives, the player is limited solely by the clock. Each level lasts exactly 60 seconds. There are ten levels, so each play-through takes ten minutes to complete. You can die as much as you want, but time spent re-spawning is time not spent offing tomatoes, so it's in your best interests to stay alive.

The only other thing to be mentioned is the special-powers. When you off a tomato, it leaves behind a colored power-up that you can use to do a special attack: wild-fire, lightning, etc. Most of them kill everything on the screen, with the exception of the teleport power which I never actually used, the trap, and my favorite, the potato man. It summons a potato man who runs around the maze offing tomatoes. That's just awesome.

Graphically, it's full-screen only, and the resolution is a decent 800x600, so things are as sharp as they have to be to look good in the game's cartoony style. Not much other than the colors seems to change between levels, so after a few levels with differing-but-similar layouts and graphics, it tends to get a bit old. I was slogging through the last couple of levels hoping it would end even in my first go 'round with the game.

The sound is low-key but non-annoying. The default level of the music basically allowed me to ignore it, and the sound-effects are on-par with everything else in the game: pretty good.

I Have No Tomatoes' interesting feature - the time limit - is also its downfall. With all of the content so basically similar to itself, and the lack of any deviation in subsequent attempts, you've experienced everything it has to offer the first time you play it. For perfectionists who thrive on trying to best their highest score, this isn't a problem, but I play to unlock content (preferably narrative), and when the content is going to be unlocked any damn ways, and is sort of boring to boot, there's just nothing to keep me coming back.

Fans of arcade games from the 80s should give this one a look-see, as they might look at it and see something I'm missing. I'm not the intended audience for this title, and those who are will probably find its gameplay more rewarding. If nothing else, it meets the base level of competence that so few open-source games do, and that should be encouraged. It's nice-looking, it works, it offers an interesting twist in the game-play, and it even has a sense of humor. If it didn't bore me to tears, I'd love it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ice Breaker


Well, Ice Breaker brings back memories. It's a direct clone of JezzBall, a game I remember from some Microsoft Windows Game Collection from when I was in high-school. The only difference is that instead of trapping bouncing balls, you're trapping bouncing penguins (okay, maybe it's not the only difference).

Trapping? In the immortal words of Mister Doctor Professor Skulhedface, allow me to elucidate: you click on the screen to draw a line, horizontal or vertical, that will divide whatever area you're clicking in from the point at which you clicked. If there's no penguin in one of the halves, that half will disappear. The point of each level is to eliminate 80% of the space in each level in the fastest time possible.

Level one has two penguins, level two has three, and so on, ad infinitum (I assume; I did not reach the 'infinite penguins' stage to verify its existence, but I can't imagine they'd have put a level cap on it). The game is simple to comprehend, and difficult to master, requiring both sound strategy and quick decision-making.

It's not really all that fun for me, because I don't like puzzle-games and it's basically a real-time puzzle game. All of the requisite features are represented, in that it works, it doesn't crash, and it keeps a high-score list. Oh wait, did I say it keeps a high-score list? My bad. It asks you to enter your name after you die, but it doesn't actually save the names. Maybe you could keep a notebook by your PC to record your scores?

Graphics are functional but will not delight and awe you. The developer claims the graphics are superior to Jezzball's graphics. I disagree, but he's welcome to his opinion. The only sound is encountered when a penguin hits a still-forming line (taking away a life and stopping the line from forming). It's a bassy glass-breaking sound that's not too annoying but impossible to miss, so at least it's clear on when you've screwed up.

I found Jezzball relatively addictive when I was in my teens, and this one should scratch the same itch. I don't seem to have that itch anymore; Wizardry VII and No One Lives Forever have permanently ruined me for mindless mechanics-based games. If these sorts of things are up your alley, you could do worse.* It's another mediocre clone, and its high-score list is broken, but it works and it's free. You decide.

*You could also do better: there's a Java version playable here, that has a working high-score list and saves high-score lists for the whole gosh-darned world, both daily and all-time. I have no idea if it does malevolent things, but it didn't put any spyware on my machine, or cause any popups to open up in Firefox. Your mileage may vary.

Holotz Castle


The internet seems to agree that Holotz Castle is a Lode Runner clone. I can't really remember Lode Runner, though I'm pretty sure we had a copy of Lode Runner Construction Set on my XT back in the day. Therefore, I have no idea if it utilizes the amazing mechanics of that classic game or not. It certainly didn't amaze me.

It's one of those 'beat the room' games where you have to collect a certain number of somethingorother and then make it to the exit. In this case, you play the part of two people who "touched that stone" and were transported to another world. Woot. One of them has to collect keys, and the other has to collect stones. You don't get to pick, it just arbitrarily decides which character you are for each level. And it has no meaning whatsoever. The two characters play the same.

The rooms are littered with beasties and traps which must be avoided. Examples: slugs, firepits, acid/lava puzzles, dissolving floor spaces. Pretty par for the course, really. Getting to some places requires doing things like swinging across on ropes, which is fun, or would be, if it weren't for the fatal flaw in this title...

... Namely, the fact that the jump button must be held down to complete long jumps to ropes and platforms, but also automatically re-jumps as soon as you hit a platform or rope. So you immediately launch yourself off of the thing you're trying to land on nine times out of ten. The one time you don't is when you're jumping onto something close by, that doesn't require you to hold the jump button down.

The fact that jumping - the only mechanic in the game outside of walking left or right - is hopeless broken makes what would be an enjoyable bit of beat-the-clock action gaming into a frustrating 'I'm going to throw this ever-lovin' keyboard through my monitor' experience. Normally this is where I say something along the lines of "And it's a shame, because if it weren't for that, this would have been a great game."

That's not really true, in this case. It would have been a passable, dare I say mediocre, game. Which is almost praiseworthy in the open-source community, but honestly, even if the jumping worked, it would just make the game easy enough to complete in a few hours max. In a way, the broken controls kind of extend the replay-value like the cut n' pasted levels in F.E.A.R. The graphics are cute but unimpressive, and the sound is basically the same.

There's some attempt to have a story, with semi-cutscenes playing every few levels where people say things like "I told you not to touch that stone. What are these keys? I think I should collect them." It's not exactly engrossing material. I don't think the developer speaks English, however, so it's possible that in the native Spanish it's a gripping epic of a thriller.

If the jumping thing got fixed, this game would be good for a few hours of fun. With additional levels and a level-editor available for download from the website, you could theoretically extend that fun, but the core mechanics are so limited that I suspect it would get old rather quickly, and so broken in their current state that I can only view additional levels as additional torture.

I have to suggest passing on Holotz Castle; if you crave LodeRunner gameplay, you can probably find some console ports of LodeRunner that play fine in an emulator, have more levels, and aren't broken. They all probably also support using a joystick, which this one doesn't.