Saturday, February 23, 2008


Wow. We've done 50 reviews! Critical Mass was a surprise - I couldn't stop playing it. It's basically a Galaga clone, and I've mentioned before that I don't really care for 'shmups. It's not even particularly pretty. But it's addictive as all-get-out.

You control a fighter, who's shooting at bugs. They come in waves, with a set type and pattern of movement for each level. It's pretty hard, as running into a bad-guy is instant death, and your fighter doesn't take a large number of hits from the projectiles that the enemies fire. By default, you can only move on the x-axis, and you're locked to the bottom of the screen. This is best turned off - it makes it a lot more likely that you'll crash into an enemy, but lessens the likelihood that you'll be stuck in a corner waiting for a bullet to hit you that you can't avoid. I like having my destiny in my own hands.

Even more excruciating is the fact that you only get one life. If you die, you have to start over from the beginning. Not a big deal, while you're still getting used to the game, but once you get to the point that you can pass a few levels consistently, it's quite disheartening to lose your spot.

Graphically, it looks like a hi-res Galaga-clone more than anything else. It's crisp and sharp, but you can see edges and the creature design - while very good - is simple and geometric-shape-looking. It's pleasing to the eye, but also a bit amateurish.

The sounds are no better and no worse than those of Chromium, which themselves didn't stand out as bad or good. The only place where Critical Mass differentiated itself bunches was a very small and simple place indeed: the levels have names. Names that are funny or punny or both.

I think that there were two reasons I kept coming back for more (and keep coming back for more, almost to my chagrin): those names are one of them. I just want to see what the levels I have yet to unlock are called. The other thing is that it's just so easy to get right back in the game. Unless you've earned a new spot on the high-score list, you just right-click and you're right back in the game. At level one.

As you get better at the levels, they become more fun, and less annoying, because the patterns' predictable nature means you can blow right through them with better scores and less time invested each go-round. I felt like a hamster hitting the pleasure-button in some bizarre experiment every time I right-clicked and started over.

That Jonathan Blow guy would probably hate this game, and call it unfair for using a Skinnerian reward schedule (I have a vague idea what that means, and even less of a clue as to how you pronounce 'Skinnerian'). He seems like a pretentious bastard, and I bet his game's no fun. Critical Mass is fun. It's simple, and it doesn't break ground, and I have no idea why I found it so much fun, but it is what it is with every particle of its being. Much like everything else that is made of particles, but with more fun.

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