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.

Hex-A-Hop


The open-source community seems to just love making puzzle games, and so Hex-a-hop* had to be quite a good game to stand out. It stood out. Despite the fact that I hate puzzle games, and I hate them even more after downing a bunch of bottles of Mickey's Big Mouth while fighting a head-cold, I was hooked.

You play the role of a cute little girl who has to crush green tiles. Once you land on one, it cracks, and once you jump off of it to another tile, it's crushed and falls into the sea. The whole 'puzzle' part involves going from tile to tile in such a way as to be able to crush all of them, leaving yourself a solid tile to jump onto from the last one standing.

It's really hard when you've been drinking 'Fine Malt Liquor' and it's probably really hard even when you haven't. After you beat a level, it unlocks more levels in a world-map from which you can select which one you want to play next. If one of them is too frustrating, you just go back to the world map and pick another one... Which will also be too frustrating, eventually. I spent forever trying to brute-force a solution for the second level I played, before giving up and finding much greater success with the alternate branch.

The world is not filled entirely with green tiles: there are a plethora of purpose-specific tiles to aid/hinder you in your quest, and figuring out how to use them, as well as how they interact with other sorts of tiles, is sure to bring you hours of delighted frustration. With over a hundred levels, I have barely touched the surface of what Hex-a-hop has to offer, and it was enough to kick my ass.

The requisite technology analysis: graphically, it's got a cute/cartoony art-style that looks as cute and cartoony as anything else windowed, but blown up to full-screen isn't quite as high-res as commercial software. It still looks really nice. You could even call it 'current-gen' as it's been ported to the PSP and PSP Slim by homebrew developers, so it's running on cutting-edge console hardware. :)

There is no audio, so the audio never gets monotonous. Sound effects would perhaps be nice, but by the time you've restarted the same level thirty times because you're 'in the zone', you won't even notice that it's been completely silent for forever. Until the dog barks and it scares the hell out of you, anyways.

If you're into puzzle-games, this one's a keeper. Even though I'm not, and I'm miserably stuffy-headed, I couldn't help but keep trying... and trying... and trying... to progress in the game. There's no real-time element, so it's entirely a cerebral experience, but its instant rewind and restart features keep the pace up even when you're thoroughly frustrated. If you're only going to install one turn-based logic-puzzle, this is the one (at this point in the list, at least; its closest competition is probably Fish Fillets NG (review here)).

*This is the website for the game, but I can't get it to load. I couldn't even get a return when I pinged the domain. I hope it is just temporarily down, because I want to see the hints page. :)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Heroes


Having last received an update in January of 2002, Heroes is surprisingly awesome. When the description said it was "similar to the Tron and Nibbles (review here) games of yore," I was expecting something along the lines of Armagetron (review here). What I got reminds me of nothing so much as a Sega Genesis game from the good old days.

It is, basically, Nibbles. With Genesis-style sci-fi arena graphics (vaguely reminded me of Smash T.V.), a host of power-ups and crazy old-school console effects (Remember when SNES games would get all wavy after a death or a big battle? You can pick up a power-up that does that to the screen. It feels very retro.) that probably would have made this game a hit amongst console gamers of the early to mid 90s.

Amazingly, for a game that only reached version 0.19, it feels about as polished as a console game did way back then. Everything works, it never crashed on me, there's support for local multi-player, and it's even got four very distinct gameplay modes. They all look pretty similar, and they all involve not dying while lengthening your worm and trying to collect things, but they play relatively differently due to their different end-game requirements.

Graphically, the game suffers because... it looks like an old-school console game. The only resolution it runs at is 320x200, and I'm not sure it even takes advantage of that as well as it could: at full-screen it doesn't look as good as an SNES, but is only a little bit sub-par to the Genesis. I've seen Genesis games that looked worse. The resolution is so small that it's a bit hard to play in windowed mode.

If you want music or sound effects, you'll have to install them through Synaptic, but - other Linux developers take note - it actually tells you that in the description of the game in the package manager. There's no scouring the internet to find out why sound doesn't work. With the packages installed, the sound is... well, it's a bit like an old-school Genesis game, again. Not as good as the music you'd find in an SNES game, but certainly on par with the Genesis.*

Okay, I'll go ahead and complain a bit. The biggest fault outside of the built-in handicap of the low resolution is the font. It's one of those sci-fi looking affairs where the font is boxy and stretched, and it's a pain in the ass to read. It's great stylistically - it meshes with the look of everything else, and makes for a complete aesthetic which is sadly lacking in most open-source developed games - but it's a bit low on the actual usability scale.

The other big thing is that it only offers local multi-player. There's a total of like six AI opponents, but there's only support for two human players, and even that's a bit of a stretch if all you have is the keyboard. The game handles joystick input just fine (unlike a certain emulator I could name) but without network multiplayer this game is nowhere near tapping its full potential.

I found it a bit difficult, or at least time-consuming, so I can't recommend it wholeheartedly: it's a very well executed design, but it needs a certain type of gamer to appreciate it. If you're that certain type of gamer - if you loved Genesis ports of arcade games, basically - then Heroes is something you should definitely check out.

I'm amazed by how many memories it brought back, and how close to fun it was, considering that it's basically just a souped up version of Nibbles. I mean, I hate Nibbles. And this was almost something I wanted to play until I'd beaten it into submission. If you like arcade classics, I highly recommend it. I'd really like to see someone pick up development where it was left off so many years ago, update the graphics, and add network play. Even I would have a lot of fun getting my ass kicked by my friends, with this one.
--
*I feel like I'm dissing the Genesis because it always tends to come up short in the comparisons I keep making in this review. For the record, I actually enjoyed my Genesis a lot, and I think there were more great games for the Genesis than the Super Nintendo. That said, in retrospect, I don't think you can deny that the SNES was probably superior hardware, and definitely tended towards prettier and better-sounding games. There are exceptions, but that was the trend. Better gameplay? I loved me some Genesis games.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Help Hannah's Horse!!


Mostly like a Pac-Man clone, with some variation coming from the additional influence of something called FastFood, Help Hannah's Horse!! is a nice-looking game that is less than the sum of its parts due to an unfortunate bug in the way it deals with player boundaries.

You play the role of Hannah (Pac-Man) whose horse is sick and needs pills and food. The ghosts of angry jockies (that's just weird) are running around trying to prevent you from collecting all the dots and carrots that litter the board. The dots are in place like a Pac-Man board, but the carrots appear like fruits in Pac-Man at random places in random intervals. Unlike the fruits in Pac-Man you have to collect all the carrots that appear in a level in order to complete it.

The only problem I have with the game is that the sprite that makes up the character is apparently bigger than the picture of the character. Rather than not touching the ghosts, you have to stay an indeterminate distance away from the ghosts. Otherwise, despite the fact that they didn't get you, you die. That's sort of a game-breaker for me.

Other than that, it plays like a Pac-Man clone, with additional depth added via gates that only the ghosts or only the player can cross, and an invisibility potion that allows you to pass through ghosts (but doesn't send the ghosts back to their lair, like power-pellets in Pac-Man and horse-pills in Help Hannah's Horse!!).

The music is awesome. It reminds me of Smokey and the Bandit. It's a midi-fied cross between country and bluegrass which is totally great, and never got old to me. Mind you, if you can't stand country and bluegrass, you may react differently.

Final judgement? If you can deal with the fact that you have to avoid an invisible death-wall that surrounds the ghosts, it's a great Pac-Man game with a ridiculous premise. I've never before seen the phrase 'Equimyocine pills' in a game, and I don't expect I ever will again.

Hearts

Gnome Hearts is the full on official name for this game that doesn't work upon install. I really don't understand what's up with this; I've run into games that were out of date by long periods of time before, but this one's still in active development and I would think the developers would talk to the people who are in charge of the repositories and make things happen.

The game crashes immediately upon launching. From what I can gather, if you download the game from the official site (linked above) you can get it working. This blog doesn't deal with games that you download from web-pages, it deals solely with games that you download from the default Ubuntu repositories as accessed through the 'Add/Remove...' feature under 'Applications', and as far as that goes, the internet has this to say:
"And yes, it's a shame that by default, edgy still installs a version that crashes, four months after it has been fixed and three month after it's been proposed for inclusion in Edgy."
Or rather, the internet had that to say. That's from a post written in April of last year (2007). It still hasn't been fixed at this point.

Gweled


I found it hard to believe that Gweled accurately represents the game which began the casual craze, inspiring thousands of bloggers to write millions of words about the middle-aged women who are the biggest thing to hit gaming since the NES. But I checked out Bejeweled and it turns out that Gweled is a near-perfect clone. So I now find it hard to believe that anyone finds this gameplay 'addictive', but if Bejeweled is your thing, and you want a free off-line version, Gweled is exactly what you're looking for.

Don't get me wrong: it's not the exact same experience. While the graphics are as good as the original (I would go so far as to say better), and the core mechanics are completely unchanged, it suffers a bit on the sound side.

PopCap's game gives a variety of different audio hits whenever you do anything above the ordinary 'kill 3 gems'. There's but a single sound that plays whenever the player clears anything in Gweled. As PopCap Games is fully aware, sound-cues can help make the difference between addictive and monotonous.

If you're truly addicted to the gameplay, then it won't matter, but if you're playing because Bejeweled takes advantage of the brain-chemical rewards that you get from pleasing audio and visual cues to addict you on their presentation of the gameplay, Gweled will probably be less than adequate. On that note, I'd recommend that every fan of Bejeweled go ahead and check this one out, and let me know if you find it as satisfying without the wide array of audio/visual rewards. It's a very solid clone.

GTK Slash'EM


Fun name: Super Lotsa Added Stuff Hack - Extended Magic is what you would think it would be after decoding that acronym. It's another rogue-like game based on the Nethack source. Technically, it's based on the SLASH source which was in turn based on the Nethack source, but you know what I mean.

After I figured out how to make the graphics work (hint: it's under 'Options' not 'Preferences') it got a lot more playable. Not because I can't decode ASCII, just because the default font-size was really small at 1024x768 in its tiny little window. It has the option to use a 'big tile' tileset as well as a 'big 3d tile' set, which is nice because I don't really like the fact that the Nethack visual tile-set is as itty-bitty as the regular ole' ASCII at high resolutions.

They look as good as anything did that was shareware for Windows in the early 90s: specifically, they don't look any better than Castle of the Winds. No big deal. If you're into rogue-likes you could care less what it looks like. The 3D tileset is a bit confusing to look at, because it's not actually 3D, it's just tiles that are drawn to look 3D, and so you move like a sprite that's not 3D in a 3D world, and it... yeah, it just looks awkward. I can't recommend it. The 'big tiles' one is great, though.

Mostly, this just plays like a rogue-like. For specific differences between this one and Nethack, see the website, but there are a few extra classes and races, as well as that 'Extended Magic', whatever that is. According to the Wikipedia entry, there's been some cross-pollination with new ideas from Slash'EM being incorporated into Nethack. That's gotta be the highest form of compliment in the rogue-like community.

I found it harder than Nethack; I didn't make it off of the first dungeon level in my first four attempts. This was partially due to the fact that I was playing classes I'd never played with before, but mostly it was due to the fact that Slash'EM defaults to having you pick up everything you walk over, so I kept getting encumbered and not being able to move or defend myself while I tried to unload whatever object it was that had pushed me over the edge.

Most annoying feature? It accepts the arrow-keys for movement, but for inputting directions for commands, it demands the 'only used in frickin' rogue-like games' set of directional keys employing the 'k' and 'h' and whatever keys that I can never remember. I like to play rogue-likes (well, actually I don't) with my right hand remaining over the arrow keys while I deal with everything else with my left hand and too often I was having to change that up. Every other rogue-like I've played accepted the arrow-keys' directions at all stages.

I could go on another rant about how much I hate rogue-likes and why, but there's no reason. This seems like a fairly fleshed-out experience that differs from Nethack mostly in esoteric ways that only the experienced rogue-like gamer will notice, or even reach. I'd recommend it mostly on the basis of the larger tile-set, compared to Nethack, as it makes it easier on the eyes for extended playing.

gtkgo


gtkgo is a decent version of the classic game Go. It actually works pretty well. You'll note that the name doesn't link to anything this time: there's no website for gtkgo that I can find. I believe it only got one release, version 0.10.0, something like five years ago.

That makes it pretty amazing, as in that one release, they got all of the necessities working, and if you pick the right skin it doesn't even look too shabby. There are two different AI scripts to compete against, and you can also play against another human being (local only, no network support).

Outside of the fact that you can't make it full-screen, I have no visual complaints. gtkgo ships with five skins, of which one is boring, two are ugly, and two look alright. The skins change the look of everything from the pieces to the configuration menus, and while they obviously weren't done by design majors, they look self-coherent and are easy to interpret on all the skins.

There's no sound, but there's an option to turn sound on, so I assume sound was going to be added at a later date and no one got around to it. No biggy; soundtracks are for action games, not board-games. Right?

I probably could have stopped with the first sentence: gtkgo is a decent version of Go. Wanna play Go against your computer? Pick it up. Don't wanna play Go against your computer? Don't pick it up. I think it's the best version of Go I've seen so far, and it's certainly the nicest-looking. Shame it's not in active development; add network support and some higher-res skins and there'd be no reason for a different one.

Gtkboard


You know those crappy five-dollar CD-ROMs that have 'hundreds of games' on them, only they're, y'know, really bad shareware from ten years ago? Gtkboard is like one of those, only unfinished.

According to the website, the actual inspiration for the title seems reasonable: since the AI for all of the single-player board-games they saw were essentially the same, why not just do every board game in a single game? Sounds alright if vaguely sketchy; I don't understand how say, Risk or Clue would utilize the same AI as a chess game. Regardless, I'm positive that Pac-Man isn't a board-game anyways, so whatever good intentions that they start with, the inevitable grandiose feature-bloat that kills all Linux projects kicked in, and left Gtkboard an unfinished pile of crap that occasionally works.

There are thirty-two games in this collection, most of which are played on some sort of board, and are two-player games. Most of those are playable single-player with AI. Maybe twenty or so of the games are fully implemented; the rest are either completely unplayable, or playable but so broken that there's no point. The Pac-Man clone strikes me as the single worst iteration of that storied franchise I've ever encountered, finished or not; most people don't release something that broken, even in beta. It's not fun, but it's funny.

Tetris features here, and it's pretty much a less-pretty version of Gnometris (review here), but unlike Gnometris, the tetris clone in Gtkboard actually works. So if nothing else, Gtkboard is an option if you're looking for a barebones tetris-clone. There are better out there. The only other thing that was neat and never crashed to the desktop on me was the maze game. You move a cursor from one corner to the opposite, through a maze. It reminded me of elementary school.

Generally, I've been running a lot of reviews that boil down to 'This is a very minimalist and ugly game, but it functions' - that's only half right in this case. Guess which half? That's right - this game doesn't function! Even in the case of the 'fully implemented' games that were supposed to work flawlessly, the program kept crashing back to the desktop.

The project has been dead since 2003. I don't know why this is even in the packages... it's a broken project that isn't even being developed anymore, and so will never progress beyond the half-coded shambles it's in at present. This one gets a 'don't bother' rating with prejudice. There are better ways to play
virtually everything in this package.

Friday, April 4, 2008

GTetrinet


GTetrinet is multi-player only competitive Tetris. Since I'm not really reviewing multi-player only titles in this blog, I only played it for a sec. It did work, it was multi-player, it was competitive, and it was Tetris. All promises delivered upon!

Despite the fact that I don't want to do a real review, I will state that it was nice to play something that was actually a game, and actually worked. It's been a while.

Since I've gone this far, I'll go ahead and mention that it plays better than Gnometris, and has decent layman-like graphics, but doesn't wow me at all, aesthetically. Sound didn't work; probably needs sound files or something.

This non-review is basically a review, so I might as well pass judgement: it works fine. Go for it. Tetris is always fun; if you want to compete against others via the internet, here ya go.

GSnes9x


Yay, GSnes9x is not a sudoku game! It's a broken SNES emulator frontend, instead! Snes9x is a cross-platform SNES emulator; GSnes9x is a graphical front-end for Gnome so you don't have to muck about with that whole command-line thing.

On the plus side, it includes Snes9x, so you don't have to download that as well. It just works right out of the box. Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well.

Joystick support is broken and sound didn't work for me either. No idea why, as far as the sound goes, though it appears that others had the same problem. The joystick thing is due to an error with the path it looks for the joystick at; it appears to be an Snes9x problem, rather than a GSnes9x problem, but the fix is to edit a configuration file of some sort somewhere, and I can't be bothered.

It also refused to go to full-screen despite the fact that I told it to in the configuration for the rom, and in the global preferences. The graphics look nice in their little window, but everything looks decent when it's really small. Downside? Everything's really hard to read when it's that small.

I decided to test the emulator with a rom from Shadowrun for the SNES; I loved the Genesis cart of the same name (completely different game; same franchise), and never had gotten around to playing the SNES version. It's essentially an adventure game, so the unreadable text was a bit of a hassle.

All in all, I'm sure you could get GSnes9x working with a bit of effort, but I have to wonder why you'd bother. The version of Snes9x it comes with has to be out of date, as GSnes9x has been listed as a dead project on SourceForge since 2004. You'd be much better off finding an SNES emulator that is still being updated, or at least works out of the box - I hear good things about ZSNES. I'll let you know if it works when I get to it.

GRhino


While it hasn't reached the level of clone saturation you find in the casual-games market, it's a bit disheartening that there are so many versions of the same games in the open-source community. GRhino is another Reversi/Othello clone. Sure, it's a classic game with time-tested mechanics, but I do have to wonder why they bothered. Was it just an attempt to develop the programmer's AI skills?

I hope so. Iagno (review here), which is the Othello clone that comes with Ubuntu's default installation, is far superior in virtually every way. Prettier graphics (3D, even, I think) and network play are the two most important areas. Ignoring the graphics, the fact that you can play Iagno against other people makes anything GRhino might have to say for itself a moot point.

GRhino seems to pride itself on having an exceptionally difficult AI opponent. If that's true, then maybe there's a place for it in your collection. After you slaughter all the other, prettier, less facile AI players in all the other versions of Othello, you can turn to this one. I saw no evidence that it was inherently smarter than any of the other AI opponents I faced. The margins of victory and length of games ended up the same as those I encountered with Iagno.*

If you are desperate to play single-player Othello and your computer was made fifteen years ago, it may be that GRhino is your only option; its lack of 3D graphics probably allows it to play just fine on an older machine. Outside of that unlikely scenario, I give out yet another 'why bother?' to this pedestrian attempt at porting a classic board game to the desktop.

*Both AIs beat me a lot: this probably suggests that I suck at the game more than that the AIs are comparable.

GNUDoQ


Fresh from reviewing a sudoku game, I bring you... GNUDoQ, a sudoku game with pastels! Nope, not kidding. Just look at those colors! Exciting, isn't it? I promise to stop being sarcastic when people stop coding sudoku games. For the record, this one is basically just GNUDoku (review here) with a facelift. As per the authors' statement, the code is based on GNUDoku and it doesn't offer anything that GNUDoku doesn't have, outside of colors.

In fact, in one respect, it offers less. GNUDoku gives you instant feedback when you input a square wrong; it lights up all the errors with a crimson highlight. GNUDoQ eliminates that; all user-inputted squares are in white, and it's not until you ask the computer to solve/verify the puzzle that errors are pointed out. Probably not a big deal if you're used to playing sudoku puzzles on paper, but it is a difference that could be annoying if you invested hours in a puzzle only to discover you'd made an error long ago that invalidated much of your work.

It does actually add one thing that I didn't even notice GNUDoku was missing: clicking with the mouse on an inputtable square can be used to input numbers, so the game is playable completely via the mouse. This is always a nice option, even if in this game it tends to make filling in squares a bit like texting on my crappy phone. Gnome Sudoku (review here) does it better, but the method GNUDoQ uses is perfectly functional.

The lord giveth and the lord taketh away. We're missing one feature, but we added another feature, leaving the two at a dead-heat in the feature-race.* I like the look of GNUDoQ, so I'm going to have to call it superior to GNUDoku, but Gnome Sudoku is still a better game, mechanically. Gameplay counts more than graphics, so I'm going to go ahead and say that you shouldn't bother with this one either; Gnome Sudoku has you covered.

*As pointed out in the comments below, GNUDoQ also allows the user to print out their sudoku boards for play on the go - which GNUDoku doesn't. So I suppose we're no longer at a tie for features, and GNUDoQ is unquestionably superior, since printed out sudoku boards can be played anywhere and therefore GNUDoQ doesn't even need a PC to play! Seriously, though, just for the record, Gnome Sudoku also offers the printing of boards, so it's still the overall victor in the sudoku-wars.

GNUDoku


Hooray, more sudoku games! Yes, I am dripping with sarcasm. I can't help it. I'm underenthused. GNUDoku is a completely functional sudoku game, but not as feature-rich as Gnome Sudoku (review here), and completely lacking anything like a stylized graphical design.

Gameplay-wise, there is nothing special. It can generate sudoku puzzles, and has a difficulty slider for selecting how hard the generated puzzles will be. To place a number on the board, you click on an empty square and type the number in.

If you've made a mistake, and entered a number that can't go there, both the square you entered and all the other squares it has a problem with turn red. This is the full extent of the game's 'graphics'. Everything is done with default window elements, which probably makes this a very small file compared it its more-interestyingly-styled cousins.

In the age of broadband and huge hard drives, I can't imagine a sudoku game that occupied any meaningful amount of space, no matter how they pimped it out. Unless it had FMV cutscenes, anyways (For some reason, the idea of a SquareSoft-developed sudoku game makes me laugh). Since that doesn't matter, I call the design 'boring' rather than 'making economical use of space' but it's not ugly, just not interesting. It looks like it could be spreadsheet software.

It works perfectly, despite its lackluster appearance. It does have a 'solve' button which will fill in all the squares... but only if all the squares you've already filled in allow it to complete the game; it won't change anything that wouldn't work, it just does nothing if you ask it to solve an unsolvable situation. That, coupled with a save/load feature, and a 'load seed' button that allows you specify a number for it to plug into its puzzle-generation algorithm, are the entirety of its features.

I think I have to give this one a 'why bother' rating - Ubuntu's default installation includes Gnome Sudoku which is a superior sudoku game. Since they're both free, why not go with the better one, and leave this one alone?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

GNUbik


The ultimate physical puzzle, the Rubik's Cube, is translated into a somewhat un-ultimate puzzle game with GNUbik. Featuring a 3D (it looks 2D-isometric, but behaves in a 3D manner, so I'll take their word for it) representation of a Rubik's Cube, you click in order rotate the desired section of the cube until you've solved the puzzle.

Honestly, for what it is, this is almost as good as it gets. You can set the cube to be whatever size you desire, you can alter the colors, turn them into patterns, and even use photos as the tiles on your cube instead of plain ole' colors, it's got built in scripts that will solve part or all of the puzzle for you... it's quite a full-featured piece of software. You can even rewind what you've done, all the way back to the beginning or back to a marker you placed at some point.

The implementation of the single most important thing, however, is a bit dicey. Moving sections of the cube is done by moving the mouse over the cube until you have an arrow pointing in the direction you want to rotate the piece over top of the piece you want to rotate. I think it's supposed to decide which way you want to go on the basis of which edge of the individual tile you're closest to, but it doesn't work very well at all and requires a lot of intricate mouse-jiggling all-too-frequently in order to get it set up to go the way you want it to.

Everything else about the game works great, so it's doubly a shame that the actual play of the game is so painful. Rotating the entire cube, to get a look at the other faces, works like a charm. You just drag with the mouse-button held. The graphics aren't exactly super-snazzy but they get the job done, and get it done with precision and clarity, so you really can't complain. There's no sound, but for god's sake, a real Rubik's Cube doesn't have sound either, so it's no lack. It's realism!

If you would like to play with a Rubik's Cube on your computer, this is definitely an option; the unwieldy controls can be lived with, and the only thing it's missing is a 'save' feature. Without that, you have to leave the program open until you're done, and I can foresee a situation where hours of hard work are lost due to an unfortunate system crash. Add saving, and fix the hot-zones for the rotation, and this would be a perfect (if not particularly attractive) game.

Nethack for Gnome


Nethack is the holy grail of Linux/open-source gaming: it embodies all of the characteristics that define the traditional *nix game. Nethack for Gnome is a prettied-up version of Nethack that is playable under the Gnome environment. It's just Nethack with a graphical overlay. For all intents and purposes, it is Nethack; it even installs Nethack along with the graphical version, so you can play it in all its oldschool ASCII glory from the command line, if you like.

Quick refresher for those who don't know what Nethack is: it's a rogue-like game, some would say the definitive rogue-like game, and what that means is that the game consists of randomly generated dungeons, it's impossibly hard, the controls are more complicated than rocket-science, it has no storyline, but nonetheless has a devoted cult of followers who think it's the most brilliant game ever, probably because they've devoted so much time to figuring the damn thing out that they're forced to praise it so that they don't seem like complete wankers. You move around these text-based dungeons with the arrow keys, move into monsters to attack them, and use a gajillion unwieldy and ridiculous key-combinations to do obscure and unlikely things to the random objects you encounter along the way. You cannot restore a savegame if you die, which I'm actually fine with, but a lot of people hate that.

(Honestly, I just don't see the attraction to these games; I've tried to get into multiple rogue-likes multiple times over my years of gaming, and they all tend to... suck; I'm not a graphics whore - I loved MUDs and BBS doors - but rogue-likes are simply not good games without an investment of thousands of research hours on the part of the player, that would be better put to use curing cancer or world hunger).

Rather than re-conceptualize the Nethack experience, like Falcon's Eye (review here) did, this is a simple tit-for-tat ASCII-for-sprite swap for the most part. The view of the map is exactly what it would have been in regular ole' Nethack, only it's made out of little graphical tiles instead of being made from letters n' symbols. There are some other differences but they're mostly cosmetic.

As in Falcon's Eye the re-tool for a GUI involves making the mouse accessible, which has the result of giving you a convenient list of the major commands in the menus at the top of the screen. Remembering that 'ctrl-d' is how you kick a door in, 'q' is how you drink a potion, and 'Q' is how you ready ammo in a quiver, 'w' is how you wield a weapon, 'W' is how you wear an item of clothing... all that's theoretically a thing of the past, cuz' you can just click to get 'er done.

Of course, you'll probably get sick of all the clicking and just use the keyboard, but at least when you can't remember how to do what you want to do, you can consult the menu, which is actually more effective and efficient than trying to go through the help internal to the ASCII version.

Nethack is the game that invented whatever the opposite of user-friendliness is. It actively hates its players, it wants them to die, and it demands study equivalent to that required to attain a PhD in order to fully comprehend its ins and outs and develop a winning strategy.

Or so I have heard - in the time I didn't waste trying to figure out how to play Nethack, I've gotten a double-major in English and History, read a few hundred novels, beaten a good dozen or so video games, played a plethora of others to varying degrees of success, and consumed countless gallons of booze. While my degree may be less marketable than Nethack-skills, I can't say I have any regrets.

Playing this graphical version is as painful as playing the Windows graphical version (though I think I liked the look of this one's non-game-map areas better; the map itself looks exactly the same) which is as painful as playing the text version, for all intents and purposes. If playing a game that can only be won by actively going through the code that created it searching for unknown features that will allow you to find victory sounds like a good time, rock it out. It doesn't appeal to me, personally.

This is at least one up on Falcon's Eye as, although it's perhaps not as pretty, it doesn't introduce any of the problems that Falcon's Eye's isometric view did, while it does have all the benefits that result from adding mouse and GUI support. Since you can play this graphical version completely via the keyboard if you like, it's exactly like playing Nethack only with tiny little tiles instead of characters. The mouse support adds accessibility while not ruining the game for old hands at Nethack. In that context, the game is a success.

For what it's worth, lots of people (a minority, but still lots) do like rogue-like games, and you may be one of them. For a different take on the genre, I recommend John Harris' column @Play over at GameSetWatch - he manages to keep convincing me that I should be playing rogue-likes despite the fact that I know I hate them, and he's reviewed a number of the more famous iterations of the rogue formula, as well as some obscure ones. If I ever acquire a Nintendo DS, I'm going to check out Shiren the Wanderer solely on the basis of his numerous in-depth examinations of the game.

GNOME-Mud


Continuing our series of non-game software that still sits in the category of 'Games' in the repositories, we bring you GNOME-Mud. It's a client for MUDs, so while it's not actually a game, it is used to play games, so close enough. Basically, a MUD client is a purpose-built telnet client, and this one doesn't offer much more.

MUDs, for those unfamiliar with the term, are text-based multiplayer games. They tend to be fantasy role-playing games, with a handful of sci-fi games out there and an even smaller number of MUDs that don't fit either category. Those last are usually based on some sort of license, ala Dragonball Z. They play a lot like oldschool text-adventures who've had a veneer of RPG-style character development stuck on top.

You need a client to play them - they all run over telnet, so any telnet client will do, but since most of them use ANSI for color and occasional graphical fun, you're going to want to use a client that at least has support for ANSI. In a game that tends towards walls of text, anything that can spice it up is nice - if for no other reason than to give your eyes a break.

GNOME-Mud is a serviceable client, but zMud, a Windows client I was using when I actually played MUDs, offered more features and better-implemented features even then (call it a decade). GNOME-Mud does ANSI fine, and technically works, but there's very little in the way of extra labor-saving or convenience features that had become standard for purpose-built MUD clients forever ago.

Virtually the only feature it's got that makes it not just an ANSI-enabled telnet client is its auto-mapper, and unfortunately the auto-mapper sucks. Rather than reading your keystrokes to determine when you've moved, and map your movements that way, it requires you to input your movements from the map screen. With the mouse.

These games are played entirely with the keyboard; a full mouse-based interface could be built, for a specific code-base of MUD, but GNOME-Mud doesn't have one, so if you want to use the auto-mapper, you have to go about your business with the keyboard, and then switch to the auto-mapper to move.
There doesn't seem to be any reason at all for it to work this way. If you can think of one, let me know.

For the record, it does have a wizard for creating a list of the MUDs you play with your login information saved, so you don't have to type in addresses n' ports n' logins n' passwords every time you want to play. It's not a big deal, but it is one of those little conveniences that virtually every other GUI-based MUD-client offers.

For what GNOME-Mud offers, you might as well just use any telnet client that offers ANSI support for your MUDding. It works, but it's nothing special. So far it's been the only MUD client we've encountered via Ubuntu's packages, so it wins by default, but I expect that if there's another one, it will be better.