Amazing Princess Sarah Game Review


I previously reviewed a game by Haruneko Games, Akane the Kunoichi. I gave it high praise despite it’s unfortunately sexually objectifying cover art. Amazing Princess Sarah is their latest release.  I’d also like to take a moment to thank the developer for reaching out to me about my criticism,

“Hi, I’m Giovanni Simotti – the one-man-band behind Haruneko 🙂

Thank you very much for the article – your point of view about the game is very interesting, and I especially enjoyed when you talked about Akane as if she was a “live” person, even if there are no dialogues inside the game: her “behaviour” is something I put a lot of care on, and knowing that it “hit the mark” is really an achievement for me.
About the look of Akane on the cover: her non-so-practical look is a small tribute to two of the most famous kunoichi from the history of the videogames – a mix of Mai Shiranui (Fatal Fury / King of Fighters), with a bit of Ibuki (Street Fighter 3/4).
Really there was no attempt to suggest the game would feature sexual or suggestive content inside. Screenshots are pretty clear about it.

However, you’re not the only one who objected about her look on the cover (someone even got offended somehow), so it’s something I’m definetely addressing with my upcoming platform game, Amazing Princess Sarah: I’ve thrown out of the window the cover I made (a few days of work “lost”), contacted a (much better than me) external artist, and let him draw a new cover, “safer” than Akane’s one (and a lot safer than Sarah’s older one, – which can still be seen on my website).”

Pro tip, developers: do more of this. Less “waaah ladies are too hard to render” and more listening to the people you’re systematically under representing.

Amazing Princess Sarah is a classic platformer with enemies you fight by swordplay and hurling furniture. You delve deep into a maze of rooms full of ghouls and goblins in search of your father, King Whatshisname.

The plot is summed up beautifully, as in Akane, without any dialogue: Scary lady stole my dad, git her. I’m not sure I can stop gushing about how much I enjoy this role reversal.  I love being able to play a princess while also saving the kingdom. For all the AAA gaming industry touts their smallest achievements in gender equality, they do not do this. You don’t get to be the pretty princess while also kicking ass, it’s just something the fuckers can’t wrap their mind around. Lucky for us, the indie community has our back.

From the beginning you can tell that Amazing Princess Sarah is heavily influenced by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. That’s fine by me, frankly, I love SOTN. One of the only things that disappointed me about that game was the rumor that you could complete it a special way to play as Maria Renard was just that: a rumor.  ASP gives me a dark, Gothic castle on a stormy night where I can fight skeletons and all manner of ghouls while also having lady parts. Huzzah! It also has a beautiful soundtrack that really helps set the atmosphere of the gameplay.

The gameplay is also classic in that it’s pretty difficult. I’ve clearly gone soft, numbed by a generation of games that pat me on the ass and tell me I’m special. It took me a several days to get past the first level (playing casually), but when I finally beat it I felt a rush of achievement few newer games can match.

However, the game isn’t perfect. But since I’m now confident the developer is an adult who can handle my teensy crtis, I will happily lay them out…

There are a few things in the game that take a dramatic shift in tone. The game itself is one of high fantasy: Gothic castles, icy caves, monsters and mayhem. Yet the menu and intertitles are very modern looking.  Same for the first boss at the end of the Luxury Castle. You’re plugging along in this dark, spooky castle and then…

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Whoa… like… where did that come from? Props for originality though. The fight is challenging and fun, it’s just a minor clash in atmosphere that rubs me the wrong way.  I’ve also  previously wrote about why cover art is so important, which is why I’m very pleased to see the changes from the original Amazing Princess Sarah cover art:

 

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APS_DCWJ_800x600 Revised Artwork for Amazing Princess Sarah

That being said, the original problem I had with the art is still there- just toned down. I think this is a case of the developer sending the original artwork to a professional and asking them to “make it better”. Which they did, the art is beautiful and I would love to see this artist used again. However this paints a portrait of Princess Sarah as an extremely sexual object.

I’m no stranger to the manga art style. I know that over-sexualization is so rampant that it’s easy to overlook the issue entirely. So let me make what I’m saying very clear: her breast are bigger than her head, shinier than her eyes, and exposed in a way that would make it impossible to fight.  And while this seems like a very easy route to male gamers hearts, it actually has the opposite effect. William Usher of One Angry Gamer wrote of Amazing Princess Sarah: 

“I tell you the honest truth, I think the only reason this game pulls in any sort of traffic at all is because of that box art poster. That bombastic bedizen plastered around the protagonist’s buxom body is probably the cause for all the clicks; but I’ll reserve judgment because it just might be for all the amazing gameplay mechanics people were interested in, eh?”

Amazing Princess Sarah is a very fun, well programmed platformer that is unintentionally selling itself short. Because the sexual objectification of the main character sends a very clear message: this is all we’ve got. Smaller games often rely on this tactic to pull in gamer’s attention because they’re not confident in that the game can survive on it’s own merits. But Amazing Princess Sarah CAN survive on it’s own merits.

If I were to speak directly to the developer, and other devs in his position, I would say this: You have real talent.  Female gamers are eager to play any games that don’t treat their women like Playboy models. You have a chance to sweep in and start offering a new type of experience while the AAA game companies are still befuddled and dragging their feet like spoiled children.

In an industry that is stagnant beyond belief the last thing you want to do is fit in.

Conclusion: 4 out of 5 throwing chairs.  I highly recommend Amazing Princess Sarah and eagerly await the anything else by Haruneko Games. And if you want girl gamers to welcome your game with open arms: less boob physics, more hair physics.

 

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Halloween Scream is a stormy day dream


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It was a dark and stormy night…

Well, okay. It was day time… and it wasn’t stormy. It was just raining-whatever.

Wrapped in a blanket on a cold and blustery day I sat down on my couch to play Halloween Scream by Bandana Games. This is really the only way to play a game like this. Halloween Scream is a text only adventure game so it takes some effort on the player’s part to get into the mood. Effort I was happy to exert.

You control a nameless protagonist as they venture into Highmoor Manor to investigate the secret life of their deceased aunt. If I were to sum up the game in one word it would be “spooky”. This is my favorite kind of horror, it’s all about atmosphere and the anticipation of what lies in wait around the corner. No blood and guts, no cheap jump scares, and just enough humor to make the whole experience of being scared actually fun. This is a balance that many AAA games don’t grasp.

The game is minimalist and all about exploration, so if you need HD graphics and fighting to enjoy a game, this isn’t the game for you. But it was certainly the game for me. I was able to beat it one evening and I had a blast doing it. This is the type of game you’ll like if you’ve ever said the phrase, “I had to draw my own map, it was awesome.

But the game is not without flaws. The first thing to rub me the wrong way was up until one point, I was imagining myself in the part of the investigator. All of the text prompts refer to me as, “You” therefore I injected myself -gleefully- into the role of the player. It was reading like a choose-your-own-adventure book. Then at some point half way through the game they dropped in, “Besides, you’re more of a lager man anyway…”

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But…but…but I’M the protagonist. Meeeeee!

I admittedly whined like a baby, but it’s not that big a deal. I do wish they had kept it up to the player though. If you’re playing a set character it’s best to say, “You’re Ben Bonaparte. This ladies nephew. Go do the thing.” but if your text says “YOU” let it be me and don’t assume the player is male.  Next time, guys. Next time.

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There were also a couple times where the background was too light in places and it made it hard to read the text. But it was never illegible. The story was fun, interesting, and I spotted a lot of fun references that made me laugh and groan. However, at one point I felt I was at the end of the game, and then it took a sharp left turn sending me totally out of the environment I had been in for the entire game. Although the rest of the game was still fun (and included the draw your own map part) I felt this was a misstep.

In a haunted house story, there are only two characters: the protagonist and the house. The story is encapsulated entirely within that house and that allows for the atmosphere to envelope the player; to trap them in the scenario. Suddenly sending them outside of this environment breaks that atmosphere. I was still good, but not the same.

Despite these minor bumps, I would like to see more of these. Like a lot more. MORE OF THESE.

I recommend Halloween Scream to anyone who likes spooky stories and choose your own adventure books.

Conclusion: 4 out of 5 whining babies.

Akane the Kunoichi and why cover art is important


During a recent binge on the XBox Live Indie section, I downloaded a long list of games that looked interesting. XBox is not exactly a treasure trove of independent developers and many games look like they were ripped straight from Newground.com circa 1999. One of these games, surprised me, Akane the Kunoichi. I say surprised because I had seen this game many times before and skipped over it. But I’ll get back to that…

Akane the Kunoichi by Haruneko games is a side-scrolling platformer where you play Akane, a badass ninja who flings knives through the air at her opponents. The intro has no words but manages to express the premise of game in simple emoticons; bridging the language barrier with ease.

Evil dudes took my love interest. Kill they ass.

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I was surprised at how excited I was to be the girl fighting to save my boyfriend. I was positively giddy at the prospect. And I soon found the game mechanics to be well designed, fluid, and enjoyable. Akane has several special attacks that shoot area of effect knives at enemies, she can also cling to walls and wall jump.  The difficulty ramps up quickly in the second zone, but not to a degree where I feel I’m being cheated. Whenever I die, it’s clearly my fault.

Akana the Kunoichi is a solid platformer reminiscent of older games we loved as kids.  So why did I avoid it for so long?01

The cover art. 

The old saying, “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover” is true enough, however when it comes to marketing it doesn’t hold up.  It’s not a rule I live by, but I do tend to avoid games that use the “huge-tits-girl-in-sexy-pose” (HT/SP) in their cover art. It sends the signal (although sometimes not intentionally) that this game is for a different audience. Namely, horny teenage boys. Nothing wrong with horny teenage boys, but I’m not one.

It also sends out the message that this game is going to be heavy on sexually objectifying the character in question. Costume changes, panty shots, risque posing constantly etc. That’s something I’m not really interested it and it’s also why the cover art for Akane is so misleading. Akane is a straight up hero. When she dies, she doesn’t fall to the ground- twisting herself into the sexiest pose possible before collapsing. She falls straight on her face with a “OOF!” just like a normal person. It’s kind of sad that something so simple is so gratifying, but there you have it. Akane is rad.

This is why cover art is so important in getting your message across. Sexy women ingaming are ubiquitous, especially manga-styled games and I realize it’s so normal the problem probably never crossed their minds. But as a girl gamer, her complete lack of armor around all vital organs is pretty dumb. Get this woman a sports bra, seriously.

Despite this, my first impressions of the game were 100% wrong and Akane the Kunoichi is a very fun game. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves platformers, especially girls who want to save the dude for once.

Conclusion: 4 out of 5 sports bras.

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EvilQuest – Retro-style RPG Done Right


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A recent harvest of new indie game demos from XBOX Live introduced me to EvilQuest byChaosoft. The artwork for the game and screenshots made me suspicious it was another RPG Maker catastrophe. But don’t be fooled. I’ll admit the game caught me off guard, it’s not just fun, the story line is also compelling.

The big draw for EvilQuest is that you play as the villain, Galvis. At first this might seem a bit hokey, but keep going. Although Galvis is undeniably a monstrous psychopath, the game introduces a level of moral ambiguity that I didn’t expect. This is all complimented by hilariously over-the-top dialogue that actually manages to endear the player to Galvis and his incredible douchebaggery.  

As for gameplay, EvilQuest feels similar to Legend of Zelda. The player controls Galvis as he searches the world for the Chaos Axe that’s been scattered to different parts of the world. The world feels expansive and diverse despite having a limited tile set. I have to say I really underestimated how interested I would be in an RPG that looked so simplistic. But I found myself ignoring my triple A games to play EvilQuest. And this is only Chaosoft’s second game EVER. That’s impressive.

The game took only about five hours to beat over the course of two days. But it was five very satisfying hours. One major reason is that EvilQuest has no grinding. The player levels up at a steady pace and the entire world scales to match that. There are no tedious fetch quests that bloat the main story line and pad the running time. I thought this would feel overly simplistic but it was actually refreshing.

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 Really the only drawback are the graphics, which are basic. We had a good laugh at the soldiers who from certain angles look like giant dongs. But what it lacks in glamor it makes up for by being genuinely fun. And eventually the look of the game really grew on me. The sprites are simple, but many are lovingly crafted, I especially liked the dragon’s hand drawn fire blasts. Overall EvilQuest feels like it was made with a lot of care and a passion for gaming.

VERDICT: EvilQuest looks dated, but it’s amazeballs. Can’t wait for EvilQuest 2.

Check out Chaosoft’s website here.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is Super Amazing


I belong to a generation of now adults who grew up playing The Oregon Trail on floppy disk. If you didn’t grow up with this series then most likely you find our devotion to it baffling. The Oregon Trail had many incarnations but now seems to have lost all steam, replacing it’s hilarious live action actors with ho-hum cartoon clip art. Or maybe I’m just a grown up now, whatever. Few games have been able to fill the void left in our hearts. Enter Super Wagon Adventure*

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Super Wagon Adventure takes the premise of The Oregon Trail and injects it with a high dose of internet weirdness. The game begins fairly normal, you pick three companions to join you on your wagon adventure to Oregon*. Then you’re attacked by bandits, then perhaps one of your comrades leaves the wagon to hunt for mushrooms, then perhaps one of those mushrooms sends your friend into a violent drug hallucination in which they must fight off their inner demons or die trying. I say “perhaps” because this is one of hundreds of different encounters that are possible. The game is quick paced, so in a matter of minutes I had shot at skunks, fought a bear, found a unicorn, been launched into space, and dodged a stampeding herd of buffalo.

There a plenty of unlockable wagons and achievements to acquire, however after playing the game religiously for about two days I had only unlocked one.

One downside to the game is that there are no checkpoints or saving mechanism, it’s made to be played from beginning until however far you get. When all three of your adventurers are dead, you start over at the beginning. Coupled with the games fairly high difficulty it can get pretty frustrating.

Controller-throwing temper tantrums aside, the game is fun and hilarious. I can safely say I never thought I would attacked by giants ants on the Oregon Trail.

VERDICT: Super Wagon Adventure is super weird. But also super fun. And super cheap I say go for it! http://www.sparsevector.com/wagon-adventure/

*YES. I’ve played Organ Trail, it’s just the same game model with zombies. Will you people ever let the zombie thing die?
*Which incidentally is the state I live in. We’re awesome.