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.

Akane-the-Kunoichi

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.

                             lg_boxart lg_boxart (1) lg_boxart (2) xboxboxart21

 

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Blackwell Legacy


I don’t do a lot of fan art, but I’ve recently picked up the Blackwell series of point and click adventures by Wadjet Eye games- suffice to say I’m pretty in love right now. I did this in Corel Painter- a program that mimics real paint. I’m not great with it, but I like to experiment with it every now and again.Blackwell Legacy

HOME: the PC Horror game you’ve never heard of and should play


Prologue:

Despite my sugar pink exterior I am actually a huge fan of horror. I don’t know, maybe I just like contrast. But as someone who grew up with a love horror movies, literature, and cinema, I have acquired the same general sense of disappointment as many fans. The unrelenting march toward mediocrity: torture porn, jumps scares, and well, the new Silent Hill 3D movie just about sums it up. A once subtle and nuanced series swallowed and then regurgitated by a company that understands  about as much about horror as I do about quantum physics.

More and more fans are forced to turn to indie games made by small companies, or in this case, one person- Benjamin Rivers. He’s the creator of HOME and with a few minor complaints I would say it’s a huge success.

HOME: I almost forgot what subtlety looked like

The player starts the game as a man who wakes up in an unfamiliar house and it’s clear that something pretty terrible has gone down. He has no memory of how he got there. The player is then taken on the man’s journey as he tries to find his way back home (get it? hur hur) to his wife, Rachel. As you progress, you discover more about whats going on as he does.

The interface is extremely simple, which is great. When it comes to horror I will always prefer a game with a simple control scheme, having to memorize or fret over countless buttons can suck the atmosphere out of the room. The music is quiet and doesn’t get overly dramatic.

I feel like bigger companies have forgotten- or never hired anyone who knew- what is really genuinely scary. You can put 1,000 different filters on your stupid alien monster, I don’t fucking care. I’m not scared of your high poly zombie or your over designed boss battle. It’s. Not. Scary. And that is coming from someone who is scared of everything. No, seriously. I’m a big sissy, ask anyone.

What’s truly terrifying is the unknown. Losing your mind, accidentally making the wrong choice and getting yourself killed, or the slow and terrible realization that things aren’t what they seem. HOME takes a swing at this and for the most part succeeds. With a few minor slip ups, that is.

It’s not all rainbows and teddy bear smiles

Home isn’t perfect, one issue I found being that there is no save function. In fact there is no inventory, map, menu, or status screen on any kind. This was intention as the game is short and intended to be played in a single play through. But the problem is that this game has multiple diverging paths, and your actions effect what ending you get. When I got to the end I really wanted to go back to a previous save and try a different option, but I couldn’t. You need to replay the entire game from start to finish in order to make different choices. I was also wishing I had some way to re-read notes, letters, or scraps of evidence I picked up. For a game so focused on story and plot, it’s sorely lacking in any way to review the evidence you’ve found. The mechanics are sometimes iffy as well, the game does not always recognize when you’ve triggered an event, and sometimes that leads to some confused dialogue.

And I think the biggest complaint for those who have played it is how ambiguous it is. The ending, depending on your choices, can be nebulous and leave the player confused and disappointed. HOME regards itself as a game that doesn’t hold your hand, and requires the player to meet you half way in order to fully enjoy the story. That attitude is extremely refreshing in an industry hellbent on believing we are all drooling idiots who are incapable of connecting plot points, and would prefer it spoon fed to use- bib and all. Whether it succeeds at that is somewhat debatable. I would say it does- mostly. Because even though the ending I got was lacking, I found myself in bed later that night going over it again and again with my boyfriend.

“Maybe it was like THIS. Or considering this evidence, like THIS!” This went on for about two hours, and despite any mechanical issues or fuzziness of direction- there are few games today that are capable of triggering such an in depth analysis. We had as much fun after the game was over trying to work out different scenarios as we did playing the game itself. And shit, that’s worth a measly 2.99 on Steam.

Recommend it?

Yes. If you like horror, you will at the very least appreciate the valiant effort of HOME. If you roll your eyes at the latest movie trailers, if you think Resident Evil stopped being scary years ago, and that Silent Hill was better before the damn sexy nurse thing became a thing. Then yes, give Benjamin Rivers 3 dollars and play his game. If not, stop reading because we’re not friends anymore.

XOXO –  Maggie