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…

14601377176_106674e9a4_z

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:

 

AmazingPrincessSarah_800x600

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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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

 

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