More and more, I hear acquaintances saying things like, “Oh, I might have played that game back when I had reflexes.”
As someone whose video game reflexes existed for all of two months during the halcyon days of Unreal Tournament 2004, I’m happier with cardboard. Joshua Van Laningham’s Bullet♥︎ is an adaptation of the shoot-’em-up genre. Frankly, I like it better than any shmup I’ve fumbled through.
Previewpalooza: Bullet, Intrepid, Pax Viking
Woe is me. I have let too many previews pile up, and now the reaper is coming to collect his due. What follows are three games that I’ve played only in limited fashion — digitally, in prototype, with unfinished components or rules — but certainly enough to get excited about. In other words, it’s fun to be enthusiastic, but be warned that the final game might be totally different from what I actually played.
Cool? Cool. Here we go.
Last time we saw Trey Chambers around these parts, he was setting a high bar for himself with Argent: The Consortium. Set in Brad Talton’s World of Indines, a universe so overflowing with magic as to make the perfect excuse for bodybuilders, angels, machines, machine assassins, and inter-dimensional huntresses to slug each other in the nose, Argent made its name by giving the worker placement genre a good shaking. Like Talton’s BattleCON before it, Argent wasn’t merely packed to the gills with stuff. It was packed with inventive stuff. In stark contrast to the genre’s more placid entries, here was a world where a site-occupying worker might be removed to the infirmary by a fireball. Provided they weren’t immune to fireballs. Or their employer didn’t cast a counter-spell. Or the threat of mutually assured fireballs didn’t cow their aggressor into backing down.
Now Chambers is back with Empyreal: Spells & Steam, again set in Indines, and again stuffed with magic. Only this time, Chambers has his sights set on trains. Is Empyreal as disruptive of railway gauges and snowball deliveries as Argent was of higher education? More importantly, are there choo-choo fireballs? Let’s take a look.
EXCEED Finds a Home in Street Fighter
I’ve been championing EXCEED for a while as the best card-driven implementation of the two-dimensional fighting game. It’s fast, it’s punchy, and it prizes smarts over speed — which means I can play it at all, since I have the reflexes of a loris. Unfortunately, the roster for EXCEED’s first two seasons was as unknowable as it was unique, borrowing or inventing characters with plenty of pizzazz but no recognizability. What’s the difference between Nehtali and Kikurage? Here’s a hint: one is a character from EXCEED and the other is a mushroom that’s delicious in ramen.
But let’s try this again: what’s the difference between Ryu and M. Bison? Or Chun-Li and Zangief? None of them are mushrooms, I’ll tell you that. Even someone like me, who as a child was kept far away from arcade cabinets for fear of demonic contamination, can tell you with some degree of accuracy what everyone from Street Fighter is capable of. That’s the value of a solid license, draping a familiar framework around something new. A context. A reason to care.
That license is also why this is the best time to give EXCEED a shot, because this fighting system has never been stronger.
Back to the Future, Past, and Present
Some games I appreciate for their elegance. Their brightness. Their sheer go-where-nobody-has-gone-before-ness. Others I appreciate because they’re garbage. Delicious, sugary, make-you-look-like-a-tire-swing-got-wedged-around-a-telephone-pole garbage.
See where I’m going with this?
BattleCONtinuum: A Look at Temporal Odyssey
At first glance, you might assume that Level 99’s forthcoming dueling game — coming to Kickstarter later this week — was the brainchild of D. Brad Talton, Jr. After all, Talton is one of modern gaming’s undisputed champions of two-player punch-’em-ups, with both the BattleCON and Exceed systems in his corner.
Instead, Temporal Odyssey appears courtesy of up-and-coming designer Chris Solis. But don’t let Solis’s newcomer status dissuade you, because this is one of the slickest two-player duels I’ve witnessed in a long time.
Pixel Tactics, Finally Home
I’m a big fan of Pixel Tactics. Look, I’ll prove it, right over here, here, and here. I never even got around to reviewing the sprawling deluxe set, because, one, I had nothing interesting to say that hadn’t already been said, and two, there was so much stuff in that big box.
Which is why I struggled to pull the trigger on Mega Man Pixel Tactics, which promised not one, not two, but three new boxes. On the one hand, I’ve never minded more of a good thing, even when we’re talking ice cream and more of a good thing will make me ill for two days. On the other, I still haven’t seen everything my current collection of Pixel Tactics has to offer. Which, considering I have the exact same problem with BattleCON: Fate of Indines, seems to be a recurring theme with D. Brad Talton’s designs. The guy is dangerous like a good fast food restaurant.
Raid & Trade
Negotiation in games is great, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s also a beast to pull off. You’ve got to provide something worth haggling over, hopefully provide avenues for weaker-willed players to thrive (they are weaker-willed, I call it like I see it), add a dash of risky speculation, and probably figure out how to keep those two from spending the whole night shouting at each other. You know the pair I’m talking about.
Tomb Trader isn’t the usual fare from Level 99 Games. It’s a diminutive thing, just seventy-ish cards and some ultra-cheap tiddlywink tokens. Fortunately, it’s also a surprisingly solid negotiation game for five reasons.
BattleCON is one of my favorite game systems. Ever. If I were to compile a Top Ten list — which I haven’t and probably won’t, so don’t ask — then Devastation of Indines would almost undoubtedly be right near the top. It’s incredible.
Perhaps for that reason, Exceed almost goes out of its way to look like a pretender to the throne. Or is that an usurper of the throne? Either way, D. Brad Talton Jr.’s other fighting-game simulator seems intended to sit quietly alongside its predecessor despite looking so similar that the cards might have been swapped at birth. Exceed bills itself as a lighter alternative to the cerebral brain-crunching and jaw-busting fun of BattleCON, right down to the fact that it ships in smaller, more affordable boxes. Whether it’s better, on the other hand, is the tougher call. So tough that I’ve had my hands on a review copy for about nine months and haven’t yet come out and said it.
Well, I’m saying it now: Exceed is better than BattleCON. And yet it isn’t something I feel I can wholeheartedly recommend. How’s that for a quandary?
The Space-Biff! Space-Cast! Episode #5: The New Millennium
In today’s episode of the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!, Dan Thurot and Rob Cramer speak with D. Brad Talton Jr. (the D is for Danger) of Level 99 Games about ushering in the New Millennium — the heralded thousand years of Millennium Blades, that is. We also reminisce about collectible card games, being nerds, and jerky cousins.