Callum Petch Goes to Eurogamer 2013, Part 7: Doctor Kvorak, Xenolith, and Hotline Miami 2

On the 27th and the 28th of September 2013, Callum Petch attended the Eurogamer Expo with the intention of playing as many games and attending as many panels as he could stand standing in lines for.  The following posts chronicle his adventures…

Do you want to know what my family and I were doing when I was about the age of 6?  Arguing, moving homes and going through a divorce.  You know what we weren’t doing?  Making videogames together, yet that’s exactly what UK based developers Freekstorm are doing.  They’re husband and wife game designers who have been working on a platform-puzzle game Doctor Kvorak with the help of their three children and the game was playable in the Indie Games Fair area of the Expo.  You may be wondering why I am mentioning this information, seeing as it seems rather ancillary to the act of telling you how it plays.  Well, I’m telling you this because I ended up meeting some of them whilst I played the game and knowing this information is why the next two or three paragraphs are going to physically pain me to type.

The game is not ready for public demonstration.  Sorry, that’s just a simple fact.  I can see the potential for a nice, decent puzzle-platformer that’d be worth dropping a low amount of cash on, but that potential is wholly unrealised at this point in the development cycle.  Why?  For the same reason that sinks most well-intentioned platformers, the controls suck.  Controlling my character was tantamount to trying to steer a donkey by shoving my fist in its arse: attempting to move in any direction other than straight ahead would often lead to a noticeable delay as the game tried to figure out what this “Forward-Diagonal-Left” command was and turning circles are far too wide, which is a problem if you accidentally overshoot a time-sensitive pressure-switch.

Doctor KvorakJumping, meanwhile, is just plain broken.  The delay that I mentioned when trying to push yourself in any direction other than straight ahead persists here but to a much worse degree, sometimes it could take 2 seconds between my pushing the jump key and my stationary character actually jumping forward.  It’s hard to accurately tell the distance between platforms, too, which would be even more of a problem if trying to jump from a stationary position worked.  But it doesn’t, oh no.  8 times out of 10, I would position my character at the edge of a platform and command him to jump so that I could propel him across the bottomless pit with the act of jumping (you know, like in most any other platformer) and the game would instead have him jump into the bottomless pit.  But if I did manage to get him to jump across the bottomless pit, the fun was not over, for, you see, falling from heights or crossing dangerous jumps makes him land on his belly before standing back up.  Multiple times, during my 15 minute playthrough, this supposedly adorable character trait caused me to fall back into the bottomless pit I had just spent the last 5 tries trying to cross!  You can likely tell just how aggravating this process got.

Elsewhere, I’m about 3 weeks removed from the Expo now and I’m still not sure whether I’m a fan of the game’s art-style or not.  It’s clearly designed to have a distinct look and inject the characters with personality, which I admire (given the industry), but said distinct look and personality has been invading my nightmares recently.  There’s just a kind of lifeless, sterile feel to the whole game; the characters should be cuddly, but they instead look like the kind that would take a chunk out of your face if you tried to cuddle them.  Plus, I have a sneaky suspicion that this particular design was chosen to hide the considerable lack of graphical heft powering the thing.  The 3D graphics look about 15 years out of date, at least, is what I’m saying.

If anyone from Freekstorm does happen to be reading this, for whatever reason, know that having to write these words has hurt me just as much as it has likely hurt you reading them.  Know, however, that this criticism is coming from a well-intentioned place.  There is potential for a fun and diverting puzzle-platformer, here, it just needs a lot more development time.  A lot more development time.

XenolithSticking with the Indie Game Fair, Xenolith, which has been billed as a “twin-stick shooter without the twin-sticks” and whilst that statement may sound strange, it actually makes perfect sense in practice.  You fly your ship with two analogue sticks, as you do in other shooters, but instead of firing bullets you press various buttons to change your ship’s form to match that of the incoming ships.  Triangle, square and pentagon, each assigned a button and your goal is to clear each level of the various enemy ship and bullet types without dying by colliding into enemy ships and bullets that match your ship’s current form.  Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done as things get hectic fast.

In that respect, it’s kind of a mashup of twin-stick shooters and a very weak bullet-hell, but the game manages to stand out in its own right.  Levels are brief but challenging and the basics are simple yet the game grows them in a natural way.  It remains uncomplicated throughout and my various failures can be blamed on my inability to remember which key is which off the top of my head than the game being too busy or complex.  Said simplicity is helped by a strong art-style which, like the rest of the game, is simple and clear yet impressive nonetheless with bold reds making discerning where enemies are coming from easy and the act of blowing them up very pretty indeed.  Xenolith is simple, and likely does little you haven’t seen before, but it is good addicting fun and seems a more than natural fit for the iOS devices it seems primarily designed for (although it is coming to PCs, too, if you’re desperate).

Hotline Miami 2Finally today, a brief set of words on Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number: it’s Hotline Miami again but with a much nastier tone and a soundtrack that kicks even more arse.  That’s it and I am not complaining one bit.  If you’ve played the original Hotline Miami, you should be sold already.  If you have yet to try Hotline Miami, go and buy it now because your opinions on that will likely transfer over to this one too.  Oh, and incidentally, because there was a bit of a brouhaha surrounding it prior to the Expo, the fake-almost-rape scene is still in the demo, kind of.  Instead of seeing the player character drop his trousers in front of the crying female, he just lies on top of her, which is probably a lot worse, let’s face it.  Glad to see that Dennaton Games subscribe to the Batman: The Animated Series school of getting crap past the censors.


The Expo adventures will continue in further blog posts every weekday between Monday and Thursday until Callum Petch has ran out of articles here on GameSparked!

Callum Petch is blinded by nostalgia.  Read his weekly gaming column Petchulant every Friday here on GameSparked!

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