Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Satisfying or Shovelware? Volume 1: Ice Cream Surfer, JOASAB, Edge

Time to do some digging...

From E.T. the game to That's So Raven: The Game to Darts; Shovelware has a long and not-so-proud history when it comes to gaming.  These games are usually the dregs we choose to ignore when it comes to our favorite past time.  Often they feel every inch the slapdash scrap that they look like.

Yet sometimes...sometimes something that has the look and feel of shovelware turns out to have some merit as a game.  It may not have much in terms of depth, but the gameplay, control, and music all mix together to create something oddly satisfying and worth the time and even the few bucks asked of us to download them.

Here's my quick and dirty definition of Shovelware:

Shovelware:  Cheaply made, mass produced; these games are the lowest of the low when it comes to gaming. Whether they are a broken shooter, solitaire "in space," or movie and T.V. show tie-ins--they are just plain terrible.  If you've ever seen a discount bin full of games you've never heard of or looked at an online shop for your console and seen a slew of games for around two to three bucks, chances are most of them were garbage.

I'd like to highlight some games from time to time that fall under the cheap to buy category that may or may not be shovelware.  Let's kick off this edition with three games that you may have overlooked in the Nintendo Wii U Eshop, a few of them with good reason.

Eat my whipped cream veggie scum!!

You and your special band of ice cream inspired friends must do battle and stop an evil broccoli over-lord from destroying dessert forever and filling the world with vegetables!  You surf along on an ice cream cone as you shoot down villainous vegetable of every variety.  Does this sound like something a 5 year-old wrote?  Well, you aren't too far off the mark, or at least it sure feels like it in Ice Cream Surfer, a side-scrolling shoot'em up from Dolores Entertainment SL.  Right away you'll notice that the game lacks a rapid fire option.  Meaning every bullet you fire, you get the pleasure of shooting One. At. A. Time.  Within seconds you feel frustrated from this, but that's only the beginning.  Although the game offers much in the way of bright colors and odd-ball enemies (I swear the enemy vegetables are some of the most bizarre things I've seen in a game); the screen can get full quickly with brightly colored dots, gems, bullets, and background material.  The confusion of what's happening on screen can lead to many fast deaths and an expanding sense of annoyance.  You'll also notice that if too many of these sprites appear on screen, you'll start to experience slow-down.  In modern gaming such old-school artifacts just feel weird and more the result of bad programming rather than some bizarre attempt to invoke a bit of nostalgia.  The music and sound was serviceable, but nothing memorable. The game only has a few levels, and does not offer much in terms of extra content.  As far as side scrolling shooters go, you could do far better.  However, if you look at it as a "my first side scrolling shooter" for your kids---forget that!  You can do better, and should.  Download Gradius or pick up something else for your kid.  You know, something fun.

Closing Thoughts:

When playing this game I had to pause here and there to take care of my 2 year old.  She's fully engaged anytime I play Splatoon or Mario Kart 8, but with this game she hopped off my lap within a few minutes and started playing with her blocks.  While I'm happy she was engaged with something which will develop her motor skills and has more lasting value than Ice Cream Surfer, it doesn't say much about a game that features a neapolitan kaleidoscope of colors.  Furthermore, when I came back to the game, it was acting buggy and broken from having been paused.  I had to die and restart the level to fix it.  Maybe I should have gotten down and played with blocks too...

Verdict:  Shovelware

Notice that "Fun" isn't an option on this screen...


You live in a magical realm where you and your other balloon brethren rely on a special, magical rainbow imbued form of helium that helps you float forever.  However, an evil villain has broken up the magical rainbow that helps to fuel the magical helium that helps you and other balloons to float forever.  I'd like to take this opportunity to applaud Journey of a Special Average Balloon (or JOASAB for short.)  I don't think I've ever heard of a flimsier excuse for a story that supposedly holds the game together.  Not that I'm trying to be an insensitive jerk here, I figure the writer and programmers had enough on their plate trying to turn a game about a floating balloon into something fun.  I'm also sorry to say that they did not succeed.  This single screen game just boils down to a repetitive cycle of  navigating your one touch/one hit balloon around stationary obstacles and a variety of flying objects.  You collect three coins to make a rainbow piece appear; then you grab the piece, and you're off to the next thrilling level.  In all fairness, the controls work well enough, even if the balloon feels like it floats along sluggishly at times.  The colors are bright and each screen looks like something from a pop up book.  The music has the blandness you would expect from a game like this, and the sound effects are minimal but do the job.  There's a co-op and multiplayer mode if you want to try the challenge together, and you can grab special treasure chests along the way to change the style and color of your balloon.  Yes, the content is light, but that's how you'd likely define the gameplay as well.  

Closing Thoughts:


Huh, what?  Oh, yes, the game.  Well, I would say there's not much more to say.  It was fairly dull stuff.  Although the background looked cool in spots, such as a level with a volcano complete with flowing lava a flaming rocks raining down; the object of the levels just are monotonous.  Perhaps it changed up later, perhaps there was more to the game if only I had played more.  I don't think I'll really every know though.  I might slip into a coma if I play this game again and I don't feel like taking that risk.

Verdict:  Shovelware

Get it?  Because it has edges!  And...did I mention the fact it's a cube?


Can you handle a game that takes you to...the Edge?!  Hahahahaha...ha...ha...okay....

In the puzzle platformer "Edge" you control a cube and navigate it around a variety of cleverly designed maps collecting crystals while attempting to reach the goal in as short a time and with as few deaths as possible.  At the end of each level you are graded by the time it took and number of crystals picked up along the way.  You can shave time off your final time by engaging in "hang time" with the cube, and as the game progress, this skill transitions from merely a way to get a better score to a needed skill.  The controls work wonderfully and learning to maneuver shouldn't be too hard to master, but you'll need to train yourself to remember the limitations a real-life cube would face if it were clacking along a grid to move.  The music has a steady techno style and a satisfying 8-bit-ish feel.  The overall gameplay is just fantastic, and with over 100 levels, various challenges, and in-game unlockables, it was worth the price of admission.

Final Thoughts:  For such a seemingly simple concept, Two Tribes Publishing has squeezed a great deal of fun.  I love puzzle games like this where you need to keep on your toes and while solving the problem.  It keeps the game snappy and engaging. Too often the problem with games that are cheaper and of the shovelware variety is that they can get boring rather quickly.  At $2.00 on either the Wii U or the 3DS, this game represents a great deal and a great buy.  I have it on the Wii U and played a bit more to familiarize myself with the game again before the review, and ended up playing through a few more levels than I had intended.  It's addicting fun and will have you perpetually wanting to play "just one more round."

Final Verdict:  Highly Satisfying 

I hope you have enjoyed this brief look into some of the cheaper games available for download.  Sometimes you get shovelware, sometimes you get something satisfying.  Remember though, there are a few gems out there.  You just have to dig through a whole lot of coal sometimes to get to them.

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