In an early episode of South Park, fat-boy Eric Cartman talks about how independent movies are “always about gay cowboys eating pudding.” The same can (almost) be said for Xbox Live’s Independent Games service—a service that allows anyone, anyone at all, to develop and publish their own Xbox 360 game. In “Minus the Pudding,” I plan to highlight the very best of what Xbox Live Indie Games has to offer, though, by “very best,” I actually just mean the games that aren’t Sudoku, fireplace simulators, or massagers for your private parts. Those are the pudding games of Indie Games, and I want to talk about the ones that aren’t.
Forgive me, my dear readers, but after playing Enchanted Arms, I don’t think I can go back to playing Xbox Live Indie Games. You might’ve seen this coming, considering how I described the game in my review, with phrases like “one of my new favorite videogames,” “I had the freakin’ time of my life,” and “as he beckoned toward me with his throbbing, engorged, magically possessed right arm, I felt the waves of passion finally overtake me. ‘Atsuma!’ I cried, not sure if it was in pleasure or in pain. ‘Take me! Take me now! Show me now what that arm of yours can really'”–you get the idea.
Which brings me to Try Not to Fart.
Yes, this is an actual game that actual people have ACTUALLY PAID MONEY FOR! Not only that, but—and I swear I’m not making this up—Try Not to Fart is one of the top-selling Xbox Live Indie Games right now. I think I speak for the entire sane population of the world when I say…what the crap? The game’s like Beavis & Butt-head, but minus all the clever wit. It has all the charm of a staunch Republican, and yet, somehow, people are spending their hard-earned pretend Microsoft money on it.
As much as I’d like to stop wading through all the pudding in order to promote the few decent Xbox Live Indie Games that exist, I can’t. If I did—and I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much here—people would stop making good videogames forever, since they’d realize they can make just as much money, if not more, by making games about the things that come out of their butts. And that’s not the kind of world I want for my future children. Or for you.
Or for America.
And so I toil.
War of Words
War of Words is basically what would happen if someone took Puzzle Quest, excised all the parts I didn’t like, and replaced them with a dictionary. (Which may sound boring to you, but ba-da ba-ba-ba, I’m loving it, as I’m someone who minces words both professionally and for pleasure.) It’s an RPG/puzzle game/word jumble hybrid where you have to use proper spelling to defeat goblins and try to rescue your helpless female relatives, who I guess do not know enough words to fend for themselves.
Each battle plays out kind of like a stage of Tetris: both you and the monster have random letters crawling up from the bottom of the screen, and you have to use those letters in order to spell out words in order to damage your foes. The bigger the word, the more damage you do, and if your crawling letters reach the top of your screen, you take massive damage and are forced to play Try Not to Fart.
If you were that horrible child in English class who’d remind your teacher when she forgot to administer the spelling test, you’ll probably get a kick out of War of Words.
Do you like audio books? Wouldn’t it be great if audio books were a videogame? That’s basically the premise of Moon Taxi—you’re the pilot of a taxi that takes people from the Earth to the Moon, and the whole game is listening to people’s stories while you try to collect words and not crash into asteroids. That’s actually the entire extent of this game’s gameplay, and I’m not complaining; I enjoyed how relaxing this game was. Though, I gotta think most people would be bored out of their minds, since the game is about as interactive as a chefoo.
I know the developers are currently working on a Part Two, and I’d like to see them advance the Moon Taxi concept a bit. Specifically, instead of short stories by independent writers, I’d love to see the game tackle public domain stories or even novels. I’d be much more likey to read Tom Saywer if I didn’t actually have to read Tom Saywer.
Of course, if they’re looking for more new stories…*ahem*: “My chest heaving nonstop and my alabaster skin quivering with fire and desire and raw sexual energy, I threw back my head in pure elation! ‘Atsuma, oh Atsuma! I don’t know where you learned to do that with a golem, but don’t ever stop! Don’t ever…oh! Atsuma! My magicore is yours for the taking!”
Gentlemacho is based on early 1900s silent films, and it’s about a man and his completely badass facial hair. SOLD. THE END. NEXT GAME.
One day, this man, this…gentlemacho (because he is a gentleman, but he is also macho) is drinking his morning tea, and he notices a strange strand of hair floating around in his cup. Before he can say “I was much more interested in The Avengers when I thought Edward Norton was going to be in it,” he hulks out, and his chesthair becomes sentient, grows its own beard, and instructs him to seek out the four freshest places on Earth in order to conquer body odor.
I’m serious—that’s actually what the game is about! It’s a platformer in which you can “control and extend your body hair as you please” (by the way, I now have a new answer for “if you could have any superpower, what would it be?”), allowing you to smack birds with your armpit hair and kill bears with your mustache. It purports to be the manliest game ever, and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree (after all, they haven’t made a game about my beard yet).
The controls are hard to get used to and the platforming is very Diet Coke, but your chesthair has its own beard, and you KILL things with it. Man, forget Enchanted Arms; bring me my enchanted beard!
Decay: Part 1
Decay opens with a cutscene of you hanging yourself, and when you take control, you’re in your bathroom, apparently OK. OR ARE YOU? Did you survive the hanging? Did you die? Was it all a dream? Did you forget to turn off the chefoo? You’ll never know, because this $3 game ends about 25-30 minutes after you’ve started, just as the game’s gotten going, but before it’s actually gotten good.
It’s a first-person point-and-click adventure game, kind of like a Nancy Drew game, except with fewer sassy female detectives, and more dead people screaming at you. It has a mix of both inventory- and environment-based puzzles, and it’s cursor-driven, meaning that professional adventure game developers will think it’s outdated and broken, and people who actually play adventure games will very happy.
If this were anywhere near a full game, I’d probably recommend that you check it out; but it doesn’t even feel like the full Part One of a game. I spent $3 on Decay, and I actually felt ripped off by it; after all, I could’ve used that money to buy Gentlemacho three more times.
Attack of the Verbose Dinosaur
Attack of the Verbose Dinosaur allowed me to fulfill a dream. That’s not something I can say about many videogames, with the obvious exception of Charm Girls Club: Pajama Party, which allowed me to fulfill my dream of one day being a teenage girl. The game is a cross between Rampage and your English class; it has you spelling out words on the sides of buildings in order to destroy them and kill everyone inside. Now, I’m not usually one for senseless violence, but this violence is actually pretty sensefull. Why? Because, the people inside the buildings, they…typ…lIk… DIS.
KILL THEM ALL!!
Yes, in Attack of the Verbose Dinosaur, you—FINALLY!—get to punish people for typing in text-speak, which is now my favorite videogame concept of all time. Unfortunately, the game takes that winning idea and mars it with one big mistake: It forgets how completely boring Rampage is. (Which is an honest mistake that anyone could make; how many times have you started up Rampage, thinking it’s going to be super great, and then quit five minutes later when you remembered that you could be doing something, anything, anything else?)
But that’s not the only problem. If you misfire, there’s no way to take your letter back from the building. (Or at least, I didn’t see a way to do it during the 10-minute trial.) It’s stuck to the side of the building, forever, and if you can’t figure out a way to make a word out of it, you’re pretty much stuck waiting for the timer to end so you can just lose the game. (To be fair, that’s actually my normal strategy in competitive gaming.)
A shame—if this game’s story had the gameplay of War of Words (or, conversely, if War of Words had the plot and/or dinosaur of Attack of the Verbose Dinosaur), it might just be a contendor for Game of the Year. (Especially now that Telltale’s Back to the Future is definitely going to be a hidden objects game about hippies.) Ah well!
In conclusion, don’t even worry about it. Just fart.