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.
Videogames have long been considered a form of escapism, a way for us nerds to (pretend to) leave our couch, put on a pair of pants, and leave our tedious lives behind so we can instead wander around a desert for hours and hours and hours in search of a goddamn save point, because we seriously just want to go to bed, but we can’t, because WHERE’S THE SAVE POINT?! It’s been HOURS since we last saved and we don’t want to leave our system on all night, because who KNOWS what could happen then, so we keep playing and playing and FINALLY! Look! There’s a save point! Only, before we can access it, we’re forced into a boss battle and DIE because the stupid boss is IMPOSSIBLE to beat, and then we have to go to our last save point, which was so long ago that we don’t even remember it!
AND THAT’S WHY VIDEOGAMES ARE STUPID. THE END.
*ahem* Sorry about that. I’ve been playing some Infinite Undiscovery lately.
Anyway. Videogames, and escapism. Where was I going with this? Videogames let us do things we’d never be able to do in real life, such as play football with our favorite team in the NFL (that’s the football one, right?), burn innocent red-shelled turtles to death with fireballs, and take poops on the people we don’t like (thank you, Deathspank), and it’s because of this that a new genre has recently emerged within the Xbox Live Indie Games service. One that allows nerds to finally do the one thing they’ve always fantasized of doing in real life. No, I’m not talking about killing people who type poorly; I’m talking about: interacting with girls.
Yes, this is a thing. A whole bunch of new games have come out recently whose sole purpose is to let depressingly lonely guys pretend that they’re having conversations with actual girls. There’s enough of them that I feel justified in coining a new term: “girl-sim.” Which is a horribly disturbing term.
As a gamer who’s been on multiple dates with girls, I’m both unnerved and insulted by this trend, but people must be buying them, because we keep getting games like:
I think this game’s name gives a false impression. To me, it sounds like this is an 8-bit-styled life-sim wherein you have to keep your girlfriend happy by taking her out to dinner, feeding her chocolates, and bringing her flowers when you’ve said something stupid to her. (Such stereotypes are what the developers of girl-sims tend to rely on, because the only experience they have with females is from watching reruns of Home Improvement.) But this game isn’t about maintaining your eight-bit girlfriend; rather, it’s about trying to woo said pixen in the first place.
In 8-bit Girlfriend, you play as a super studly…bear thing (he was called “Sir Maximus Hardwood” in my game, and boy, was he ever!) who has to navigate a series of dialogue menus in order to survive his interaction with a girl. I’m serious—each menu has one “correct” choice that allows you to continue talking to the girl, and 1-2 “incorrect” choices that almost invariably lead to your death. I like to think that this is how nerds imagine interacting with real-life girls generally works.
Now, to be fair, I really shouldn’t rag on 8-bit Girlfriend for being a girl-sim, because it’s actually more of a girl-sim parody than anything else—and a functional, comical one at that. But the fact that we’ve gotten to the point where not only is girl-sim a thing, but girl-sim parody is a thing, makes me wonder if we all need to spend a little more time outside.
And speaking of going outside…
I can’t believe this game was made by Silver Dollar Games. Silver Dollar Games. They’re like THE girl-sim developer; their entire MO is that they make games incorporating actual footage of human females talking about how much they want to have sex with you. This game, Ranger, in contrast, isn’t anything like that. There’s nary a full-motion boob in sight. Instead, it’s a game about shooting goblins and dinosaurs in the neck with magical arrows.
…Which doesn’t sound that exciting, but it’s a worthwhile distraction from our lonely existence of dreaming of what it’d be like to one day feel the touch of a woman. In Ranger, you stand almost perfectly still (which is absolutely what I’d be doing if rampaging goblins and dinosaurs were coming my way), shifting only your upper body in order to fling arrows toward the coming horde. Meanwhile, various spheres fall from the sky, which you can also hit with your arrows in order to enact special magical effects, such as zapping your enemies with lightning, turning your arrows into gigantic ninja stars, or flinging giant electric ninja stars of DOOM at your enemies! K-YAH! TAKE THAT, T-REX! Bet you’re feeling more like a dinoSORE, now!
Also, sometimes, if you push the left bumper on your controller, a dragon shows up and eats everything on the screen. It’s more than a little bad-ass.
And speaking of ass…
Bloody Death is…wait…did I even play this game? Which one was Bloody Death? Oh, now I remember—it’s the one with so little interactivity that it makes Final Fantasy XIII look like a videogame. In Bloody Death, you watch a D-level horror movie about naked co-eds trying not to get stabbed to death by a psychopathic serial killer. Every now and again, while you’re watching the video, the game asks you to input a button combination. If you hit A instead of X, or Y instead of B, your naked co-ed is DOOMED to an eternity of making titles for Silver Dollar Games. I mean dead.
…At least, that’s what I assume happens. This game’s demo is pretty bloody empty. I don’t think I was able to play it for more than a full minute before the trial ended and the game asked me to fork over some pretend Microsoft money. In fact, I’m pretty sure there was a grand total of one interaction in this entire demo. (Which I won—K-YAH!)
It looks like it might be fun if you miss the era of Sega CD FMV games—and who doesn’t—but I can’t be sure, because the demo was about as long as Wart’s career as a top Mario villain.
And speaking of dream worlds…
Does anyone else remember a cartoon—I’m thinking it’s from Looney Tunes, or one of those older cartoons that Nickelodeon used to run when I was little—in which a sleepwalking man comically makes his way through a world that’s trying very hard not to kill him? That happened, right? I didn’t make that up, did I?
Assuming I didn’t, that’s pretty much exactly the premise of Sleepwalker here: it’s a puzzely side-scrollerly game with a sleepwalking man whom you have to guide back to his bed.
You have one button you can push—you can make the man turn around and start sleepwalking in the other direction. You have to use your one button to guide him away from deathtraps, utilizing trampolines, ramps, and teeter-totters to move him away from certain doom and into the warm covers of his bed, which is located—where else?—in the middle of a construction zone.
Neat idea and neat execution, with hints of both Lemmings and The Incredible Machine. I particularly enjoyed the part where it wasn’t about me trying to talk to a girl.
And speaking of my youth…
Adventures of Sid
Adventures of Sid is about a hipster tomato armed with a machine gun who must collect coins and jump on platforms and destroy snails and YES! I don’t really care what this game’s actually about. I’m a tomato, and I get to jump around and shoot stuff! I’m in. The only thing that could possibly make this premise better is if Sid had a double-jump, and YIPPIE, HE DOES!
The game kind of reminds me of early 90s freeware Windows 3.1 platformers–the kind that come installed free on your computer, or the kind you’d find in a CD-ROM collection in the bargain bin of Comp USA. It’s just like that, only it’s on your Xbox 360, and you can’t copy your friend’s floppy to get it.
(Side-note: “Floppy disks”? We might as well have called them “penis disks.” Couldn’t we have come up with something a little less innuendo-sounding than “floppy”?)
Also, when you die? UH-OH! “Tomato Juice!” That’s what it says. I LOVE IT! This game is like coming back to your parents’ house for a home-cooked meatloaf. I mean, you get to blast snails with your flame-thrower! K-YAH! TAKE THAT SNAILS! And he has grenades, too?! Holy shit! I’m not a tomato, I’m TO-RAMB-O! Splat City!
…Maybe I’m just really easy to please.
In conclusion, try talking to a girl in real-life some time. She probably won’t kill you.