Written by Maus Merryjest
The independent developer scene has certainly surprised us over the past few years, showing us that there is indeed a batch of fresh air blowing into the industry. And, just like in the early cowboy days of basement development, the quality of the offerings covers a wide and dramatic spectrum.
The offering du jour is a point-and-click adventure game: Hoodwink. Overall, it is a rather daring little entry from E-One Studio, a development house from Malaysia. Prima facie, this game has all the ingredients that make for a promising new franchise: quirky and colorful characters? Check. Unique visual style? Check. An interesting world? Double check! Unfortunately, despite having excellent ingredients, the resulting concoction falls flat.
Global-01, the world in which the game takes place, has gone to pot in a wheelbarrow. Mutations and plague run rampant throughout the world, the dish on the menu is rat fricasee, and the gallant UniCorp company has taken everybody under its benevolent umbrella full of happy pills... demanding only a trifle in return: total control.
The world is one that has gone bonkers, but its denizens carry on, adopting the ludicrous new standards of life with almost Pratchett-esque stoicism: mutated humans resemble large anthropomorphic felines (called 'Anthros'), who can be seen occasionally hanging out with regular-looking humans and Second Chancers (robots housing the brains of deceased humans.) This is a typical have/have not dystopian scenario turned on its head and handled with delicious sarcasm.
Hoodwink puts you in the rather large shoes of Michael Bezzle, acquisitions expert (it's what Sly Cooper puts down on his business card, too.) The narrative of the opening scene is one that will make you wish the game had been executed properly, because it shows so much promise. After a brief tutorial on how to move and interact with items, Michael settles down to smoke a cigar in a rather cushy-looking Private Eye office ... bu,t suddenly, the door opens and an anthropomorphic leopard in stock duster and fedora walks in, immediately pointing his gun at your gaping maw. In true Film Noir style Michael declaims: "The moment tall, dark and fuzzy walked through my door, I knew he'd be trouble.... it was his office, after all." Turns out that Michael is there to steal a precious ring... because he's going to propose to his girlfriend. Hijinks ensue, of course, and the game proper takes off.
The only problem is that it is a very turbulent take-off, weighed down by bad puzzle design and a clumsy interface, and the flight is over all too soon.
Simply walking around the world of Hoodwink is a chore- the walk cursor only appears intermittently, forcing you to click in several areas until you find the path that has been laid out by the developers... which is usually broken up by interactive objects, so you have to inch closer to them until the camera scrolls and you can click on the space of road directly after them.
Michael walks rather slowly, but double-clicking will activate his running mode. Unfortunately our hero has a tendency to rubber-band back and forth on certain screens when running, taking longer to cover ground than simply walking. Some exits, such as the exit to the main plaza, are not actually marked. In almost every other room, hovering the cursor over exits immediately morphs the cursor into a door, letting you know there is an exit-- this is not the case for the exit to the plaza, which is a nondescript-looking landing that only displays the regular walking icon.
Movement alone, however, is not the only obstacle the player must surmount. Hotspot recognition is extremely finicky, which is aggravated by very poor puzzle design. Developers nowadays must walk a thin line between avoiding the heights of insanity we've seen in some adventure game puzzles of ages past (use an inflatable rubber duck to rescue a key from a canal? The Longest Journey, I'm looking at you...) and avoiding serving everything to the player on a silver platter. Sadly, Hoodwink does serve things on a silver platter. An example of this is the first quest you come upon: As soon as you have escaped from Detective Pyre's office, you decide to talk to your hippie friend (Saffron) for advice on how to pull off your proposal. Her advice? You need to get some chocolates, make yourself smell good, and get your paws on a bouquet of roses.
How difficult is it to achieve these goals? Not difficult at all. In fact, all you need to do is go up one floor, stroll around, and just pick things up as you find them. Two items require you to interact with one character and one element of the environment respectively, and the chocolates require you to find a certain individual in the plaza (and, of course, figure out where that exit is...) and that's it, the challenge is pretty much nonexistent. Later puzzles, such as the one involving a lantern, feel like filler to pad out the experience more than anything else and really don't flow well at all. Puzzles are not necessarily the backbone of adventure games- characters and settings are- but when you have them, they need to reinforce the experience instead of detracting from it.
These glaring issues are a real shame, because the world of Hoodwink is fascinating. Although not explored at length, the quirky society with its odd denizens and rather black sense of humor do beg for your attention, and you'll be wanting to see more of it by the time the curtain comes down.
The graphics are eccentrically unique, a blend of gritty dystopian and cartoony playfulness realized in cel-shaded 3D. Characters do make an impression with their personalities: a second-chancer robot who thinks he still has a stomach, a trash can who is trying to commit suicide by jumping into an incinerator, the anachronistically flower-powered Saffron, and of course your fiancée- the game has more than its share of excellent characterization, and this is the area where it truly shines. The universe is also positively bizarre- if anthropomorphic detectives and brain-carrying robots weren't enough, mutations have also affected flowers: Saffron's supply room is populated by a large carnivorous plant that guards over a crowd of dancing, anthropomorphic roses. Some good throwaway comedy lines can be heard in crowd scenes - but their impact is lessened when heard for the tenth time, repeated by different voice actors (a slight déjà vu of Oblivion's rather schizophrenic voice acting.) Perhaps one of my favorite lines comes from UniCorp's boys in blue, constantly and cheerfully reminding passersby that "Unlawfulness will be met with courteous and lethal response!"
The music is more of a mixed bag- although the sparse soundtrack is stylistically appropriate to match the future-dystopia-meets-noir theme, traclks seem to be triggered at random and after long periods of silence with no discernible rhyme or reason: At one point a tune sprung up in the middle of a lengthy conversation with Saffron, and at least two themes were playing simultaneously when I entered her supply room.
The game itself can be easily finished in three to five hours, and it ends in a cliffhanger in anticipation of future episodes. The cliffhanger isn't as much of an issue as is the fact that it comes so soon and leaves so much still in the air. The world is barely touched upon, and the plot isn't greatly advanced... so after three hours, the player might feel... well, Hoodwinked: The copy I bought was sold on the Origin store for $14.99 which, for a three hour game with these many flaws, is asking too much.
As the hopeful start for a new episodic franchise, I truly do wish E-One Studio the best... unfortunately, I cannot recommend this game to anyone under its current price tag: it is too unpolished a product to be worth $14.99 - we would do well to remember that the Sam & Max episodes from Telltale Studios were selling at roughly $6.99 each. Should a second installment come to fruition in this series, I would recommend that E-One Studio spend as much time on the vital aspects of game play (puzzle design, interface design, path finding) as it obviously spent lovingly creating the visual elements and identity of this unique world. As it stands, it is lovely to see, amusing to listen to, but unrewarding to play.
Two adventure tigers out of five.
Written by Joshua H
||Gaming Furever Scoring
||› 4 / 5 ‹
||Xbox Live Arcade, PSN
Overall, Skullgirls gameplay is rather original for how it handles the fighting and does just enough to stand out from the litter by making a damn good first impression with its graphics, stellar animation and easy to remember moves, and is a welcoming game for veteran fighters or even an up-and-coming new player that wishes to learn how to be better at fighting games.
||Konami, Autumn Games
||1200 MSP, $14.99
April 10, 2012 - PSN
April 11, 2012 - XBLA
Skullgirls Review by The Game Freak
Let me tell you all a story. Once upon a time there were two men; one was Mike "Mike Z" Zaimont and the other was Alex Ahad. Mike wanted to make a new tournament fighter game and Alex was making a world, a story, and characters for a fighting game. Mutual friends of theirs introduced the two to each other and soon an idea was hatched to combine their two projects together to create Skullgirls. A very sweet story wouldn’t you say so? That brings us today to the game itself!
Now I’m going to be honest with you folks; I am a horrible fighter-gamer. I’m the kind that hits random buttons and moves the joy stick all over the place, hoping to land something powerful to help me win. With Skullgirls, however, I find myself doing very little of that. When I first started playing Skullgirls, I was intimidated, but the strange and colorful characters drew me in and actually helped me learn step by step how to fight, block, and do combos. A built-in tutorial for a fighting game is very rare, and I give thanks to Reverge Labs for including it to help welcome newcomers and bad fighters like me learn how to fight.
SO MANY COLORS!
Skullgirls is a nicely made 2D anime style fighting game and a game that actually pulls off some good punches to grab people’s attention: from the art style, well animated characters, and some of the freakiest of freaks to ever be seen in one game. When looking at the move lists for each character, I was surprised to see that there were not any ridiculous number of moves or any complex over-the-top combination you would have to memorize like you were studying for a test. Instead, the moves each character have work with one or two buttons and the simple movement of the joystick or D-pad to execute a move. For example, Ms. Fortune's move “Cat Scratch” is executed by down, down/forward, forward + X or Y. The best part is it’s controller friendly. That’s right, you don’t even need an overpriced fighting pad for this game to excel. But, if you feel better using one, the game lets you use a fighting pad as well.
Fighting in the game is fast paced and addicting, you can play either 1 on 1 or up to 3 on 3 team matches where you can easily call in team mates to help in the combo or to switch out in the fight to continue the fight and let your other fighter to regain a bit of lost health over time but the opponent has the power to send a fighter flying and forcing to bring in a new fighter on the other team to take their place. Another useful move all of the characters can do is a “burst” that lets you free yourself when your opponent pushes you into a corner with an infinite combo stream which in most games have nothing to stop this from happening.
Skullgirls takes place in Canopy Kingdom, where the fighters themselves are in search of a powerful artifact called the Skullheart, which can grant a woman any wish she wants, but only if she is pure of heart. If she wasn’t she would become a monster known as a “Skullgirl.” Each of the fighters have their own reasons to find it and are willing to fight for it; some wish to use it and others want to destroy it. While the story isn’t grade A, it helps people get pulled in, and even after winning the game most of the characters are left with a nice cliff hanger. Maybe to hint there might one day be a sequel? I’d be disappointed if there weren’t any plans for one.
Girls, girls, girls.
While the game is good it still falls prone to some ‘blemishes,’ like graphical glitches where characters will blink out for a second and their hit boxes show and then come back. It's not seen a lot but it the fact is that it's there, and will hopefully be looked at once the makers get around to releasing a patch.
While fun, I still feel it is missing some things… I’m going to list a few “what they should have added…” list
Training bots fight back- For some reason the training mode can let you do a lot of settings and even turn on a ‘death mode’ but yet the AI won’t attack, now that’s good for some but there are people who want to fight to sharpen their skills and learn how to do combos with an opponent that’s fighting back. In a future a patch for this should be looked at at some point.
Single player custom matchmaking- While the game has a story mode and an arcade mode, the lack of a mode to let you make custom matches with AI bots of your choosing and such makes the game feel limited and short to me and that’s honestly sad, as I have really enjoyed this game so far. It might take time to make but I hope they would release a mode like this in the near future.
Let us see the map when we select it- Okay you might be wondering what I mean by this. While there still is a lack of a single player matchmaking, the tutorial does let you select maps to fight on, but you don’t see the map at all when selecting it.
It's at least a short list, but these are things to be looked at for future updates.
Overall, Skullgirls gameplay is rather original for how it handles the fighting and does just enough to stand out from the litter by making a damn good first impression with its graphics, stellar animation and easy to remember moves, and is a welcoming game for veteran fighters or even an up-and-coming new player that wishes to learn how to be better at fighting games. I would say this game is worth the $15 or 1200 Microsoft points if they fixed the few problems I had with it to increase replayability. This game is also available for the 360 and PS3 and reports say a portable version is in the works for the future.
4 / 5