All posts by Scott

The Incident Review: The Sky is Falling

“I wish I had junk food from here to the sky!” wishes Max Conner.

“Why not? Higher than high!” laughs the rapping genie.

It has been fourteen years since the magnum opus of Shaquille O’Neal’s acting career was inflicted upon an unsuspecting public. I was an easily impressed, nine year old in 1996 and even I thought Kazaam deserved an “avoid” review. More than a decade later, my only lingering memory is watching the junk food rain from the sky, fulfilling the wish of young Max Conner, and my fellow third-graders everywhere. Now that both Max and I have had some time to mature, I wonder how that wish would change for a modern audience.

The result would likely resemble the premise of The Incident. The sky is falling, showering the protagonist with deadly consumer goods. Tilt the iPod to run from plummeting flatscreen televisions and guitars. Tap to jump atop the accumulating sofas and arcade cabinets. On screen indicators flash warnings of impending vending machine, modern art and sports car showers. Perhaps the biggest dilemma is deciding whether to dodge these objects or furnish a studio apartment with them.

Just as genie stories are ultimately warnings about the dangers of wish fulfillment, The Incident is a cautionary tale of consumerist lust. Seemingly every desirable retail item of the 21st century is raining from the sky, yet they threaten to crush our hero with their weight. The game is about trying not to be buried alive by the gradual accumulation of junk that eventually envelops the planet and pushes our hero into outer space. But is it any wonder that the trash continues to pile up? The power-ups are coins and diamonds. What does money bring except more stuff?

Upon finishing the game and discovering the cause of the current calamity, an option to replay the levels as a bearded version of the protagonist is unlocked. The unoptimistic result is an older looking hero who continues to face the same problems. Regardless of the answers found at the top of the trash heap, implied is that the real “incident” is the destructive habit of ceaseless accumulation.

Likes

Pixel Perfect: If I could afford an iPad, this is the first game I would want to play on a bigger screen. The colorful, pixilated graphics are sharp enough to still feel modern while invoking old-school sentimentality. I want to hang those adorable little 8bit representations of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Mondrian’s Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow on Mega Man’s living room walls.

Less is More: The Incident milks impressive mileage out of an uncomplicated concept. Simple and streamlined are often underrated merits in game design.

Comic Sensibility: A goofy sense of humor often averts the frustration of questionable deaths. Upon being crushed, the player is rewarded with a gold trophy commemorating the lethal meteorite. When I die, I hope I too will receive a gold trophy that reads “Killed by Tyrannous Rex Skull. 10,000 meters.”

Dislikes

Heavy-Handed: While tilt sensitivity can be increased in the options menu, the controls were often too unresponsive to meet the demands of the final stages.

Game Over: The simple gameplay remains engaging largely because of the variety of power-ups, falling objects, and other difficulty modifications that are revealed as the game progresses. However, the harsh leap in difficulty during the final stages replaces challenging advancement with frustrating repetition that seemingly requires equal measures of luck and skill.

The Incident’s message is particularly made ironic by the game’s basic design elements. It preaches against consumption habits, and yet is available only on the iPhone, one of the most sophisticated and trendy mobile devices available for purchase. But regardless of its obvious consuming-is-evil message, The Incident is unquestionably worthy of purchase and deserves not to be buried in the pile.

The Incident was developed by Big Bucket Software, and I played through version 1.1 on my iPod Touch 2G.  The price is $1.99.


Super Mega Worm Review: Mindless Consumption

Death by Wyrm. The Mayans could have never predicted. The year is 2012 and deep beneath the earth an egg is ready to hatch. Press A for Armageddon. The goal—eliminate all human life as a giant worm. Like a bloodthirsty DigDug, an onscreen slider and turbo button navigates the worm underground. Bursting from the soil to consume human or wildlife flesh refills gradually depleting health, scores points and advances levels. The mutant worm grows and gains abilities as it advances through stages, but human resistance becomes more fortified as well. Policemen become rocket wielding soldiers, helicopters upgrade to tanks. Think Grand Theft Auto without the stars.

Super Mega Worm is about consumption. The pregame intro shows our decaying globe from space. The precursor to the Wyrm’s rampage is two littering rednecks—complete with pixilated Confederate flag. The underlying message is that the planet is fighting back against its pollutants. Gas-guzzling trucks and cars are destroyed and the airplanes contaminating the skies are worth bonus points. Tanks, helicopters and soldiers—symbols of the seemingly limitless consumption of the military-industrial complex—cannot stand in the way of the supreme might of the Wrym. But as the Wrym eats its enemies, it grows increasingly larger. Eventually, it becomes too long to nourish with the food it must continually gobble to survive. Like the enemies it was created to vanquish, the Wrym is defeated by its own unsustainable consumption.

Likes

Looking Good: The pixilated humans keep the disturbing level of violence at an enjoyable cartoon intensity. The scrolling backgrounds and vehicle sprites are clean and attractive.

Mindless Fun: Once the challenging controls are mastered, maneuvering the Wrym becomes quick and intuitive. Even in the later stages, the humans are so unfairly overmatched that the result is always exploding pixels and bloodshed. It can be easy to lose oneself in the destruction.

Power Up: As a reward for completing stages, the Wyrm is granted new powers, including projectile acidic spit and an electromagnetic pulse. In addition to providing additional ways to play the game, these powers can be used from the first stage on each new game.

Dislikes

Déjà vu: There are no checkpoints for mutant worms. After every death, the game resets to stage one. After spending twenty minutes to get to the fun and challenging stages, being forced to restart from the beginning after game over quickly becomes a discouragement from playing again. Luckily, power ups earned from earlier games carry over to the new game to help speed up level advancement but fail to alleviate the boredom of repeated trips through the beginning stages.

No high score tracking: “You got a new high score!” Great! Can I share that information with other people? “Nope!” There are no online high score leaderboards or even any way to compare your achievements with contacts. What is the point of having a high score if you can’t be better than other people?

Slippery Slider: The slider control is not ideal. Remember how in Resident Evil, left was always left no matter which direction the character was facing and sometimes that meant you hit left on the joystick when Jill was staring at the camera and instead she would run to the right side of the screen and get eaten by a pack of slow moving zombies? The same rule applies here. It can be overcome, but good control should not have to be risen above like a challenge.

Mute It: The music is repetitive and boring and the shrieking voice samples from the humans get old quickly. Hearing a mother scream “my baby!” as a giant worm devours her stroller is entertaining the first time, but less so the next ten.

Ultimately, Super Mega Worm is an enjoyable experience after the initial accommodation-period for the controls.  While the upgrades provide incentive for replayability, the rather one-dimensional nature of the game keeps it at a “worth a look” recommendation. And remember to recycle kids. The Wyrm is watching you.

Super Mega Worm was developed by Deceased Pixel and is available for $0.99.  I played through version 1.1 on my iPhone 4.