Review — Thief Town

Thief Town is a fun little party game that is sort of obscure, both because how simple it is and the fact that it doesn’t have much replayability. It’s got a retro style and some unique gameplay, though, so I think it’s worth a real mention!

This is a four player retro-style arcade game. It comes complete with two buttons (aside from four-directional movement), and is purely an arena where you fight your friends. The way that the game works is you and everybody else are a bunch of thieves trying to stab each other. The only trouble is, you, your friends, and a bunch of added non-players all look exactly the same. The only way you can figure out which one is you is by correlating movement on the screen with the input you put in the controller. (Keep in mind, though, walking around in circles will make everybody notice you.) Everybody, including the AI, walk around until one of the players decides to stab. If an AI is stabbed, they fall down dead and nothing happens (except everyone can see who the murderer was, if you’re paying attention). If a player is stabbed, they bleed out and die. Last one standing wins the round, and the first to a set number of points wins.

I did say two buttons, though. Depending on the sort of game mode you’re playing, players can have access to random one-time use abilities, like smoke screen, trap, or gun. They all have various uses, such as the gun killing everybody in a straight line and the trap revealing any player that steps on it.

The game also has a few modes. You can play with or without the abilities I mentioned, you can do showdown, where there are no AIs and you just have to rely on more skillful stabbing (sometimes while the players are literally invisible!), or you can do Sheriff vs. robbers, where the Sheriff player has to shoot the thieves while they try to remain hidden and act like AIs.

There’s more, but that’s the brunt of the game. All the music is 8-bit and the game itself is very pixelated. It allows the focus of this game to be the gameplay–hiding and stabbing. You can stab everyone near you or lie in wait for people to reveal themselves by stabbing.

My favorite thing about this game is that there is an element of luck involved. The last time I played, I won two rounds in a row only to come out with exactly zero points the third game, and not from lack of trying either. Sometimes your friends just stab the instant the game starts, and they kill you. Sometimes they try to stab somebody else and they kill you instead (or also). Sometimes a giant tumbleweed rolls onto the stage and flattens you before you can get out of the way. Is it fair? Not exactly, but games happen so quickly and it can happen to anyone, so what does it matter?

I believe the game is going for $8 right now. Even with three other people to play it with (and it does have couch co-op, as is kind of necessary), it’s still a lot to ask for. This is sort of the game where you play it for a few hours and you’ve had your fill. I certainly wouldn’t pay $8 for it because I don’t think I’ve gotten 8 hours worth of entertainment out of it, maybe even combined with the people I’ve played it with. There simply isn’t that much to experience in the game.

But if you don’t mind that, it’s certainly an interesting game to pick up, and it is a lot of fun for a short period of time!

Review — Hammerwatch

As far as fun little couch co-op style games go, it can be hard to find ones that work these days. There’s a lot of choices, to be sure, but the abundance of choices can actually hinder the decision making process because while there are so many games, it isn’t easy to find the one that works for you and your friends.

For me, Hammerwatch is a great example of a retro dungeon crawler. It is a Gauntlet style co-op hack and slash. You each have a different class with different abilities, and you run through dungeons killing all manner of little monsters, solving puzzles and finding secrets. If you’re not careful, however, you can die instantly, so there is a risk factor.

My favorite thing about the game is how unforgiving it can be. There are different sources of threats that are more or less difficult for certain classes. There are challenging monsters that run fast and deal insane amounts of damage. Ranged classes deal with these best, usually, because they don’t have to get close. There are also swarms of enemies that shoot from a distance which are also hard for melee classes to deal with because at that point the game is a bullet hell. But the melee guys excel at dealing lots of damage to nearby enemies, so if it’s relatively safe, they can delete swarms of enemies in one blow if you time it right. Of course, there’s also traps. Spike traps kill you instantly in this game, and for whatever reason, I am really bad at maneuvering around them. They kill me a lot because I’m an idiot.

The levels aren’t random, but there are so many secrets it lends itself well to replay-ability simply because there’s bound to be loads of stuff you missed last time. The more you play, the better you’ll get, naturally. But there are also plenty of difficulty modifiers. There is the basic “Easy, Medium, Hard” settings, but you can also adjust more specific settings. You can make mana regenerate faster, or make health naturally regenerate slowly, for example. You can also make it harder, adding a shared health pool or setting everybody’s health to a maximum of one, meaning taking any damage at all will always kill you (or everybody, if you have shared health!)

My favorite thing about this game is the upgrades. As you go higher up the tower, you collect money and find stronger vendors that sell upgrades such as increased armor, increased damage, or increased life pool and movement speed. There are lots of things you can buy, and finding more secrets can make upgrades cost less in addition to giving you more money to pay for them, so its incredibly rewarding. (You can also unlock new abilities for your specific class as you get further into the game!)

As usual, I do have issues with this game, but they are sort of nit-picky. The first is that there is no random generation. I get that it’s difficult to implement secrets if the map is always different, but it feels like the sort of game that would have randomly generated levels and enemies, so the replay-ability is less in the novelty of the experience and more for the personal challenge of increasing the difficulty. As an unrelated side note, it can be almost impossible to tell what secrets do sometimes. You can press a secret button that says “A passageway has been revealed!” but there is no indication of where that might be, which will force you to backtrack all across the map in the hopes that you discover some new place. That part is a little frustrating.

My second real frustration with the game is that the “good” ending is reserved for people that know all the secrets. In order to escape the tower once you beat the final boss, you have to use “strange plank” items that you found in various places in the tower, which at first serve no discernible purpose. But, if you find all of them (you have to find all of them, too,) you can escape the castle and beat the game. And as far as I know, there’s no indication of how many there are in the dungeon in the first place. There’s twelve one for each floor of the castle.

Is the game worth it? Certainly. Full price, it’s currently worth $10, and a successful run-through of the first campaign will take over three hours, though it’ll probably take you a few tries to even get that far int he first place. I recommend it for anyone that likes hardcore games that try to kill you and your friends. It isn’t the most insanely difficult game, once you get the hang of it, but you can certainly modify it to be.

Review — Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

Part co-op, part power-up, part Asteroids, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a game with an intriguing concept and a brilliant execution. When a friend of mine told me about it, he explained it as “four people operating a single space ship as they navigate a space filled with lasers, missiles, and as you’d probably expect, myriads of different kinds of creatures. Every ship has several different parts, including guns, engines, shields, etc. and each player can only operate one at a time, so you have to really work together to pull through.

When I heard about this game, I immediately thought it would be a hectic game in which every person will constantly be swapping between manning the guns, the engines, the shields, and whatever else may be demanded of them. But really, this isn’t that game. One person steering, one person with a shield, and two people managing all the different guns works just fine. The only thing that’s hectic is actually killing all the guys that are coming.

But the intrigue in this game is the power-ups. Because while there are only about four different kinds of stations a person can operate, there are three different power-ups you can find (Power, Beam, and Metal), and they all fundamentally change every station you put them on. Placing a Power gem on a gun will make it fire more bullets. Placing a Metal gem on a gun will change the weapon into a giant flail. Placing a Beam gem on a shield will make it deflect (rather than absorb) any bullets that hit it. There’s so many possibilities, and a lot of the fun in this game is looking for power-ups in order to utilize them in ways you haven’t seen yet.

This grows exponentially more exciting when you unlock upgrades that let you store two power-ups at each station. A Metal-Power gun will turn the gun into a giant missile launcher. A Metal-Metal gun will make the weapon have two flails! Since there’s so many different combinations of operating stations you can create with this game, it’s fun simply discovering those new things. There are, inevitably, ones that are better than others. I’m looking at you, Beam-Power engine and Beam-Metal shield. But that doesn’t make the discovery any less fun. As you progress into the game, you fight bosses, and eventually you can unlock new ships with different layouts.

Now, this game is up to four players, and we had five at the time, so for the majority of the time we were playing I sat out. But that didn’t actually diminish my experience. Since a lot of the fun is in the discovery, I got to experience all that alongside everybody else.

My biggest critique is that the discovery is sort of short-lived. I could have kept playing this game for several more hours, but I imagine this game will get stale after you’ve played it twice. You can only create so many types of enemies and terrain before it starts to get boring. I wanted to see even more discovery. Just one extra power-up. A Fire or Lightning gem, maybe. Now, I realize this is a tall order, given the number of combinations this would introduce would be insane, but since that’s where most of my entertainment came from, I think that should be a larger highlight of the game. This isn’t a puzzle game where co-op and perseverance is the only way to succeed. It’s not easy, but we never lost a single mission, and we were always playing on the hardest difficulty. So I want more ways to toy with the game interactions.

But beyond my insatiable need to have every game better than it is, this game is great. It’s loads of fun, and best of all it’s kid friendly. You’re rescuing space bunnies (often referred to as friends) as you go on an adventure literally mending a giant metal space heart.