Deadly Tower of Monsters, The (PC) Review

Developer: ACE Team | Publisher: Atlus USA || Overall: 8.5

B-Movie science fiction is always characterized by its low-budget charm.  You could see right through the awful costumes, terrible props, and strings the monsters would hang off from — all of which added to the fun.  The Deadly Tower of Monsters seeks to recapture this aesthetic of effects supplanted by computer graphics… by replicating them with computer graphics.

ACE Team, the developer of The Deadly Tower of Monsters, did an amazing job in recreating the B-Movie feel as you play, keeping it interesting throughout.  The set up for the story begins as if you are watching the “movie” on DVD with commentary by the belligerent director, Dan Smith.  As you defeat stop-motion monsters, while completing missions across the sprawling tower, Dan Smith will acknowledge and give background on certain aspects of the production — breaking the fourth/”fifth” wall, reminding you that you are “watching a movie” while playing the game, or rather listening in on the recording session for said commentary.  There are a lot of layers here.

Though the game is not usually laugh-out-loud funny (there are a few great jokes), it is entirely tongue-in-cheek.  Throughout, they introduce new elements that kept me consistently amused.  The attention to detail adds to the goal of being a successful B-Movie homage and the commentary track spreads a layer of cynicism about the film industry on top.  It is important to listen to the commentary while you play, as it is an integral part of the story, and the uniqueness of the game.  Your typical gaming tropes are also explained away using movie tropes, such as blaming watching deleted scenes for when you die and the director “intentionally” wanting the actor to stand still for five minutes “because it is artistic” if you decide to idle for a while.  Some of these tropes are less clever than others, but the narrative essentially includes all of your deaths and “mistakes” as part of the experience.

The visuals and art style are very important to the successful execution of the B-movie homage.  A stop-motion frame-rate effect is used on many of the monsters and is one of the best effects used.  Since most of the game runs at a higher-frame rate than an actual movie would, the most “filmic” part of the game comes with the stop-motion effect and serves to distinguish it from the rest of the “movie” quite well.  Homage is paid to practically every genre of classical sci-fi, with obvious references to Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and others including dinosaurs, bugs, an evil scientist, giant robots, clones, and a galactic emperor among a wide range of other characters and monsters.

The level design of the tower is essentially a humongous and vertically sprawling 3D platforming level.  You will go for what seems like miles in mostly one direction: up.  While the prevailing theme is space technology, on the ground-level you will encounter things like mutant insects and dinosaurs.  As you climb, the tower is very elaborate and changes themes more meticulously within science fiction.  You will encounter aliens, disembodied brains, space slugs, and other fun monsters.  All parts of the tower are fluidly accessible, and there are no loading screens unless you warp around to checkpoints.

The tower is used to the game’s advantage occasionally.  You are usually tasked with shooting enemies from below in reverse-Space-Invaders style.  At any time you can be knocked off the tower, sending you into a free-fall towards the bottom; mistiming your platforming will also have the same result.  To counteract the annoyance of having to re-scale the tower you can easily warp to any checkpoint, or use an “Air Teleport” button that is available if you haven’t landed on another platform yet.  You also take fall-damage and have a very low amount of jetpack fuel to adjust and break your fall.  Unfortunately, you are not allowed to control the camera very much, which can be annoying at times, but it wouldn’t make sense in the context of watching a movie to be able to switch an angle at any time.  On the plus side, the platforming is designed well enough where this isn’t usually an issue.  For similar reasons, the game is very linear and there isn’t as much exploring to do as you might expect in a 3D platformer.

Combat gameplay is fun and light, and the weapon variety is also great.  Enemies and weapons alike keep the “B-Movie” aesthetic, where you can plainly see re-purposed household items or other everyday items, such as a vacuum cleaner or a puppy, being used as space-age weaponry and monsters.  As you have access to three different characters, their real difference comes in their special abilities.  Dick Starspeed is able to use landmines, Scarlet Nova has a running speed ability, and The Robot is able to use a time vortex ability.  All of the characters will gain more unique abilities you can use during combat and only cost a time-based cooldown, whereas your energy weapons deplete from an energy bar.

Upgrading weaponry, skills, switching characters, and other gameplay systems are accessed via in-game computer consoles.  While they show up often enough, it can detract from the “joy” of playing around with the progression systems and possibly even the “movie” aesthetic.  The systems aren’t very complicated, but it is sort of questionable why they give you 16 different weapons, but only allow you to have access to four at any given time before switching around at a console.  It would have felt better to be able to switch out weaponry through a pause menu (a prop closet?) since in-game consoles aren’t necessarily used in an intriguing gameplay fashion other than to be more props to put in the levels.  The in-game consoles bring up a game-based UI regardless, so the argument for being immersive doesn’t hold very much weight.  It might have also been more convenient to halve the variety of weapons and allow you to use them at all times; instead I just keep four random weapons and rarely trade them out.  Despite that, the variety of weaponry is still a nice part of the game.

Difficulty and challenges in the game are not too bad.  If you die, checkpoints are usually pretty close to where you could possibly die.  That isn’t to say you don’t need to play smart (as health is hard to come by), but the only real punishment for dying is wasting time.  Puzzles aren’t too trying on the intelligence and there’s only a few situations where you need to use one of your special abilities to get items or into certain areas.  There are also miscellaneous missions that aren’t easily earned on your first trek up and will require you to backtrack certain parts of the tower to complete.  One fun side-quest is jumping off the tower and skydiving into floating hoops, using the tower’s height to the game’s advantage.  The game can be pretty short as well, but its nice to be able to get through a whole game in a couple of days.

If you are a fan of classic film and games, you will get a blast out of The Deadly Tower of Monsters.  Even if you aren’t knowledgeable about older sci-fi film, it is a light, fun, and short game that is visually pleasing and humorous.  It is available now on Steam at a sale price of $9.89, and regularly priced at $14.99.

 

Jetpack Joyride (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: Halfbrick Studios || Overall: 7.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Jetpack Joyride feels like one of those games that are intentionally supposed to make you nostalgic for side-scrollers. In a sense, the way the game is actually played is almost like an old arcade game, pitting you against ridiculous challenges and timing that almost guarantees you will die – the question is when. And literally, that is the metric by which you “win” in Jetpack Joyride. You are trying to get as far as you can, running from left to right, to the farthest point possible before you are fried, blown up, or electrocuted to death. Avoid as many obstacles as possible, get a couple of power-ups, and collect coins. That’s pretty much it.

When you begin the game, you probably won’t get further than 200 meters or so. Then you’ll slowly progress to 400, 500, and then maybe 2000 meters. Eventually you might even get further, depending on how lucky you are. The only thing that is guaranteed, though, is that you will be attempting it over and over again. The distance you might end up is pushed just a bit further each time when buying enhancements or one-time boosts with Coins that you find during your repeated runs through the evil (or at least, nefarious) science lab you have decided to run endlessly through with your character.

Ah, yes, Coins. Considering you need thousands of coins to even get the smallest of upgrades, you will be playing a lot of runs just to be able to use them in any meaningful manner. BUT YOU CAN BUY THEM WITH REAL MONEY!!!! As if you didn’t see that coming, right? I don’t have much incentive to purchase anything in free to play games, but when something is as grindy as earning the coins in this game, it is definitely one of the biggest motivators to pulling out the credit card. You’re probably going to be spending a good too many hours just trying to collect enough coins to buy the next jetpack or whatever random gadget they included in the game for you to use to your benefit. I suppose it is nice that they at least have Coins in the game for you to collect, but the grind is practically endless. They appear in somewhat plentiful manner, yet they almost always require you to skillfully fly your jetpack in a formation to maximize your collection of the coins. The collision with the coins is fairly unforgiving, so you will have to really be accurate if you’re running through coins to get as many as you can, since you will be leaving a few behind. Sometimes you may even have to sacrifice yourself when your reaction time isn’t fast enough to avoid the next obstacle.

As you run further through the endless, randomized, corridors of this very large science lab thing, your character will begin to speed up. This increases the difficulty considerably, since you aren’t able to see what is coming up more than half a second before you almost hit it. When you come across a power-up, such as the Lil’ Stomper, Crazy Freakin Teleporter, or Gravity Suit, among others, you essentially gain a life before dying – if you are unable to avoid one of the coming obstacles, you forfeit your power-up and revert back to normal Barry Fries the Rocket Guy. The acquiring and destruction of your power up will also clear out any of the obstacles on the screen, so it gives you a fair chance to reset your bearings and be ready for the next obstacles ahead.

The humor of the game is probably what is most enjoyable. I like the terminology they use, like calling the Teleporter power up the “CRAZY FREAKIN TELEPORTER” or the huge mech robot with rocket boosters the “Lil’ Stomper.” The names of gadgets and types of rocket packs are also fun names. The Machine Gun jetpack, the first jetpack you get, shoots bullets underneath you and kills the scientist guys below you. The “DIY Jetpack” is a balloon, which I assume let’s you control just a little bit better than the Machine Gun Jetpack, but I’m not sure if these different jetpacks are more than just cosmetic upgrades. Other jetpacks do other funny things, like shoot bubbles or 1920’s 1000 dollar bills.

I suppose it would be beneficial to buy the in-game upgrades offered. There are quite a few gadgets to purchase, and you can’t get the next tier of gadgets without buying a certain amount of stuff from the lower tier. Of course, the grind becomes longer and longer each time. I am unsure what kind of variety this game can really offer since all that really seems to happen are randomized obstacles, randomized backgrounds, and not much traditional progression. You aren’t excelling to another level. You aren’t starting from a point further than the beginning unless you spend Coins on head starts. I’d even go so far as to say the game is engineered to make you fail a lot and make you feel you AREN’T progressing so that you are more inclined to spend money to get ahead.

Once you die, you are given a chance at bonuses based on how many Spin Tokens you gather during your run. The bonuses will give you another chance, more coins, bonus distance, or a free head start on your next run. The bonuses are random, since it is a slot machine, but since the Spin Tokens are plentiful enough, you’ll at least have one after each run. You can also cash-in your tokens for 50 coins each, which may be a particularly attractive offer if you don’t win a lot on the spins.

To break up the seeming monotony of the game, there are Missions to complete. They are “interesting” challenges such as finishing the game between the 500m and 600m mark (aka intentionally dying at that point), or going a certain distance in a vehicle, or collecting spin tokens in varying amounts, among other things. Completing missions awards you from one to three stars to gain levels, which require progressively more stars. I’m not entirely sure what the point of gaining levels is, except to gain the coin bonuses awarded for achieving the next level. However, you are allowed to spend coins to complete a mission so that you can get the next mission, so there is some weird disconnect here. You don’t really gain any benefits from gaining levels, so why are you trying to do it, and why would you ever spend coins to get fewer coins? It is fairly confusing. But then, I remember that they want you to spend money on coins, not give it to you in copious amounts, so I guess that’s why they let you spend coins to make fewer coins. It’s almost ingenious, really.

The experience as a whole is relatively stress-free. You can play a couple of runs and be done with it for the day. It doesn’t notify you to go back into the game to collect bonus coins or to do something inane for upkeep. In a sense, the game is almost more traditional in this way in that it doesn’t constantly nag you and beg for attention. It also relies on skillful controls, which is rare to see in a touch-based game, especially considering touch-based controls are anything but accurate most of the time. Relying on the skill of the player is also a boon to this game since the controls do not inhibit being able to control the character as they are binary and very responsive. It doesn’t rely on any touch-screen directional pad – you either propel yourself up or let yourself fall down.

However, I wouldn’t say that the game is original or even very exciting. It doesn’t really seem like it’s trying to do anything other than provide a single, difficult challenge, and force you to grind coins for years. If there were actual levels or some other kind of quantifiable progression that allowed you to feel like you were accomplishing something overall, the game would be something great. It definitely has a foundation for good gameplay, good art, doesn’t have any noticeable bugs, and the sound design is pretty much ridiculous in and of itself. I feel a game like this isn’t being simple for simplicity’s sake; it’s being simple because it is lazy, and the intentions of the game design are not toward the experience of the user, but towards people spending money so they can bypass the monotony of dying over and over.

There are a couple of those stupid social features, like leaderboards, and “tweeting your progress.” I can’t believe people would ever want to tweet that they went 1,979 meters. I can’t believe anyone even has another friend that plays this game that they added as a friend in the iOS Game Center thing. Why these developers waste their time with these absolutely terrible features is beyond me.

 

Deep Sea Research: The Journal of Dr. Jerry Braduly

June 1, 1999

Today I went to Office Depot and bought a notebook.  It was a pretty good price, if I do say so myself.  A colleague of mine had suggested I get a college-ruled notebook this time, as the wide-ruled paper I had been getting over the years did not allow for sufficient explanation of scientific principles, and often I would take fifteen notebooks explaining one concept and I would get confused in the order or lose whole notebooks at any given time.  Somehow I don’t think the college-ruled notebook will help me act smarter but given that Dr. Sandra DeBaer also had suggested the good idea of using paper towels instead of my hand to clean things in my house, maybe this will work better too.

June 18, 1999

My research team, Braduly Research Team, has set up a lab and funding for our next experiment.  We have located ourselves to the outskirts of a marina in Long Beach, CA to prepare for excursions out into the ocean.  I have selected a team of brave volunteers to deep sea dive into the treacherous depths of Long Beach to accomplish our research goal.

June 19, 1999

Today I brought in three starfish to experiment on.  Part of the lofty goal we have chosen to explore will require us to test the electrical resistance of starfish and other sea-life we might encounter during our deep sea dive.  Documenting our tests before the first dive will prove to be useful as we will make sure to not be surprised about exploding sea animals.

June 24, 1999

It has been five days since we barbecued starfish.  We decided to eat the starfish but they didn’t sit very well with our stomachs and we have been feeling sick for the past five days.  We should have just stuck with the Brazilian restaurant down the street.  They might take forever to make their food but at least we won’t feel like more starfish are growing in our stomach.

June 30, 1999

The second stage of our pre-dive experiments has been successful.  We have acquired thermal shielding for our deep sea scuba gear and are retrofitting our underwater vehicles.  We must now plan for the contingency of releasing something we may not want to release.  We will be experimenting with the torpedo systems in case any unforeseen terrors arise from beneath the Earth’s crust.

July 4, 1999

Today is July 4th, Independence Day.  The beach has been overrun by patriots and their silly showings of nationalism.  Nationalism is bad for countries; don’t they know what they are doing to their own country?  We are all at base right now waiting for the escapades to end.  We watch the silly explosions of chemicals on television, adding to the already existing pollution in our air.  They celebrate the birth of a nation by killing the world it is on!  It is quite hilarious, really.

July 5, 1999

We have spent the better part of the day re-establishing our communications array that was knocked askew by a rogue firework.  I had to call AT&T to come out and look at it, and they said next time they come out they would have to charge us forty dollars because we have equipment attached to our communications systems that we didn’t purchased from them.  How does that even make sense?  Do they expect us to not use the communications systems that we pay for because we are using computers that aren’t made by them for a problem that isn’t even something that I had control over?  Who do they think they are?  Our dial-up modems download at five kilobytes a second — it might be fast but we can’t afford to waste any more time than is necessary.

I’ve been a paying customer for 3 years and pay 150 dollars for our phone lines each month.  The funding for this experiment will run dry if there are too many more delays.

July 23, 1999

I have just got back from our funding meeting with Hersher & Globula, a multinational candy-making company.  Those goobers think they can just cut off my funding with no explanation when I ask for more operatives to take over the marina.  Well I got news for them!  I am so close to the discovery of what lies beneath the Long Beach Seaquarium, that I will find volunteers to help me – FOR FREE.

July 26, 1999

I’ve posted bulletins up on telephone polls for operatives to help me discover what lies beneath the crust of the Earth.  The response has been surprisingly overwhelming and I now have over three hundred volunteers equipped with their own gear and weaponry to put my experiment into motion.  The Landrill has completed its final tests and is now ready to begin digging in the whale tank of the Long Beach Seaquarium.

August 12, 1999

It is the first day we have full control of the Long Beach Seaquarium.  After we threw out all the marina employees and released the animals into the ocean, we activated the Landrill to begin its long trek into the crust.  The 345 security operatives have full control of the marina at this very moment and we are keeping the administration of the marina locked in their offices.  They are allowed to resume their daily duties, as we require food to be imported.  We may get sick of eating fish that was meant for dolphins and whales, but I do not plan on waiting long for our goal to be accomplished.

August 14, 1999

There have been three incursions to our sanctity by the local law enforcement.  Two by land, one by sea.  All I will say is that it was a good thing we brought torpedoes.  Due to our preparation and strategic location, we have very limited casualties and work on the Landrill goes swimmingly (pun intended).

August 17, 1999

The police chief has agreed to send us daily regiments of pizza to feed my army in exchange for one prisoner.  I believe this is a fair trade off, considering this one prisoner is so ridiculously illogical and talks about how she believes in God.  Honestly, how can you be a scientist and still believe in that good-for-nothing loser?  He is a rapist and a terrorist, and he’s probably guilty of murder.

August 20, 1999

Our quest to find what lies beneath the Earth’s crust is nearly through!  We have finally almost hit the edge of the crust with the Landrill.  We must be careful now, as the chocolate that lies beneath the Earth’s crust must be cultivated and sold to candy makers at high prices!  This will be the biggest discovery mankind has known since I proved that clouds are made of cotton candy!

August 22, 1999

As I write this, I felt it was important to note what evil I have unleashed upon this Earth.  There are DEMON CHOCOLATE BUNNIES UNDERNEATH THE MARINA!  They have dismembered fifteen of my operatives and our bullets and electricity guns do not harm them.  They slowly advance out of the hole created by the Landrill.  We are in a pincer attack situation, with Demon Chocolate Bunnies coming from within our position and police advancing from the outside.  This situation is hopeless, but when the police discover what is happening, I will be who has the last laugh.

 

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Joke #21241: Parachute Situation

You are one of *two* people on a malfunctioning airplane with only one parachute. How would you react?

Pessimist: you refuse the parachute because you might die on the jump anyway.

Optimist: you refuse the parachute because people have survived crashes just like this before.

Procrastinator: you play a game of Monopoly for the parachute.

Bureaucrat: you order them to conduct a feasibility study on parachute use in multi-engine aircraft under code red conditions.

Lawyer: you charge one parachute for helping them sue the airline.

Doctor: you tell them you need to run more tests, then take the parachute in order to make your next appointment.

Sales executive: you sell them the parachute at top retail rates and get the names of their friends and relatives who might like one too.

Internal Revenue Service agent: you confiscate the parachute along with their luggage, wallet, and gold fillings.

Engineer: you make them another parachute out of aisle curtains and dental floss.

Scientist: you give them the parachute and ask them to send you a report on how well it worked.

Mathematician: you refuse to accept the parachute without proof that it will work in all cases.

Philosopher: you ask how they know the parachute actually exists.

English major: you explicate simile and metaphor in the parachute instructions.

Computer Science: you design a machine capable of operating a parachute as well as a human being could.

Economist: you plot a demand curve by asking them, at regular intervals, how much they would pay for a parachute.

Psychoanalyst: you ask them what the shape of a parachute reminds them of.

Dramatist: you tie them down so they can watch you develop the character of a person stuck on a falling plane without a parachute.

Artist: you hang the parachute on the wall and sign it.

Environmentalist: you refuse to use the parachute unless it is biodegradable.

Sports Fan: you start betting on how long it will take to crash.

Auto Mechanic: as long as you are looking at the plane engine, it works fine.

Surgeon General: you issue a warning that skydiving can be hazardous to your health.

Association of Tobacco Growers representative: you explain very patiently that despite a number of remarkable coincidences, studies have shown that jumping out of a plane is NOT harmful to your health.

 

Joke #18390

Jim Tapree was a noted Iowa agricultural scientist who spent time developing a husked species of a vegetable that would be hearty enough to grow in the weather found around 23 degrees S latitude.

Seeds were planted and the growing was monitored by Tapree and the locals who were all excited about the possibility of having a vegetable that would withstand the elements and the insects. When it was time to harvest the local newspaper praised the scientist and the vegetable and hailed it as the…

“Crop Pick of Tapree Corn.”

 

Joke #13002

Two scientists found that a male electric eel in a tank was able to communicate with them by means of electrical impulses.  The eel’s very first message read, “Put a female eel in my tank.”

Naturally the scientists complied with his request.  A few minutes later they got the male eel’s second message.  It read, “Dummies!  This girl is A.C. and I’m D.C.!”