Category Archives: Games

Review: Mushroom Madness 3

The new installment of Mushroom Madness doesn’t deviate much from its predecessor. It’s found a formula that works—squish, shoot, electrocute and even nuke the forest critters trying to steal your mushrooms—and it’s sticking to it.

Which is great, in a way. It’s still satisfying to squish the little buggers as they make their way out of the woods. And it can still get frantic near the end of a level, when a giant hedgehog is making off with a whole grove as a bird darts off in another direction with another one of your choice morels.

But the difficulty curve seems to have gone limp after Mushroom Madness 2. The last game called for plenty of frantic replays to get close to a full slate of  accomplishments. Here most of the boards are done in one, with the animals posing little threat as they march to the slaughter.

I doubt my quick-twitch abilities have improved that much. Instead, it seems the upgrades let you outclass the competition too quickly. The game is still fun, but the last one provided a more memorable experience.

Game Review: Skinny

For a relatively short browser-based pack, Skinny packs in plenty of atmosphere. Created by Thomas Brush of Atmos Games, this platformer had you lead a robot through five levels of a battered post-apocalyptic landscape. Your goal is to collect batteries to repower stranded fellow bots. To do you, you leap across gaps, launch from spring-loaded platforms and crush obstacles with an extendo-arm.

The physics of movement are satisfying. Your robot’s arms and legs pinwheel through the air as it flies, adding some cheerful animation to the repeated jumps. Your character can’t die, but it can fail repeatedly, leading to backtracking and even some frustration as you try to leap through an opening before an electronic gate closes again. In the end, the mechanics are a little gidgy, but still fair, although a small playing window can make it difficult to deploy your hook without clicking on a bordering ad from time to time.

The story feels a little emo. The dialogue of your stranded peers indicates they’ve survived a nuclear winter, or perhaps perished in it. Giving them their batteries restores them back to being clichéd little consumers. Some supporting characters fixed in each level question whether your surroundings are real or just engineered by a world-creating “Mother.” With all this build-up, there’s no real ending.

But the story is just window dressing anyway. The fun lies in exploring the levels, making your way from one end to another. The puzzles along the way are intuitive, but challenging, making this a game worth exploring.

Review: VVVVVV

4:37:05. 5555 flips. 1500 deaths.

That pretty much sums up VVVVVV. This retro platformer uses late-Atari graphics and some handwaving about a spaceship that’s skipped dimensions to fuel hours of exploration.

The basics: As captain of the spaceship, you’re looking to gather your scattered crew by exploring a gradually revealed map. The mechanisms are simple: you flip back and forth between ceiling and floor, resting on platforms before the next round of spikes.

There are lots of spikes. Endless rows of them, with flying obstacles, vanishing platforms, warp stations and rising floors that threaten to crush you. You develop new means of travel as you go; there are thin wires that reverse your momentum and rooms that loop endlessly on themselves.

The game offers inventive variety on a strong central theme. The controls are precise enough that even the countless deaths avoid feeling arbitrary. And the “shiny trinkets” give you ample reason to keep exploring. I collected all of them, even snaking my way through this twisting monstrosity.

It’s a rare game that prompts me to visit every corner, but VVVVVV is a real achievement. If you enjoy platforming at all, I’d recommend it.

Riding the Gravy Train

“Ninety percent of the NCAA revenue is produced by 1 percent of the athletes,” Sonny Vaccaro says. “Go to the skill positions”—the stars. “Ninety percent African Americans.” The NCAA made its money off those kids, and so did he. They were not all bad people, the NCAA officials, but they were blind, Vaccaro believes. “Their organization is a fraud.”

I finally read Taylor Branch’s takedown of college sports in the Atlantic, and it’s a knockout. “The Shame of College Sports” details how the NCAA oversees a billion-dollar industry, diverting profits from participants to the top stakeholders. The organization uses the student-athlete concept to—perhaps illegally—strip athletes of their rights to their representation and labor. They have opaque, arbitrary enforcement and appeals mechanisms. They’ve enlisted universities in perverting their own central mandate: education.

And I eagerly consume their product, so I’m a big part of the problem. In a perfect world, I think athletic scholarships shouldn’t exist. At minimum, students should have proceeds from their likeness (jersey sales, video games, etc.) placed in a lockbox until after they graduate.

But in the meantime, it’s exciting to hear that players have contemplated taking matters into their own hands. As Branch shares, “William Friday, the former North Carolina president, recalls being yanked from one Knight Commission meeting and sworn to secrecy about what might happen if a certain team made the NCAA championship basketball game. ‘They were going to dress and go out on the floor,’ Friday told me, ‘but refuse to play,’ in a wildcat student strike.”

Can you imagine the reaction? I’d love to see it. Dunkers of the world unite…

Game Review: Silly Sausage

Silly Sausage’s name may not recommend it, but the game itself is a great way to waste an hour. It has you contort a stretchy dog through a series of levels, each of which requires you to collect coins and dodge obstacles to access the final exit.

The gameplay is reminiscent of the old Snakes game that used to come bundled with Windows. The difference—beyond a sizable amount of polish—is that your dog can attach to anchor points to launch new investigations. (He also doesn’t die if he bumps into his own tail.)

Silly Sausage is tough enough to challenge but responsive enough to keep you from chucking your keyboard into the monitor. The difficulty slope doesn’t overwhelm you, but it does make beating it feel like a reasonable accomplishment. It’s also free, so there’s no reason not to check it out.