Small. Fun. And I was going to say short, but then world 4 and the world 4 boss happened. So calling the game short would be a lie.
There are a lot of interesting things that can be said about Micro Mages. For example, it came out for the NES… in 2018, which is at least a little bit after that particular console stopped being manufactured. There’s some cool stuff about the game being able to support four players via some trickery and other stuff. It also got physical cartridges manufactured, again, years after the discontinuation of said cartridges.
Of course, having zero appreciation for impressive technical achievements as I do, I don’t really care about any of those things. I’m here to answer a different question: “Is Micro Mages fun?” My answer is “Yes, now, can I go back to bed?” I’m told this is apparently not a sufficient enough answer to count as an entire article.
Okay, so what is Micro Mages? Well, it’s a fairly small vertical platformer. The game has four areas, with three levels each, and a boss at the end. (And two bosses, sorta, at the end of fourth area.) You control one of the titular miniature magi in their quest to get through all the levels, via wall jumping, shooting projectiles, and trying not to die. You die in one hit (if you haven’t picked up any powerups), making avoiding death a bit more difficult than you would think. Once you beat the game the first time around, there is also a hard mode, in which you replay the same worlds, but the enemies get additional behaviors/attacks, and the rate at which the game auto-scrolls up gets faster.
This is all just so much fluff in describing the game, and the reality is that while Micro Mages is really simple, it’s also quite fun. Everything about how it controls and plays feels well thought-out. A few things of note for me were how fluid and accurate the wall jumping felt, along with the fact that projectiles could be fired in all of the compass directions, and almost always went where I wanted them to go. In addition, the range on said projectiles was generous, avoiding the classic “The projectile despawned right before hitting the enemy and now you’re dead” moment.
The powerups are fairly plain, but they do what was intended. The game only really had one instance of mechanics screw/death is the best teacher. (Looking at you, giant floating skull that speeds up if you hit it with a projectile and can’t be killed.)
Outside of the final world and final world’s final boss, I would say the game isn’t too difficult, and it’s also short enough to be worth playing. And, like many other things I write about, if you purchased the itch.io racial justice bundle, you already own it!
Ed Note: I was planning on having this article be very short, as part of a meta joke about how small Micro Mages is. Except then the final level absolutely kicked my ass for quite a bit, and I had to abandon that plan.
Ed Note 2:You have no idea how incredibly pleased I am with the phrase “Miniature Magi,”and even though it’s not as clever as I think it is, it fucking kills me that no one will see it.
Did you ever look at Chess and think “Wow, I really wish Chess was more complicated, and that you could power up your units?” Well boy do I have the game for you.
I think Chess Evolved Online (or CEO as I’ll abbreviate it) is neat. If you like Chess, it’s worth checking out. If you don’t like Chess, you can save yourself the time of reading this article by closing your web browser and doing something else. Okay, lede dealt with. Time for a diatribe.
I write this blog about games at least in part because I consider myself pretty good at them, though in retrospect, “Experienced” might be a better word. I play a lot of games. There are many things that I’m not very experienced with, and so I don’t really comment on them, such as international relations, and agricultural policy. I still have opinions on them, but I don’t think they’re valuable to share.
I mention all of this because CEO has reminded me of something I forgot: I really, really suck at Chess. Or at least I really suck at it relative to people who play Chess at any level of actual competition or play.
I bring this up because after playing 12 hours of CEO, I couldn’t tell you if the game is balanced, or fair, or a good Chess equivalent or what. I could probably play 100 more hours, and I still wouldn’t have a good idea.
So instead of talking too much about that aspect of the game, I’m just gonna quickly list a few of the mechanical innovations CEO makes vs an ordinary Chess game, talk about the game’s meta progression structure and my thoughts on that, and then wrap up with a link to the game. I’m not gonna talk about balance or fairness, or whatnot, because I don’t think I’ll get any of it right. I’m also going to assume anyone reading this knows how Chess is played, and if you don’t, allow me to link you to the Wikipedia page on the game.
So, new mechanics. Unlike in Chess, CEO has a different set of win/loss conditions: Morale. Each of your pieces has a value associated with it, which as far as I can tell, generally scales to its power/utility. The queen is worth 21 points, a bishop is worth 12, a rook is worth like 13. You get the idea. When your piece gets taken, you lose that much morale. If your morale hits zero, you lose.
Your king, on the other hand, is special. When your king gets taken, you lose an immediate 25 morale, and then an additional 3 morale per turn. The fairly obvious result of this is that while losing your king will eventually lead to a loss, unlike in standard Chess, it’s not an immediate loss. This has some interesting implications, like being able to trade kings, and also ending up in situations where you have to decide if sacrificing your king might be worth it.
The other special factor controlling the game is “move decay.” After turn 50, each player loses 1 morale at the start of their turn. This effectively puts a cap on how long games can go, and also means that in a game of attrition, whichever player can take a take an early advantage is likely to win. As far as I can tell, there are no draws in CEO.
There’s one last big mechanic in CEO: time. I’m not familiar with professional/semi-pro Chess, but a few quick google searches make it look like the game is limited is to about 90 minutes for your first 40 moves or so.
As you might guess, CEO doesn’t really go in for that. Instead CEO has two formats: CEO Blitz and CEO Standard. Standard gives you 30 seconds a move, after which you have a pool of 4:00 minutes. Blitz gives the same 30 seconds but with a pool of 2:00.
The result of all of these changes, at least to me, is the game feels far faster paced and bloodier than standard Chess. At the same time, the fact that losing your king isn’t a loss means that games can turn into brawls far faster than standard Chess.
So, those are the general changes to the game’s structure. Now let’s talk about the army building. Yes, CEO has army building.
There are a few factors that go into army building. The game has two types of pieces: champions and minions. In general terms, you can only place minions in the front row, and only place champions in the back row. Minions are weaker than champions, and usually (but not always) have a promote ability. This is where another interesting change comes into play: pawns always promote to bishops. This opens up some interesting space for weaker minions with stronger promotions.
Pieces also have a supply cost, and your army has to be under your supply limit. You increase said limit by reaching a higher rank. I don’t love this too much, but I’ll talk about why later.
Everything else about the game feels like a fairly unique attempt to fix some of the problems that Chess has. But how you obtain and upgrade pieces for your army feels fairly standard. Because, of course, pieces can be upgraded.
The game has two currencies, gold and gems. You earn gold by playing games, and you earn more by winning. You get gems by either exchanging gold for gems, completing various objectives, or opening random boxes.
Or spending real money.
And this is why I say it feels standard: The game loop becomes a pattern of grinding for currency to either buy units straight up at a in-game shop, or buy random booster boxes of units in the hopes of getting something you want. At the same time, you use duplicate units to upgrade your existing units.
And this is where the game started to annoy me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not great at Chess, but all of a sudden the game starting feeling like a mobile game. I was no longer logging on to build unique armies or try interesting strategies. I was logging in to open daily boxes, playing ranked for currency to try to grind more boxes, and just generally playing the game solely to get more units. Instead of trying to build unique armies and innovate, I played the standard Chess army because I was more familiar with it, and I cared more about winning than experimenting.
Now, if I was better at Chess, this might not be true. Perhaps if I was a stronger player, I would find it easier to win, and as such be more interested in some of the other systems that make up the game. As it was, though, I ended up feeling like I wasn’t playing for fun, or to use the game’s unique systems, but to just grind to get more pieces. And this is where I stopped playing.
In summary, CEO’s actual gameplay containes a bunch of massive changes to the core structure of Chess, to try to make it more exciting and interesting, while also speeding up the pace of the game. But the meta-progression structure that exists around the gameplay feels like a standard mobile game, and it feels bad. If you end up matched against AI or players with higher ranking than yourself, in addition to likely being better at the game than you, they also have a larger supply pool to pay for their army. Even if you’re both playing identical armies, if they’ve upgraded their pieces, they have access to options and moves you don’t.
And that doesn’t feel great. And while I suspect that the actual mechanics of things like supply/value on units are probably balanced, it still feels bad to get decimated by someone with a unit you just don’t have.
Ed Note: The poster child for this particular experience is the ninja, a unit that feels like a knight on steroids, with the ability to take pieces in all directions that are adjacent, while also having a unblockable jump.
Chess Evolved Online is free on Steam, with in-app purchases to buy additional rubies, which in turn get spent on buying units/random booster boxes of units. The game makes a bunch of really interesting mechanical changes to the base game of Chess, but it makes them parallel to a meta-progression structure that, for me, made the game feel like a grind. I still think it’s interesting enough that folks should check it out, but I feel like without a strong interest or background in Chess, you might end up having a similar experience to me.
I have played a lot of Dota. Like a lot. Not as much as some people, but still over several thousand hours. I also like anime, animated shows, and have low expectations for non-game media based off of games.
As such, I think I might be the exact audience for Netflix’s new show Dota: Dragons Blood. As I sit here having finished it, my only thought is:
What the fuck did I just watch?
No, seriously, if you know, can you please tell me?
I really like Dota 2. I know my Dota 2 lore. I may be one of 12 people who enjoyed the Dota CCG, Artifact, and I’ve read all the comics. And I’m still bewildered.
The best way I can put it is that I had a set of expectations going into this show, and it did not match them. I expected a fairly generic fantasy world, maybe passable characters, and a generic but acceptable plot.
What I got was a fantasy world that feels like it’s based off a world bible that no one but the producers has ever read, surprisingly solid characters, and a plot that waltzes its way, high as a fucking kite, hither and yon, and yon and hither, giving absolutely zero fucks about things like “pacing” and “tonal consistency.” One moment, we’re in a mystical library. Next moment, there are a bunch of elves having a foursome. Then murder. Now war crimes. I think this was all the same episode.
I’m honestly not sure what to think.
I do have one absolutely massive complaint about the show: it wraps up zero of the plot points it introduces, even regarding its main characters. And honestly, that’s kind of a shame, because I would be surprised if the show gets a second season to wrap them all up. Valve historically sucks at continuing projects that don’t go gangbusters, and also the show is weird as fuck.
Edit: Since I wrote this, they’ve confirmed a “Book 2” is being made. I’m still not sure why.
The show has a lot of things I can see potentially turning folks off it. Gratuitous nudity (mostly male). A lot of violence. Swearing that some folks will see as “Well, that’s just how folks talk,” and others will see as “We’re so grimdark and cool.”
I’m not sure how you’re supposed to evaluate television. Would I tell other people to watch the show? I mean, maybe. Maybe if they already like somewhat edgy animation. Did it succeed in making me care about the characters? I mean, yes, otherwise I wouldn’t be upset with how it ended, wrapping up zero plot points, and setting up for a second season that might not ever exist.
While the motivations of the characters themselves and their actions make sense in context, the world they’re taking those actions in often feels a little pants on head crazy. While the animation is really nice at times, the end result feels like reading an independent comic book with a creator who has equal amounts of technical artistic skill and ketamine at their disposal, and has primarily opted to use the ketamine while doing the writing.
If this for some reason has made you want to watch it, it’s on Netflix.
The show can also be found in my haunted dreams, but I don’t think there’s a subscription service for that yet.
Wow, it’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, huh? I finally dug back into the ol’ backlog of games this weekend, looking for more treasure in the large pile of…. stuff.
Stuff that people probably worked very hard on, but still wasn’t actually all that fun or interesting.
Or (at least in my subjective opinion) wasn’t “Good.”
As always, I encourage readers to download and play these games yourself. Don’t just take my word for it if I call something stupid garbage! Experience it yourself. Join me in the digital equivalent of dumpster diving, because as they say, one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.
I’m not sure what to say about this game, other than: it has surprisingly nice polish and production values, but I still didn’t care enough to want to keep playing it. The whole thing gave me a super old-school Resident Evil vibe, and frankly, I don’t much like horror. So after the second time the controls bugged, and I couldn’t turn left or right, I was more then happy to put it down, and pick up something else.
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor
Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is a game about being a spaceport janitor. You burn trash, try not to vomit everywhere from eating garbage out of a vending machine, avoid getting shaken down by cops who eat your money, and also search for a way to remove a giant weird skull that perpetually floats behind you screaming.
Okay, so my description sounds kind of cool, but the game just feels boring. You wander around, trapped in a loop of never having enough money to buy anything, within a maze-like city zone, all the while just generally having everything be shitty and sucky. Oh, and while torching garbage.
Maybe the intention of the designers was to create an atmosphere of boredom and fatigue, caused by doing the same thing every day, and feeling like a hamster trapped on a wheel. I don’t know. Apparently the giant floating skull is a metaphor for depression? Not sure I really connect with that one either. Point is, if the intention was to make something that feels boring and dreadful, they succeeded. I am bored, and I would dread ever playing this thing again.
Some neat art and a little bit of neat worldbuilding though.
Tonight We Riot
Unfair enforcement of laws in regards to minorities, and those with sexual or political orientation differing from the mainstream are a big issue. Lack of police oversight and accountability are serious problems. Capitalism has significant flaws that are having lasting impacts on our society.
I don’t think the proposed response of Tonight We Riot, which appears to be murdering riot police with cinder blocks, and torching bankers with molotov cocktails is a great solution to either of those problems.
So yeah. I don’t love the theming. And I also don’t love the controls. Many of them feel fairly wonky, and the targeting on things like ranged weapons, and controls for moving your fellow workers also don’t feel great. I played through the first big boss and called it a day.
Dorfromantik ends up in a “Didn’t make the cut” article not because it’s bad, but because it’s a very barebones demo that while nice, didn’t compel me to rush to buy the full game. If there was any single item on this list right now that I would actively encourage other people to check out, Dorfromantik would be it. Given that the full game sits at 2400 reviews with an average of overwhelmingly positive on Steam, I think people other than me might like it.
The gameplay is really interesting, even if everything else is a bit lackluster.
I like Legion TD 2. As of writing, I’ve played about 84 hours of it, and I haven’t quite burned myself out yet.
Ed Note: In the time between starting writing this article, and finishing this article, that number has moved up to 120.
Legion TD 2 is a sequel to Legion TD in the same way that Dota 2 is a sequel to DotA, which is to say that it isn’t. If that last sentence didn’t make any sense to you, I can put it a different way: “Legion TD 2 is a remake of Legion TD in a new engine, as a standalone game, with better graphics and support.” So if you’ve ever played the Warcraft 3 mod that was its predecessor you already know the structure of the game.
If you haven’t, here’s a quick crash course in the general flow and structure of the game.
Legion TD 2 is a competitive unit placement/builder. It’s not really a typical tower defense, at least in the standard way of thinking about things. Instead, you spend gold to place and upgrade units onto a grid, before each wave. At the start of each wave, your placed units turn into actual units, and go to fight the incoming wave of units. Units have a damage type, an armor type, and the game has a somewhat Pokemon style matchup for what beats what. So in order to do well, you need to know in advance what wave you’ll be facing.
If all your units get killed, the remaining enemy attackers go and fight any units that your teammates might have had remaining after clearing their own set of waves, and then go and attack your king. If your king runs out of health, the game is over and your lose. If your opponents’ king runs out of health, you win.
There are two big things I haven’t mentioned yet that provide a lot of the meat of the game. First off, the units you can build in any given match are semi-random for that given match. So unlike most other tower defense games you can’t just make a perfect build and roll with it; you have to be able to look at your choices, and make judgements about what you’ll need, and when you’ll need them.
The second is a mechanic called sending.
Sending is when you spend a resource to add additional units to an enemy wave that is attacking one of your opponents. The resource in question is called mythium, and you get it over time based on the number of workers you have. Workers cost gold, the same resource you use to buy and upgrade units, which means money spent on getting workers is money that isn’t spent on upgrading your actual defensive line. Sending also gives you permanent gold income based on the units you sent to attack, so holding all your mythium just to blow it at once can actually end up costing you money.
There are a few other mechanics I won’t go into too much right now, but this is the general gameplay a match of Legion TD 2. The game is about keeping a balance between investment and long term economy. On waves when your units are having a bad matchup, you might need to commit more to building up your forces, and on waves where you’re strong, you choose to sink money into workers instead.
At the same time, you’ll be trying to read your opponents’ builds, and make guesses about when they’ll be weak, or when they’ll decide to apply pressure. If I have any gripes with game, it would be that once you fall behind, it can feel very difficult to fight your way back in. There just aren’t any comeback mechanics. “Leaking,” or allowing waves of attackers to get your king, means you’ll have less gold to work with for future waves. As a result you can end up in a situation where if you overspend on building units, you can’t scale in the long term, but if you don’t build enough units, you just die.
Legion TD 2 appeals to me in the same way that a game like Dota does. Like Dota, in Legion TD 2 you play the game in short matches, and over a match, you feel the fun power curve of playing a longer RPG or tower defense game. It feels fun to finish and build up some of the bigger towers, and to watch them wreck incoming waves, at least for a bit. At the same time, there isn’t really any out-of-match progression. Each match you restart at nothing, and go through the whole process again. The main power progression lies in learning about mechanics and edge cases, trying different strategies, and just generally improving bit by bit.
Legion TD 2 is surprisingly relaxed for a fairly competitive game. You can’t exactly play it and do something else at the same time, but as far as games go, it doesn’t require require massive amounts of micro or clicky clicky. Instead, it just requires focus, and a bit of patience. It’s far more mellow than something like Underlords or TFT.
At this point I’ve played a lot of Legion TD 2, and while I really like it, it’s not going to be to everyone’s tastes. It’s highly competitive, and while the toxicity isn’t as bad as what I’ve seen in other online games, it is present. Everything that isn’t the gameplay is fairly underwhelming, with art and music that feels very “generic fantasy.” But the mind games and push-and-pull resource management are unique—if what you’ve read interests you, and you have $20 to spare, I’d encourage you to check it out.