Human Fall Flat

QWOPlike puzzle platformer, good with friends, bleh without them. Bit pricey for what you get in my opinion.

Ed Note: Images are from the IGDB game press kit. You can tell because the characters pictured below are either blank, or some level of thoughtful creative outfit, and my custom character had a dick, and “Fuck Single Moms” written on his back.

I have been planning to write about Human Fall Flat for just about two years now. This draft has sat there, staring at me, patiently waiting for its moment to shine. Well, I’m dead out of energy to write about anything this week, so now’s your time to shine buddy. I’m gonna blow the dust off this post, and put it up.

Human Fall Flat is a cooperative, physics-based, 3d-puzzle game. And when I say physics, think physics in more of a QWOP sense than Half Life 2. As a single player game, I wouldn’t recommend it. As a co-op game, I think it can be a lot of fun with at least 3 players, and I have good memories of laughing my ass off while playing it with friends.

Look at all these tasteful, creative characters. Couldn’t be me!

This is because of how wonky the controls are. You move with WASD, and left/right mouse button correspond to grabbing with your left and right arms. This grabbiness is binary, meaning you can either be grabbing something, or not grabbing something, but there is no in between. In addition, while you “Move” with WASD, it’s less actual movement than it is making your small blob person waddle in the right direction.

All of this is deliberate. The main difficulty with many of the puzzles in Human Fall Flat is not the actual puzzle, but managing to complete the puzzle while having the acrobatic ability and dexterity of a drunk jellyfish.

It’s this combination of “The spirit is willing, but the flesh made out of marshmallow peeps,” along with the (usually) simple puzzles that made the game enjoyable for me. Trying and failing to make a simple jump is frustrating on your own, but it’s golden to watch your friend jump onto ledge, barely pull themselves up, and then get clubbed by a swinging log and sail into oblivion, all while listening to them curse over Discord.

Then it happens to you, and it’s a tragedy, but your friends are laughing.

This image is a pretty good summary of a lot of this game really.

All of this takes place across a wide variety of levels, with a pretty good smattering of goals and objectives. In my personal opinion, the earlier levels tend to be longer and more fun than some of the free DLC ones, but there’s a solid amount of content. By far my personal favorite was a level that involved piloting various types of boats, for a given definition of “pilot.” It would be more accurate described as “50% pilot, 50% hanging to the side of the rudder and begging someone to pull you up before you fall off and die.”

That’s really all I have to say on Human Fall Flat. As I’ve already noted, this is a game that really has to be played with friends. As a single player experience, I found it to be stale, and uninteresting.

The game is a bit pricey for what it offers at $20 a person, so my personal suggestion would be to wait for a sale before picking it up. I’d say $10 is closer to what it’s worth. The game is available on everything (seriously, pc, all major consoles, and phones for some reason) but doesn’t support crossplay as far as I’m aware, so if you and the gang do decide to grab it, make sure you all get it for the same platform.

If you still want to grab some copies, you can find it here for PC

Mad Rat Dead

Good, and supremely fucking weird. And the music BANGS.

Mad Rat Dead is a rhythm game that eschews quite a few of the genre conventions. I’m not a big rhythm game person, but I like it, and had a good time with it. It’s also incredibly fucking weird, like, weird even by my expectations of games from Nippon Ichi Software. If the name rings a bell, good! If it doesn’t, they’re the publishers of Disgaea and a bunch of other smaller stuff.

I can’t find a good splash screen image, so you get this instead.

The plot of Mad Rat Dead is… Hmm. Look, all you really need to know at the start is that you’ve been brought back to life by the Rat God to relive your last day prior to death, and fulfill your wish, which in your case is to kill the human who kept you in a cage all your life. There is more to it than that, but I will say that the game concludes fairly gracefully and satisfyingly. Anything else risks the dreaded spoilers. Onto the gameplay!

There are two types of levels in Mad Rat Dead: standard levels, and boss levels. Both have the same general rules. There is no life or health system. Instead, get hit, you die. Fall into a pit? You die. Touch spikes? You die. When you die, you get the ability to roll back time in increments of about a half a second, and then continue from that point. The main pressure comes from the beat timer. With each beat, it counts down, and if it gets to zero, you fail the level and have to start over. Rolling the timer back doesn’t roll back the beat timer, so the real loss from being killed is losing time.

Note: The game does have a mode where the beat timer isn’t active, and you can take as much time as you want to clear a level. I didn’t play in that mode, because…. well honestly because I derive at least some sense of self worth from playing games on the harder difficulties.

It sure is.

The most unique thing about Mad Rat Dead is that it’s a combo of a platformer and a rhythm game. It doesn’t require you to make specific inputs, unlike most rhythm games. Instead, you have fairly standard platforming controls (jump, dash, charge, ground pound) and movement, but your button inputs have to be to the beat. If they aren’t, they fizzle and don’t do anything. It also eats the next incoming beat, so you can’t just mash your way victory.

I really enjoy this for the most part. It feels really good to string movements together, and build your own combos and patterns. There are some points where the game does one of two things that make pulling a movement off a bit frustrating.

The first one is that it deliberately switches up the beat, slowing it down or speeding it up at certain portions on some levels. While this is obviously intentional, it often threw me off my game. As a general rule of thumb, I enjoyed the levels that were primarily either stationary or had many moving enemies, much more than I enjoyed the levels with either moving platforms or semi-tangible cheese platforms.

The second thing that messes with the “make your own beat” vibe is that the game has sections that feel like they really only have one solution in terms of inputs, and so if you mess up or die, you have to roll back the whole section, and restart. These felt quite jarring compared to the rest of the levels. Even the boss fights allow a fairly large amount of freedom, and having that taken away just felt bad.

Death incoming in 3, 2, 1…

The game’s not super long, but it’s fairly well polished. If you do choose to play Mad Rat Dead, there’s one movement mechanic that isn’t super well explained: the lock-on dash. On many of the levels, you’ll find enemies that can be used as bounce pads/chain jump location. In order to actually do this though, there’s two conditions that have to be met.

The first is that you have to be close enough to the enemy, but the second is that you also need to have not used one of your two double jumps, and your jumps only refresh when you hit an enemy, or touch the ground. The game never explicitly says this, so there was a large portion of time where I couldn’t figure out if I wasn’t close enough an enemy for the lock on reticle to appear, or if I’d just jumped twice.

I think I’d have raged a lot less if the game had ever explained how this works. That or I just didn’t read the prompts in the tutorial level.

So much good music.

As this is a rhythm game, it has music. Let’s talk about that music.

The music is fantastic and is actually the reason I even picked the game up. After listening to the soundtrack 7-8 times on YouTube, I realized I should probably play the actual game, and I’m writing this as I listen to it again. Since I’m a game person and not really a music person, I can’t tell you what genre it is, but I think it probably counts as club/EDM? If you’re into Japanese music or vocaloid, you’ll probably recognize a few of the names including DYES IWASAKI and Camellia.

I enjoyed Mad Rat Dead. It’s a unique rhythm game with solid gameplay, incredibly weird story, acid trip art, and incredibly good music. If that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, I hope you own either a Switch or PS4, because those are the only two consoles you can play it on. If you’re still on the fence, it also has a demo on Switch, which I’m gonna link here, and a demo on PS4, which you can grab here.

Ed Note: Game screenshots are taken from the Mad Rat Dead NIS page.

Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero?

You can do it, dood!

Ed Note: Images are from theSwitch re-release press kit.

“Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?” was re-released for Switch back in 2020, after originally being released on PSP. It’s a game that I first played on a whim, but grew to love and play religiously. And what with this being Disgaea Week, I figured now is as good a time as any to talk about it.

I was still in high school when I heard about its release, and while I thought the animation looked good, and the gameplay seemed cool, I knew nothing about the Disgaea series. Still, I grabbed it anyway, and on a cold day after class while waiting for the bus, a friend passed me his PSP and I was off on a journey where I learned the most important lesson in life: “Gotta be smart, dood!” 

Starting the game, you’re introduced to our expandable super cool hero, the Prinny, a penguin-shaped husk that houses the spirit of a criminal sentenced to hell. After a quick meeting with your master, Demon Lord Eta, you’re told someone ate her Ultra Dessert and that unless you and your fellow Prinnies get her a new one, you’re all dead. With this promise of an asskicking should you fail, Etna gives you a magical scarf, and it’s off to the races.

Take three hits, and it’s the end of the line dood!

 Once the story begins your UI shows you the main helpful info: your scarves, combo bar, points, a timer, and the total number of Prinnies left. The UI’s not overwhelming when playing and all of the elements are spaced out nicely, so you never have a moment where the action is covered or blocked. The game has a very roguelike feel considering how your Prinny can take three hits, and then they’re gone.

1000 Prinnies might seem like a lot, but they disappear quickly and watching the life counter in the bottom left adds a very fun sense of impending doom. I’ve always been a fan of watching the counter go down as I struggle, getting closer and closer towards the end but also getting better and better, learning boss and enemy mechanics.

Overall, the game is a very snappy side scrolling platformer, and it feels great; there are only rare moments where I felt like a death was due to confusing level design or weird controls. One thing to note is that the game changes perspective when you do an air attack from 2d to a pseudo-3d. This can be awkward at first, but once you get used to the perspective shift it can be helpful for platforming or trying to find hidden areas. 

For combat, your character has a ground slam attack and a sword slice that can be used at short range. The slash attack can be used on the ground or in the air which will cause your Prinny to float while the attack is active. 

Combat is simple and honestly that’s what I loved about the game. Prinnies are supposed to be a weak throw-away characters, and while they are (sorta) the hero of this story, you can tell they’re not traditional overpowered protagonists. 

Enemies and boss fights feel challenging but absolutely beatable. The level design is streamlined and makes it hard to get lost. Additionally, if there was ever a moment where I entered a boss room and didn’t immediately know how to complete the fight, a quick look around the room always guaranteed I knew what was needed to beat them. 

The music and voice acting is also a huge part of what makes the game great. The soundtrack has a very Nightmare Before Christmas/Disgaea vibe. It’s always very fitting for the level and really gets you bobbing with music. As for voice acting, the Prinnies have their go-to catchphrases that after 4 hours I found myself yelling as I beat enemies or made lots of progress: “Gotta be fast dood!” They all have an attitude and speech type that makes you want to help these doods.

Additionally, the supporting cast of demons and lords are hilarious and as an unassuming Prinny walking up to these powerhouses, you get amazing dialog as they ridicule you or even pay no attention. And when you end up interrupting, rest assured, it may end with you running for your un-life.

In short, the game is a great time. If you’re looking for something to pick up and play mindlessly for a few hours, or just laugh at all the crap the hero endures, only to see him finally succeed, it’s still worth it. It’s a simple joy to play and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. As I noted above, the game was released on PSP before, but your best bet at this point if you’re interested is to grab the Nintendo Switch re-release.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars

These are the same games that came out 14 plus years ago, with a better controller, and worse motion based gimmicks. If you liked them before, you’ll probably still like them now.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars has Super Mario Galaxy in it, which is pretty much worth the price of admission on its own. Okay, now to figure out what else to say so that this looks like a real article.

I’m not sure there’s much purpose in talking a lot about Super Mario 3D All-Stars, or at least the games in it. Like, it’s a collection games of which the most recent is 14 years old at this point. You’ve got Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. They’re the same as when they came out, and you can now rebuy them for your Switch for like $60 bucks.

What’s that, small voice in the back of my head? Assuming that everyone has already played these is mildly exclusionary, and maybe I should write about the actual content of the games anyway? Sure, if it keeps you from telling me that I should go fishing for rats with a hook and cheese in the alley behind my house, I’m all for it.

All three of these games are 3D platformers, and with some variations, follow more or less the same structure. There’s a hub world, which connects to side zones, each of which has a series of levels populated with either Stars or Shines, which you need to collect. When you collect enough, you unlock access to the next level. Different stars require you to do different things. Some involving navigating gauntlets of traps, some involve solving small puzzles, some require you to defeat bosses, and some are based on your ability to do one of the three things above as fast as possible before a timer runs out.

There. Voice in the back of my head quieted. So let’s return to the bits I want to talk about: each of the individual games.

I played a little bit of Super Mario 64, and to be honest, I don’t think it holds up well. The camera is wonky. I don’t love the controls, and I don’t have any special nostalgia for it, so I’d say that one is wash. This isn’t a remaster, so the graphics are Nintendo 64 graphics, which is to say they look bad. It might have been revolutionary for the time, but that time was over 20 years ago.

Next up is Super Mario Sunshine. I haven’t played any of it, mostly because I’ve been busy playing Galaxy, and I’m not sure if I’ll play any Sunshine, mostly because I really do not want to sit through the eons long opening cutscene. Also because so much of Sunshine is recycled boss fights against that weird goop piranha plant. Again, not a remaster, so I don’t feel too bad about that.

So, we’ve got two down, neither of which was great, but that’s okay because we still have Galaxy. And Galaxy is still godly.

So far, I’ve played Galaxy the most out of the collection. I’d say it holds up very well all things considered. While there’s some wonkiness at times with some of the sections that use motion controls, none of it was enough to make me want to stop playing the game. The music is still great. The graphics aren’t going to win any prizes for incredible technical sophistication, but they also don’t have to. The level design and worlds are all super fun, even if the movement feels watered down relative to other games.

The reality of it is at $60 for just Galaxy, I probably would feel like I got my money’s worth out of the games. But that’s partly because I never really got to finish Galaxy in the first place. I’m not sure that this collection offers a huge amount of value to anyone who has already played these games to completion before (unless you already love the genre, in which case I’m not sure you’d need this review).

So yeah. This isn’t a remaster. If you already liked Mario, want to play more, and somehow destroyed all your consoles except your switch, I’d say the game is a pretty good deal. If you don’t like Mario or 3D platformers, then skip it. This is the same game that came out 14 plus years ago, with a better controller, and worse motion based gimmicks.

Shovel Knight – Treasure Trove

Shovel Knight isn’t a frosted brick.

Ed Note: This writeup is based on finishing the Plague Knight and Shovel Knight campaigns, but not King of Cards, Showdown Mode, or Specter of Torment.

Shovel Knight is great.

The sentence above pretty much sums up my opinions on Shovel Knight, and part of me is really tempted to just leave it at that. The other part of me thinks that a little more explanation is needed. The problem with said extra explanation is that I’ve been having a really hard time trying to put my finger on why Shovel Knight is so good.

Yes, Queen Knight. Normally it would be King Knight. The game has gender swap options which I turned on for this save file, along with custom pronouns that aren’t linked to the selected body type. I don’t think I have anything valuable to say on this feature, as I’m the most cis straight white wonderbread looking motherfucker you’ll ever meet, but it’s cool to see that it’s there.

Okay, so while I stall for time on that, let’s talk briefly about what Shovel Knight actually is: it’s a platformer styled like the platformers of yore. The game itself has a structure similar to Mega Man, where you’re given a set of levels to pick from, and need to clear them all to continue to the next set of levels.

There are some optional mini side levels, and also some enemies that show up and roam on the map, kinda like Hammer Bros from Super Mario. The levels themselves are all pretty varied, with each one having a general theme, and about 3 or so different mechanics regarding the platforming itself. At the end of each level, you’ll fight a boss: an enemy knight and member of the Order of No Quarter. Levels also have hidden treasure, relics, and other good stuff in them.

These GIFs are way more laggy than the game is. Shovel Knight actually runs silkily smooth, and I never experienced any slowdown while playing. At least the GIFs give a good look at the style and palette of the game, I guess. Honestly not sure if I should keep them.

This is just for the Shovel Knight and Plague Knight campaigns, by the way. It looks like the Specter Knight campaign is like a separate sort of thing? And King of Cards has an entire extra board game that you can play? This game has a lot of stuff in it…

Oh, right, I’m still supposed to be writing a review. Well, through the magic of “writing,” in the time between the block of text above, and this one, I went back and played a bunch more to try to put my finger on why the game is so much much fun, and I think a lot of it comes down to movement.

See, everything about Shovel Knight is pretty great. The music is banging, the art feels incredibly fitting and clean, the story is simple but really good, but to me, a lot of those elements are just window dressing. That doesn’t mean they’re not important, but they’re the frosting on top. Even if you frost a brick, it’s still a brick.

But Shovel Knight isn’t a brick because the art, music, and story are all built on top of a solid core of movement, and equally importantly, levels and areas that utilize that movement effectively. Bouncing from enemy to enemy, digging up piles of treasure, and dodging and reflecting projectiles all feels fun and responsive. And the levels are all laid out in ways to give you both tricky platforming challenges, and satisfying instances of pulling them off.

Okay, so unrelated: if this game had come out in like the 2000’s, would tons of folks have Knightsonas on their Deviant Art pages, instead of “X The Hedgehog” sonic recolors? It’s interesting to think about. Like, the game provides built in sprites, recolors, etc, for each of the characters in the game. And the gender swaps mean that you could make just about any Knightsona you’d want.

And this is the cake under Shovel Knight’s frosting. It’s not particularly flashy or obvious, but it’s the base of everything else in the game. It’s what makes the boss fights fun and enjoyable instead of slogs, it’s what makes the platforming fun instead of frustrating, and it’s what makes it so that when you fail, you want to go again.

And, dear reader, let me let you in on a little secret: I called Shovel Knight a bit of a throwback up above, but I’m not sure that’s entirely honest, and that’s to Shovel Knight’s credit. While the game mimics the style of older games, it doesn’t copy their mistakes. There is no traditional game over, and while dying makes you lose money, you can always try to get it back. You can reset levels if things go too incredibly wrong and you end up strapped for cash. The game’s hidden items are purchasable with the gold you find if you’re unable to actually discover them in the level they’re located in, albeit at a slightly higher price.

This, I think, is the best thing I can say about Shovel Knight. It embodies the heart and feeling of those older games, without committing their sins. It mimics their style, without aping it, or being a cheap copy. And it manages to stand out and be joyful to play in a genre with countless competitors.

To just play through the base game won’t take you very long, but it has a lot of potential for speed running, mastery, and secret hunting. Personally, if you think you might like the game I’d suggest buying the Treasure Trove edition, which has all the campaigns and such in it. If you want to try it cheaper, you can buy the base game for $15.

Shovel Knight is six years old at this point, making me perhaps the last person to write a review of it. But I hope I’m not the last person to play it, because it deserves a lot more than that.

P.S. Okay, still thinking about the idea of Knightsonas. I kinda love the idea of an alternate universe where instead of people wearing fursuits, we have an entire subculture of folks who dress up in a pixel art style heavy plate mail and helms, with ridiculous weapons.