Game Review: “Charlie Murder”

Available for
Xbox 360
Publisher
Ska Studios

Even though I’ve known for a while that it’s only rock and roll, I’ve still always liked it. I’ve shared a similar feeling with the simple 2D brawler genre, as some fond gaming memories date back to raiding the arcade with friends to play “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “X-Men,” or just kicking around at home with “Double Dragon” on the NES.

Appropriately, the new Xbox Live Arcade game “Charlie Murder” combines both of those aspects into one title that sees you choose between members of a punk rock band that’s forced to defeat a rival group who are aided by zombies, witches, demons and other forces of darkness through a variety of levels all designed to fit the style of the apocalyptic rocker protagonists.

The comic style graphics are certainly the first thing that catches your eye about “Charlie Murder,” but once you start playing, it’s clear that the most noteworthy aspect is the game’s surprising amount of depth. While a part of that is due to the multiple stage types, which include flying and driving stages, as well as timed rhythm based segments (think “Rock Band”), the real selling point of “Charlie Murder” is its RPG aspects.

While “Charlie Murder” is a great “Double Dragon”-style 2D brawler, it’s an even better “Diablo”-style RPG, which sees you level up your character’s skills and attacks, upgrade their equipment with creative loot, and make use of various store types to acquire beneficial items like food and skill-assigning tattoos.

The combination reminded me of the NES classic “River City Ransom,” and while it’s uniquely entertaining and surprisingly deep on its own, unfortunately, the execution of combining these elements doesn’t always work when it comes to the actual gameplay. It becomes incredibly frustrating to be enjoying yourself one minute — smashing your way through hordes of enemies using a variety of weapons, including their own limbs — to have to then stop and bring up the game’s cumbersome cell phone menu to add skill points or cycle through your inventory. When playing with multiple people, it perfectly recreates the experience of hanging out with your friends and waiting for one of them to stop using their cell phone and get back to the fun.

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App of the Week: Bastion

Developer:
Supergiant Games

Compatible with:
iPad

Requires:

iOS 5.1

Price:

$4.99

Available here

As the Summer of Arcade kicked off in 2011 for Xbox Live, one of the headline games was a title called “Bastion.” Like just about every other indie title ever made, it arrived without much hype and drew little more than curiosity based on the tantalizing art style. But as soon as it hit the marketplace, both critics and fans found themselves completely immersed by a game that realized that sometimes there is an inherent value in style over substance, if you happen to be the most stylish thing in the room. It went on to post impressive sales figures, and find itself on short lists everywhere for game of the year.

And now it’s coming to iPad.

If you never got to experience “Bastion” originally, it’s a story of a protagonist known only as the kid who awakes one day to find that an event known as the “Great Calamity” has wiped out just about everything he’s ever known. His only hope is to search out a communal safe haven, known only as the bastion.

“Bastion” is an action RPG in the style of “Diablo.” From there, it immediately defies categorization. Letting the simple and addictive style of the genre take care of that burdensome concept known as gameplay, “Bastion” instead focuses its considerable efforts on…well just about everything else. You’ll immediately be drawn in by the games art style, which features well rendered hand painted environments and characters. Color has seemingly abandoned video games as a whole, and to call “Bastion’s” style a breath of fresh air contradicts the fact that the only way to really describe the look of the game is breathtaking.

Coupled with this graphical onslaught is some of the best sound design ever put in a video game. This is mostly due to the games gruff narrator who manages to comment on just about everything in the game, whether scripted or otherwise. What initially seems gimmicky, and could get annoying, instead becomes vital as it contributes to the game a unique storytelling style that reminds you of a storybook fantasy tale. When not being entertained by the narration, you may take the time to notice that the music is not only appropriately atmospheric, but also stands well on its own accord.

For its critical transition to the iPad, little is lost. All of the game’s content is available, and looks and sounds great. The controls could have been an issue, but by using a minimal amount of touch buttons, the developers have managed to make things as painless as possible, and after the first few levels you will rarely find yourself fumbling with the controls. In fact, the only reason I couldn’t recommend the iPad as a platform for “Bastion” is because when everything in the game (the addictive action, the stunning look, and the encompassing sound) all come together, it’s very easy to get swept up in the title and thus lose track of the world around you, making “Bastion” something of a public hazard. Also, much like the original title, you may find yourself wishing that you had an invisible narrator commenting on your every action through the day, only to be continuously disappointed there isn’t one.

There doesn’t exist enough games with the simple beauty of “Bastion,” and there are even fewer on the iPad. In 2011 “Bastion” for the 360 was a candidate for best game of the year. In 2012, it’s still got enough going for it on the iPad to be my app of the week.

  

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