to be done
Before we start, let’s meet Toejam & Earl, two funky aliens from the planet Funkotron!
Cruisin’ through the galaxy, one day those two were a little neglecting with regard to asteroid belts usually found between the third and fourth planet of a solar system – just like in the solar system where Earth is located. One asteroid crash leads to the other, and so all the two poor aliens can do is crash-land on Earth. Bummer. If that is not punishment enough, their rocketship fell apart in ten pieces which spread out all over Earth. That poses a kind of dilemma for Toejam & Earl, who didn’t expect to be on Earth, but on Funkotron by dinner. But what can they do? Explore Earth, evade Earthlings, open presents, find the ship pieces, assemble the ship and fly home, of course!
As you can see above, the Earth in Toejam & Earl looks a little… well… unearthly. The game is made up of around 20 stages/levels, each of them looking like pieces of Earth spread around Outer Space. Weird. Anyway, the game’s goal is to explore these stages “tile by tile” to find the missing rocketship pieces.
While exploring Earth, Toejam face Earthlings. Some of these Earthlings are quite unearthly as well though, or when was the last time you saw a little pink pig-devil dancing around on Hawaii? Right. Talking of Hawaii, an earthly Earthling you will encounter and enjoy quite often is an Aloha dancer.
Apart from the Aloha dancer, there are many other Earthlings to be discovered through the game’s course. Not all of them are fun to meet – devils sting, boogey-men scare and mad doctors pierce (laughing piercingly whilst at it). Some Earthlings are nice to be found though, especially the wise carrot man. Why? Because he is so wise that he can determine the content of presents without opening them, Wait – presents? As you usually do when you explore Earth on your own as aliens, you find presents. Lots and lots of presents, such as bonus hiptops.
Presents make life easier, either filling up lost energy again, or providing Toejam & Earl with temporary powers to battle Earthlings, speed up movement or speed up discovery of tiles. Unlike in the screenshot above, where all presents’ contents are known, this is not the case for presents you find during gameplay while exploring. You have to open them to find out what’s in it… And there are a few nasty presents as well which you won’t like, such as rainclouds over your head, or the infamous “Randomizer”. Better have the wise carrot man find that out for you, than you for yourself…
The really greatest thing about Toejam & Earl is the two-player splitscreen mode, shown below. One player playing Toejam, the other one Earl, makes exploring Earth all the more fun. Explore the stages twice as fast! Or go all the way together – because only if Toejam & Earl are nearby (the split-screen merges into one screen then), points and presents’ contents are shared evenly among both! This approach brings a very nice element of coop-mpetion into the game. Because, after all, YOU want to become Funklord first – or you want to become it together?
Another cool thing which can only be experienced in this two-player mode are the ridiculously funny conversations of Toejam & Earl while riding the elevator between stages. Elevators? Right, that’s the usual way to travel on Earth. 🙂
Toejam & Earl deserves a place in the Great Games Society because of it’s sheer funkiness and the immense fun a two player “competitive cooperative” game can be. The creativity which went into the game is awesome. The game is full of weird and extremely fun ideas, be it Earthlings like the Mad Doctor or cool presents to be found like the Ikarus Wings. It was lucky that Sega decided to give the game a chance, even if it was so unlike any other game seen before. It is a real gaming jam, pardon me gem, and I’m sure that generations will keep on exploring Earth, collecting presents and keep on jammin’ with a pair of good old bonus hitops. Kudos to the creators for creating (keep on creatin’ – good luck with the Kickstarter!), and kudos to Sega for publishing!
|3Y+||X – 1991, 'nuff, said|
|2H+||X – Although the game can be completed in around 1,5 to 2 hours, this is not recommended. A leisurely played game can take much more time than that… Usually around 3 hours. The original Sega Genesis cartridge does not have any means of saving a game state, so the only way to play it in chunks of 2 hours max is to find a safe spot, let Toejam & Earl rest (actually, they fall asleep!), turn off the TV, leave the Sega Genesis turned on and come back the next day. Well… Let's count that anyway.|
|-25H||X – Absolutely.|
|Presentation||O – The cartoonish art style, funky music, intro and elevator intermezzi are well made, but nothing special.|
|Story||O – The story is fun, but quite simple. No novel stuff.|
|Immersion||X – Especially immersive with two players – you can't quit until all rocketship pieces have been found. Also, due to the rather slow gameplay and vast stages, the game can even be a little meditative at times. Until the boogey-man comes.|
|Social||X – Toejam & Earl is one of the most fun cooperative two-player games ever made. Exploring Earth as two humans impersonating two funky aliens is extremely fun.|
|FOAK||X – Toejam & Earl is unique. Period.|
|Metacritic||O – The highest MobyRank score of a respected game mag is only 73 (Edge), so unfortunately Toejam & Earl misses the target set for this criterion.|
|Longevity||X – Toejam & Earl became a brand and spawned sequels in the 1990'ies (Toejam & Earl 2) and 2000's (Toejam & Earl 3). Also the games were successfully re-published on modern video game consoles' retro shops. There is currently an attempt to crowdfund a reboot of the first game on Kickstarter – Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove."|
Mass Effect, created by BioWare, throws you into a very detailed new science fiction universe, on par with classic universes such as Star Wars, Star Trek or Babylon 5. Having mentioned those three, I believe Babylon 5 may have had the strongest influence on the game designers. However, BioWare’s universe still brings enough unique ideas to the table so as not to appear as a complete rip-off. The strongest point of Mass Effect is that BioWare has put massive attention on all the details which are required to make such a universe believable and immersive. The game introduces you to the future of humankind a few decades after interstellar travel has become possible. Humankind is still early in the process of finding its place in the galaxy, which – who would’ve though it? – is populated by many other sentient and space-faring species. These other species – Turians, Salarians and Asari as the most powerful among them – have already gone through their share of squabbles in the past, and subsequently came together on a Galactic Council on a giant space station named “The Citadel”, to solve their issues politically and diplomatically. In this context, humankind is the “new kid on the block”, not yet accepted by the old species, still trying to find their place in the universe. This setting should probably sound fairly familiar to all Babylon 5 afficionados… So, let’s come to the unique elements Mass Effect adds to the mix: Both the old species as well as humankind all owe this space-faring and space-stationary happiness completely to an ancient, now-extinct race named the Protheans, who left both The Citadel space station, as well as a network of inter-stellar travel relays connecting various civilised worlds throughout the galaxy. The rest of it is technical mumbo-jumbo, but in essence it means that all civilization is dependent on this ancient Prothean technology.
In this setting, you assume the role of Commander Shepard, who can be either a male or female lead character. The storyline and dialogue is very cleverly created to serve both options. You are part of the military organization of humankind, which is named the Systems Alliance, and as part of this organisation you go on various missions to help increase the standing of humankind towards the Citadel’s council. An integral part of this is that humankind finally gets a place in the rank of the so-called “Spectres”, an elite unit serving the Citadel Council. Because of Commander Shepard’s heroic history, you get the chance to join these ranks and prove humandkind’s worthiness to join the Council. Throughout your journey as a prospective Spectre, you begin to discover the mysteries of the Protheans and their extinction, and are drawn into an enthralling story of betrayal centering around a Turian Spectre, and a much darker threat to the galaxy than anyone could have imagined.
Luckily, unlike the previous screenshot you embark on this journey neither alone, nor helpless. You travel the galaxy with your own spaceship, the Normandy, and you make acquaintances with both humans and aliens who will join your crew. From a gameplay point of view, your story progress is structured by “missions” and “assignments” you can embark on; assignments are completely optional and simply allow you to increase your character’s abilities or earn more experience and money to afford better armory and weaponry. Assignments lead you into parts of the galaxy you would not have visited with only the main missions.
On each of the missions and assignments, you can choose two crew members to accompany your squad, from a total of many more characters who join your ship crew. The two accompanying squad members are non-playable characters, but help you in combat. Some limited commands can be given to control them (such as stay behind or move to the front), but essentially they do what they want (and sometimes, due to technical glitches, even get stuck).
A central element of Mass Effect is that you can not only shape the physical appearance of your character, but through a decision on its background story – for example, war hero or sole survivor – and through moral decisions throughout the game’s dialogues, also the moral shape of your character. You can either decide to play for paragon by making “good/moral” choices, or to play for rogue, with “tough/bad/evil”-type choices. Depending on how you develop your character, certain story elements can unfold in different directions, as the following example shows in a dialogue with a Hanar preacher (who are jellyfish-like aliens).
Apart from this morality aspect, Mass Effect is is a classic action role-playing game with a hint of open-world exploration added through the assignments. The characters follow a class scheme, i.e. some of them have combat skills, electronics skills, “biotic” (harnessing the Mass Effect power to do “magic”) skills, stealth skills, …
For Commander Shepard, the class can be chosen at the very beginning and cannot be changed afterwards; however, due to the fact that always two other squad members join the missions/assignments, it is ensured that always a right mix of skills is available to complete them, regardless of the initial choice.
The game time is split around 50:50 with exploratory, character and story development activity on the one hand, and with planetary combat on the other hand. Some missions and assignments are not on foot – some of them require the use of the Normandy’s Mako, which is a planetary armored and armed vehicle you then take control of. To survive the on-foot combat scenes, it is essential to keep your armor and weaponry up-to-date; for this, throughout the galaxy many shops will gladly take your credits – or you can explore the various locations and plunder them using your special skills, for example electronics skills to unlock storage crates.
Actually, Mass Effect shouldn’t be featured on Carpe Ludum. Why? Because it took me around 26 hours to complete, and I even did not even finish all the side quests which are available. So, my own criterion of “less then 25 hours of gameplay” has been missed…
However, because it was only slightly missed, and because I seem to be a very slow player (most other game reviews attest a playing duration of 15-20 hours), I could not help but feature it. Mass Effect really spans a vast universe in front of you, which I disappeared into probably longer than I should have. I have read and listened to almost every database entry, and I wandered around on the Citadel and the other nice planetary locations much longer than I probably should have, just to enjoy the views and the music.
I can whole-heartedly recommend playing Mass Effect to any science fiction fan, particularily if they liked Babylon 5. However, I must warn you: Though the story-line of Mass Effect is concluded at the end of the game, be aware that there are two other games waiting to expand the story arc revolving around the Protheans and the Reapers – Mass Effect 2 (2010) and Mass Effect 3 (2012), concluding the Prothean/Reaper story arc. As of November 2014, reports indicate that the Mass Effect universe will return with new games.
So, if you play the first game, chances are not nil that you will be drawn into this universe completely and spend much more than 25 hours in it.
|3Y+||X – 2007, 'nuff, said|
|2H+||X – The game state can be saved frequently, so it is easy to play it in small portions.|
|-25H||(X) – Depends… Mass Effect almost missed this criterion… See review for details!|
|Presentation||O – Most locations are beautifully designed so it is a joy to wander around. Music and sound effects are very good as well. You will not forget the elevator music… On the other hand, the character animations, especially facial animations, are very dull. Furthermore, technical glitches are abundant, for example it is possible to get stuck with the Mako completely, having no other choice then but to return to the last save|
|Story||X – You do play Mass Effect for the epic science-fiction story, co-experiencing mankind's first steps in galactical politics, and explore the mysteries of the Prothean past which enables all of this. Though the story of Mass Effect is concluded at the end, it is made clear that it is part of a bigger story arc, continued to be told in Mass Effect's successive games Mass Effect 2 and 3 – so if you played the first one, be prepared to play the second and third one as well.|
|Immersion||X – The game draws you into its fictional universe using many techniques – main story, side story, and the galactic database which gives background to all major and also minor events, alien species and technologies. The game is so well made and puts so much emphasis on the details (such as the galactic database), that the science fiction universe which is created is completely believable. Character development, both of your main character as well as those of the side characters, are believable and relatable|
|Social||O – Being a one-player game, there is nothing much social about it.|
|FOAK||O – Being an action-RPG in the mid-late Twenty-zeros, there is nothing first of a kind to report here. Two-faceted character development had been piloted by Fable already in 2004|
|Metacritic||O – MobyRank scores of 90 (CVG Computer and Videogames), and 70 (Edge) are reported, so Mass Effect misses the target set for this criterion.|
|Longevity||X – The Mass Effect brand is still alive, with new games released after 2007, notably Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, concluding the first trilogy. Spin-offs for mobile devices and handheld consoles have been developed as well, and as of November 2014, reports of new games set in the Mass Effect universe promise continued health to the brand.|
Alter Ego is a very unique game – it is a “life simulation role-playing game” which lets you have as many different life experiences – from before-birth to death – as you like. It is a psychological game, and the center of the game is your own psyche.
Alter Ego is not really a “game” in the classic sense. It is more like an episodic, interactive “storybook of life”, allowing you to experience hundreds of life situations, make decisions, and see what consequences they have. It is also one of the few games where your game character’s goal is to die of old age. Saying this, you see the contradiction of perceiving Alter Ego as a “game”. Of course, dying is not the goal. As in real life, in the “game” of Alter Ego, the journey itself is the goal.
The game has been envisioned and created by Peter J. Favaro, a psychologist. The game was published in 1986. From the game manual, and from an interview Peter gave in 2007, it is deductable how much fun he must’ve had in creating the game. The “life experiences” are from his experience as psychologist on the one hand, based on hundreds of interviews with real people. On the other hand, many episodes came just from Peter’s mind, as he said in his 2007 interview. Peter’s sense of humour is absolutely fabulous – there are so many funny situations hidden in the game, that the game will almost always lift up your spirits when you play it.
Another noteworthy aspect is that two versions of the game have been published – a male version (the original release) and a female version (released some time after). Many life episodes are the same in both versions, but there are many gender-specific episodes as well. Of course, no man is prevented from playing the female version, or the other way around.
Alter Ego is made up of seven chapters – phases of life. The game can be started in any life phase (for example, directly in “Adulthood”), and then progresses through life, until death. Death hides in many places throughout the game – violent crimes, accidents and disease can hit you, especially if you have a tendency to behave recklessly.
During your alter ego’s life, you are presented with choices of life experiences in many different categories – work, interpersonal, love, health, family, and more, arranged in a tree in the middle part of the screen. However, there is no need to follow a particular order – life experiences can be chosen completely freely. As you progress through your alternate life, on the left and right side of the screen, several other life experience categories reveal themselves. Marriage, College, Finance, Work, Relations, Intellect, Family…
Each life experience is a small story, usually followed by a set of actions/choices you can take in the situation, like in the following example.
Each choice you make does have consequences, reflected in your so-called “Life Sphere”. Depending on how you behave in the various situations (and depending on which life experiences you choose in the first place!), your “life statistics” evolve very differently. Within the game’s universe, this actually does make a difference throughout your alter ego’s life. Depending on your alter ego’s statistics, you may or may not be eligible for certain jobs in the future; you may or may not have chances with certain educational institutions; you may or may not have chances to build a steady relationship or even marry… Just like in real life.
I usually dig out Alter Ego once in a year on a rainy weekend (like this one) or in periods with tough life decisions looming, requiring me to think more about life than on the usual Saturday-evening movie night. Playing Alter Ego is a nice way to remind myself that life’s about making decisions, not about pondering them for too long. Alter Ego is also some kind of real-life escapism. Instead of escaping into fantasy novels, with Alter Ego you can simply enjoy the fun of experiences and decision-making in different life episodes. The game also has great replay value – it is fun to try some episodes again and make different decisions next time around. Also, let me again mention Peter J. Favaro’s excellent humour. Although decision-making can be tough – at least you can laugh while making them!
Summarised, I can whole-heartedly recommend this “game” to any gamer who is not running away from the sound of the word “psychology”.
|3Y+||X – 1986, 'nuff, said|
|2H+||X – The game state can be saved at any point, so it is easy to play it in small portions.|
|-25H||X – Each life phase takes about 2 hours to play, so you can usually complete your alter ego's life in about 12 hours ('to complete' means 'to die'). That is quite astounding, considering that a normal life usually takes around 80 years to complete.|
|Presentation||O – Mostly text, some monochrome icons, no music… The game designers clearly had the inner beauty of humanity in mind when they programmed the game…|
|Story||O – On the one hand, Alter Ego tells the story of a lifetime… But on a closer look, it is not a consistent story, but only unrelated episodes.|
|Immersion||X – Yes, you can drown in the game, reflecting your own self for hours pondering how you would react in an episode|
|Social||O – Being a one-player game, there is nothing much social about it.|
|FOAK||X – Alter Ego was the first game to put your own psyche in the center of a game.|
|Metacritic||X – MobyRank scores of 100 (CVG Computer and Videogames), 98 (Zzap!), 90 (Happy Computer) from three respected game magazines of the time are recorded.|
|Longevity||X – In 2014, the Alter Ego brand is still alive, as a web-based game, and apps for Android and iPhone. Check out at www.playalterego.com."|
Ozark Softscape created a landmark multiplayer game which established computer gaming as a social event way ahead of its time. Turn-based strategy elements are mixed smartly with action elements, embedded in an intricate economics simulation. Up to four human players, huddled around one C64, compete and collude in the colonisation of the distant planet Irata.
A plethora of well-balanced random events badger the colonists during their twelve-month journey and make each tournament unique. It takes a whole life to learn all strategies so you can emerge as First Founder from each furious colonisation battle against your friends. This constitutes the everlasting magic of M.U.L.E.
The legacy of the game lives on in an active fan community (whose meeting hub is the World of M.U.L.E.) who regularly meet up for face-to-face or emulator-supported online C64 M.U.L.E. tournaments. Planet M.U.L.E. (2009) and M.U.L.E. Returns (2013) are reincarnations of the classic game for PC and mobile platforms which carry on the game’s legacy for modern audiences.
M.U.L.E. stands for “Multiple Use Labor Element”. And hard labor is what you have to expect when you start your journey in mastering this game. Instead of a regular game review, this one time I have decided to write the review in form of a short story. I have written this short story after an exceptionally dramatic online Atari 800 M.U.L.E. tournament with a guy named “numbnuts” on May 26th 2006, without which this story would not have come to life, or at least would have come to life far later. (Note: Some aspects of this dramatic tournament have been slightly altered in order to create even more drama.)
Enjoy! Irata – Here I Come!
|3Y+||X – 1983, 'nuff, said|
|2H+||X – A typical M.U.L.E. single- or multi-player tournament takes about 90 (one human player) to 120 (four human players) minutes|
|-25H||(X) – Well, well… It is true that a M.U.L.E. tournament usually only takes about 1 to 1,5 hours… But I certainly can't promise you that you won't play more than 25-38 tournaments in your lifetime! 😉|
|Presentation||O – Well, you've seen the screens above. M.U.L.E. really is no beauty, however the comic-like graphics do have their own charme. And of course the title theme is very catchy – thanks for this, Roy Glover!|
|Story||O – Not really a story to tell (or told) here – just enough to write a small short story (see above!), but unfortunately not enough material to write a novel.|
|Immersion||X – During a four human player M.U.L.E. tournament, nothing else matters than becoming First Founder. It's like a World Cup Final.|
|Social||X – Definitely one of the best social gaming experiences you can have with four humans huddled around one old computer. Only a few games can compare with the fun and bickering during a M.U.L.E. tournament; maybe only the fabulous ten-human-players Sega Saturn Bomberman is on par with this.|
|FOAK||O – Nothing first of a kind to be found here – just many already-known gameplay elements very intelligently combined.|
|Metacritic||O – Released in 1983, there was not really game journalism – and the very few reviews of the game from that time give it more an okay-ish reception, with the exception of the CGW (Computer Gaming World) review who recognised it as an instant classic. More broadly, the magic of M.U.L.E. was discovered much later.|
|Longevity||X – M.U.L.E. has spawned some okay-ish clones (such as Traders and Subtrade in the 1990'ies) and real sequels (such as Planet M.U.L.E. and M.U.L.E. Returns in the 2000's/2010's). Furthermore, there is an active fanbase over at World of M.U.L.E. with around a 1000 fans, some of whom regularily meet up for real-life or online tournaments.|