Tag Archives: Ireland

Go Ireland: The VideoGame by Fine Gael – Review

22 Feb

The debut title from new developers ‘Fine Gael Digital Task Force’ is a flash platformer, in the vein of the superb ‘Super Meat Boy’ but a little slower paced. Players control Fine Gael (Irish political party) leader Enda Kenny, and we are treated to the voice talents of Seán McShiurtáin as the politician. The game is based around Mr. Kenny attempting to gain votes, each of which is represented by a Fine Gael logo, while avoiding opposition politicians, traffic cones and moving platforms. In order to get a high score though, all the opposition must be defeated, by means of Fine Gael (ninja) star, and having the ‘5 point-plan for economic recovery’ enacted. It’s only one level, but it’s quite tough, due to the number of hazards and various goals.

The game is, unfortunately, beset by issues. Collision detection is horrendous, as landing anywhere near the cones leads to death. Jumping has no consistency, and making it over any gaps is purely based on luck. The throwing of stars only works on around one out of three occasions, and never when it’s needed. Gameplay is so hampered by these flaws, and the hideous level design, that it’s almost as if the game was hastily produced in an extremely cynical manner.

It's very easy for Mr. Kenny to die

The graphics aren’t awful, as flash games go, but they are blocky and uninspired, though a somewhat accurate reflection of Ireland. The character design is awful though, with each politician little more than an unidentifiable blob. The human heads on tiny cartoon bodies are slightly disturbing, and there is an awe-inspiring lack of creativity in the visuals as a whole.

The sound effects are even worse, with a repetitive jingle being played at all times and some even more awful snippets of sound. ‘On yer bike’ and ‘Tax that’ are repeated ad infinitum, and still the music tortures the player’s ears with its sheer offensiveness. The complete lack of effort here is shocking, really, considering the work put into the gameplay. Listening to the poor voice actor imitate lines that were seemingly recorded through the microphone on someone’s laptop is a special kind of nightmare, with a repetitive jingle. To his credit though, when delivering the line ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ he becomes a rather reasonable Jedward impersonator.

Gerry Adams doesn't provide the expected level of challenge

The most interesting element of the game then, is the bizarre element of controlling a murderous politician, seemingly on a mission to kill all opposition. It is possibly a retro-kitsch nod to the Blueshirt era of the political party. If not, it is altogether intriguing. With a lack of obvious plot, it seems that Mr. Kenny merely wants to destroy all those who oppose him, either with physical ninja stars in his party colours, or with some sort of metaphorical propaganda based weapon. The latter seems more likely, due to the nature of Fine Gael’s media campaign, with flash games, an e-card creator and YouTube videos. With these tools they will crush their foes and gain election, perhaps.

On the other hand, the death of opposition party members in a pile of ashes, with a sign appearing above their now-cremated remains saying “Bye John Gormley” (or whoever happens to be on the receiving end of Mr. Kenny’s wrath) makes it hard to assume that the goal is merely to propagate ideas. The very nature of the killing, and the cold one-liners mentioned earlier (tax that) seem to indicate that Mr. Kenny has taken it upon himself to become Ireland’s answer to the ‘Governator’ Arnold Schwarzenegger, but based more on his role in ‘Commando’ than as a political figure.

Enda Kenny, stone cold killer

It is perhaps most interesting that the game is fraught with technical errors, as it seems almost impossible to finish the level and achieve all the goals set out in the objectives. Maybe this is an ironic or existential argument put forth by the creators, allowing us to meditate on the futility of Fine Gael’s policies, or perhaps it is truly just one of the most poorly designed and ill-conceived pieces of political propaganda ever produced. Might this reviewer suggest that if Fine Gael cannot get this game working, then their stated aim of getting Ireland working may be far more than they have the means to achieve.

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Mad Blocker Alpha Review

13 Feb

Open Emotion Studios, based in Limerick, Ireland, have been making quirky and entertaining flash games since early 2010. The first of these games was an addictive puzzler called ‘Mad Blocker’ The game proved popular enough to warrant a sequel, and after making several more flash games, for Mad Blocker Alpha: Revenge of the Fluzzles, Open Emotion moved onto Sony’s ‘Minis’ – a platform for simple, accessible games that can be played on PSP and PS3. This is a real indication of the success of Open Emotion with Mad Blocker. Ireland may be home to some high-profile international studios, but for an Irish indie developer to release a game for a major console is extremely impressive, and a real testament to the work Open Emotion have put into MBA.

The game itself is familiar, yet has a style all of its own, both in gameplay and visually. Certainly there are strong influences from other puzzle games so it’s instantly accessible to anyone who enjoys the genre. Gameplay feels something like a cross between Columns and Dr. Mario, with a little Super Puzzle Fighter in the mix too. Blocks fall horizontally in sets of three, the order of which can be changed as they fall. They can’t be rotated however, so it plays like columns on a vertical plane in this sense. The gameplay is a fantastic risk/reward trade off, as the more blocks eliminated at once, the more points scored, but the screen can become clogged quickly and the best laid plans turn to defeat. The score attack gameplay is very addictive, every bit as much as the classic puzzlers the game draws from.

The hand drawn visuals are a delight

In addition to the simple gameplay of the original flash version, Open Emotion have added more than just a few new blocks and power-ups. There is a story mode which, while simple, has a lot of charm. Much like Puzzle Bobble, the story mode adds impetus to keep playing, not just to get to the next level, but to see the next piece of gorgeous art. The hand-drawn style visuals are one of the best things about the game, giving it a look that stands out in a crowded genre. A lot of effort clearly went into crafting stimulating backgrounds, and offering the player a reward for their continued play. The blocks themselves have different faces, with the happy pink block looking like ‘company mascot’ material from the off. The others, from angry red to terrified yellow, are equally charming and full of personality. The music is also high-quality, catchy and jovial. It scores the experience perfectly and between sound and visuals it’s a delight to play. The design is really excellent and in adding a story mode for this full-featured release there are more than enough reasons to justify buying, rather than just playing the flash version.

A puzzle game though, lives and dies by its gameplay. MBA doesn’t disappoint, it’s perfect for PSP players in particular, offering an addictive and compelling portable experience which suits short stints of play. PS3 owners shouldn’t be put off though, as the story mode adds just enough depth. Attempting to beat high scores encourages repeat play, and the level of challenge is pitch-perfect for this type of gameplay. It’s definitely a throwback, but that’s no bad thing. The familiarity only adds to the experience and the combination of nostalgic gameplay with modern visuals keeps things fresh. The only real criticisms are that the visuals may not appeal to everyone. They’re odd, to say the least, and some may be turned off by them. In terms of gameplay the columns influence is a tad strong, but again, not a bad thing really. Unique power ups and blocks and an original style mean it’s not derivative, more of a tribute to classic puzzle games than anything.

Story mode adds some real depth

It really is great to see an indie developer from Ireland get a game released on a home console. Not only because it shows just how far indie games have come, but that Irish developers have a chance to compete in the industry. Open Emotion are blazing a trail and already have another mini due for release – Ninjamurai, due May of this year. The Sega influence is clear as they describe it as ‘Shinobi meets Sonic’. If it’s as unique and interesting as Mad Blocker Alpha, and retains Open Emotion’s sense of style it could be another winner. If Mad Blocker Alpha is anything to go by, it should be.

The RAGE – Retro Game Shop in Dublin

20 Jan

The R.A.G.E. – Record, Art and Game Emporium
16b Fade St.
Dublin 2

In what used to be road records on Dublin’s Fade Street, a new record store has opened, and it has a small section devoted to retro games. Considering Dublin’s only retro game shop has some of the biggest mark-ups I’ve ever encountered I expected little, but gave the place a chance nonetheless.

As I said, the games section is small (in case you’re interested, there’s a nice selection of vinyl from some really great bands, as well as tapes, cds as turntables) but there are plenty of titles packed in. No CD games present, except for one for the Mega CD. This is purely devoted to the finest of Nintendo and Sega’s early output. There were far more Mega Drive games than any others, but the smaller selections for NES, Master System, SNES and N64 were quite good, with many better known games for sale, instead of the usual shelf after shelf of FIFA variants. At a glance I spotted: Super Mario Kart, Sonic 1,2 and 3, Streets of Rage, Mario 64, Mega Man 2 and most of the best games for each console. The only games lacking were some of the older Mario titles and any Zelda, which is forgivable, they probably sold out on the opening day.

Behind the counter were boxed SNES, Mega Drive, Master System and Mega CD consoles, as well as plenty of pads and accessories for all the available consoles. The prices were also great for a bricks and mortar shop. Most games were €10 or less, with only a few boxed or rarer games above that price. Mario Kart was €15, but that was to be expected. I picked up F-Zero X for the N64 for €7, a boxed copy of Tetris and Dr. Mario for the SNES for €8 and an official SNES pad, amongst a few other things.

The staff are really friendly and helpful, which definitely encourages the customer to return. He told me the games are selling well and he plans to get more in, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you fancy starting a retro collection, or expanding one. The boxed consoles are €50, and unboxed €35, which is very reasonable for a shop, especially with the added bonus of having somewhere to return anything faulty to, and the option to test games out. There’s a full section of test consoles, so you can try before you buy, a very nice touch. They also put on small gigs and EP/album launches for local acts, so there’s plenty more to enjoy than games.

Best thing about the place though, I got a free carrier bag with a Mario mushroom logo on it (pic below). It’s the little things that make a shop great, especially independent places like that, and while it’s sad to see Road out of business, it’s good to see something else unique replace it.

If you want to visit, the address is 16b Fade St., Dublin 2
Or you can find the Rage on facebook here