Saturday, April 29, 2006

Bytten Ernies 2006

It's that time of year again, a time when we at Bytten look back over a year of reviews and choose those games that had some particular appeal for us. These are the second Bytten Ernies and I'm pleased to say that the quality has anything but dipped since our first outing.

I'll do much the same as last year and announce categories and winners, but this year I'm no longer nominating a runner-up. Choosing one great game is hard enough - picking a second is even tougher. I will however give mention to all those games that were in my thoughts at the time.

Most Involved Plot
Shadow Stars by Spellcaster Studios

Shadow StarsThe clear winner here was "Shadow Stars: The Ventrui Belt", a bold attempt at a 3D space shooter that saw you taking the surviving fighter of a Warfyr attack fleet, cruelly tricked into exiting hyperspace bang on top of a minefield, against hordes of Tarwyne spacecraft. We don't see many 3D combat games at Bytten, a genre more commonly found in the commercial sector.

Runners up in this category included "Finlay's Fathoms", in which a brave magical dolphin fights toxic waste, fishing boats and insane sealife; and the frankly bizarre Zombie Smashers, which defies plot summarising.

Most Unusual Idea
Battles of Norghan by Mitorah Games

This was a rather difficult category to fill this year, with many original yet sensible ideas. After some thought it became obvious - "Battles of Norghan" is an unusual yet highly effective cross between a dungeon hack'n'slash and a football management sim. Having kept this reviewer entertained both during and after the review, it well deserves praise. More like this, please!

Most Ambitious Game
Gumshoe Online by Hiding Buffalo
Professor Fizzwizzle by Grubby Games

Perhaps the most difficult category to fill of them all, we've had a number of high quality games this year and I've been unable to choose a clear winner. I have therefore gone with a joint award to two games that both impressed me a great deal.

First up, I have to mention "Gumshoe Online". This atmospheric online adventure saw me hunting for clues and cracking cases, and was quite compulsive. It is nominated for this award due to the sheer number of locations, clues and red herrings that go into each case.

My other offering here is "Professor Fizzwizzle", a platform puzzler that's a winner with children and adults alike. A wealth of objects and interactions led to over a hundred puzzles, a number that ever increases with the inclusion of a level editor. While not obviously ambitious in terms of graphics, sound or size it is clear that nothing but the best would do for Grubby Games in every area of the game.

Most Addictive Game
Zombie Smashers by Ska Software
Battles of Norghan by Mitorah Games
Professor Fizzwizzle by Grubby Games

Here I again have a tie - between three games! My qualifier for this award is that a game brings me back over and over, even past the publication of the review, and these three games all did that to me.

The first of these, "Zombie Smashers", features some double-dragon style combat with RPG elements against a variety of nasties and a series of missions that ranged from the bizarre to the downright bonkers. I played this one through to the end - the very end!

Otherwise we have two familiar entries - "Battles of Norghan" reappears with my long-running efforts to win the entire league (eventually successful), and "Professor Fizzwizzle" gets an extra mention. I've created a number of my own levels for the benefit of my (normally) non-games playing partner.

Strangest Game Experience
50 Castles by Rusty Axe Games

This was rather difficult to judge but I eventually settled for "50 Castles". While the game itself was a fairly normal puzzle game, involving fitting parts into a castle, there is a certain level of oddity within. Few games involve you shooting snakes with your cannon in order to stop them eating your chickens.

Rivals to this title included "Zombie Smashers", which was bonkers but clever about it, and "Laser Dolphin", summed up by the title - however, "50 Castles" outweirded the pair of them.

Special Award
Magic Match by Codeminion Dev Studios

This year's special award goes to "Magic Match", a game that never quite fitted any of the other categories and yet deserves a mention for all-round excellence. Mad songs, a rather sweet helper imp and chaining rather than simply lining up matching items all enhanced the smooth look and feel of a solid game. Well done Codeminion!

And that's it for another year. Here's to the next, and to all the great games we hope to experience over the coming twelve months!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bytten Ernies 2005

As a prelude to the upcoming 2006 Bytten Ernie awards, here are my Ernies from last year. Other articles are being appraised for transfer to blog form but they tend to be a little on the long side!

Most Involved Plot
Awarded to I of the Enemy by Enemy Technology
Runner-up Starscape by Moonpod

I of the EnemyA host of alien names aside, I of the Enemy is by far the most well-plotted of games I have reviewed. Independent gamers seldom flesh their plots out much, which made this game a refreshing and entertaining change. The storyline revealing the truth behind the enigmatic Y'dray and the mysterious Unath has echoes of an
M Night Shyalaman plot twist.

Though I couldn't easily think of a runner-up for this category, Starscape just beats nearest rivals The Last Sorceror and Outpost Kaloki as it incorporates the plot more into the game itself, rather than as a bit of background between levels.

Most Unusual Idea
Awarded to Pac Doom 2 by Absolutist
Runner-up Basegolf by Alitius Software

PacDoomThough the game style itself is far from unique, the idea behind it was quite bizarre. Take two popular and very different games - Pacman and Doom II - and merge them into one of the oddest games I've seen in some time. The resulting game is remarkably playable.

Basegolf is my second choice, joining together two sports I have never been much good at to produce a game I'm still not much good at. But then again, how many sports can you play on the moon?

Most Ambitious Game
Awarded to Taren by Purple Toe Multimedia
Runner-up Hellhog XP by StateVector Games

TarenThis category is aimed at those games that tried especially hard despite a lack of experience or manpower. As such the likes of Starscape and I of the Enemy, while definitely ambitious, didn't face the impossible in quite the same way as Taren did. This was a game put together by a game construction engine and, while not the most playable or professional of games, it is one of very few attempts at a Doom-style 3D environment that we have had the pleasure of reviewing.

The runner-up for this category is the graphically beautiful but hopelessly impossible Hellhog XP, which only ran on one of the computers accessible to Bytten at that time. It is a prime example of how you can be overly ambitious in one field, to the cost of the others.

Most Addictive Game
Awarded to Warblade by Edgar M Vigdal
Runner-up Super Groovy by Insane Play

WarbladeMy main measurement here is how much time disappeared before, during and after reviewing these games. To that extent, Warblade is the clear winner. Finally getting to try out those laser beams took a lot of play but was very enjoyable.

The second most addictive game I've played was the very different Super Groovy, probably because it was very simple and yet very easy to make a mistake. Even my non-games-playing partner found Super Groovy irresistible for a time.

Strangest Game Experience
Awarded to Sim Gangster by NetGangsters
Runner-up Cactus Bruce and the Corporate Monkeys by Blue Tea Games

SimGangsterThe strangest game I have played for Bytten has to be SimGangster. Expecting a cheap version of Grand Theft Auto, I was startled to find a game which saw you planning your criminal day - muggin' grannies, vandalism, or just chillin' (with either gender!) - before playing it out with some hilarious commentary.

A close contender for this award is the bizarrely titled Cactus Bruce and the Corporate Monkeys. Few games feature a pirate cactus, an exploding snowman and flowerpot throwing at simian adversaries with a one-ton extending claw.

Special Award
Briefcase by Fallout Software

BriefcaseI wanted to give a special mention to this game, a puzzler that featured packing a briefcase with an assortment of odd items. I do not know why you'd want to take three alan keys, a screwdriver, a single trainer and four tennis balls anywhere. Briefcase was simple, addictive and fun - bizarre as packing usually isn't (having just moved house, I know this for a fact).

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Kicking off...

Good day, oh wanderers. Welcome to Andrew's Bytten Blog.

I confess first of all that this is my first ever blog, and I fear I will end up either posting little or wittering on so much that I never get anything done. Hopefully Mark, Hayden and company will keep me on track with some brilliantly written and insightful, incisive invective.

At the moment I am approaching a mild panic stage over my review of "Gumshoe Online", which is due up in just under two weeks and I haven't written it yet. While some may consider this normal, I generally get my reviews done many weeks in advance. This delay is due to a succession of disasters in my personal life that I will not go into.

I'm also debating whether to relaunch my proofreading service, - or am I just too busy with everything else?

Right, time to stop jabbering and go do something else. My review awaits, as does a short story I'm writing for the Flatspace website (though it laughs scornfully at the word short). And there's a rumoured trailer for Doctor Who about to start on BBC1...