Thursday, September 25, 2008

DROD RPG: Tendry's Tale

Title: DROD RPG: Tendry's Tale
Author: Caravel Games
Licencse: Commercial

Expectations. DROD:JtRH was my 2005 Game of Year. DROD:TCB was a 2007 Honorable Mention. So, any game with DROD in the title sets high expectations for me. Add to that that I am a long time old school RPG gamer. Fallout is one of my all time favorite games. I have also lost many nights sleep playing Arcanum, one damn hard game btw. I also enjoy the modern RPG slashers such as Diablo, Neverwinter Nights, and Guild Wars. Thus, a game title with both DROD and RPG results in sky high expectations.

The question is does DROD RPG meet these expectations? No. Does it come close? Yes, if you focus on the DROD puzzle aspects. No, if you are expecting a fleshed out RPG game.

In case you are not familiar with DROD, it is a turn based puzzle games. You wander around a with your mighty sword. On each turn, you can move to any of the eight neighboring squares or swing your sword 45 degrees clockwise or counter clockwise. Unlike previous DROD games, the bad guys for the most do not move. Also, unlike the original, your sword does not automatically kill anything it touches. Instead, in classic RPG fashion, your character and the opponents have hit points, attack ratings, and defensive rating. When you attack, the battle is resolved by factoring in these parameters. You can right click on a monster to see the effect of any battle before entering into it. There is no randomness.

DROD PRG: Tendry's Tale comes with 13 levels. Each level contains 20 or more rooms. The goal is to find your way to the exit. Besides opponents baddies, there are doors and other movement puzzles. Strewn about each level are power ups, health potions, switches, keys, and the occasional new weapon or shield.

Completing each level is mostly a matter of doing things in the right order. You cannot take on the toughie until you run around the level and get all the attack power ups and find that new weapon. One downside of the game is that it possible to get stuck. After having to redo 20 minutes work once, I got into the habit of saving early and saving often. Scanning the forums, I saw that many players make one pass through a level to learn it and then make another more efficient pass.

Many rooms require solving puzzles. These puzzles are the strong point of the DROD franchise, and there are some good puzzles in DROD RPG. In the pictured room, you need to collect the two keys. To do so, you have to get the mimic to step on the correct switches at just the right time. The mimic will mimic your move if possible. First you have to line him up just right, then circle around and have have him raise and lower the doors in just the right order.

One new puzzle twist in this version is that you have a pet which can be released at opportune times. The little guy can be used to trip switches which you do not otherwise have access to. I really liked these puzzles.

On the other hand, the RPG side of DROD RPG is disappointing. There are no fundamental character decisions to make. No character classes, no distribution of skill points, no purchase choices. The RPG aspects are limited to searching each level for power ups, new weapons, and shields. It really does pay to completely search each level for the hidden rooms. There are occasional tactical decisions to make such as "should I spend 30 gold to gain access to this room which contains a +2 attack power up." And even then as far as I can tell, the answer is always yes. Always get those attack power ups.

I do not know what I was hoping for in DROD RPG. Maybe you could learn a skill which you allow finer control of mimics and/or your pet. With this skill there would be certain puzzles you could complete that others could not. Another skill would allow you see in the dark (several of the rooms are dark and require a depth-first search to solve). Of course, play balancing all of this very hard.

There is huge potental for a well balanced puzzle-rgp hybird. I really enjoyed Puzzle Quest, another example. The puzzles in Puzzle Quest are weak, but the rpg choices did fundamentally effect the game and the way I played it. I actually played through the game three times. I blew through the Tendry's Tale levels and I have no intention of going back.

As with other games in DROD series, there is a level editor. I will be very interested to see if any user generated levels really include RPG choices.

Expectations are curse in this case. If I had not played any of the pervious games in the series, I would be raving about this game. To finish with the best thing I can say about a game: I downloaded DROD PRG at 9pm on night and played it for 6 hours straight, on a school night. I was paying the price at work the next day.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Browser Games 11

Time for yet another trio of browser based logic/puzzle games. All three of these games are based on a simple idea, but nicely expanded out to an interesting game. The best puzzle games have the simplest rule set. The only downside to browser based games is that you have to put up with some ads.


Light-Bot is a simple programming game. The goal is to have the robot visit each blue square and turn on his light. You have to write a method (ah, these object oriented kids) for the robot which achieves this. To write this program, sorry method, you drag tiles which command the robot to move forward, turn left, turn right, jump, or toggle the light. The main method contains space for only 12 commands. The interesting twist is that you also have two functions which can contain up to 8 commands. You can then call those functions from the main command. You can also have one function call the other and even recursively call itself.


At first glance, Shift is just a platform game: jump over the spikes, get the key, and find your way to the exit. All true, but it have one twist. With one strike of the shift key, black becomes white and up becomes down. The whole games turns over. The implications are hard to understand at first. Even after completing all of the levels, I am not sure I fully understand this one.


Get the ball to the white exit tile. Your only tool: you can raise and lower the ground. Like any good ball, it rolls downhill. You can even get it roll faster raising more ground behind it. Throw in the usual arrows, teleporters, accelerate tiles, decelerate tiles, jump tiles and that is the game. Some levels require careful timing. Also, the ball can get stuck against a wall if you not careful. There is a large number of levels available which can be played in any order. Many levels are quite difficult.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Title: Karoshi
Author: Jesse Venbrux
License: Freeware

I recently saw a list of "The Best Indie Game You (N)ever Played". One game on the list is the platform/puzzler Karoshi 2, and I realized that I have never reviewed it or its predecessor. It is time to correct this oversight.

Karoshi is the Japanese word for "death from overwork." This is a apt title the game. The goal in most platform/puzzlers is safely get to the exit. The puzzle is figuring out how to do this, hit the switch, collect the key, etc, etc. Karoshi turns this this genre on its head. The goal is figure out a way to kill yourself.

There are lots of different ways to kill yourself in Karoshi. You can fall on spikes. You can orchestrate to have a box fall you. My favorite, you can electrocute yourself.

Karoshi follows the usual conventions for platform games: boxes to push, switches to activate, gravity causes everything to fall, jumping. But there are many things which you have to discover on your own. This is really the fun part. In the level pictured above, you have to figure out that those yellow lines are electricity and boxes are conductive. In the end, everything is logical, but you have think outside the box every now and then, play experiment, have fun. There are a couple of great "ah ha" momenets in this game.

There are 26 levels plus a "boss" level. The levels are varied, and the design is very good. The levels unfortunately have to be solved in order. This can a little annoying when you do not see the trick and that ah ha moment is still a ways off.

The graphics and audio are simple, nothing special, but fine for the game. The controls can at times be annoying if you have to jump and fire your gun at just the right time. There is one level were I had to jump above the top of viewable area and as I was coming down, fire at just the right time. I still wonder if there was a better way to complete that level. Hmm...

There is an odd psychological aspect to the game. We are trained to survive. Years of playing such game has hard coded in my brain that you avoid spikes. It took me a while to switch my thinking to finding ways to kill myself. Ultimately this is what makes Karoshi a great game. Sadly, it is also what makes Karoshi 2 less of a game. It has better graphics, audio, and a nicer interface. But, it lacked the wonder and newness of the original. The levels in the original are more inventive.

Both are free and well worth playing.