Pumped BMX+ (PC)

The 1980s introduced me to many radical things (including Rubik’s Cubes, Showbiz Pizza, and the Thompson Twins), but perhaps the most radical was extreme sports. Yes, technically skateboarding predates the Awesome 80s, but we’re talking about Christian Hosoi pulling McTwists off of half pipes here, not hippies surfing down sidewalks on pieces of wood with metal wheels nailed to them. Right around the time my interest in breakdancing began to wane I discovered Thrashin’ and Rad and quickly traded my Converse in for a pair of Vision Street Wear. No longer was it cool to build little ramps and ride around in the dirt — suddenly it was all about adding pegs to your bike and, if you had crappy brakes like I did, toe endos.

Before long I was doing table tops, 360 spins, and back flips — not in real life, but in video games. It wasn’t easy to keep up with west coast trends when you lived in the Midwest, but with games like 720, Skate or Die, and California Games, I could live out my skateboarding and BMX dreams without ripping open my pants… or my chin.

Fast forward thirty years. Today, most of my extreme sport participation takes place with games like Moto-X-Mayhem and Stickman BMX on my iPhone, usually while sitting in the bathroom or chilling in my recliner after a long day of shopping for antiques and yelling at children to get off my lawn. These days, the thought of performing an acid drop off a sick vert ramp sounds more like an insurance liability than a good time. Also at my age, I sound really lame saying things like “acid drop” and the word “sick,” unless I’m using it to describe how I feel after taking my Centrum Silver One-A-Day Multivitamin on an empty stomach, before I’ve had my oatmeal.

Pumped BMX+ by Yeahus is a sick BMX game. For clarity’s sake, Yeahus has produced three similarly named games: Pumped BMX 1 and 2 (both for iOS/Android), and the non-mobile phone version, Pumped: BMX+, for the Wii-U, XBox One, PS Vita, PS3, PS4, and Steam. My friend Roody Yogurt was kind enough to gift me a Steam code for this game and so that is the version I will be reviewing.

In my mind I am young and hip and cool. I am a friend to the kids and their Pokemon Go, and support the dudes with their Tor browsing and their smartwatches. In reality, I am an aging buffoon. After downloading Pumped BMX+, I spent days — DAYS! — trying to figure out how to control this knobby-wheeled game.

If you happen to use an Xbox 360 controller with Steam, Pumped BMX+ is simple to control. The left analog stick controls your bike while the right analog stick is used to perform tricks. The “A” button is used to speed up (think “pumping in the transition” — or, if that analogy means nothing to you, simply think “Tiny Wings”), and the controller’s trigger is used to enable a second set of more difficult tricks while holding it down.

I don’t use an Xbox 360 controller on my computer. Instead, I use an old USB Gravis Gamepad Pro that was released four days after USB was invented. If at any time the instructions had informed me that the game required two analog sticks, I wouldn’t have spent hours trying to reconfigure my limp controller and installing TocaEdit’s X360 Controller Emulator in a vain attempt to make my gamepad work.

There is a way to play the game using your keyboard, although Yeahus has hidden this information so well that it’s like a secret of the Masonic Temple. It’s not mentioned on Steam, in the game, in the tutorial session, or even on the Yeahus website. After skimming through multiple customer reviews of the game, I discovered that you can use the keyboard’s arrow keys for the left analog stick and WASD for the right stick. That means every time the game says “use the left stick” you’ll use the keys under your right hand, and vice versa. Instead of the controller’s “A” button you can use the space bar, and either shift key works as the trigger. What all of this means is that to perform some of the moves you will need to hold down the space bar, release it, and press one or two of the arrow keys while holding down shift and holding down one or two of the WASD keys at the same time. Later, when trying to perform trick combos like a barspin to 360 suicide to back flip Superman, you’ll need to press roughly a dozen keys with the dexterity of Herbie Hancock within a matter of seconds. If you can do this with a keyboard, you are talented enough to be in the real X-Games and have no reason to be playing video games like this one.

If the only professional skateboarder you can name is Tony Hawk then you will most likely be spending a few minutes working through the game’s five tutorial lessons while learning how to control your gnarly little man. It took me a dozen tries to clear the first tutorial level (which only involves jumping and landing) and a couple of minutes to coast through all rest. The hardest part of the tutorial is dealing with the steady stream of pop-up windows that appear and pause the game, throwing off the timing required to complete some of the tricks.

Before starting the actual game, players can customize the look of their character. There aren’t a ton of choices — nine different bicycles, eleven helmets, and six outfits — but this is freestyle BMX, not Barbie’s Dirt Track Vacation. I liked the fact that the game doesn’t force you to wear a helmet because, let’s face it, if you land on your head while attempting a double back flip to tail whip, that plastic dome strapped to your noggin’ ain’t gonna save your melon.

I selected Outfit #5 for my character (a t-shirt, cargo shorts, and gray tennis shoes) because that’s what I was wearing in real life. Once you launch the game you’ll find five levels: Local, Flow, AM, Pro, and Legend. Each level contains eight tracks, and each track contains three difficulty levels of achievements to unlock. On level one, track one, the easy achievements include completing the level, scoring 7,500 points, doing one 2,000 point trick, and performing a barspin. For the advanced achievements, the score raises to 13,000 and you’ll need to land a 4,500 point trick. All the tricks are listed in a pop-up menu so figuring out how to perform them isn’t hard — but again, if you’re playing with a keyboard, you’ll have to remember that when the game says to perform a Can-can you need to hold down the trigger and press the right analog stick diagonally down/right, that really means holding shift, S, and D at the same time. The game is pretty picky about hitting multiple keys at exactly the same time.

The easy achievements are, well, easy, while the more advanced ones may take some planning and knowledge of the track. You can pull a barspin off at any jump, but it’ll take more speed and landing room to successfully nail a front slip Superman. In the advanced levels you may find that particular combos can only be pulled off at one specific area of the track.

As you advance further into the game you’ll begin to see more terrain, like snow and sand. Also, if you play long enough, you’ll encounter a few glitches. The first time this happened, I managed to land a nose manual on the end of a bridge. While I was stuck there, the game kept adding points until I finally aborted the level.

It happened again a few minutes later when I landed awkwardly at the bottom of a ramp. I let it run up to a million points, just to see what would happen. I’m pretty sure this is not allowed in the real X-Games. It’s not that the overall game is glitchy, but rather specific points in certain levels simply aren’t programmed well. I encountered these same glitches over and over again in the same spots.

It took roughly 30 minutes to unlock everything in the first seven stages of level one, and another two hours to unlock everything on level eight. Sometimes it seems like what you are required to do is simply impossible, and after trying the same trick combo for over an hour using the keyboard, my fingers began cramping and my wrists were on fire. That is one of a million reasons why I am not in the real X-Games.

When I reached the desert levels, it hit me why I enjoy this game so much.

Pumped: BMX+ is literally an updated version of the BMX level of California Games, from the sarcastic comments after each crash to the short races and quick tricks.

I love and miss the 1980s. I will never again own a Miami Vice jacket or a pair of blue fingerless gloves, but the nostalgic memories remain. In my room, I can put on the Fat Boys Greatest Hits, pop open a can of Shasta orange soda, and fire up Pumped BMX+, where I can perform tubular BMX tricks without the fear of breaking any bones or trespassing on other people’s property. Thumbs up from me!

Air Traffic Controller Games Round-up

How would I define the magic of an ATC sim? Well, it’s the one simulator which can nearly perfectly recreate the actual experience it is trying to simulate. Being a controller involves sitting in a room, staring at a bunch of blips on the screen, and making them move around. So does playing an ATC sim. I would imagine a perfect ATC sim would make it impossible to tell if you were actually doing it or not, other than the screams of doomed passengers as they plummet to the ground in a fiery ball. More than that, though, the magic is that it’s kind of like slow-motion, three-dimensional Asteroids. And who wouldn’t want to play that?

Now, let’s take a look at the contenders.

Endless ATC

For a free Android app (and a $3 PC game), this gets so much right that many of the other “more sophisticated” (and expensive) sims get wrong that it’s kind of embarrassing to the other sims. It is definitely a “game”, as planes just keep coming, more and more, until you can’t handle it, and the more planes you can handle, the higher your score. That’s it. You can “cap” your score to keep traffic from increasing, but by that time you’ve probably had enough anyway. It’s terrible easy to use, perfectly suited for a tablet/phone, and just does the whole “line ’em up like a string of pearls” stress-fest about as cleanly and well as possible. If I was going to introduce someone to the genre, I would definitely, without question, tell them to start here. The PC version is slightly superior, but they’re both just fine. Score: 8

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Turbo Kid (Movie)

I have become… unhealthily obsessed with this movie ever since it came out on Netflix Instant. Many many movies both mainstream and indie have come out in recent years seeking to capitalize on my childhood. From Transformers, to Moonbeam City, to Kung Fury. But while they may have captured the fashions or the little details, none of them have captured the heart, save for Turbo Kid. Some movies remind me of childhood, Turbo Kid carries me back into my childhood on the hooves of a Lisa Frank unicorn.

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Child of Light (PC)

Child of Light let me fulfill my lifelong dream of having luxurious flowing hair and the cutest little fairy wings to flutter around a magical storybook land. And when you fly around, your beautiful silken locks swirl and twirl about and make me feel so pretty inside ^__________^. But in a vicious rib-kick to fantasy wish fulfillment, they didn’t add in a hairbrush or a giggle button so I could fly around spreading girlish cheer far and wide >:(

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Star Wars: Battlefront First Impressions

I can’t help but think the Rebellion must be running out of recruits. Every Rodian, Sullustan, Twi’lek and Ishi Tib must have already been drafted before they got to me. As I repeatedly crash one X-Wing Fighter after another into the sides of Beggar’s Canyon while trying to figure out how to fly this goddamn thing, surely the recruitment officer who failed to check my references and handed me the keys to this multi-million dollar spaceship has been fired.

I’m not a huge fan of modern console games, but I am a huge fan of Star Wars. I bought a Nintendo 64 to play Star Wars: Episode I Racer and a GameCube for Rogue Squadron. I’ve had blisters on my thumb from attacking AT-ATs on the Atari 2600’s The Empire Strikes Back, spent hours assembling virtual bricks in Lego Star Wars on the PlayStation, and waved my arms around like an idiot while playing The Force Unleashed on the Nintendo Wii. Based on my previous efforts to assist the rebellion you might think word would have spread about my lack of skills and those in charge of recruiting capable soldiers would quit handing me loaded weapons, but no.

For what it’s worth, a PlayStation 4 with a second controller and a copy of Star Wars: Battlefront will set you back $518. After stopping by GameStop after work and receiving a snarky lecture about not pre-ordering the game, we walked next door to Walmart and bought everything right off the shelf. Walmart does a lot of things wrong, but that whole part about stocking their shelves with things people want to buy, they do pretty well. May GameStop and their pre-ordering system burn forever in the lowest levels of Mustafar.

I play these games, I think, because I want to be in Star Wars. As a kid, watching those films on the big screen, I imagined it was me flying a snow speeder and bringing down those giant walkers, or engaging imperial stormtroopers in a furious blaster battle. And while the original two Star Wars Battlefront games did a good job of bringing this experience home, Star Wars: Battlefront for the PS4, Xbox One and PC perfected it. As you run through worlds you’ve grown up watching on the big screen while firing lasers at your opponents, you’ll know this is as close you’ll ever get to being a part of those epic battles that took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Because the recommended specs for the PC version of Battlefront are so high (Electronic Arts recommends 16GB of RAM and a 4GB video card, among other demands) I opted to go the console route. As I watched my son wiggle around our entertainment center connecting HDMI cables, I remembered why I’d had him.

The other thing he’s good for, apparently, is kicking imperial ass and taking names. After dying repeatedly, I handed him the controller and watched him go. He’s more of an online multiplayer than I am, and soon he was running around Hoth, Tatooine, and Endor shooting everything in sight.

I don’t know that screenshots do the game justice. I was afraid that the game wouldn’t look as good as the screen captures I had seen floating around prior to its release, but in reality, it looks better. With each generation of games I wonder “How can things get any better?” and this is no exception. At times I wish my enemy would stop shooting at me long enough to let me study the rocks and dirt that make up the landscape.

This game is so detailed and so big that I feel like it may take me many months to see it all. Like a meal with many courses I plan on slowly working my way through each one, taking the time to taste, smell and appreciate them before moving on to the next. Along with the game, I’ll be buying an online pass for $50 and (I’m sure) paying for downloadable content later, and Dice has done such a good job with this game that I honestly don’t care. Whatever it costs, I’ll pay it.

Line up another X-Wing for me, Red Squadron. I’m comin’ in hot.

Review: Bayonetta 2 (Wii U)


Short summary: Gameplay-wise, there aren’t any substantial changes from the first, so if you didn’t like the first you won’t like this either. If you liked the first, you’d probably like this.

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Review: Satellite Reign (PC)

Satellite Reign is one of the most beautiful games I’ve played since Trine 2. Shadowrun has a better plot, but its watercolor backgrounds failed to make an impression, Invisible Inc. has better stealth gameplay, but its cyberpunk vision is so dull it might as well be taking place in the same universe as the movie “Her,” Satellite Reign is the first modern cyberpunk game I’ve played that gets the look and feel right. We really have reached an age where artistic vision trumps engine power in terms of a graphical triumph. I just cleared the Downtown area and gained access to the Industrial sector. My biggest fear was the game would blow its graphical load in the downtown, then industrial would be boring and repetitive. They did not and it is not.

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The Top 50 Non-Art Indie Games

Once upon a time, respected movie critic Roger Ebert said that video games would never be art because their narrative didn’t explore the human condition. Video game critics wished above all else to one day be as respected as Ebert, so they took his statement as a personal rejection and made it their life’s mission to prove him wrong. They could have simply corrected Ebert by telling him that judging video games by their narrative is like comparing the card game “Bridge” to “Go Fish” based on the quality of the artwork on the cards. Sadly, the game critics instead went out in search of video games that explored the human condition with narrative!

Apparently the best they could find was a game called Passage. In it, you control an ugly pixelated dude and move him to the right until he dies. The only noteworthy thing about the game is how terrible it is in every respect. But the game’s website said it was inspired by colon cancer, and that was enough for the game critics. They showered Passage with universal undeserved praise.

Notoriety is money in the indie scene, so like mushrooms on a cow pat, amateurish, ugly, joyless games with a message began popping up everywhere to inevitable accolades from insecure game critics. I myself was mislead into paying money for Papers, Please, foolishly thinking that if EVERYONE was loving this game, including supposed curmudgeon Yahtzee, that it might actually be way more fun than it looks (Spoiler: it isn’t!) Thanks to gamergate, we now live in a brave new world where questioning why art games get preferential treatment by game critics is equivalent to gang-raping a woman in a porta-potty, so pretentious art house gaming is here to stay.

But fear not! There are still indie developers who make games that eschew narrative exploration of the human condition for gameplay that’s actually fun, and I’ve compiled a list of 50 of ‘em! Enjoy!

One Finger Death Punch

50. One Finger Death Punch

A cheap 2-button game of stick figure kung fu fighting with epic music and destructible scenery that’s way more entertaining than it has any right to be.

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A Brief History Of Video Game Violence

Author’s note: After seeing what a wet blanket most of Hotline Miami 2 is I figured I’d dump this here and see what everyone thought about it. I wrote it awhile ago when it seemed like the whole #GamerGate thing was going to turn into some expressly anti-violence desensitization thing. — Worm

This is Rampage, arcade version!

The first violent game I remember seeing would probably be Rampage. Now I know this isn’t a traditionally violent game but it’s where it began. After all you could pick up people and eat them whole, that’s pretty violent. Certainly Mario smashing Goombas wasn’t some grand gesture of peace but this is the first time I remember killing people, innocent people, and it was fun. I wasn’t really defending myself in Rampage, actually I found that the most fun was fighting against the helpless civilians rather than the military units that actually could drain my health and cause me to lose a life. Most of the fun in Rampage was killing helpless women and men, plucking them out of their apartments and eating them whole.

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Review: Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius (PC)

So I got led by a Steam curator to this game which promised turn based naval combat, something that’s been lacking so much in games that I’ve recently reloaded early 90s stuff like The Grandest Fleet and Lost Admiral Returns. It had embarrassing anime art and promised equally embarrassing writing, but like The White Chamber it unexpectedly ends up being one of the best in its genre??!! And it’s free?

The story is a wacky anime harem setup. Thankfully you can hold down the enter key and quickly skip through all of it.

But then you get to the combat and wonder how the hell this got tacked on to some throwaway anime novel game?

skip skip skip skip

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