Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Surviving The Evil Within, Chapter "Resident Evil" 4

at 6:00 PM
In the words of Shakespeare's MacBeth himself: Exeunt stealth. Here in Chapter 4 of The Evil Within we complete the transition from pure stealth to pure action, confronted with arena combat scenarios conquerable only by chopping down all foes and seeing that "GO-->" arrow appear. The particular combat scenarios on hand are almost impossibly reminiscent of Resident Evil 4 and my skills have made the transition surprisingly well.

So we pick up on our way out of Death Village, Population: 0. Dr. Nonsequitur keeps up his run by pointing to the building ahead and assuring me it's his long-lost brother's clinic, so we pop inside for a chat and hopefully a couple dogs grilled up real nice. I'd barely tied the strings on my Paul Stanley "KISS: The Cook" apron when the doc started insisting we find his brother. I said okay we save the dogs for later let's go. The brother, it turns out, is the kind of nerd that pulls out a dweeby Zombie Teddy Roosevelt every Halloween. He was also elbow-deep in some kinda hellish surgery even The Great Compromiser couldn't have approved. Something about itching. The guy had a nasty skin condition, to tell the truth. 

Upon discovering a Junior Mint in the surgical cavity, the bad doctor came at me with arms outstretched, sure I was the culprit. Fat Mama Joes like him take a lot of ammo to put down, so that little scripted encounter fully drained my handgun reserves (moral of the story - I need to be quicker to draw my shotgun when appropriate, otherwise I'm gonna end up relying on shells for easy encounters after wasting handgun rounds on tough ones). What really gets my goat is that after absorbing all those bullets, Teddy didn't even have the courtesy to stay down! Like a bad VCR, he glitched out and skipped back 30 seconds to his peaceful evil surgery observance. You know, this isn't the first time Evil Within's used video tracking as a scary effect. I'm starting to wonder if the whole game doesn't take place inside a VHS - a Video Haunted System. 

After TDR vanished into blue smoke, I noticed an x-ray on the table next to the surgery showing that his cadaver, perhaps a former star of the Saw film series, had partially digested a set of keys. So I let my puppet Sebastian plunge his hands into the corpse (which of course did a scary thing) to find them. I'll talk about keys next chapter.

Moving on through the poor man's halfway house I bumped into another creeper and took 'im out, but it was quickly time to move on. That's when I came to the clearing outside, where a zombie was carrying what looked like a kicking screaming woman toward a bonfire. In my ammo conservation panic, I didn't manage to get off a shot until the woman had been torched - to be honest, I do feel kinda bad. But I'm not gonna waste two bullets to save a stranger's life, come on. That'd be insane!

Anyway, I escorted the regular doctor, still in search of Leslie Nielsen, into another old-fashioned home. As soon as we found lil' baby Les (whose annoying ass needs to die already), things got surreal. Stuck at a dead end, the lights went out and were replaced by a red glow. That's when cordyceps-face phased in two inches from my face and grabbed hold. As soon as I struggled free, my attacker inviso'd out again, and a shotgun blast at the air where he should've been hit nothing. I stumbled around the room for a bit, fending off grabs and trying to counter-shoot, but to no avail. I grabbed a bottle and threw it across the room, hoping to draw him out with a decoy, but that didn't work either. 

That's when I glimpsed a porcelain bowl unnaturally spin across the floor and keyed in on the trick - he's invisible, not immaterial. Keeping tabs on environmental clues, I finished my unsightly pursuer with a couple shells and an explosive bolt. As far as I can tell, these guys warp as soon as they vanish, so they're only vulnerable on the approach. I'm not sure how I could've won this fight without shooting - the door didn't unlock until my attacker was down.

After looking it up, I guess these guys don't look that much like Last of Us zomgis, but they did call it to mind
Now's as good a time as any to talk about the crossbow. The crossbow feels almost like it was meant to be the sole weapon of the game, with at least four types of ammo, its own upgrade menu, and bolts craftable on the fly. If I haven't mentioned yet, disarming traps nets Sebastian the creatively named "trap parts". Trap parts can be converted into crossbow bolts from the regular inventory menu. A spear-like harpoon bolt or a blinding flash bolt will require 2 parts a piece, explosive "proximity mine" bolts cost 3, and wide-radius electric trap bolts demand a whopping 4. The only way to have a new bolt type added to the selection is to encounter it in the wild. Sebastian can only carry a couple of each - only 2 to start - so it isn't realistic to stockpile on a single favorite type (crafting on the fly is prohibited by a non-pause inventory). The main catch to the crossbow in the fray is that it has a very short (5m?) arcing range - it's more like aiming a grenade than a gun*.

*Sure it's a valid gameplay mechanic, but boy is this a face-palming portrayal of crossbows. If my history / Age of Empires education serves me, even medieval crossbows could shoot hundreds of feet away. In fact I just looked it up: modern hunting crossbows are accurate up to about 60m. That means it should be equally, if not more effective at range than Sebastian's revolver (which could rate 25-200m depending on many factors).

Moving on with Lessy in tow, Sebastian tripped down a hallway across space and time and fell face-first into another Bloodpool. Maybe this game's about wormholes, just like Event Horizon. I hope Sam Neill bursts out of someone's chest. Until then, I was left exploring a big garbage-disposal-y room with catwalks, ladders, a pool of blood, a sub-room, some tripwire traps, a couple switches that seemed to do nothing, a puddle of oil, and some explosive canisters. Maybe it's just me and RE4 (that's what I call my subconscious), but the obvious placement of the traps around a complex but empty room told me "enemies are on the way". When I made my way to the one and only exit, I could only pretend to be surprised that the villain materialized to summon a swarm of blood-nanites to summon more zombie men from the bloody depths. Blood, zombies, blood, zombies. Yeah. Oh, and he locked the door. With blood.

There were a LOT of creatures emerging from the blood lagoon, so I hop-skip-jumped my way through the traps I'd picked out, incinerating swaths of them with the oil patch (ignitable with matches) and the fuel cans (ignitable with bullets). After pulling a few of the standard RE4 tricks (funnel 'em with ladders, corral and grenade 'em), I was through the swarm and the door re-opened. Important new trick in The Evil Within that draws from the same well but balances things out quite nicely: any downed enemy can be torched and will alight nearby foes. It's possible to convert a knee-shot and matches into a lot of kills this way, essentially taking the place of RE4's headshot-then-roundhouse group-clearing combo. It's also more dangerous to pull off (no invincibility frames and the context-sensitive match toss is super-short range) and is doubly resource-intensive (matches are equally as rare as bullets), so it feels appropriate to the increased tension of Within.

After the door unbloodlocks we head down another hallway and hey there's a locked door on my right so let's keep going to that brightly lit room oh neat some handgun ammo what's that in the corner BALAGAGHAGFEHRERHG BLOOD MONSTER! Yes, with no cutscene to relieve the tension, a horrible six-armed girl-hair thing spewed forth from a puddle of blood and started phasing toward me. Zig-zag phasing. But she's still shootable and hey, this is a Resident Evil game, so as long as I run by quickly, it doesn't matter how close I am - she won't grab me! So I dragged her for a few loops around the room until I eventually fouled up and got my head smashed down to a one-hit KO.

While mentally prepping for round 2, the loading screen told me the kind of thing that a loading screen should never, ever tell. I am pretty dumbfounded that the loading screen had the audacity to say what it did. More on that in a second.

I died again, but I took away an important observation: the door out of blood girl's surgical boudoir was still open even after the fight started. So for round three I set up a string of traps in the corridor before allowing her to spawn. I kited her straight through two explosive bolts (which didn't even phase her) and into a shock trap, whereupon I let the grenades fly. This is where I made another shocking observation: the door that had initially led me into the hallway (from the blood pool) was gone and the previously locked side door was swinging open. I ducked through and, just about completely out of ammo, I speared her with a harpoon bolt for the big kill. Back down to a paltry 8 handgun rounds, I picked up the 8000 upgrade goos and headed on toward the end of the stage.

As I made my way through the remaining corridors, I couldn't help but notice the ready-made traps on hand. A door to slam here, an explosive tank there, and at the very end, an elevator to take me away. That's when it occurred to me that I was meant to discover the open door sooner, conserve ammo, and play this one like a Verdugo - draw the boss into delaying traps and make a run for the elevator.

Or, that's when it would've occurred to me, had the loading screen after losing to the boss not explicitly told me: "It's unwise to fight blood girl head to head. You can kill her, but maybe you should just run for it." DON'T TELL ME THAT ON A LOADING SCREEN! You've ruined the entire tension of the fight, spoiling both the risk of spending ammo on a perhaps-invincible foe and the urge to find a secondary means to victory. I ignored the tip and played how I would've anyway because 1.) I was being honorable and 2.) I always fought Verdugo to the death anyway. In fact, I think I didn't know he could be waited out until a friend pointed it out to me. That's just too scary for me. I'd rather fight.

The monetary (here goo) reward for defeating the boss makes it worth it anyway - I may have spent 3x as many bullets as I needed, but I was able to upgrade my guns til they were 3x (or something) more effective, thus conserving ammo in the long run. That's another RE4 trick for ya. Even ignoring that, it gives me a payoff for being smart with ammo earlier and resets my position so I'll need to be again, so it's good game design all around. That loading screen is just ass though. I can only hope that was put in by some dumbass publisher/localization goons.

So before things came to a close I bumped into Ruvik on a staircase. When I tried to run by he insta-killed me (this game likes insta-kills - it's encouraging the player to play safe with the unknown), so the second time I turned and ran as soon as he appeared. Cutscene, end chap.

I gotta be honest, I think Ruvik is the dumbest looking element in a game with otherwise great art design. Even if they didn't mean for him to look like Assassin's Creed, the resemblance is too hard to ignore. At a certain point you just have to be honest with yourself and admit your design is too close to an existent (and extremely popular) one and give it up.
Here's a plot theory. Leslie is an albino. The main villain, Ruvik, is hard to make out under his Assassin's Creed hood, but I'm pretty sure he's an albino too. Leslie is only around in the forest stages and Ruvy seems to be more a mental hospital guy. Are the hospital and the forest parallel worlds cohabitated by parallel versions of Ruvik (which, unsurprisingly, is an anagram of "Leslie")? Or is Lessy some kind of gate? Because as soon as he showed up we were back in the hospital. This merely reinforces my gut feeling that Sebastian needs to kill this annoying babbling weirdo. I mean, if the world was falling down would you really waste your time dragging around an mindless loon? Unless the world was his mind!!!!

Monday, November 10, 2014

What I'm Playing, October '14

at 6:00 PM
In this feature, we commemorate games I have for the first time started and finished in the last few highly variable time units.

Well my initial push to finish games is looking pretty good.

Special Recognition for Starting and Finishing:

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Xbox 360)

That took all of five days. It's not the 8-hour playtime that makes Revengeance feel short, it's the swift pull-up halfway through where the earlier multi-tiered levels give way to reused environments, redundant stealth encounters, and sorta insulting stage numbering (one short stage doesn't have a boss, then the next is just a boss, etc.). You basically get 3 full and 4 quarter-stages. Still, I love the action here - it's a Japanese assimilation of the stealth alternating counter-driven style of popular Western games like Arkham Asylum and Assassin's Creed. The weird pacing just makes higher difficulty replays awkward, with the shockingly early climax leaving little to challenge your skills on the back end.

This is the peak of the game's difficulty. It is the Stage 3 boss. In a 7-stage game.

Kid Klown in Crazy Chase (SNES)

This one was done for the already-published Platformer of the Month Club, enjoy.

Games Finished:

Bayonetta (Xbox 360)

Speaking of weird endgame pacing. Bayonetta becomes wildly indulgent in the final act, giving too much time to variety stages (both Space Harrier and Motorcycle Madness), redundant boss reduxes, and fake-out endings. The main thing I like about this game is the bread and butter combat, but for the last two to three hours there basically isn't any. It doesn't help that (at least in Normal mode) bosses are excruciatingly easy, but still tediously long. Recently I've been starting action games on hard mode because why fuck around, but Bayonetta sadly does not permit that and is far, far too easy for any but the most novice players (professional reviewers) on Normal.

In also hurts that the game is a bit churlish with rewarding performance, as the only thing holding me back from platinum level rankings was that I didn't seek out the hidden sub-stages and thus had a bunch of zeroes in my overall score. Here's a bit of personal philosophy: action games should not have hidden sub-stages. Ever. That is explicitly, shamefully bad design.

Bayonetta had some uniquely paced combat, getting almost turn-based with its reliance on time-slowing dodges, so I could see myself playing it again. Still, it's very sandboxy and I think you'd have to be an idiot to rank it with the good stuff like Ninja Gaiden Black and Double Dragon 2.

Crashmo (Nintendo 3DS eShop)

I kinda can't believe I beat this. Technically there are still 20 or so bonus stages to go, but I got the all-important credit roll so I'm happy to call it done. The thing that kept Crashmo alive late-game was the introduction of gigantic puzzles with dozens of pieces that allowed free-form solutions. They probably rank as much easier than the more rigid challenges (at least for me they were), but they were a lot more rewarding to play, allowing me to prove I had learned and could reapply the many specific techniques developed through the game's course.

Street Fighter 2010 (NES / 3DS VC)

Okay, the last level here was insane. Most stages in this game give you 120 seconds to kill one boss. With the same time limit, this level featured three reused (but now harder) bosses and two totally new ones. That's 20 seconds a boss, and these guys have strict patterns that only leave them vulnerable in certain windows. I really had no choice but to cheese it with save states. Oh well. Lotta good bosses here, you can see the Capcom house-style that permeates Mega Man X and Gargoyle's Quest as well.

Super Mario 64 (N64 / Wii VC)

I have a bit of an OCD problem with Super Mario 64. I am really uncomfortable with leaving stars behind, so I end up 100%ing every world before moving on, which leads to a lot of time wasted on levels I don't really like. Still, this game is goddamn genius no matter which way you slice. Level greats include Whomp's Fortress, Lava Lava Lake, Hazy Hazy Maze Cave, Dire Dire Docks, Pirate Bay's Cavern, and Tock Tock Clock. Anti-favorites include: Shifting Shifting Sand Land, Snowman Blowman Land, Tiny Tiny Big World, and Boo House.

The improved resolution Virtual Console port proves that SM64 still looks fantastic

God of War (PS2)

Even back when it was the second or third modern melee action game I'd ever played, I really did not care for God of War. It has these insanely unwelcome "adventure" parts that usually involve mandatory backtracking or puzzles, the camera angles are very annoying (namely because the movement controls are camera-relative), and the combat is soooo repetitive. Sure, it feels nice and squishy, but that only gets you so far after battle #1000 with the same three enemy types and the same two combos that always defeat them. The game sorta tries to find some identity by spreading battles across different arena types (moving floors, small platforms, tiers) but it makes annoying choices that tend to backfire.

Games Started:

The Evil Within (Xbox 360)

Check up on my chapterly coverage for which I am being paid by Capcom to make as many Resident Evil 4 comparisons as humanly possible. In my defense, I see every game through the lens of Resident Evil 4. Or Mega Man X or Ogre Battle 64, as genre applies.

Wave Race 64 (N64 / Wii VC)

The international Commune Podcast game du jour for November, Wave Race is heavy on the waves and light on the races. I enjoy the wave-handling mechanics a lot, it's just that the sparse course selection and 1v1 limitation pretty heavily restrict this as a multiplayer alternative. Compared to this, it's no surprise that the de facto party racer for the eternally ripe N64 has become Star Wars Episode I Racer.

One and Done:

Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)

Just got this for the sake of it, it feels insanely well-polished - at least compared to the "budget" feel common to Dynasty Warrior games. I'll come back and play it for real sometime in the future.

The Firemen (SNES)

Another podcaster, this is a pretty easy top-down shooter that mixes in a little exploration and a timer. It's fun but it is hard to count it as a game-in-progress when the only thing holding me back from beating it is I just haven't played it a second time.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Platformer of the Month Nov. '14, Kid Klown in Crazy Chase

at 6:00 PM
The platformer is the seminal genre of video game history. Always adapting to trends and technologies, never out of style, it provides an underpinning for action games of era after era. Platformers are responsible for our sense of space and navigation; they form the bridge that transports reality into digital worlds. Without platformers, we'd all may as well be playing shuffleboard. Each month we dive into the deep well of platforming history, hoping to find forgotten treasure or even an extra life. We'll be bringing you everything we uncover here at the Platformer of the Month Club.

Game: Kid Klown in Crazy Chase
Year: 1994
Developer: Kemco
Publisher: Kemco
Platform: SNES, GBA

Oh we are starting this off on one hell of a foot. A size 23 foot. I've got two words for you. Up. Down. Clown. Town. Kid Klown. Crazy Chase. Okay, back to using full sentences. Actually my first note looking at that boxart is that our mascot here (indisputably one of the most acclaimed of the 2D era) is more your classically-styled harlequin (or Christmas elf) than what I first picture as a clown. I guess it's only in 21st century America that clowns have developed that firm image of "orange afro rainbow pants and party hat". Kid Klown looks almost... respectable.

Speaking of classically-stylization, that's one thing this game doesn't! Kid Klown himself might remind you of a Sonic the Hedgehog or a Bonk, but the tightly timed uni-directional gameplay is hedged in future memories of now-popular "endless runners" like Canabalt, Flappy Bird, or Bit Trip Runner. But hey, the game uses traditional running and jumping controls and challenges the player to navigate a course, so it's only reasonable to approach it as a platformer.

So is Kid Klown a Lost City of Atlantis, defining trends a decade yet to come, or is it shallow tripe meant to capture the lowest common denominator? Don't make a joke about "what if it's both?". I did that in my head and it got sighs all around.

How is the game's aesthetic appeal?
Yourself: It's impossible to play Kid Klown without visions of Road Runner dancing through my head. The developers definitely made the most of their trial-and-error gameplay as a setup for varied physical comedy bits. While the individual traps aren't much to look at, Kid K's pratfalls are drawn out to downright whacky levels. He jerks his body three or four times before tearing his head out of a block of ice, floats gently to the ground after being flattened to a pancake, and shakes off water like a dog. A lot of old platformers show cartoon influence, but Kid Klown takes it an extra one half to three quarters of a mile.

The soundtrack has an appropriately jaunty tempo but I can't say I found much to like in the composition.
Golem: By 1994, the Super Nintendo was churning out high quality graphics, and Kid Klown benefits from an attention to detail. In the city level, Kid passes by mundane skyscrapers and through standard construction sites, only to be flattened by a swarm of comically undersized sedans. The contrast between realistic settings and jokey elements goes a long way to sell the humor here.

As for music, Kid Klown sets the right pace and tone for a nutzo chase, but  fails to provide any memorable melodies.

How does the player character control?
Golem: Hold down to make Kid Klown run diagonally down-right along a straight path, and use left or right to strafe either direction. Up will let you slow and eventually halt Kid, but he can never move backwards. Aside from running, the only other function is a jump with a fixed height.

Holding down to move diagonally allows Kid's path to take more screen space, but it also makes judging his trajectory more difficult. Additionally, having to hold down can be troublesome when you need to be precise with moving left and right (it's just easy to fumble on the control pad).

Interestingly, the options menu offers an upside-down control scheme for left-handed players.

Yourself: 4-way isometric control tends to bother me, but here it works mostly fine since you're only moving in one general direction. Using d-pad down for what amounts to an accelerator is unpleasant though. Kid has momentum and controls essentially like a car, which leaves me wondering how smoothly the game might have felt had it used A for accelerate and B for brake. Hell, I actually might get out my emulator and try it.

What kind of non-aggressive elements guide the player's path?
Golem: Balloons. Each stage in the game is littered with balloons Kid can grab by jumping. They can either have a coin, health recovery, some damaging element (like a bomb), or an all-important card suit (heart, spade, club, or diamond). However, what's inside remains a mystery even on repeat playthroughs.

While most balloons will contain the same thing time and again, on each play of a stage, the four suits will be randomly distributed to different balloons. The catch is that you need all four suits to clear the stage. Luckily, if you reach the end of a stage without all four suits, the game loops you with no penalty and keeps all balloons the same.

Aside from balloons, stages feature the occasional platforming element. A springboard here, a moving platform there, and a balloon to ride down a cliffside.
Yourself: There are also coins strewn about the path which unlock bonus stages.

What kind of enemies impede the player's path?
Yourself: Most of what you'll battle in this game aren't so much enemies as they are traps. Banana peels, lava arcs, crab claws and fire hydrants all stand in between Kid and his rival, a bomb with a spade on it. There are typically three means of avoidance: run around, jump over, or stop. The game is pretty reasonable in introducing new and more complex enemies, as stage 1 is comprised largely of things to be jumped over (bushes, cannon balls, spike pits), stage 2 features a lot more that need to be run around (cars, caution barriers, falling pots), and stage 3 is the first time you'll really need to stop (for fire walls, falling boulders, and lava).

Though there are essentially only three responses they'll inspire, the challenge is in learning the traps' timing. How long is it between a shadow appearing and a boulder falling? When is the next car going to speed across the road? You'll generally need to pick up the rhythm of the level and get a good sense of the distance Kid can jump.

Many traps can be dealt with by any of the available means - when Kid is stopped he can walk left or right without moving down at all - but they may not be equally cost-effective. Likewise, being in the right position on the cross-axis is crucial for grabbing balloons, so you may be forced into jumping over a preceding trap that you would've just run around were you ignoring them. Taking the safe route is something that comes into play on repeated loops when you know which balloons you're aiming for.

How are player character mechanics varied?
Yourself: While Kid Klown is absent any power-ups or character selection, some level-specific elements affect the way the character moves. Steep hills show up in a couple places (I think only in Stages 1, 3, and 5) to introduce a speed boost, linearly increasing difficulty via reflex time. Stage 4 is entirely an ice level, as usual decreasing friction so the character takes longer to get going and stays in motion longer after the control is released. I didn't have much trouble with the ice stage, and in fact I think the game let up a bit on the trap difficulty to account for it.

Not really a mechanic, but Stage 5 decreases visibility to a small circle around Kid K. Like the speed-up, this basically just increases necessary reflex time.

How are individual levels built from these elements? Does this facilitate exploration?
Golem: Towards the start of the game, in the first two stages,  elements pop in for brief moments soon to be followed by a different challenge. In stage one, Kid scampers away from rolling logs, weaves between hurled axes, and leaps over shrubbery all in the same breath. In the later stages, ideas pick up a little more consistency, such as the ice stage that places two rising/falling block segments right after one another.

There's always a great variety to the hazards, but their placement picks up a more consistent verse/chorus structure later in the game. This keeps the early game fresh and frantic while lending the later game more of a get-down-to-business-and-study feel.

Yourself: The game uses mild randomization to create some variety on replays. As mentioned above, the suits hidden in balloons are shuffled around every time you die or restart. Occasionally individual traps will also be position-shifted (a bush that was on the right is now on the left, etc.). There is theoretically an optimal path to each level established by the consistent placement of coins in balloons; however, the unpredictability of suit location means on a first run the player will need to check every balloon anyway. So the randomization defeats the purpose of the collectibles altogether.

On continued loops, a player can refine their approach to account for balloons they've already checked. Since looping is a punishment for not succeeding on a first try, it feels weird for it to add complexity to the gameplay - the structure suggests a good player is one who can grab all the balloons on the first try, not one who can learn their contents.

How is the boss variety and how do boss fights generally work?
Yourself: No bosses to be found here. Our main villain, the Ace of Spades, is just a constant nuisance.
Golem: There were bonus games after stages (sometimes). They weren't bosses, and we didn't figure out how to win them.
Yourself: I kid klown you not, there was an air hockey game where scoring in either goal costs you a chance. How do you win this? Sigh. I looked it up and it's that you have to score three goals to get a one-up. Meaning if you don't have three chances to start out with (chances are determined by coins divided by 10) then there's no point in even trying.

What is the overarching structure of the game?
Golem: Five stages, all in a row. If you run out of health or time, you spend a continue and restart the current stage. If you reach the end of the stage without every suit, the stage loops while preserving balloon layout. If you grab all suits on each stage on your first run, the game can move at a quick clip; miss just one suit, and you replay a stage, slowing the pace considerably.
Yourself: At the end of each stage, Kid grabs a key. If the stage is completed on the first loop, he also gets a heart. At the finale, the player is presented with ten keyholes, 60 seconds, and a princess locked in a cell with a time-bomb. You can select the placement of your keys, but each can only be used once and there is no indication which might be the one and only correct keyhole. So it's pure luck whether you screw up and witness the princess explode right before your eyes. The internet tells me that getting it right leads to a better ending (depending on opinion) and getting it right AND getting all the hearts is necessary for the best. The hearts challenge makes sense for replay value. The keys not so much.

Word on the street is that getting the best ending opens up hard mode *<:O]

How is the learning curve and difficulty?
Yourself: For a game that allows only 3 retries, Kid Klown is pretty forgiving. Allowing the player to loop through the stage if they missed any items is a good call and alleviates the frustration of close misses and screw-ups. The levels mix things up enough that they require individual learning, so that's solid too. Unfortunately, the core gameplay - timing jumps within fixed windows - does nothing to differentiate style or skill of play, so each challenge is extremely binary - either you get hit or you don't. A minute to learn, no additional time to master.
Golem: Kid Klown features tweaks to make it more forgiving, such as loops and a generous health bar, but the core concept--collect four randomly placed balloons without passing them (on a diagonal course, no less)--is harsh. On the other hand, building a mastery of the courses led us to collect balloons more consistently, so the learning process itself had a nice incline to it. We'd start out a course entirely confused, gradually warm up to its challenges, and eventually zip to balloons as needed. It's just that, as Yourself says, there's not much past that. Perhaps the suits could've been an optional challenge rather than a necessary one.

Play again or recommend?
Golem: While Kid Klown finds excellent execution, its core concept is so ornery and shallow that it's hard to recommend. I had fun yelling at it.
Yourself: Check it out on Youtube or something. It's a "cool, I didn't know this game existed". The wacky face-plants are where the game finds most of its identity and they don't have much lasting value.

This was a really inappropriate game to flex this survey. Look forward to a better entry next month, when we'll be playing Maximo: Ghosts to Glory!