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A Bizarre Romp

  • Marrend
  • 09/23/2012 02:20 PM
  • 3496 views
Game Title: Middens
Engine: RPG Maker XP
Status at review: Complete

Background:
In respect to what objectivity I might have, I've been stoked for this game for a while. Mostly because I had no clue what this game wanted to do, or what it was supposed to be about. What I can say is that a lot of things about the game just screamed "surreal" to me. Or, perhaps, the word I'm looking for is "nonsensical". I'm no expert on the subject of surrealism, so I might be getting the terms mixed up.


Graphics:
If you want a game that has a consistent graphical style, this game defies you. In just one area, there is a transition from a fairly regular-looking desert to something that somehow reminds me of Earthbound's Moonside. There is no attempt to make the transition look natural. It's just "Here's this one side, and there's the other side." Then there's the battlers. The concept art for the monsters is exactly what they look like in-game, and they are glorious. The party battlers, on the other hand, do not have have the same quality. This is not to say that the party battlers are "bad", but they are certainly not as awesome as the monsters they fight.

If the game is supposed to take place in a time-space rift, then the inconsistencies can make sense. The other possibility that I can think of where the game can get away with these inconsistencies is that it's supposed to be a dream-scape. Whatever reasoning there is, it is because things look so odd that there is a certain amount of enjoyment that comes out of just checking things out.


Audio:
As I may have mentioned on several occasions, I usually take a peek at whatever music a game might have before delving into it. There wasn't anything I listened to that I particularly enjoyed, but there wasn't anything I particularly hated either.


Story:
I'm not sure if the game has a story, or even wishes to have one. The one character who seems to have a post in the Department of Backstory of this game has an air of intellectualism. If it had anything important that I needed to be paying attention to, it went completely over my head. As difficult as it might be to attempt to interpret what this character is saying, I'm finding it difficult to hate on this character. It spouts the kind of high-vocabulary phraseology another character might utilize.


Playing the game:
At the offset of the game, there are three yes/no prompts, and saying "no" to any of them boot you back to the title screen. It's like the game is asking if it's players are absolutely, positively, 100% certain they are crazy enough to be willing to play this game, or something. I can understand the use of a (meaning, singular) question like this for the sake of comedy. Three of them? In succession? Before players get an opportunity do actually play the game? I dunno, maybe I'm just being frustrated with watching this opening sequence three times over.

The game introduces a mechanic where players hold down a button, then release it. What this is supposed to do is shoot at things with your handy revolver. I never saw a bullet (which is fine), but it does appear that encounters can be engaged this way from afar. However, I'm not sure what the point of this mechanic is. Objects that can be shot down completely can simply be run over for slightly more entertainment value. Also, enemies do not appear to take any actual damage before the combat engine starts running, should one engage them at range.

Speaking of combat, let's talk about that for a moment. As far as I can tell, this is the standard XP combat engine with a side battle script. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with that, but the game does bring something else to the table. Nomad has access to skills that summon allies into the battle. Even then, expect to be mashing "Attack" for quite some time, as the first really useful ability doesn't happen until your allies (not the player character) reach level 3-ish. It is also unfortunate that you cannot check what abilities your allies have until after they are summoned.

Another mechanic the game introduces is the "Acoustics" ability. The general effect of the this ability is to open paths. So, if you want to explore the varied areas of Middens (and you really should), this skill is absolutely vital.

In the first ten areas of the game, I found two save points. I don't mind that the save points also serve as points of restoration. What I found frustrating about this is hunting down encounters, and being stupidly insistent that I return to the closest save/restoration point to be able to use all of my allies for each battle. While this insistence is my own fault, going back and forth made me yearn for some bacon Beacon. Even if you take combat out of the picture, there were still a few one-way teleport events that made going back to where I came from a task onto itself.

A blog states that the game has multiple endings. About an hour and a half into the game, I've been everywhere I can think of, spoken to all manner of NPCs (you can't call them people), and fought (mostly ran from) all manner of creatures. In all my travels, I found nothing that pointed me to any of the endings that the game might have. A few PMs with the author later, I was given a path to one of the endings. I have no desire to spoil anything on this front, though I must say that there is a certain irony to the sequence of events that I followed to get it.


General Observations:
So, let's speak of these summons a bit. So, we know that Nomad has three summons. Each ability adds a different party member into the fray. Presumably, they gain EXP before they return to their respective Pokeball the main character's psyche. In any event, they gain levels, get stronger, learn skills, and all that good stuff. The main character, initially, has just enough MP to use his summons five times. While I was insistent on having a full party with each battle, I would actually recommend only using one per battle. Unless you're close to a save point, anyway.

The focus of the game is so obviously exploration that combat takes away from the experience. I dunno, maybe I'm saying this because all the fights after the first "world" (out of a lack of a better term) were either just too difficult (I was only level 3 or 4, so that might have something to do with it), or took too long to resolve. In any event, I'm not sure if there's an ending that involves not fighting at all, but I think the game could use one.

A blog mentions that there is a pacifist means by which the main character can level. This is the "Exercise" ability. It costs 1 MP, and it seems that you gain EXP over time for as long as you let the animation go. As far as I can tell, the animation does seem to keep cycling. My best guess is that you earn 1 EXP per cycle, but I could be wrong on that. Is this a viable alternative to being in combat? Uncertain. I don't know how long an "Exercise" cycle lasts, nor did I keep track of how long the most basic of battles, which grant 20 EXP, last.

I love the idea of enemies dropping "Nothings" as a currency. The game specifies that there are no shops, so one would have to wonder what it's there for.


Summary:
I believe is that Middens is a game that, like a dream, is meant to be interpreted. As such, a different person is going to have a different interpretation. My interpretation? This game is best approached as a romp around one of the most bizarre locations one could possibly imagine. Perhaps the author intended something else, but by giving players no directives whatsoever, I imagine that other players might end up at the same conclusion.


BOTTOM LINE: 3/5

Side note on ratings (since there is/was/will be somewhat of a spate on what rating means what between each user):
1/5 -> Terrible. Forget about hitting an audience. The game is so bug-ridden, or otherwise unplayable, that what entertainment can be found in the game has a hard time coming to the surface.

2/5 -> Bad but playable. I had a poor experience with the game. When played by a player the game actually caters to, it would serve it's purpose.

3/5 -> Average. A solid experience, but snags somewhere along the line cause it to be held back from being "good".

4/5 -> Good. I enjoyed the experience, and have no qualms supporting it if was considered for a featured game (if it wasn't featured already).

5/5 -> Excellent. Among the paragons of gaming experiences, and instant feature material in my humble opinion (if it wasn't featured already).

Posts

Pages: 1
Counting mine, this game got 3 reviews in only 3~ days of its release.
That's impressive :3
But yeah, the game has a good style. However, I would love a more smoother transition from one region to the other.
Though I'm sure that wasn't the focus.
(love your reviews btw)
Found a small typo: "If the game is supposed to take place in a time-space rift, then thy inconsistencies can make sense." Not trying to be a jerk. These things just jump out at me.

This is a fantastic review, and it gets into all the nitty-gritty stuff that I glossed over in trying to address the game as a whole. I'm glad I'm not the only one who got kind of an Earthbound-y vibe from Middens.
What I can say is that a lot of things about the game just screamed "surreal" to me. Or, perhaps, the word I'm looking for is "nonsensical". I'm no expert on the subject of surrealism, so I might be getting the terms mixed up.


they're not exactly opposites, there is a subtle difference, overall this game is always surreal and occasionally nonsensical too.

At the offset of the game, there are three yes/no prompts, and saying "no" to any of them boot you back to the title screen. It's like the game is asking if it's players are absolutely, positively, 100% certain they are crazy enough to be willing to play this game, or something. I can understand the use of a (meaning, singular) question like this for the sake of comedy. Three of them? In succession? Before players get an opportunity do actually play the game? I dunno, maybe I'm just being frustrated with watching this opening sequence three times over.


pragmatically speaking it is frustrating...thematically speaking it's brilliant. three is a magic number, in fact i think it's nearly a biblical allusion.

what you're being asked to do isn't just to play the game, although it's required to play the game. you're being asked to forge a bond with the talkative revolver.

binding your destiny to the gun's is an awful decision, and won't end well. but hey, you asked for it.

this is a good review.

hmm should i still write my own review
Marrend
Guardian of the Description Thread
21781
author=kumada
Found a small typo: "If the game is supposed to take place in a time-space rift, then thy inconsistencies can make sense." Not trying to be a jerk. These things just jump out at me.


Yeah, that's a typo I didn't catch. Thanks for that!
Marrend
Guardian of the Description Thread
21781
author=Clareain_Christopher
But yeah, the game has a good style. However, I would love a more smoother transition from one region to the other.


I think the game works as-is, actually! You're entitled to your opinion, however.


author=Clareain_Christopher
Though I'm sure that wasn't the focus.


Exploration is the main focus. At least, it was for my playthrough of the game. For example, I only had 9 "Nothings" to my name before I considered myself done with the game. Though, I must note that this was before the PM exchange were I learned how an ending could be achieved. In any event, this should be an indication of how big I was with exploration, and how low a priority combat was.

author=Clareain_Christopher
(love your reviews btw)

author=sbester
Really good review.


I do try.
Pages: 1