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This Heart could use some Pumping

  • Liberty
  • 04/15/2015 10:34 AM
  • 2407 views
The Heart Pumps Clay was one of the entries for the IGMC (Indie Game Making Contest) for 2014. As one of the judges for the RPG portion of the competition it is my pleasure to share my thoughts on the game. This review was initially based on the notes I took at the time but has been updated for the newest version as of April, 2015.


Presentation
Graphics are an odd mix of RTP and custom tiles. Unfortunately they do not mix well at all and I have no idea why the creator didn't just use fully custom tiles, especially since, if they had, the game would have looked more polished and put-together than it did. It's not like the custom graphics don't look good - they look very nice and would have suited the game quite a lot more than the current mish-mash they are.

Sounds were standard and didn't stand out much. Music, though, is original and fits very well with the game. It didn't stand out too much but it was nice to listen to and added to the atmosphere.

Writing is technically solid with no mistakes that I could see. Characterisation is done well, and characters are sufficiently different to each other. The plot itself is neat, too.

Gameplay
Battles are a mixed bag, and not in a good way.

Boss battles take well over 10 minutes to complete, sometimes and it's easy to die if you don't keep an eye on your character stats.

Boss battles can range between decent difficulty - Skull dude - to insanely hard and frustrating - last battle. In fact, some take upward of 10 minutes before you are slowly killed. Items are very limited and will not stay outside of battle, bar equipment and tomes that you can find in chests around the dungeon or steal in battle for a lowered chance (from 100% to 50%).

Gameplay is basically walk, fight, walk, fight, grab treasure, fight, walk and it gets very repetitive fast, especially with the amount of battles scattered around the map. Maps aren't large and you'll find upward of four battles on most of them. They're on-map affairs but that doesn't help them feel any less filler than they do. The only thing beating monsters afforded was either access to the next part of the game or access to equipment. That wouldn't be so bad if they weren't in front of almost every single chest and door. It's a bit ridiculous and makes the game feel like a chore when it comes to progressing. Especially since that's the only progression in the game bar the 5 skills you can find.

You don't gain levels. Skills are what you have and what tomes you can find teach them via equipping. Honestly, there was no reason to do battle as it got you nothing from them - no progression in the way of levels, skills or items.

Constantly grinding items is annoying - and you need to do it in order to stay alive. Some battles are quick and fast but about half of them were annoying and required you to grind up some items in order to live long enough to move forward - especially towards the end when your tank stopped being so tanky. There's some issue with them as during the first boss I grinded out quite a few but never seemed to have over 3 at a time, even though it was all she was making (and I was using one every third or so turn to heal golem - does not add up!)

In fact, that was another really annoying feature as well - the fact that you are reliant on Bud to tank for you and his HP - the only thing that makes him of use - keeps depleting. I know it's for story reasons, but the fact that he gets no other additions outside of the lame battle upgrades (which do nothing, really - I'll get to them in a moment) really doesn't help him as a character. With three fragile characters in the party, two of them with a niche in certain areas, you have got to rely on him as your tank and he's just not up to the task when it comes to the latter battles, meaning your squishies will get squashed. Thank God you can run from battles 100%!

As to his in-battle upgrades - they just aren't enough to make them worth using. By the time you need them, Mara is on the item grind and can't waste a turn changing her affinities (if only that were a null-turn skill that could be used on the fly!). Even used, they don't do anything much. Water adds a bit of defence but it's nothing noticeable. Fire raises attack but since his attacks are physical based this means fuck all when it comes to the overwhelming monster population that are null against it. And Earth gives him a new skill that is, again, useless as it's physical based. At least add elements to his attack so that they're useful!

Frankly, there's a lot of promise and interesting tactics but they fall short of the mark. The ideas are there for something really great but the way it's used is three fries short of a happy meal - so close, yet so far.

The skills in battle were interesting, though. I especially liked stealing from enemies to affect them in some way - whether it be taking the strings from puppeteers (fuck those guys, seriously) or armour from a certain boss (some enemies could have used that a bit more - you know the ones that were armoured). It would have been great to see such things used to a higher potential - there were so many things that could have been.

Really, it was little things that let it down. For example - the puppeteer enemies got four attacks per turn - steal the strings and it's down to one. However, straight away it's back to four the next turn. Instead, how about them having to respawn their allies one a turn? That would allow the player a slight breather - I got hammered over and again by the stupid puppets and it was ridiculous!

Another idea - keeping the items and cutting down on battles would have helped a lot to make the balance fairer. This way you would be limited by what you stole - one item per enemy - but since there'd be a limited amount of items in the game it'd be up to the player to dictate when to use those items. Hell, you could make Mara's summoned items fade away after battle and just kept the stolen ones if you're so worried about giving too many.

Frankly, I'm upset that this game wasn't as good as I was told. It has a lot of promise but it's got a ways to go before yet.


Fun factor
The constant grind for items was annoying and got old fast. The battle idea itself was interesting and had a lot of possibility for fun but honestly, it missed the mark completely, straying instead into the territory of frustration and annoyance. Monsters were all over the map and you had to fight a lot of them in order to progress or get treasure.

A lot more could have been done for battles - more enhancements for golem for example. It's a good idea but currently it's quite shallow.

The lack of enemies that could not be physically hit (I found, like, two or three) was annoying because after stealing everything, and having everyone filled up on MP with no deadly attacks coming, it was a waste to leave Crow and Bud just doing nothing. And while the new version does fix a lot of the speed in battles, there were still quite enough that made me just sit and wonder why I wasn't able to use my characters in any meaningful way. It removed 2/3rds of your possible fire power, making battles even more drawn out than they could have been.

I just didn't really find it fun which is a pity because I was actually enjoying the rest of the components. Getting rid of more battles, adding more enemy types... well, battles were basically an annoyance and that's really all there was to the game aside from story. They were obnoxious, if I'm being honest.

A lot of thought went into them, yes, but it was the kind of thought that said "How can I make this a hassle for the player" instead of "How can I make this more fun/engaging/interesting". It needs a relook at the balance and set-up of the characters, especially Bud who became a one-trick pony whose trick was gone at the end of the game and poor, poor MVP Mara who got delegated to item pony when her strength lay in being the bruiser.


All told, while the game story, characterisation and graphics (for the most part) were well done and presented nicely, the actual meat of the game was annoying and boring. It's a pity because this could have been a very neat game if only it wasn't a chore to play.

I gave it a score of 28/60 in the IGMC and here on RMN, I'm giving it a 3 - just above average. Sorry, but it just didn't impress me.

Posts

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I don't understand who this review is for. It's not for me since I've already read these notes. It's not for players since you're reviewing a version of the game that's nearly a year out of date. Your problems with the gameplay have probably been fixed by this point; I've added a skill subset to Mara that lets her cast spells at about double the mp cost without having to switch elements first, which allows the battles to be beaten much faster.

author=Liberty
Honestly, there was no reason to do battle as it got you nothing from them - no progression in the way of levels, skills or items.

The game is the battles. There's no reason to beat the first level in Mario other than to progress the game, and that's how battles function in this game--and that's just the obligatory battles. All of the optional battles allow you to get equipment and skills, which do progress your character. This bit of feedback was confusing when I first read it, but I didn't bother you because I knew you were swamped by the entries.

author=Liberty
Constantly grinding items is annoying. There's some issue with them as during the first boss I grinded out quite a few but never seemed to have over 3 at a time, even though it was all she was making (and I was using one every third or so turn to heal golem - does not add up!)

There's no limiting factors on the items mid-battle, so I don't think this is an actual glitch. I just tested it, and I made five unicorn waters with no problem. They stack to 99. So, maybe this was a player perception issue with the first boss feeling too long. He can be beaten in about four turns, by the way--no healing required. For the original version, he didn't convey his elemental weakness clearly enough, but this is something I addressed pretty soon after the contest version.

Also, you don't have to grind items in this game. The only time where you would is during the last boss fight if you haven't collected any treasures. Most fights can be beaten without healing as long as you're using Bud as a tank, and since Unicorn Potions are full heals, if Bud needs a heal every once in a while, you should be able to pilfer one from an enemy with Crow, which will cover your healing needs. If you were preparing for the sake of it, the game gives you full heals after losing a battle, so there's no need to prepare items out of fear of getting a game over.

author=Liberty
I didn't notice golem's HP go down for quite a while. Then a sudden jump downwards. Very odd.

Outside of battle, this isn't the case. If you're talking about inside of battle, if you use life mud, it lowers his max hp in that battle, but I couldn't get it to refresh the HUD on cast for whatever reason (it's some weird oversight with Yanfly, I think). His max HP will refresh either at the end of the turn or when he gets hit; whichever happens first.

The graphics do clash, though; no contesting that.

It's hard for me to accept this review with grace, so I'm sorry if I came off combative in this post. Like you noted, this game was crafted with a lot of thought, but I hate how you felt it was thought towards tedium. That certainly wasn't my intent. I think I've alleviated that in the most current version. There's still just battles, equipment, and story in this game, so if you need more aspects of RPG gameplay than that, then you'll never like the game, but adding those other components makes no sense within the concept. I think the game is polished, pointed, well-designed, and thoughtful. I'm very proud of this game. It's the first game where I felt I had really succeeded as a game designer.
Honestly, I'm just fulfilling a goal I made to upload all the on-site reviews/notes I had (they're a bit late). That said, it's only been six months, not a year (yet ;p).

I was actually thinking about replaying the game and editing the notes here. I'll put the star count at N/A for the moment and edit the review when I replay, with new notes.

Honestly, though, the game was pretty tedious, sadly. It actually stood out in my memory of the judging as one of the more boring entries (sorry >.<; ) mainly due to the sheer amount of battles and having to grind up items to use in battles - which was really annoying and repetitive since they were all you had to rely on and having to do it each and every battle - due to crow being not useful for much else - made them boring in comparison to even the default battle system. And yes, you did need them since you didn't have enough fire power to get through them without almost dying. I got two game overs. Seriously. Maybe it was just the contest version that had this issue. Like I said, I'll replay (with video this time) and edit.

Frankly, for all the buzz it generated I was, sadly, unimpressed. I liked the story and characters, I just wish the gameplay hadn't been so dull. Soz.
unity
You're magical to me.
12203
I personally found the battles to be similar to puzzle-battles and I had a lot of fun dissecting each one and figuring them out. While their pace could be on the slow side, I found them enjoyable. I also like how the game really made me think about resource management in a different way ^_^
Thanks for shifting the score to N/A--that was a cool move.

Like Unity said, I tried to make the battles closer to puzzles; I have an easy mode in game now that boosts your stats and reduces phys immune enemies to phys resistant, so it'll play more like a normal RPG that way. The battle length should be about half of what it was now since you don't have to switch elements. This will also mean you'll need to heal less; most battles shouldn't require any healing if you're solving them the optimal way. I think the only individual battle that has nerfed stats is the last one. Hopefully you'll like that version if you ever get to it!
Sorry, after playing the new version of the game my feelings are the same. The fights are boring and repetitive, the graphics don't fit well together and while the writing is decent it's not enough to compensate for the many, many battles of boring. Sorry, but that's just how it is. I've been stuck on the last boss for about, oh, 40+ minutes now - and it's not the only flow-stopping battle in the game.

Granted, it's a lot better than it initially was but the lack of items - don't dare say they aren't needed - paired with the annoying amounts of battles and certain enemy bullshit is, frankly, annoying. Maybe other people like being screwed in battle over and over again but I'm not one of them.

I'll update the review to be more current to the version as it stands, and change the score to a 3 since the addition of being able to use any spell is helpful in balancing the battles a bit better, but the few changes don't stop the frustration and annoyance except in a few cases.
The last boss is tough without using an equipment setup that ties into the overarching narrative, so not doing that could be pretty frustrating, and I get that. That's part of why I put the easy mode in the game. Thanks for taking another crack at it, though.
I'll post up the videos when I upload them. And yeah, I tried different kinds of equipment set-ups as you'll see. It's a pity because you did a lot of interesting things in the gameplay and I would have liked to have seem more of those ideas expanded. It has a lot of promise but it also has its issues - and I understand that part of them are tied up with the story of the game, but sometimes you have to adjust the gameplay to account for that - yeah, I'm talking about Bud. His role in battle changing really messes with the team dynamic a lot. Where items weren't as necessary, they now are, which means that Mara is on that constant grind, leaving damage up to the two physical attackers who can't hit most of the enemies due to null physical.

And yeah, I could play it on easy but why would I want to? A game should be played on normal mode to get the most out of the author's intent for it - and normal should be playable to anyone with a modicum of ability in the genre.

Well, you do have a lot to be proud about in the game and there's a lot of good things - especially idea-wise. I'm keeping an eye out for other work you do - I think it'll be interesting to see how you progress as a dev because, like I said, great ideas. It's just a matter of learning/figuring out how to use them to their best potential. ^.^)b
CashmereCat
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
10827
It's actually quite a difficult hurdle to jump when the game is structured like this. You've got World Remade which is very similar to this game, that suffered from a similar lack of pacing. I think it goes with the "every-battle-a-puzzle" idea. Even if every battle is a puzzle, a puzzle that takes several minutes to attempt, and that you can't "reset" at any time, and you can't be 100% sure about how the outcome will turn out, then it probably won't have the same immediacy as a good puzzle, and pacing will suffer as a result. Because the idea of a puzzle is "when you figure it out, you should have it done within no time". But even if you have it figured out in battle, you still have to slog it out, is what I'm saying.
@Liberty: Thanks. I definitely learned a lot from this game; Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass is focused much more on more traditional RPG gameplay as a desire to step away from the kind of stuff I did on this one (plus it's what I really enjoy about RPGs, anyway). So, it's going to be more focused on long-term stat progression, exploration--that type of thing.

@Cash: Yeah, that's a good point. I've found that this is the case with a lot of variants on puzzle gameplay. I've played a lot of games that have multi-step puzzles with action elements where you figure out the puzzle logic, but then you'll mess up on one step of that puzzle and have to redo the entire puzzle over again, so there's a tedium that comes with the execution. The difficulty is making the solving process as short as possible so that once it's figured out in theory it can be solved in actuality quickly. But, then, that has to be balanced out with the complexity of the puzzle itself. The "going through the motions" aspect of puzzle solving can be a turnoff; I've felt this with a lot of flash puzzles on Newgrounds that adopt a Super Meatboy style level format (though with a focus on puzzle-solving rather than platforming, obviously). That's true for The Heart Pumps Clay too, in retrospect.
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