LOWREZJAM reviews

A few weeks ago, the LOWREZJAM kicked off on itch.io. It’s a game jam; the idea is to build a computer game. This one had an interesting restriction: the game had to be 64x64 pixels. So, we’re going old-school.

I thought I’d enter. So did about four hundred other people. It turns out that a jolly good way to get people to rate your game is for you to rate theirs and comment on it; then, your comment gets decorated with a link saying “see their submission” and they tend to follow it and rate you in turn. So, I wrote a bunch of short reviews. There doesn’t seem to be a way to link to all my reviews in a given jam on itch.io (although it would be good if there were!), so I’ve collected them here for posterity. Note that these make no attempt to be comprehensive or fair or balanced; they’re basically comments on what I thought of the games I played and why I didn’t like them, if indeed I didn’t.

A few games got a rating but not a comment; those aren’t included. I also haven’t included the actual ratings I gave, because those don’t matter as much. The comments are mainly designed to be helpful to the game’s developer, if anything.

I only played in-browser games, because they’re easiest to play, and I don’t have the Unity web player so those games which require it didn’t get played. It’s good to see that a pretty high proportion of “Unity” games are using the Unity WebGL export so they can be played without the plugin! I also didn’t play everything; with 188 games just in-browser, I was never going to get through them all. Pro-tip: this is one good reason to give your game nice imagery, so it looks interesting in a big list.

In essence, this was a lot of fun. There were an awful lot of things which were clearly only part-finished (didn’t have sound, didn’t have a way to win, didn’t have title screens, and so on), but there were some really accomplished entries in here; things that I can absolutely imagine being a released game that one could play and have fun with. Nice work, indie game dev community.

You can also watch Jupiter Hadley play all the games on her YouTube channel; at time of writing mine isn’t done yet, but it should be over the next few days.

So! Reviews!


MatchMerchant

The extra challenge provided by trying to match 4 (to get a potion) while not matching 3 (so the things disappear) adds an interesting extra wrinkle to this. The scene — a potion seller, wizards — adds some meaning to the game mechanic, and the graphics are good. Dragging is a little awkward, and unlike most match-3 games you can drag to swap any two pieces, which I didn’t at first realise.


Time Scale

I appreciate the idea of slowing down time. But I’m not sure why I wouldn’t play just with my finger on the shift key the whole entire time, thus turning the game into Bullet Time All The Time? Some puzzles which require performing them with time at normal speed would be nice, although maybe there are plenty and I just didn’t get that far….

(also, the sound made by the “fire dots into the air” triangles is not perfectly synchronised with actually firing dots into the air, which makes jumping over them considerably harder; this may have been a deliberate thing, but it’s over the line between “maliciously confusing” and “just annoying”, for me at least)


r

Ouch, the ponderous music is quite painful to endure.


Kulten

Great graphics — the text is a little hard to read at times, especially distinguishing D and O, or similar — but the feel of the game is marvellous. It really misses sound!


micro-society

Interesting concept, although the 64px limitation maybe makes the representation a bit too abstract! Having new children get born just by walking into other players feels a bit weird, too. But there are some quite complex game mechanics underlying this!


Star Shield

Obviously simple graphics, but easy to play. The white UFOs are terribly hard to kill! I’m not sure what “shield” does; it certainly doesn’t stop you being killed by bullets or collisions :-)


Castle Storm

Really nicely put together; a complete and well-implemented fun game. The font is, as noted, a little hard to read, and it’s sometimes hard to know why you’re not allowed to buy a thing — is it because you haven’t bought one of the pre-requisites, or because you don’t have enough money, or because you’ve bought it already — and that does break the immersion somewhat. Watching a Lord attacking the enemy castle is highly amusing. Nice work!


Fast Escape LowRez

Maze gameplay boiled down to its simplest possible form. :) Agreed with bonus1up that some framing device and music and sounds would help it feel more like a game rather than a demo of the technique. The maze generator seems to generate some pretty tangled messes at times, and I roamed pretty aimlessly until I discovered the green exit block. A score or some method of assessing progress would be nice, perhaps.


Gummy Turbo Tunnel

I see the idea, but I assume that the deadline landed before gameplay could be added. Nice start on an idea, though!


FRST FIRE

Sadly, the game crashed with an error (screenshot at imgur) when I tried to increase the growth rate; I think I may have pressed “right” and Z at the same time. I love the concept; it would be nice to see a version of this which wasn’t constrained to 64x64 and the Pico, as an art piece and less clunky to fiddle with the parameters!


Dungeon Shifter

Interesting concept, and the graphics are nice (blocky, but nice). I don’t think I understood what most of the “control panel” is actually for, though, and needing to control that by clicking while simultaneously either clicking arrows or using the arrow keys to go up and down means that the challenge is not “playing the game” but “managing the controls”, which I don’t think is meant to be the challenging part :)


64s Resistance

I don’t think I understand what the score is actually scoring, here. Button-mashing, once I started being “attacked” from all sides, got me up to 70 or so, but I didn’t really have much of an idea what I was doing, and then my score reset to 0 and I didn’t know what I’d done wrong. It feels like there might be a good idea in here for twitch gameplayers and people who like Super Hexagon, but I think more feedback as to what’s going on and why is needed.


LZRS

The try-and-die-iest of try-and-die games :) Fun! The controls feel a little bit wonky; sometimes I wouldn’t be able to jump and it wasn’t clear why. Fun, though, and I won after only forty (!) deaths.


Ghost

Seems fun — it’s a tiny 64x64 Gunpoint, sorta! Really short, though; maybe more levels would be good.


Duck Quest

As you say, an in-progress demo rather than a complete game, but what’s there is pretty good. I like the single-colour palette; I can imagine this being a working game (once completed) on something like a watch or a single-use handheld game.


Marble Incline Redux

I don’t think the text display fits the 64px grid, does it? Also, it would be useful if continuing to the next level and starting that level were controlled with a keypress you’re already using, such as up arrow, as well as restarting after death, rather than having to wait or press R.


Wall Defender

Simple, and basic graphics, but easy to play and understand, and the two offset guns provide a modicum of strategy when trying to shoot two different attackers at once. I won first time out, so the difficulty curve probably needs a bit of tweaking :)


The Forest

Smooth movement, and I like that running into a shadow is not an instakill. Attempting to find the key is very frustrating!


In’Out

Elegantly done graphics. I didn’t realise for quite some time that you can jump :) Sound effects would be good to go along with the music, perhaps?


Hyper Racing

The car handles excellently — the first level is so easy to pass that I was already thinking of recommending more realistic movement (rather than being able to turn instantly), and then the second level (which is just the same idea, with a larger oval) is much much harder to pass in the time! So I think the difficulty curve is just about right, and the graphics are good; nice work!


Memoblox

The skull and its laugh makes me laugh in turn. I didn’t really realise that I was supposed to be remembering the colours until after the first playthrough; maybe some minimal instructions, or a slide saying “REMEMBER” before the colours start?


Postal Panic

Oh goodness me the voice commentary is so annoying. My game went out of its way to mock failure and have annoying voices and it’s not a patch on this; I kept missing parcels because I wanted to punch the screen. Excellently done. Also, nice graphics, good sound work, and slick; a complete game. Only a weakling such as myself would rate it down because it’s just too hard :)


Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme

I didn’t realise that I was meant to shoot without being able to see Bond! Once I worked that out, and that the “gunsight” was actually moving even though it doesn’t appear to be because the background is all white, I was able to shoot at and hit 007. I like the music loudness approach (reminiscent of Find the Invisible Cow).


Sk8Skull

A good start; nice pixel art. The game obviously needs work, as you know; as far as I can tell it’s not possible to jump over two sets of spikes next to one another. You’ll also not want to make the “restart the game” keypress also count as a “jump” keypress. But this could grow to be something good with more work!


Terracell

I suspect this is a demo that never got finished? The graphics are surprisingly impressive — I particularly liked the realism of the rain — but there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to the game (nor any sound), and walking through an elephant means that the elephant sticks right with you and flickers on and off, weirdly. Could be the nucleus of something impressive with lots more development, though; a good start.


The Sheriff

Sadly, the game doesn’t cancel keypresses when they’re not used, which means that every time I’m walking downwards and I walk into something, the down arrow is ignored by the game and passes on to the web page and the page scrolls downwards, taking the game out of vision! This made it really hard to play, I’m afraid! Opening the frame in its own tab helps, though.


BuggyBall

Nice art, and the car is surprisingly controllable. The low resolution meant that I didn’t realise for quite a while that my car could be turned upside down and that’s why I couldn’t drive anywhere, though, and if you leave the AI alone for three seconds it scores a goal :-)


Useless Clicker

Impeccably implemented simple joke. It gets a smirk, which I’m sure is all its little heart desires :)


Mogee

I think I got trapped in a corner and couldn’t get out, even after I died and the game restarted. Simple mechanic, and it’d benefit from some sound, but playable!


Cat Herder 9000

The cats slide around not on the 64x64 grid, which makes them look smooth but breaks the rules :) As noted, there’s not much of a sense of agency here; I don’t feel like I have much control over the cats (arguably, because they’re cats), but that does mean that the game feels like making a succession of random moves until you win by accident, rather than by superior play. I can’t see how anyone could become an expert at this game rather than merely winning by luck…


Circle Pong

Quite a clever mechanic — that I get confused when I’m atop the circle and the “left” button is actually going to the right is not the game’s fault :) It’s very easy to overshoot or undershoot, though, which is frustrating; it might be nice if this were made less punishing, although maybe the idea of having to get it dead on right is a deliberate part of gameplay!


Intents: Man to Man (v1.01a)

The description calls this “weird”, which I don’t think is fair, but it is detailed. As noted, paying attention to the manual is pretty important to work out what’s going on. Choosing the squares to move to feels unusually clumsy, by comparison with the rest of the UI which actually flows pretty well once you’ve got the hang of what you’re doing. This feels like the video equivalent of what “proper” wargames (measure the hexes, spend time with books of tables calculating precise angles and damage for mortars, etc) are to Risk, and there’s definitely an audience for that.

(also, as @phantomax says… it’s not meant to be called “intense”, is it? :))


Cat’s Trophy!

Cute but rather bare graphics. The game’s actually surprisingly hard. Instadeath for going off screen seems a bit harsh, rather than just locking the player to the screen.


Dexno

I found it useful to apply a changed style to the canvas in the game: canvas { height: 60vh; } makes it much bigger and easier to see, which may help with the issue you were having with the HTML viewport.


SQUARE SQUARE

Interesting idea. It’s really, really difficult though; maybe start slower and speed up over time? Otherwise it leads less to attempts to do better and more to just table-flipping annoyance and a move on to another game :)


Mini Prix

Ninth out of nine, but this was good fun!


Zerwol the Wizard

I don’t have any very clear idea of what I’m meant to do — just wander around and kill everything?


FusionSpace

The music kept making me think it was going to be the Game of Thrones theme :)


Of A Forgotten Earth

Hard to see what’s going on when most of the screen is obscured (although maybe that’s the point). The cutscene at the beginning is interesting the first time through the game but has to be manually skipped through every time you die, which is rather frustrating.


Air War 64x64

Looks really good! but it’s sometimes hard to see exactly where the Red Baron is when he’s just three or four red pixels :) Also, it’s a little hard to tell whether I won or lost when we end up flying directly at one another firing. (Perhaps it’s just that I’ve never won and so I’ve never seen a win screen!)


Cave 64

Basic graphics, but has potential to be developed into something!


Battle Box (LowRezJam)

I’m not sure I wholly understand what I’m doing, here. I can roll around, shoot white blocks (which moves them), and shoot the enemy (which moves them but doesn’t kill them, to my surprise), but… then what? I like the conceit of the rolling cube which fires in a particular direction, much like a bunch of single-player puzzles of this kind. The time limit on a move makes it all feel rather rushed, which is a little unfortunate because it makes the game feel like a very low rez arena deathmatch, rather than like a carefully thought-out chess game.


Endless Burger

I wish there were some sound in this. That the merest touch of a burger bap on my mostly-complete burger counts as instadeath means that I end up playing the game by merely fleeing from burger tops like a gluten-free lunatic with a flour phobia, but that’s perhaps part of the skill of the game.But without sound, it feels half-finished. This wouldn’t take much to be turned into a really challenging game, I think!


GhostShi

Sadly, the “up” and “down” abilities didn’t seem to work for me, so all I could seem to do is walk off the edge into the first water pool and die. Maybe there’s something I missed, but a little tutorial level might have helped if there’s an action I didn’t know to do. Nice graphics and feel.


Total Devotion

This is alarmingly creepy. It also shamelessly violates the 64x64 pixel grid :)


Forms II : Hero Of the Office

An interesting concept. After the first day, the screen went red and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything else, sadly. I like the graphical approach and the idea behind it, though!


Gravimine

Took me some time to realise that collisions with (a) the rocks you’re trying to mine and (b) the bottom of the tractor beam (?) are fatal and I’m supposed to avoid that. Once I’d got it, there is potential here; it’s Thrust, but with the added attraction that the rock follows you around and you mustn’t collide with it. Obviously it’s just a prototype and therefore doesn’t have music or backstory or anything, but I think this could be quite entertaining once it becomes a game!


Big Sword

Nice feel, especially the squelch on hitting something. It does lend itself a bit to button mashing, but that’s part of the old-school fun :)


babelburger

I don’t think I’d eat a burger which had a burger bun, a slice of lettuce, another slice of lettuce, and two more burger buns. Might be a bit bland :) That aside, the game takes real advantage of its low resolution and is rather fun! The logo’s delightful, too. It’s a little hard in initial play, perhaps; softening the difficulty curve just a tiny bit might be useful, so people can get beyond about two burgers without having to be the Flash. I suspect this might be easier with a touchscreen…


Bring Your Wedge

Yay! 64 points! I still don’t think I’ve quite grasped what the perfect tempo is, but I like the game a lot; quite a compelling challenge, and getting a hole in one is lovely :)


Snakoban

Surprisingly difficult for such a simple game mechanic! It would be worth cancelling the keypresses after you’ve trapped them, so that up/down arrows don’t navigate up and down the page.


Looping Zip

Simple gameplay and easy to grasp, but rather hard to master! It may be worth prohibiting space bar presses from changing direction if they’re pressed after the game has “started” but before the ship has actually started moving, because a few times I hit space to start when I thought my previous press hadn’t been registered, only to discover that it had been registered but the ship is slow to get started.


QWER

Needs, I think, a little tutorial bit or similar to explain the mechanics? I managed to have two of my shapes completely disappear but I don’t know whether that was a good thing or a bad…


A Leader

Hard to work out what to do to pick up people and avoid losing them; it feels like this might be a good twitch game, or a good puzzle game, but trying to solve the puzzle of how to bypass each impediment and pick up each person while also trying to manage the twitch element of doing it all at the right time is overwhelming my poor brain…


Lament

The controls are… a bit difficult to get one’s head around, but once mastered they’re OK. That you can’t stop on a wall (you can either climb or slide, but not stay still) is a touch weird, but getting to grips with that is the required skill, perhaps. The music is a cool track but maybe a bit overdramatic for the actual gameplay. This is the kernel of a good idea, I think; could be good with work.


1985

Nicely done. Feels very old-school, in a good way; I can absolutely imagine this being a released game back in the day.


bitbout

Was driven nuts by the lack of friction on the platforms, at which I’m sure the author was cackling and rubbing their hands in glee because that’s the point. Having a computer enemy would be good for practice, although I fell off enough all by myself…


PRTs

Delightful graphics; the limited palette really helps! Sailing around does feel a bit aimless, especially since I don’t seem to be able to re-visit an island where I died (does it sink back into the sea when the crabs make a kill or something?). Once I’d worked out that the combat relied on me hitting the arrow keys in time with those on screen rather than just as fast as possible, I never lost another battle, so that was nice :)


Dual Wielded

Flinging myself around by firing guns is interesting; reminds me of the XKCD What If article about flying by building a platform of AK-47s! Nice low-res graphics, too, and choice of protagonist.


H4LF L1F3

Nice effects on the title screen. Game seems smooth but occasionally the framerate drops. I killed a monster but then wasn’t sure what to do; shooting the “cells” seems to make them react, but they don’t die, and shooting the big “cell” in the middle makes the screen flash and we get a “gasp!” sound effect but that doesn’t die either.


The Legend of Fangury

Classic, indeed, but well implemented. I particularly appreciate that inadvertently touching an enemy is not instadeath! I do occasionally find myself leaping a bit into the unknown because it’s hard to see what’s coming up, but perhaps that’s a feature rather than a bug.


Swarm

I think this is hurt by the 64x64 limitation; it feels like I’m frantically moving my tiny letterbox around the map searching for a flower under attack as pointed to by the indicators. Of course, that’s part of the game, but it’s probably a bit far over the frustrating-vs-fun line for me. I also spent almost the whole first playthrough thinking that the little darker green “grass” things were flowers and failing to understand why nothing worked :) The swarming effect is really nice!


OR-BIT

Avoiding things is really, really hard. Not, like, “I must get expertise” hard, but “solid wall of unavoidable rocks” hard. I like the slightly drifty slow uncontrollable nature of the astronaut, which fits with the low-gravity backstory, but combining that with the sheer volume of rocks makes survival pretty much impossible…


Potion Guesser

It’s very hard to know which ingredient is currently selected, and it’s possible to select the “right arrow” even when you’re at the end of the list, meaning that I spent half the time baffled that mouse clicks weren’t doing anything. Other than that, the UI seems quite smooth and nice. The game’s a lot harder because you can’t use the same ingredient twice! I expected the “troll’s eye” to do something special because I was especially given it in the opening cutscene, but maybe that’s just misinterpretation.


Pixel Eater

Obviously very minimal in graphics (and no sound at all), but the idea is reasonable. Interestingly, I expected red berries to be an instakill and was pleased to see that they drop you a size category instead. The game is very easy, though; I won on the second and all subsequent tries :-)


BNOD

Agreed with other comments; I don’t get the rules. I don’t see what FRIENDS? or SPACE actually mean. Possibly the whole game is to work that out, but the hurdle makes me turn away rather than puzzle to figure it out :(


Oort

(no sound, though?) Obviously unfinished, as mentioned in the description. That said, I like that the jumps are absurdly high by comparison with other platforms (and in addition to this absurdly high jump we have a double jump which is doubly absurdly high); it changse the way I think about the game a surprising amount for such a nominally small change. Being followed about by the nasty things with red eyes and being unable to shake them off is also an interesting mechanic, and I like their hammers. As noted, the space-to-“attack” thing doesn’t actually do anything other than draw a dotted circle around me and freeze the game, so i suspect that’s not yet implemented. But there’s the core of a good thing here; interesting graphics, interesting divergence from standard platforming rules with the high jump, and I’d like to see more.

And the game I thought was best…

Slumber Knight

Great fun game; graphics are well done, sound matched, good feel to the game. Nice one! Full marks.

I really liked Slumber Knight. Delightful graphics and feel. I confessed to the developer on Twitter that I ended up hacking the game a bit so I could see how it ended, by making myself immune to collisions, but that’s not a bad thing about the game, it’s a bad thing about my impatience. It’s excellent work.

And… what I did

I did, of course, enter a game myself. It’s called “Have You Seen This Image?“, and you can play it. It was deliberately simple — I didn’t want to devote much time to writing it — but I really enjoyed the experience of building a complete game, releasing it, and seeing people rate it. A pretty common theme in the comments was that it doesn’t _quite_ explain exactly what you need to do, but I think everybody gets it after one playthrough, and playthroughs are very quick indeed. (I put some effort into making sure that you can start again without having to wait as soon as you die.) The juxtaposition of the abusive failure messages with the marvellously jaunty music still makes me laugh every time I play it. (The music is Pixelland from the incomparable Kevin MacLeod.) Images were from Wikipedia; after some help from the #wikimedia-tech IRC channel, I discovered Quarry which allows you to run arbitrary SQL queries against the Wikimedia databases from inside the browser, and is a very excellent thing indeed. So I wrote a query to return all 64x64 images from Wikimedia Commons and then picked a bunch of them. In order to make the game more difficult, I then made three copies of each image, tinted blue, red, and green respectively, so you’d see images that you might have seen before but in different colours. And that was that. There’s a bug in there somewhere which causes two success sounds to play at once (so you get the game saying “Awesome!” _and_ “Fantastic!” when you get it right sometimes), but after trying and failing to work out why, I’ve reclassified it as a feature because it amuses me to hear the sounds anyway. So, conclusion: writing a game is fun; hanging out with the game jam community is fun; thank you to popey for nudging me into doing it; and I came 72nd for game feel, which I am perfectly happy with. Must do this again at some point.

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