Category: Promotional games

Gemini: Heroes Reborn – A puzzle platformer based on the biggest TV show of the 2000s.

If there’s anything I kinda miss about the modern age of video games is that there’s not enough tie-in games based on TV shows or movies. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s where we had classics like Disney’s DuckTales and Goldeneye, and were rather ubiquitous during that 8 and 16-bit video game boom. They slowly started dying off by the early 2010s, during the start of the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 era, and haven’t really shown up since. These days when I think of promotions with licensed properties, it’s usually as crossovers in other games, like Bingo Story and The Price Is Right, or John McClane of Die Hard fame in Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War. The most recent tie-in game I can think of is, amusingly, a game based on Space Jam: A New Legacy made by the people at Digital Eclipse.

Even though they’re not as common these days, there is still a video game based on a TV series or movie released here and there. Most of them are relegated to mobile devices, but sometimes a game or two does make it to the mainstream gaming consoles – or in my case, Steam. Gemini: Heroes Reborn is one of those rare cases.

“Hey, could you like, help me here? I can’t dodge bullets and lift people forever!”

Developed by Phosphor Games – a studio mostly known for making mobile games and Virtual Reality titles – the game was released in early 2016 as a tie-in to the TV series Heroes Reborn, a science-fiction drama that is a sequel series to one of the biggest 2000s-era TV shows: Heroes.

Would you believe it was pretty hard to find a good promotional image like this?

Admittedly I don’t watch a lot of television, so my knowledge of Heroes is through friends that did watch it: The show’s premise involves a giant corporation simply called “The Company” that was experimenting with human beings and giving them superpowers, of which a small group of people slowly find out that they have through a solar eclipse. Eventually they team up to stop the big-bad-of-the-week and eventually figure out the Company’s ulterior motives. Basically a serial TV show that would sow the seeds for things like the later Marvel Cinematic Universe.

From what I gathered, Heroes started out great in its first season, then the Writers Guild of America had a strike midway through the second season. The strike basically threw the whole planned storyline out of whack in such a way that the show never really recovered, eventually getting canceled after the fourth season concluded in 2010. In 2016, a sequel series called Heroes Reborn came and went for a single season, of which its story is the basis for Gemini‘s plot.

(Warning: Plot spoilers for Gemini: Heroes Reborn follow.)

I assure you that this game doesn’t have cutscenes that look like they were hastily made in Photoshop.

You play as Cassandra Hays, a woman who suffered amnesia as a teenager. She’s taken to an abandoned military base called “The Quarry” by her friend Alex to hopefully make sense of what happened to her. Eventually Alex gets captured by soldiers who apparently are still at the building, and Cassandra must find a way to save him. Cassandra later finds out she has special powers that allow her to travel through time, switching her between the then-present timeline of 2016 and the near-past of 2008, when the building was still operating. Eventually acquiring telekinesis powers in the past, she uses that and her time abilities to figure out what happened to her and what the purpose of “The Quarry” was.

Our antagonist, Trevor Mason. I wonder if he has a brother named Alex

The plot itself isn’t particularly remarkable. It falls into a lot of the common fiction tropes of characters double-crossing you and having to do bidding for the big bad – who’s unique to this game, voiced by Robin Atkin Downes of all people – while also figuring out the mystery of Cassandra’s family and her past.

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Peggle spinoffs: Popcap has the crossover fever.

As of this writing, the famous Electronic Entertainment Expo – E3 for short – has come and gone. Lots of companies announcing hot new games slated to come out later this year or the next, people pushing polygons to the limit, and your favorite franchises coming back for a new installment, often yearly.

Electronic Arts, being the rebellious type, decided to skip E3 this year for a catch-all “EA Play” event sometime in July. I fully expect them to show more of their notable franchises such as Madden NFL 22 and FIFA 22 and Battlefield 2042. And I expect them to once again ignore one of their notable franchises from when they acquired Popcap Games in 2011. One that has a notoriety due to its announcement at a past E3. The one of memes everywhere.

It’s a shame we’ll never see this guy announce a Peggle game like this ever again.

I’m talking about Peggle, the simple bouncing ball and peg game loosely inspired by pachinko. Originally released in 2007, the game became a big hit for Popcap Games, primarily due to its simple yet challenging nature and cutesy design. Oh, and the smart use of using “Ode to Joy” when you successfully completed a level.

Admittedly my experience with Peggle is the original game and no further. The game’s followups have not been reliably available on PC, with the infamous Peggle 2 being locked away to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, consoles I don’t own; and Peggle Blast, which is only on mobile phones. But there are other Peggle games, of which I’ve actually played.

Likely as good cross-promotion, Popcap Games decided to make two Peggle spinoff games, crossing over with two major video game companies around 2007-09. While ostensibly similar to the original game, they have their own little quirks.

That sun with the G-Man face is… rather offputting.

The first is Peggle Extreme, released in 2007 and available on Steam. 2007 would be a lucrative year for Valve as they released the critically acclaimed The Orange Box, which featured the second expansion in the Half-Life 2 saga, the long-awaited Team Fortress 2, and a quirky little puzzle game called Portal. As promotion, Popcap’s Peggle Extreme would be released alongside it, free to owners of The Orange Box. Nowadays if you have a Steam account, you can play it for free regardless of whether you own any of the Orange Box games.

This really doesn’t jell with Peggle’s overall aesthetic, but I guess that doesn’t matter.

If you’re not familiar with Peggle, I do recommend playing Extreme to get a good handle on the game’s mechanics. The basic goal is to eliminate all the orange-colored pegs around the arena. You shoot a ball to have it bounce around the various pegs and score for points. The more orange pegs you hit, the more points you get. In addition there’s purple pegs which give huge points, and green pegs that do special abilities depending on the playable character you choose. Finish off all the orange pegs before running out of balls and you get an Extreme Fever, where you score big points on any extra blue pegs you hit before dropping it down a hole for a huge bonus. It’s a really simple game that anyone can play, and it’s pretty fun.

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Devolverland Expo: Playing around in a virtual E3.

2020 has been quite the year. A roller coaster ride that sees no signs of stopping, and there’s no way to get off the ride. COVID-19 has really sidelined a lot of projects, such as E3, the famous video games expo usually to show off the hot new games. The ESA actually canceled this year’s E3, after going for a good 24 years straight before that. As a result, many publishers have been live streaming their events from the safety of their homes. That includes the rather infamous Devolver Digital.

Devolver Digital’s been around the video game landscape since 2009, taking up the mantle of B-tier publisher releasing out there, off-the-beaten path games like Hotline Miami, mostly to critical acclaim. They’re also the absolute masters of the advergame, releasing a free game to promote a movie or a holiday event.

Since E3 was canceled, Devolver Digital opted to follow its peers by doing a livestream of their conference instead, complete with the oddball sketch comedy that’s rather goofy and ridiculous. After doing the usual announcements of their upcoming games like Shadow Warrior 3, Serious Sam 4, and Fall Guys, they advertised one more game. This one was different, and was free to play right that moment.

At least Devolver Digital doesn’t have to share space with the big publishers or controller companies.

Devolverland Expo is a bit more self-indulgent than the previous efforts. Developed by Flying Wild Hog – the Shadow Warrior reboot developers – it’s a first-person game that gives you the experience of being at a convention without risking yourself getting sick.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done this kind of promotional game. I’ve written about them doing this twice before: The Expendabros, a standalone expansion to Broforce that was based on the then-recent The Expendables 3, and Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike, a pixel-style difficult platformer made by the same people who made Enter the Gungeon. I’m not surprised they decided to go back to that well once again, this time with something fairly relevant, considering current events.

I mean, this looks less tacky than seeing an ad for Medal of Honor: Warfighter

The plot is simple: The Devolverland Expo was going to be this big event to show of the hot new games, but due to unexpected events, the expo was canceled. Despite that, the player decides to head to the convention hall anyway – which is a loose representation of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where E3 is usually held – and after doing some quick hacking on a power box near the entrance, access to the Devolverland Expo is granted.

COME TO THE ROBOT ZONE, HUMAN

Since Flying Wild Hog are known for their first-person prowess like Hard Reset and the Shadow Warrior reboot, the game is also a first-person game. Though, it’s more of a first-person exploration game than an FPS. After entering the expo hall proper, there’s robots roaming around that’ll capture the player if they’re in line of sight for too long. But you’re not defenseless, as there is a convenient weapon that’ll give you a bit of an upper hand.

Those red neon lights makes me think that’s a prize for a game show, rather that a promotional item at a booth.

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Suicide Squad: Special Ops: A licensed game that’s not some mobile thing?!

I’ve been writing a lot about various tie-in games over the past few years. Hollywood Hellfire, Expendabros, Duty Calls, that sort of stuff. A fair share of these are usually just stuff made in flash on a shoestring budget and will likely be forgotten unless people are smart to preserve these artifacts.

Sometimes, albeit rarely, these games actually have installers and can be played from a PC, which surprises me these days. To me, that’s something from the old Shockwave days, and not something most people do in the present day. But this recent one, based on a big comic book movie, was one I wasn’t expecting to go that route.

2016-08-04.png

So. much. green.

I have to give props to the blog “I’m Reloading” for bringing this game to my attention. It’s one of my favorite blogs because reload animations are solely unappreciated in video games, and somebody’s gotta highlight them. They showed a recent animation to some Suicide Squad game, and they mentioned “It’s on PC.” Cue me scrambling right to the website to give it a download.

So it’s a first-person shooter. In it, you choose between three members of the titular Suicide Squad: Deadshot, who is your by-the-numbers FPS protagonist with an assault rifle and mini launchers on their hands; Harley Quinn, a melee focused character with a baseball bat and a six-shooter backup at range; and El Diablo, who just sets everything on fire.

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Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike: A holiday war of attrition.

I think Devolver Digital is slowly becoming one of my favorite publishers. Earlier this year, they teamed up with The Expendables 3 and released a demo for Broforce called The Expendabros that was pretty damn fun. (You can read about that game here.) They gave the dormant Serious Sam and Shadow Warrior franchises new life with new games in the series, and published the awesome yet frustrating Hotline Miami. So yeah, they’re a pretty cool publisher.

Now they’re spreading some holiday cheer with yet another free game, this time featuring their mascot/CFO/Twitter darling Fork Parker. This one is quite a doozy…

Try saying this title five times fast.

Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike is a Christmas-themed promotional game featuring Parker and developed by Dodge Roll Games, developers on Enter the Gungeon. Unlike Expendabros, Holiday Profit Hike is not a reskinned version of Gungeon, despite that concept sounding really cool. Instead, it’s a unique game of its own.

Fork Parker is like if Ted Turner merged with Cave Johnson. He’s lovable despite being an old guy.

You play as Fork Parker, who must make a load of profits for Q4. His solution? Climb a tall “mountain” filled with perilous spikes, snowball-throwing yeti, and tacky Christmas sweaters while trying to grab cash along the way. If you get to the end and finish in the black, you’ve saved Devolver Digital. A fairly simple holiday-related story, and for a game like this it doesn’t need anything more complicated than that.

Holiday Profit Hike boasts a pixel art aesthetic, which I’m usually not a fan of, but I’ve been slowly warming up to it in recent years. That art style works in its favor, as Dodge Roll Games somehow made a dodgy old dude like Parker into a cute-looking character because of it. It also has a few music tracks, and one main track that loops endlessly. The tunes are a bit short and repetitive, but it fits the rest of the game’s atmosphere.

The start of a painful, yet rewarding journey.

So what makes this game different from other platformers? Well, Parker comes equipped with a cool feature in which he can throw pitons at certain walls and floors and make a rope zipline he can ride with his cane. This is the core mechanic of the game, and is pretty unique for a platformer. He can even use his cane as a pogo stick to temporarily stun some enemies. Parker’s apparently taking a few tips from fellow old man with a cane Scrooge McDuck.

This game follows the formula that games like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV follow in which one hit is certain death. There’s a lot of spikes strewn around, and lots of slippery blocks will be the cause of many deaths. Thank god the game has checkpoints after every major puzzle, but even with those, it’s not an easy challenge. Nothing sucks more than getting past a difficult part, only to die in a spike pit, negating all progress.

This one part almost drove me insane. I’m surprised I beat it, honestly.

I don’t get frustrated at games very often, but Holiday Profit Hike broke me. I died so many times that my swearing became shrieks and cries of “NO!” when I botched a difficult section. The part above is what wrecked me the most, causing me to swear and shout more than anything else in the game at that point. Eventually I got so frustrated from failing so much on this one section that I received concern from other people in my house. When people start worrying about me over a game like this, I knew I had to take a break.

This is why I’m not a businessman. Or a platformer expert.

However, I am not a quitter. I will push myself, yelling and screaming until I finally get past those damn difficult sections. After many failed tries, I persevered and got to the top of the mountain in an hour and a half. Alas, I got the worst ending, but it’s better than giving up and missing out.

The game isn’t very long, and doesn’t have much in replay value. The only other options are get better and beat the game with a positive score to get the best ending, or to speed run through it, which is an impressive feat if you can do it. I don’t think I’m up for replaying this, but I did enjoy playing through it in spite of it breaking me more than any game has in years.

If you wanna play this, it’s available on Steam. It’s very frustrating, but still fun despite the hard difficulty. Props to Devolver for giving out a free holiday game, and to Dodge Roll Games for perfectly capturing the spirit of a balls-hard platformer. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel of this. Just make it a bit easier next time, alright?

The Expendabros: The broest movie tie-in game… ever?

If there’s anything I like about video games, it’s when there’s video game tie-ins to movies or TV shows. Most of the time, they get a small developer to make a crappy $60 game on a shoestring budget that’s usually long forgotten. Other times, they’re just dinky games made in Flash as a brief tie-in to an upcoming movie, such as the “Hollywood Hellfire” tie-in for This is The End. Then there’s the times where they go all out and make full-fledged free games, such as a Quake mod for some forgotten show called Soldier of Fortune Inc, made by the guy who would later go on to make They Hunger for Half-Life.

Thus, when I heard about this, I got legitimately excited:

Broforce: The Expendables Missions, aka Expendabros is a genius idea: Take the goofy machoness of Devolver Digital and Free Lives’ Broforce and combine it with an upcoming film — The Expendables 3 in this case — and you got this amazing movie tie-in. Expendabros is freely available to play, and Broforce is not required to own this. In a sense, this is a good extended demo of for Broforce.

Since I had yet to play Broforce, I was skeptical with this game. I’m not one for games with pixel art styles since they’re very overdone, but if it compliments the gameplay like in Hotline Miami, I can let it slide. In this case, it definitely works in Broforce‘s favor.

Obstacles, enemies, sawblades? What is this, Super Meat Boy?!

Broforce is a mash of action platformers like Bionic Commando, with the violent action of Metal Slug and Contra. You have one life and three special items by default, with each “bro” having its own signature weapon and special. You get more lives by saving your bros in cages, and rescuing enough bros unlocks an additional bro character to play as. Run out of lives and you’re sent back to the last major checkpoint.

The plot to Expendabros is a loose recreation of The Expendables 3: Barney Ross — here called “Broney Ross” — and his crew of Expendables has to stop Conrad Stonebanks from destroying the Expendables, who will destroy them by any means necessary.

Much like Broforce, Ross must shoot and explode his way through enemies while saving his bros, eventually finding the commander or boss of the level before making a dramatic explosive escape. As you go through the game’s ten levels, you fight more powerful enemies, and even ridiculous areas like rooms with saw blades and rocket turrets everywhere. At one point, you fight this guy:

I'm pretty sure Stonebanks doesn't have an arsenal of mechs in The Expendables 3, but a man can dream.

I’m pretty sure Stonebanks doesn’t have an arsenal of mechs in The Expendables 3, but we can consider this artistic liberty with the license.

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Hollywood Hellfire: A movie tie-in game? In 2013?!

Licensed titles. You know what I’m talking about: Movie games, games based on TV shows, even one based on a book series because the publisher got the book rights and not the movie rights. The lesser-known licensed titles are the movie tie-in games. The ones done by a small team usually done just to tie in with the game, and is enjoyable for about 30 minutes. A few examples that come to mind is that flash platformers of films like Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid or modifications of existing games like the Underworld modification for Half-Life by the same people who brought us They Hunger.

While reading my usual email junk of Twitch newsletters, IGN deals and newsletters for The Hobbit, I was glancing through an email from Sony Pictures of this quirky little game at the bottom of the newsletter: Hollywood Hellfire, a new movie tie-in game for the forthcoming comedy This is The End.

Sounds like a knockoff game you see on a TV show.

I am not a big moviegoer, so I didn’t know this movie existed until today. Seems to be a self-parody of disaster movies, with exaggerated versions of the actors portrayed in the film. All I got out of the trailer was stoner gags, Emma Watson robbing the main characters, and Michael Cera being impaled on a pole. Plus a strange fascination with “titty-fucking.”

This rivals the Zynga Slingo Joker for “nightmare fuel” territory.

It’s a rather basic platformer where you play as stars Seth Rogen or Jay Baruchel, running through a wartorn Hollywood, grabbing mushrooms for points, water jugs for extra lives and food for health. You have three hearts, lose them all (or fall into a lava pit), you die. Run out of lives, its game over.

While dodging fireballs and James Franco’s head, you jump on moving platforms, bounce on blue jump pads, and run away from hazards in a few areas. I only got to the third level before I finally lost, so I don’t know what the ending is like.

The game itself has a confusing sense of design: It has a chip tune soundtrack and 8-bit sound effects, yet the platforming and art style is very reminiscent of mid-to-late-’90s platformers. It’s like it doesn’t know what it wants to be, a modern game or a retro throwback!

If you’re one of those people with Sony Rewards, you can get Rewards points with the game, or so I thought. I’ve been a member for years thanks to Wheel of Fortune‘s Wheel Watchers Club but they say I’m not eligible for these points. Bastards.

If you wanna play this yourself, you can try it out here. (NO LONGER AVAILABLE, SEE BELOW.) As always, don’t expect this to be up forever, so play it while you can. Gotta get those badges and high scores to share on your favorite social media groups!

I also found out Jonah Hill is in this movie along with Seth Rogen. I always got the two confused for a long time, and I still confuse them every once in a while. Now that they’re in the same film, maybe I should start writing that script for a buddy cop film starring Hill and Rogen. Probably better than whatever Hollywood dreck is out there.


Update 6/6/2020: Technology is great as it gives us cool unique ways to promote games. However, technology also sucks, because it means that this game is hard to find, or straight up lost to time.

One, the website no longer exists, as that link redirects to the main Sony Pictures webpage. Two, trying to use the Internet Archive to play an archived version causes a splash screen to show that the Unity Web Player is required to play it, something Unity discontinued their support for a few years ago.

My brief crawling online to find a replacement place to play this has lead me to nothing but dead ends. Compared to other things I wrote about on the site, you can still find places to play Expendabros and Suicide Squad: Special Ops, but not this. Hollywood Hellfire might actually be lost media now, and that incredibly sucks.

Thus I’m putting out an open request: If you know of a place where this game is available, please let me know. I’m big on preserving stuff like this, the junk that nobody should remember. This should not be about something that existed for a few months in 2013 and is lost forever.