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Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch

"It looks good and controls well, and although its humor can be juvenile, it is both creative and clever."

I need to tell you something, and you may want to sit down for this: Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch is... immature. I know – with a name like that, you wouldn't think "this sounds like a game where my enemies will be pigeons who poop on my head and monkeys who fart in my mouth," but it is that kind of game. Oh boy, is it ever.

In Revenge of the Bitch, you play as the titular Mark Leung, a ginseng farmer who tells his wannabe girlfriend to drop dead, and thus somehow gets caught up in a struggle between two religions: Noobism and Vegetology. The Vegetologists have set up shrines in Mark's homeland that turn people into cockroaches if they don't eat their vegetables, and unless Mark does something about it, their influence will continue to spread across the world, forcing people everywhere to eat veggies. Of course, had he not yelled at his stalker, he might have gotten to stay home. Hence the title. This is the first episode in a planned series, so Mark's quest doesn't reach an end before the game does. In fact, the ending is mighty abrupt – I figured I was in for another 10 hours of gameplay or so, and then there were the credits.

The story is fairly strong and well written, and for a parody game like RotB, that's pretty important. The twists and turns don't always make sense – at times, I felt like I was playing Mark in Wonderland – but they do stay true to the formula. In fact, the story's biggest problem may be that there's too much of it. I put about 40 hours into this game, and that's just too much for a parody game, which needs to keep things tight and moving forward. I know it's strange to want less gameplay, but there are times when this game feels like the team sat down with a list of all the wacky things they could think of, and then threw them all at this episode. There are some extremely creative ideas here, such as the Lamboguinea: an enemy who is half lamb, half guinea pig, and sounds like a sports car. And the Bitchkraken... I'd love to spoil that, but I won't. I'll just say that when I got the joke, I stopped playing and actually applauded. I can see how it would have been tough to cut anything, but it might have been best to make that hard decision or move some of these good ideas to a later episode.

Except for its nature as a parody, this game takes a lot of cues from Dragon Quest VIII and Blue Dragon. It's not a clone of either, but their graphical and gameplay influence is clear. In RotB, you travel through an open world, fighting turn-based battles with enemies who are visible in the field. In fact, you can target enemies in the field and try to attack them to start the battle with a free turn. If the reverse happens, however, the enemies will start with that free turn, which can be brutal. Sadly, Mark's field attack generally gives away the first strike. He runs toward the enemy, leaps into the air, and swings his sword on the way down. But the enemy usually notices him at some point in the process and runs at him, hitting Mark in the knees during his jump and getting the free turn in his stead. Thankfully, you can switch other (weaker) characters into the lead role who don't share his problem of giving away the initiative.

Each character in RotB has a main class and a secondary class. The main classes are unique to each character, but the secondary classes aren't. For example, one character's main class is Sorcerer, and her secondary class is Healer. Nobody else knows the Sorcerer class, but they can be Healers. I have to give kudos to the developers for coming up with some unusual main classes: your party also features a Combat Skater, who fights wearing ice skates, and a Dreamcaller, who wields a violin and summons dream beasts to attack for her. Enemies are varied – I can only remember one pallet swap in the whole game – and fitting the game's tone, many of them are cute animals like baby seals and lambs. As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of creative ideas here. They're not all winners (Dick Cheney jokes are pretty played out), but a surprising percentage are clever and funny. I really like the challenge level as well – regular battles are just hard enough, and boss battles are difficult without being frustrating. I got into at least one situation where I only had one character still alive, but managed to fight my way back to victory, and that felt great because it was so challenging.

Sadly, RotB is not without its share of technical issues, mostly in the graphics department. For example, during his initial attack, Mark's sword occasionally leaps out of his hand and progresses through its normal animation about six feet away. These issues were minor, and none of them broke the game (although it did crash two or three times when trying to move into an in-engine cutscene), but they are there and they were at times annoying. The frame-rate and loading times, on the other hand, almost did break the game for me. Granted, my laptop isn't a gaming rig, but there were a few areas where the game ground to soul-crushing single-digit FPS rates. Also, when starting the game, my initial save load sometimes took as long as 30 minutes. Thankfully, loading new areas or loading a save when I was already in the game didn't take an abusive amount of time, but whenever I was starting up, I knew I had time to hit Load and then go make dinner.

Technical issues aside, this game looks really good, especially considering the miniscule size of its development team. Character and environment designs are generally clean and easy to follow, and I rarely came across an area where I had to wonder "can I walk there?" Many cutscenes use live-action footage, and although it's more YouTube than IMAX, that quality fits the game just fine, and the in-engine characters are easily recognizable as representations of their live counterparts. Especially given the character designs in some other recent games, I'd like to applaud the developers for using girls who are grown up, attractive, and don't have basketballs strapped to their chests. I truly hate mentioning chest size, because I don't want to sound like I'm objectifying anyone, but people complain so much about the old-school Lara Croft body type showing up in every video game that I feel it's important to recognize that this game features girls who break that mold and look great doing it.

Sound is probably the weakest point in RotB, but the weakness is technical in nature. The music is good, as are the voice actors, but it can be hard to hear what you want. For example, each battle begins and ends with a character saying a line, but the lines are too quiet to really hear, and there's no setting to turn them up. Also, there is a master volume setting, but it doesn't affect the volume of the live action cutscenes.

As long as you're not having frame-rate issues, the controls are responsive and easy to follow. Outside of battle, the w-a-s-d keys move the character and the arrows move the camera. In battle, the arrows move around the menu, space selects an action, and esc moves back up a level. I can't imagine this game causing trouble for anyone who has played a keyboard-based PC game in the past. I only wish that the game allowed you to use the mouse for some things. Maybe menu and target selection, maybe even movement. However, this is a "nice to have," not a "must have," and I can understand a small development team leaving it out.

Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch is a good game, but not an amazing one. It looks good and controls well, and although its humor can be juvenile, it is both creative and clever. Technical issues hold it back, as do its abrupt ending and the fact that it's just too long for its own good. Still, if you can live with the issues I've outlined and don't mind indulging your inner 13-year-old, this is an indie game worth supporting.


© 2010-2011 Uglysoft. All rights reserved.




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