Great! Looking very forward to the release! :-)
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A little review I wrote in german about Prison City:
Here's a DeepL translation - hope you like it:
With his action-packed puzzle game Dumpy & Bumpy, Michigan-based indie developer Programancer already caught my eye two years ago. Since then, I've been eagerly awaiting the completion of his fangame The Transylvania Adventure of Simon Quest, a parody of the old Castlevania games of the NES era. But it's going to take a while to complete. This is also due to the fact that the developer is working on commercial projects on the side. His latest work is called Prison City and takes you to a dystopian past.
You shouldn't think about the premise of the game: In 1995, the run-down city of Detroit was evacuated and turned into a mega-prison. Two years later, this prison is infiltrated by terrorists and only the muscle-bound ex-cop Hal Bruzer is able to cope with this mission. In retrospect, one sometimes wonders if the action movies of the 80s really had such terrible premises. You only have to look at B-movies of that decade like Trancers or Hell Comes To Frogtown to realize that things were often much, much more absurd. So these movies that were never produced for television or even the cinema, but for the video store. The video games of the time, such as Shatterhand or Power Blade, then transferred these B-movies to the NES. The developer of Prison City has skillfully captured this, I'll call it, "video store aesthetic".
With the Chakram against criminals and robots
In terms of gameplay, the developer has mainly taken a cue from the two games mentioned above, Shatterhand and Power Blade. Which is a nice change after all the Mega Man and Castlevania clones of the last few years from other devs. Even though the former games were rather B-grade on the NES back then. The ability to hold on to wire mesh fences and shimmy along them was taken over from Shatterhand. These hang more often in the level background and serve to either reach higher platforms or to master an obstacle course.
The combat system was essentially taken from the two Power Blade games. While in those games the hero defeats his opponents with a boomerang, in Prison City the hero has electrically charged chakrams at his disposal. Chakrams are throwing weapons that originated in India. Three pieces of a power-up are hidden in each level. If you find all the parts, the weapon is strengthened and enlarged once. However, this only lasts until you are hit three times by enemies and have to settle for the normal-sized chakrams again.
Otherwise, the balance between action and jump & run is well-balanced: In each of the eight freely selectable levels, there are sections where fighting enemies is the main focus, and those where there are various obstacle courses to overcome. The level design doesn't look bad to me, but it still looks like it came from the drawing board. The levels never seem to have grown organically to me; instead, while playing, I kept getting the feeling that the developer had thought at various points, "Oh, I haven't included the obligatory platforming passages yet. They're coming now."
Maybe it's just because I've played far too many titles of this type, but here I notice the formulaic nature very strongly. That's not a huge criticism, because the level design of the tasks is challenging, but always fairly designed. I've seen much worse in the indie realm. I just miss the surprises a bit. I could often guess in advance which game element was coming next.
The goal of a level is now to find the door to the boss fight and, on the way there, an informant who hands you the corresponding key card. Also hidden in each level is a permanent upgrade for life energy.
Difficulty level and option variety
On the normal difficulty, I would describe Prison City as very challenging and definitely for genre veterans. As mentioned before, the jumping sections are quite crisp, but in addition, the fights against the enemies themselves are also challenging. It's not like they're done with one or two hits. Very often it is necessary to learn the movement patterns and to think of an appropriate strategy. In addition, there are various traps and obstacles.
If you don't care about trophies, you have the option to build your own difficulty level in addition to the three preset difficulty levels. And what options are offered here is amazing! The options aren't content with being able to set how many lives or how much health energy you want to start with. The options go deep into the game mechanics: Should you lose a life when you fall into the abyss and restart at the last checkpoint - or do you just want to have a point deducted from your health and continue at the same point? Should the chakram also be able to hold items like grenades or life energy? And how long do you want the shield to last after you collect the appropriate power-ups? Even the dropping rate of the enemies can be adjusted.
At first glance, the options seem a bit overloaded. In fact, however, everyone can compose their own difficulty level according to their preferences. For example, if you're not so good at jump & runs, you can take a lot of frustration out of the game with the two options "Forgiving level hazards" and "Respawning from pits", while the "Aggressive enemies" option keeps the fights challenging. The same applies the other way around, of course.
I find this option variety explicitly exemplary, because I often have the problem with modern indie games that the normal difficulty level is too hard for me, but the easy one is already much too easy. With such options, the developer gives me the opportunity to decide for myself how I want to play the game and where I want to focus. I would like to see such in-depth options offered by other developers in the future. It doesn't take anything away from anyone who wants the normal gameplay experience - but it adds a lot of value for those who have big problems with certain game elements.
Normally I would say at this point that the 17€ for Prison City would be justified for genre veterans who want to play a game à la Shatterhand or Power Blade again - a more than top target group. The developer captures the feeling of the NES action games excellently, the difficulty level is nice and hard - just like we nostalgics love it. For everyone else, I wouldn't have given a recommendation at this point, because there are better and easier Jump & Runs for the money. Actually, it was just a game I had in mind for the next "what to you play right now" gallery.
But then I discovered the variety of options and was thrilled. Nowadays it's nothing special that game developers make the number of lives or health points adjustable, for example - even if that still happens far too rarely. That a developer offers options that deeply intervene in the game mechanics, I have not seen in this form yet. As mentioned before, this allows everyone to create their own game experience, where essential rules of Prison City's game design can be changed. That much trust in players to decide for themselves which aspects of the game they prefer is something I would like to see from many more developers. Even if that means relinquishing control to the players.
Here's a little article I wrote in German about your work, Madrigal's Simulators and Sonic McOrigins:
I also have a wish and you would make me a huge pleasure: Knight Rider by Acclaim. I loved this game as a child so much!
Great thing here! Since months I write a series on the german webzine GamersGlobal about fan games, see here: https://www.gamersglobal.de/user-artikel/fangame-mega-man-the-sequel-wars
(scroll down for the links to the other articles).
Once your game is finished I look forword to write an article. :-)
It's a really great game.
But I have heavy problems with controls. I want to play with the digipad on my Xbox controller and not with analog stick. It's very difficult for me with these games to play with stick. A remapping function would be great. Same as with keyboard. I'm not a fan of WASD and prefer arrow keys.