Maybe it’s stretching the definition of “backlog” to include a game I bought two weeks ago, but I have the game and it needs to be played so that’s what we’re doing. Stormworm+ had the magic combo of neon colors and electronic music and low price thanks to the Summer Sale, so buying it was pretty much inevitable. Who knows? Maybe if the Steam storefront wasn’t a vortex of dysfunction and confusion I might have found other games that fit that same description.
This is, at heart, yet another riff on the classic Snake formula. This idea goes all the way back to 1976, which is practically the dawn of videogames. Like Oregon Trail, it’s one of those games that everyone has heard of but most people haven’t playedOr haven’t played in 30 years.. It was probably the central inspiration behind the Tron Cycles concept. In the game, you’re a snake that must constantly move around the board to gobble up food. The more you eat, the longer you get. Eventually the big challenge is just staying out of your own way, since running into your tail leads to a game over. (For some reason.)
In the 1980s it was a popular game for aspiring young BASIC programmers to clone, since you didn’t need sprites or per-pixel graphics access. You could do the whole game by using different text characters to depict the worm’s head, body segments, food, and the walls of the play area. I don’t know if I ever personally made a Snake clone, but I know I played a lot of them.
Stormworm+ adds an interesting twist to the game by having you play on the surface of a 3D solid like a sphere or rounded cube. This means that the world doesn’t have a bounding wall, so the only obstacle is yourself. You can also hop. Your tail will follow the hop, which means you’re leaving behind an archway you’ll be able to pass through in the future. This makes the game a little easy at first, since you can hop over your own tail if you find yourself in a bad spot. It takes a few minutes before you’re long enough to really cause problems. There are a few alternate game modes, including an action mode where there are spikes scattered around. This is good if you’re in a hurry to get to the part of the game where you have to work to avoid dying.
I have two gripes with Stormworm+, which I think are going to be fairly common among the games I’ll be looking at.
The first problem is that – like a lot of indie games built with Unity – the game defaults to using monitor #1. Not your main monitor mind you, just the one that’s #1 according to Windows. This is really annoying if – like me – your central monitor is actually #2. I don’t know how Windows decides on the numbering, but it’s not something you can change. You could swap monitor cables to fix this, but that only works if both monitors use the same type of plug. In any case, the user shouldn’t need to fuss around with monitor cables to get a videogame to appear on the correct monitor. You can fix this by switching to windowed mode and dragging the game over the the proper monitor, but it would be nice if the game just Did The Right Thing. I’ve seen this mistake on a lot of Unity games, to the point where I wonder if it’s due to some shortcoming in the default settings or documentation that leads so many indies to make the same mistake.
The other problem is more serious, and that’s screen flash. The screen pulses brightly when you nibble some food, and it pulses hard when you die. I play in a dark room, which means my eyes are pretty well dilated. So having constant surges of brightness is really uncomfortable. It’s like a game where one particular sound effect is brutally louder than the others. Except, in the case of unbalanced audio you can at least you can turn in the volume down. I can’t stop my eyes from adjusting to the default brightness. This wouldn’t be a big deal if this was rare, but during normal gameplay the screen is going to pulse every one to three seconds, and after just five minutes I have to quit the game because my eyes hurt.
Screen flash means people with seizure disorder can’t play the game. The same applies to people that suffer from certain kinds of headaches. But even if you don’t fall into those groups, it can still be really uncomfortable in certain conditions. This is a pretty big usability issue, and I wish more games would let you disable screen flash.
So that’s Stormworm+. Fun game. Interesting twist on a classic formula. Great presentation. Energetic soundtrack. But I had to give up on it because it was just too uncomfortable to play.
EDIT: It turns out you can turn off screen flash. It’s labeled “Color Pulse” in the options menu. (It’s actually a slider.) Yay!
 Or haven’t played in 30 years.
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