By Mento 1 Comments
Hey Giant Bomb peoples. If you're like me, you've probably found yourself with a minor bundle addiction these past few years. Sites like Indie Royale, Groupees, Indie Gala, Bundle Stars and, of course, the Humble Bundle have been practically giving away Indie games for a considerable period of time now and it's gotten to the point where A) I really need to start curating this shit, sorting the wheat from the chaff and such, and B) I really need to start legitimizing some of these purchases by playing and talking about them. This feature, of which its current title is mercifully transitory, is intended to provide service A for all y'all while settling service B for myself.
I'll only be talking about currently active bundles, and summarizing the games they're packing. Whenever possible, I'll try and give you some outside video content to peruse as well. I could record my own, but that would give away how incredibly slow this PC currently is. I think I bought it without the tacit knowledge that it could do little more than balance my household budget and send emails to my local member of Parliament.
First on the docket is Groupees' Be Mine X bundle. Because of how Groupees works, the bundle's value is contingent on the number of people who bought it: as more bundles are sold, extra items are added. It's an effective way to spread word of mouth, and their Be Mine series is kind of their flagship product and usually contains all the big name Indie titles that almost 5% of gaming people on the internet might recognize.
The BMX Bundle: Part 1: Core (P.S. There are No Games Involving Bikes)
Electronic Super Joy is one of those Indie platformers that likes to focus on being difficult, but carries itself in such a way that attempts to mitigate any potential frustration to be had with it. Well, at least that's the plan. The masocore platformer, as the kids are fond of calling them, are predicated on creating challenging courses with an equally lenient stance on failure. You can bang your head against a sequence over and over, and the game is all too happy to accommodate you by setting you down close to where you fell so you can keep trying without burning out quite so quickly.
Electronic Super Joy just about manages that but not to the same extent as, say, Super Meat Boy - Team Meat's litmus test by which all masocore platformers are invariably measured. Small things, like the brief "ascending" animation upon death and the occasionally discombobulating special effects can knock off one's momentum just sufficiently to make Super Meat Boy's paradigm ever so slightly warped and ineffective here. ESJ's well-crafted enough, but it's becoming clearer as more imitators appear that SMB managed to capture lightning in a bottle, and it's hard to replicate something that has so much precision and craft well-hidden beneath an exterior of gooey viscera and poop jokes. Electronic Super Joy feels a bit like a knock-off Rolex, to follow that analogy to its logical conclusion.
But that dissatisfaction does not extend to its incredible sense of style, which oozes from every pore of its otherwise generic pixelated countenance. The thumping electro music, which are some real "feel it in your fillings" type jams that the Be Mine X bundle creators were wise to include in a pair of free soundtrack downloads, the neon visuals and the disturbingly euphoric cries with each checkpoint changes the mood of the game from being something you play while seething with obstinate determination to a sort of approximated drugged-out trance that somehow allows your unconscious mind to take care of the difficult parts for you. It sounds like some goofy-ass PLUR raver speak, but these types of games are all about getting lost in the moment until the requisite combination of jumps, pauses, ducks and slides just magically issues from your exhausted hands. I'm sure anyone who's spent a considerable time (let's say half an hour at least) attempting to beat a single level in Super Meat Boy knows the feeling.
Electronic Super Joy, then, is a masocore platformer that has some idea of what it's doing, if not quite the chops to pull it off. The game has a sort of irreverence towards its own format, giving and removing powers capriciously and setting up threads and set-pieces that ultimately go nowhere, and invites you to just go along with its flow.
Shelter, on the other hand, has a very specific idea about what it wants to be. As a mother badger (or badger-like creature), you are given a small stable of children and no direction other than a starving child and a nearby piece of food. Feeding the youngling causes it to awaken refreshed and allows you to exit the initial cave to the big scary world beyond. Shelter is all taking care of your children, specifically in two ways: protection and nourishment. Without outright telling you, your children are all slowly getting hungrier, and the game uses the desaturated colors of their coats to relay this information to you. Likewise, the musical stings upon entering a new area are your only indication that there might be something dangerous (or something edible) ahead. The musical stings extend to feeding your children with whatever fruits, vegetables or smaller animals you are able to procure for them, providing a very basic level of feedback on how well you and your family are faring.
For all the urgency in finding food and running from predators, Shelter is a very serene game. There are ideograms that explain how you can dash into trees to knock their fruit down, or how to use your mouth to pull up vegetables and scare off potential predators, but the game tends to just sit back and watch you work. For instance, at no point does the game impart a very important lesson: that all babies are selfish assholes and it's up to you to ensure that the food you discover is equitably shared among the five of them. If you aren't paying attention, you'll start noticing that the healthier children are often the first to reach whatever item of food you've just dropped for them, forcing their malnourished siblings to fall behind. Simply holding the food in your mouth for a moment causes all five children to stand around you in a semi-circle, allowing you to drop the food in front of the hungriest (again, by judging the desaturation of their coats, which is something else the game will intimate if not state expressly) and ensure all five are equally healthy and hale.
I wouldn't say the pace of the game is for everyone. It's slow about introducing its mechanics and the other denizens of the forested area your small tribe calls home, it doesn't use save files and there's not a whole lot of a narrative to pursue nor concrete directions to follow. More than once (and this happened to Patrick a few times as well), I found myself turned around and walking back along the same route, wasting time revisiting previous locations now devoid of precious food. It's also quite muted in its presentation (especially after coming off of something like Electronic Super Joy) and subsequently feels like a zero-stress, chilled out, explore-a-thon like Proteus or that Irrational Exuberance game from the LA Game Space pack I checked out a while ago. It's really anything but once the bigger creatures start appearing and you're constantly fretting about your vulnerable badger babies. Very much part of that burgeoning wave of Indie games that purposefully attempt to cajole an emotional response out of the player, if that's what you're into. Me? I stopped feeling things a loooong time ago.
Last Knight is some classic dumb fun that relies on taking a singular set-piece found in bigger games and building an entire game around it. Specifically, how games like Assassin's Creed II or FFCC: The Crystal Bearers might include chase sequences that require you to not so much doggedly track your foe Chase HQ style than to simply survive what it throws at you until the story kicks in and sorts out the chase's target with a cutscene. With Last Knight, the goal might be to chase down enemy knights (or something equally nefarious), but the real meat of the game is in the chase itself.
The game has a deliberate bright and cutesy style that almost causes it to resemble a rejected Wii Sports mini-game based on jousting (not entirely without precedent, given the fencing mini-game). It's clearly not intended to be taken too seriously, but rather as a goofy little aside that captures your attention for a few minutes at a time. Indie games are continuing to diverge in that respect, with some pursuing serious themes and pathos in lieu of there being any big studios having the cajones to do so, while others follow the mobile phone game mentality of making their games as bright and cheerful and eye-catching as possible.
Last Knight has you jumping gorges, knocking down bullseye targets with your lance, juking left and right to avoid boulders and collect treasures and possibly also knock an evil (yet equally adorable) knight off his horse in the process. As it progresses, the narrow paths get more and more precarious and filled with traps and monsters to distract you. It's a graphically, tonally and structurally solid little diversion; nothing too substantial, but then it feels like a game with no further aspirations beyond being a few hours of fun.
One Finger Death Punch is a game I wasn't going to bother covering in part one, but it's one of a handful that are still being added as bonuses as more people buy the bundle. So, effectively, it's part of the core series of games you'll acquire by spending any amount on the bundle. As with Last Knight, it balances absurdly simplistic game mechanics with a depth that slowly makes itself apparent as it pulls more and more tricks from the sleeves of its Shaolin robe.
One Finger Death Punch puts you in the buff stickman physique of a powerful martial artist that can defeat most opponents with a single move. These single moves correspond to a single mouse button - the left mouse button for foes on the left, the right mouse button for foes on the right. The challenge is when there are multiple opponents approaching in both directions and you're given a very small time frame with which to deflect each and every one. Subsequently, it becomes something like a cross between Kung-Fu Master and Divekick: sure there's only two buttons, but if you honestly believe that'll make the game too easy I suggest you try putting your crane kick where your mouth is. Or maybe don't, since that sounds kind of painful and you would probably have to go to the hospital. Kicking yourself in the face, man... not a good scene.
Look past the Xiao Xiao visual stylings (which, like the whole two button interface, is meant to lure you into a false sense of security) and you'll find a seriously busy twitch brawler that wastes no time upping the ante and making your life very difficult as enemies with special abilities pour in while you juggle various one-shot skills, weapons, destructible backgrounds that occasionally dispense items and a hell of a lot of mouse button prompts. Silver Dollar Games has apparently come a long way since "Don't Be Nervous Talking To Girls".
Unprofessional Fridays 10/04/13 (Vinny's Segment: Starts at 01:39:40)
Well, that wraps up the four games you get when you purchase the bundle for at least the $1 minimum. (Well, except they just added that King's Bounty game with all the barbarians.) Next time I'll look at the games you get for spending $5 or more on the bundle, which includes the original Call of Juarez and Indie open-world RPG Legends of Dawn, and then the various games that have been unlocked (including King's Bounty: Warriors of the North) since the bundle began. See you then, bundle buddies? (I'll work on that sign-off too.)