Bundle Backlog - Pid and Little Inferno

Bundles: Indie Game Stand and Humble Indie Bundle 8

Pid

Pid is a puzzle platformer, one of many in the indie landscape. This game's gimmick is a gravity manipulating light beam. The game's protagonist, a young boy named Kurt, can toss a ball of light onto surfaces, which creates a narrow beam that drags objects (and Kurt) in whatever direction it is facing. Kurt can use this to cross gaps, move objects, and damage certain enemies.

At first, this gimmick works pretty well. There are some clever and challenging puzzles centered around the ability, and it's generally an effective way to manipulate the environment without feeling too awkward. Unfortunately, this changes as the game progresses along its 7+ hour long adventure. Puzzles become more and more frustrating with unfair level design, brutal bosses, and repetitive platforming segments. Pid doesn't seem to offer a fair challenge, and is content with pounding you repeatedly until you give up.

I've got to give a special shout out to the boss in the above screenshot. He is the notoriously difficult second boss, who was apparently even more difficult before a patch adjusted him to be more forgiving. You have to use the light beams to direct bombs to the underside of his head, which stuns him, then use springs to bounce to the top of his head and throw beams into a hole under his toupée, all while avoiding his attacks and enemies which spawn. This was a brutally difficult boss, and even on this "adjusted difficulty," it took me well over an hour to finally crush him. I don't think I could've gotten through this game without a surplus of Bombcasts to listen to.

Other than the difficulty and general repetitiveness, Pid is a stylistically solid game. The artwork is excellent, and the game's soft pastel palette is quite unique. It wouldn't be a stretch to call some scant outdoors segments breathtaking, with fascinating vistas and beautiful alien landscapes. Unfortunately, most of the game takes place inside, so this aesthetic is somewhat stilted.

Pid is definitely not the worst indie puzzle platformer out there, but it's far from the best. It may be worth a playthrough if you've exhausted all other options and gain some form of masochistic pleasure from repeatedly fighting a giant balloon man.

Little Inferno

Coming from the latest Humble Indie Bundle, my favorite purveyor of bundle related goods, Little Inferno is a bizarre little game that is most definitely worth playing through. The game is only around 2 hours long, and is really more of an experimental sandbox than an actual game, but it's a unique experience which isn't comparable to much else.

The core gameplay centers around burning objects in a Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. You can purchase items from a catalog, and then systematically burn them to gain more money and purchase more items. There's an odd sort of pleasure derived from burning all kinds of weird objects in a fireplace, and it kept my rapt attention throughout the adventure. Occasionally, you'll receive letters from other fireplace owners, which provides a sort of narrative backdrop to drive the flame related action, and it is very well done. I don't want to spoil it, but it's a sight to behold, and again, not comparable to much else.

Purchasing items was one thing that I felt could've been tweaked about the game. It felt like the only reason there was a time limit before the object would appear in your inventory was to artificially extend the game. Towards the end, it took upwards of two minutes for each item to spawn in my inventory, which resulted in me tabbing out and doing other things while waiting, which definitely broke the flow of the game

Beyond that, there's not much to say about Little Inferno. It's great to see how each object interacts with your flame, and the "story" that unfolds is interesting, and worth the current price of admission (only a dollar in the still running Humble Bundle). The experience is short, but satisfying, despite its flaws.

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Bundle Backlog - Thirty Flights of Loving and Dawning

Bundles: Humble Bundle Weekly (Blendo Games) and Groupees Build a Bundle 5

Thirty Flights of Loving

I'm not sure why I was even tempted to play this game. I've heard comparisons to Dear Esther, which is a game I did not enjoy, and I'm not usually a fan of abstract, experimental games, but I still felt like giving this a shot. So it was a good thing it showed up in this week's Humble Bundle Weekly deal alongside a few other games I'd been eyeing!

This is a weird game to effectively reflect on, just like Dear Esther, because it's going to be a different experience for each person who plays it. These are games that leave the whole story part up the the player's interpretation, and in a way I find that super cool. I like that video games are a medium where things like that can be effectively expressed.

Thirty Flights of Loving isn't something I'd call an "enjoyable game," or even a "game." It's an interactive short story, with some interesting ideas and concepts. At only 10-15 minutes, don't expect to be spending hours in the world of Thirty Flights of Loving, but as a curiosity, it's certainly something interesting to see.

For what it's worth, this is a unique game. There are some cool sequences with jump cuts (first I've seen jump cuts in a video game), a science lesson about Bernoulli's principle, and some interesting developer commentary. For fans of abstract art games, it may be worth checking out, but this is not a game for everyone.

Also of note is the fact that Thirty Flights of Loving is a "sequel" to the game Gravity Bone, a freeware game with a similar style which I actually enjoyed more than Thirty Flights itself.

Dawning

Well, I somehow chose two bizarre experimental games to play out of my bundle backlog. Dawning is another "short story" type game, but with a few more game-y elements. Dawning plays more like an adventure game, where you collect items scattered around the game's small world to open up new rooms and try to figure out what's going on, but it doesn't get more complex than that.

This is a game similar to things like Home or Eversion, where there's very little explanation for what's going on, and the narrative is left up to the player. It's interesting to explore the world, but it does get kind of boring due to a lack of conflict. You can't really "lose," but you can do poorly, and how well you do (as well as the items you collect) has an impact on the game's ending.

Personally, I felt empty when the game came to an abrupt end, wishing that there was just a bit more to go on in terms of narrative. Sometimes the "less is more" mentality can do a lot of good for a game, forcing the player to come up with their own answers for questions that the game presents. However, this game gives no coherent questions, so it's difficult to come up with any sort of coherent answers.

It's hard to say a lot more than that without spoiling what does make the experience interesting. There are a few cool parts to the game, but it's not really something you should be dying to play. For those that really do like abstract and experimental games, this might be worth checking out, but like Thirty Flights of Loving, I really can't recommend it to everyone.

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Bundle Backlog - Storm in a Teacup and Offspring Fling

Bundles: Groupees Build a Bundle 5 and Humble Indie Bundle 7

Storm in a Teacup

I'm a fan of mobile gaming, I'll admit it. I've discovered lots of cool games on my iPhone that wouldn't be possible on other platforms, but I've also played lots of worthless games. So here we have Storm in a Teacup, a mobile game ported to the PC, and also a game which fits into the latter category of mobile games.

It's not that Storm in a Teacup is an offensively bad game, it's just a boring game. It's a saccharine side-scrolling platformer with literally nothing special about it. The controls are incredibly loose. The game's 40 or so odd stages rarely diverge from a rote "go right until the goal point," and there's non-existent challenge. Just hold right, jump occasionally, and the game is over in about an hour. It's really not worth the time spent playing through it, just because it's nothing particularly special.

Storm in a Teacup does have some redeeming qualities. The art style is pretty unique, and complements the childlike theme that the game is aiming for. Some of the stages are actually pretty interesting, and there is a teensy bit of variety with a couple unique stages, but those are too far and few between to redeem the game completely. If you have an hour to burn while watching a movie or something, you could play worse games, but there are also far, far better mindless games to play.

Also, the music is awful. I had to mute the game to make it bearable.

Offspring Fling

Offspring Fling is a puzzle game hearkening back to the SNES era, created by one-man developer Kyle Pulver. The game is similar to Yoshi's Island in terms of art style, and that works really well for itself. The animations are sharp and fluid, control is tight, and the game's 100 puzzles are unique and interesting. Offspring Fling is certainly a game worth taking a look at, especially if you're feeling nostalgic for games of olde.

The game centers around a mother rabbit-like creature who has to bring her numerous children to safety in each level. The mother can pick up and throw these children to activate switches and open doors, all while avoiding hazardous enemies and environmental obstacles. The game has 100 short levels, each of which takes around 30 seconds to a minute or two to solve (once you've figured out the solution), starting out with some simple puzzles, and cascading into devilishly difficult levels.

This game only takes a few hours to reach the final boss, but there's lots to do for completion minded gamers. All 100 levels have a par time and Kyle Pulver's personal time, offering a healthy dose of challenge for those inclined to go back and refine their flinging abilities. Also included is a level editor, for the more creative among you.

Offspring Fling is exactly what I was talking about towards the end of my Storm in a Teacup impressions. It's a good mindless game, something fun to play with a controller while you watch a movie or listen to a podcast, something to wind down from more involved and complex games. It's also built in a way which makes it easy to knock out a couple levels here and there, which makes it an ideal pick up and play type of game. Offspring Fling may not be the most unique or the most innovative puzzle game in the world, but it still offers a good few hours of enjoyment, especially for gamers with fond memories of Yoshi's Island.

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Bundle Backlog - Lume, Postal 2, and Anodyne

Bundles: Groupees Build a Bundle 5, Groupees Be Mine 3, and Groupees Retro Bundle

Lume

Lume is a game that has, if nothing else, a good promise. I'm going to say up front that it doesn't deliver on this promise. It's not that the game is bad, it's that it could be a good game. If it were longer than 20 minutes. I'm okay with short experiences, as long as that experience is satisfying, and Lume fails to deliver that satisfying experience. The game ends abruptly, telling you that maybe one day there will be a continuation of "part 1" of the Lume story. This is a game billed as a complete package, and only upon its completion do you realize that it's only "part 1."

Now, if not for that major blemish, the game is pretty adorable. The art style is fantastic, however it is hindered by a technical issue... the game runs in a centered 800x600 box in an Adobe Flash wrapper with visible compression. That's pretty lame. I really wish I could have enjoyed the game's fantastic art style at a higher resolution, and hopefully future games from State of Play will offer that.

The puzzles are really smartly designed, I'll give Lume that (although there are literally something like five puzzles before the game is over). They really require you to think in a logical sense, and it can be gratifying to overcome some of the game's scant challenges.

One last annoyance about Lume is its... "soundtrack," which is a looped guitar track. A track which gets pretty grating after hearing its 45 second loop on repeat for 30 minutes.

Lume is a game that could have been good, and I really wanted it to be good, but it failed to back up its art style with a satisfying experience. Thankfully, I got this game in a bundle, so I can't really complain, but I would definitely not recommend buying this at Steam's asking price of $6.99.

Postal 2

Now this is a game which should only be played for historical curiosity, because it has definitely not benefited from 10 years of age. It was a subpar shooter when it was released, and time has not been kind to it. I wasn't expecting much from this game, because I really just wanted to see why this game caused so much controversy upon release, and I was still underwhelmed by the game.

The game is crass for the sake of being crass, which can be alright, but in this case it's just straight up dumb stuff. There's really not much to say beyond that. There's no intelligent comedy to be found in this game, it's just poop jokes, drug jokes, sex jokes, and religion jokes. It's not even that offensive, just really, really stupid.

The gameplay is what you would expect from an early 2000s first-person shooter. It's buggy, it's boring, and repetitive. The combat scenarios never diverge from "shoot these guys" and the comedic moments aren't enough to force you to slog through the dull gameplay. In fact, I take back my previous statement about historical curiosity. This isn't a game that should be played at all. Just look it up on Wikipedia if you're curious about its content.

Anodyne

Okay, this is the game I actually wanted to talk about. Anodyne is a fantastic game. Essentially, Anodyne is a top-down action game obviously inspired by the likes of A Link to the Past. However, it differs in some really unique ways that make the game's world an absolute joy to explore. The game stars a young boy named... Young who takes up his broom and decides to save his world from the evil threat known as "Briar."

Anodyne is atmospheric. The game's soundtrack complements its dreamlike landscape, creating an aesthetic reminiscent of some of EarthBound's more bizarre scenes, and the bizarre plot plays off of this style very well. The game doesn't have much in terms of a coherent plot to move things along, but what it does offer is intriguing enough to make the game interesting.

As a Zelda-like, the gameplay is pretty much as expected. Dungeons, overworld, puzzles, bosses, items. And the gameplay here is solid. Puzzles are challenging, particularly some early jumping puzzles which were definitely my one gripe with the game. However, that evens out as the game progresses, and each dungeon is a joy to explore each nook and cranny. Combat is rewarding, with some especially satisfying sound effects upon hitting an enemy, and bosses provide a decent challenge at the end of each dungeon.

Anodyne is a very non-linear game. It does an extremely good job at encouraging and fostering exploration, however, with its "card" system. There are dozens of cards scattered around the game's overworld and dungeons, which help to unlock future areas, more health for Young, and eventually the path to the final boss. I thought that even the limited instruction served to benefit the game, as it helped to further encourage that sense of wonder and awe in the opening parts of the game.

The game world is big enough in scale to explore completely in around five or six hours, which I found to be an extremely satisfying length for this game. It doesn't overstay its welcome, and offers a fairly unique and solid experience that I think any fan of A Link to the Past would find interesting. This game is certainly worth a look for anyone invested enough in games to read this blog.

Of note is the fact that this game is still available in a bundle, which can be found right here.

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Bundle Backlog - Solar 2 and Dynamite Jack

Anyone who has played games long enough has accumulated a ridiculous backlog of games to play. For me, the problem is tenfold due to my addiction to indie game bundles. This is a serious problem, and because of it I know have around 400 games on Steam, with an additional ~50 unique games on Desura (not counting duplicates), and even more DRM free games. I've finally decided that enough is enough, and that I need to actually get around to playing these games, so I figured I'd just write up short reviews of every bundle game I finish.

I don't think I'll be adhering to a strict (and frankly insane) schedule like our resident Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu superfan, but I'll try and toss up a blog every time I finish a couple games. And who knows, maybe I'll toss in other games that I've purchased, because I don't even remember where half of these games came from.

Today's Games Come From: Humble Bundle for Android 5

Solar 2

It's been a while since I've posted a blog on this site, but last time I was talking about games I was all about Xbox Live Indie Games. I still hold that there are dozens upon dozens of hidden gems in that dusty corner of the Xbox Marketplace, but I've mostly moved on from those neglected games. One game that I still hold quite fondly is Solar, a universe sandbox game that was really unique, and a straight up blast to play when I first checked it out. I was pumped to hear about its sequel, Solar 2, and immediately picked it up on my Xbox to then promptly never play it.

So imagine my surprise when Solar 2 showed up in the latest bundle from our favorite bundlers, Humble Bundle for Android 5. I tossed down a few coins just to have it on PC, and decided it was high time to give this game a shot. Now, this game is a lot like its precursor. The game's developer, Murudai, has outright stated that Solar was a "demo" for a lot of ideas that are fully fleshed out in the sequel, and that shows. But for those of you who are foreigners to the concept of "Solar," there's a lot of new and exciting stuff to see in Solar 2.

Solar 2 is a game that's simultaneously relaxing and palm-sweatingly tough. You essentially have free reign to do whatever you want starting out in the universe of Solar 2. When first jumping into the game, you control an asteroid which you can then slam into other asteroids to absorb them and become a planet. As a planet, you want to get asteroids caught in your gravitational field to absorb them, eventually evolving life and later transforming into a star. As a star, you want to absorb planets to grow, finally bringing you to a black hole, which trumps just about everything else in the universe.

That by itself is a pretty sweet little bit of content. It's fun to explore the universe with your bitchin' quad-star system and dozens of life-producing planets rotating around you, messing up aliens and bullying smaller star systems. But that's not all! The game has a pseudo "story mode," where you can do quests for a mysterious narrator. Doing these gives you a bit more purpose than just "do whatever you want," so it's nice to have a bit of variety. These quests can be tough as nails. They require precision, focus, and a fine-tuned control of the game's mechanics, so some of them can be a real challenge. They're not frustrating, but just tough enough to push you to your limits without being annoying.

Solar 2's got a lot going for it. A cool, open ended universe, some missions for a bit of variety, a great sense of atmosphere, and even a pretty good soundtrack. In total, the missions took me around three hours to finish up, so it's not too long of a game, but it was still a satisfying bit of content. I'm not sure if I could recommend it for the $10 asking price on Steam, but definitely keep an eye out for this one during sales (pro tip: the asking price on Xbox Live is only $5, and you get the same game).

Dynamite Jack

This game is basically stealth Bomberman. You play as an escaped miner who I assume is named Jack, and you blow stuff up, including people, wolves, and walls. That's pretty much the gist of Dynamite Jack, and it doesn't get to much more complex than that. It's a top down action puzzle game, where each level requires you to reach a glowing sphere, which I think represents your escape from these mines you've been confined to.

Each level has a detonator (your weapon), a flashlight, and a whole bunch of baddies, while later levels add scant new mechanics, such as keycards, switches to deactivate, and indestructible robot spiders. Thankfully, the game doesn't overstay its welcome. It clocks in at around 30 levels long, and it only took me around two and a half hours to blast through it. Dynamite Jack is a game that probably would have been better played on a mobile device, knocking out a couple levels in bed or on the bus. It's not a game with a whole lot of depth, and playing through it without stopping is really clear evidence of that.

Beyond this action packed puzzley gameplay, there's not a whole lot to say about the game. The presentation is enough, but it's not anything to write home about. I'm pretty sure I had fun at some points while playing this game, but it's not a spectacular game. It was just a decent distraction from that paper I was supposed to be writing, and it was nice to not have to invest too much in a game for a couple hours and just play something.

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My Favorite Xbox Live Indie Games of 2010

I attempted to do a review of one Xbox Live indie game every day for a few weeks back in October and September, and that kind of fell flat on its face for a variety of reasons. However, I felt it would be appropriate, since everyone else is doing their "game of the year" lists to present my favorite Xbox indies of 2010. I can't claim to have played every indie game in 2010, but I've played a fair amount of them--around 100 in total, including games from 2009 and a couple releases from 2011 (already).

Many of these games can be purchased for less than the price of an average soda, so if you're feeling desperate for some entertainment, I highly suggest checking out at least one of the titles in this blog.

Without further ado, here are my favorite Xbox indies of 2010.

Best Usage of Zombies, Avatars, and/or Massages

I have to be honest, I didn't play very many games with zombies, avatars, or massages this year. Typically I'm pretty selective about the games I purchase, so I do some research before spending those hard-earned Microsoft points. Those that I did play were few and far between, and actually weren't that bad. However, the best of the bunch was, without a doubt, The Tempura of the Dead. What makes this game stand out is its head-juggling mechanic. After you slaughter a zombie, its head comes off and you can hit it multiple times in the air for more points and TEMPURA FEAVER (as it is referred to in the first version of the game, but it has since been corrected, out of fairness).

TEMPURA FEAVER

Honorable Mentions:

Most Authentic Retro Style

While "faux-retro" is another indie game trope, I didn't want to group it with zombies, avatars, and/or massages, as I have a huge soft-spot for this kind of game. If it has 8-bit or 16-bit graphics, I'll take it. There were a lot of games this year that executed this style very well, including the aforementioned Tempura of the Dead, but I feel that Protect Me Knight was the retro king this year. This was for a few reasons, not limited to its addictive, tower defense style gameplay. Not only does the game play well, but it features music from Yuzo Koshiro (of Streets of Rage and ActRaiser fame), and is developed by the team at Ancient (known for Beyond Oasis). There were many, many, many fantastic retro styled indie games this year, but I felt that Protect Me Knight was the embodiment of 8-bit.

It could have been even more authentic with the addition of sprite flickering!

Honorable Mentions:

The "Could Have Been A Flash Game" Award

While this could be considered a dubious honor, I would argue otherwise. These games managed to lure the $1.00 out of me, despite having the presentation of a Flash game. I'm not even saying to not buy these games (they are worth the price of a soda), it's just... they really could have used some more content. The winner for this category wins... because it is a Flash game. Aah Little Atlantis was originally a Flash game before being converted to the Xbox 360 (and is still available for free on Aah Games' website). I would still recommend picking up Aah Little Atlantis, because it is fairly expanded from its Flash release, but keep in mind the origin of this game; a contest to create a game in 48 hours, from scratch.

The gameplay of Aah Little Atlantis is fairly unique, despite its Flash-based origins.

Honorable Mentions:

  • PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain for consisting of a single (albeit well-designed) level. Here's hoping the sequel has more content!
  • Inertia! because it looks like a Flash game, and (for the most part) plays like a Flash game. It gets a little leeway for being a university project.
  • Urban Space Squirrels because it looks like it was designed in Flash, even though it's much longer than your average Flash game.

Most Professional Game

These games, in another world, could have been Xbox Live Arcade games, with minimal additions. They are of the highest quality, in terms of presentation, graphical quality, length, and content. There are only a few games that I would say reached this prestigious point, and of these Lumi is the most professional. I wouldn't say that this is the best game of the bunch (despite being a fantastic game), but its spot as a finalist in 2009's Dream.Build.Play contest certainly helps. Lumi has an incredible, hand-drawn graphical style, an interesting concept, and a decent length (especially considering the asking price of 400 Microsoft points). This game, along with the Honorable Mentions, are highly recommended.

Lumi is a great looking game, in short.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Protect Me Knight, not only because it was created by a published developer, but also because of its excellent retro style.
  • radiangames Inferno due to its great genre blending gameplay, which is a unique combination of Gauntlet and the Legend of Zelda.
  • The Tempura of the Dead because of its well-designed retro gameplay and graphical style. A few points are docked, however, for its Engrish translation.
  • Chu's Dynasty because of its stunning hand-drawn graphics, that I would say rival Lumi's style. However, the game is somewhat lacking in playable characters (for a fighting game, four is somewhat lacking).

Game That Most Often Sent Me Into an Explosive, Uncontrollable Fit of Rage

A somewhat dubious honor, these games are not necessarily bad, per se, but often angered me to a high degree. This honor goes to Panic Attack - Devil's Favorite, a game akin to Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV (in terms of ridiculous gameplay). There are a few things that make Panic Attack hard. Naturally, the game has some fairly good level design, ranging from moderately difficult to stab-me-in-the-eye-with-a-fork difficult. The thing, however, that makes Panic Attack so rage-inducingly hard is the addition of time limits. If you are one fraction of a second past the time limit, you will not unlock the next level. I had so many attempts where I would nearly complete the level within the time, only to realize I was one second off... triggering a rage quit.

Curse you, Panic Attack! Curse you and your twitch mechanics!

Honorable Mentions:

Best Box Art and Title

This award goes to the game that best utilizes the box art and title to completely sell me on the game before seeing any other information about it. And this award goes to Explosionade, mostly because of its slogan--"When life gives you explosions, make EXPLOSIONADE!" Now, I wasn't as big of fan of the game as other people were (at best, this game is a competent action platformer), but its charm when it comes to box art and title are undeniable. This was a tough pick, with lots of great games in the running, but I'm going to have to give it to Explosionade.

Plus, the mech is run on gold bars... so that's pretty cool.

Honorable Mentions:

Best Looking Game

This award was pretty tough to decide on, because there were actually a lot of fantastic looking games that came out this year. I decided to award this one to two games, one because of technical and one because of artistic. That's why both Aphelion Episode Two: Wings of Omega and Chu's Dynasty win this award. Aphelion 2 is far improved over its predecessor, with better animations, textures, and sharper colors. There are some spots where I felt the graphics could have used some work, but that doesn't change the fact that Aphelion 2 is a very good-looking game, especially for the $3.00 asking price.

Chu's Dynasty, on the other hand, is (artistically speaking) the best-looking game of the year. The jerkiness of some animations is what caused me to decide to put it here in conjunction with Aphelion 2, but that doesn't change the fact that Chu's Dynasty looks absolutely stunning. If only the fluidity of the animations could have been fixed, then this game would be much higher in my ranking.

Coexistance

Honorable Mentions:

  • radiangames Inferno because of its minimalistic slash neon style that really works for the game.
  • Vorpal for its fascinating black/white/red color scheme and amazing character designs.
  • Soulcaster II for hearkening back to the 16-bit days, and for a vastly improved character design over the first game.
  • Astroman because of its simplistic, yet charming style that gives the game a hand-drawn look.

Best Shooter

This was probably the toughest category for me to come to a conclusion on, out of all of the categories. Seriously, there were so many great shooters that came out this year on the Xbox Live indie marketplace. After much thought, I decided to give this one to Score Rush, as the game is an absolute blast (especially for shoot-em-up fans, such as myself). Score Rush is even more fun in multiplayer, where you can get obscene scores, reaching into the hundreds of millions. There is an incredible balance of chaos and order, where even in the most hectic, bullet filled screen, you can see a path throughout the hell... it really is an experience. And for an asking price of $1.00, Score Rush is a steal.

Moments like this are what make Score Rush so incredible.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Decimation X3 for improving on its predecessor in so many ways, and for its fresh take on the Space Invaders style of shmups.
  • Vorpal because of its unique gameplay, which is a combination of versus fighting and shooting, and for its great style.
  • REVOLVER360 for the ability to literally rotate the world, which changes the genre exponentially.
  • Shoot 1UP because of the fantastic hand-drawn graphics, unique formation gameplay, and its value for only $1.00.
  • Break Limit for the continued support of the developer, the hard-as-nails difficulty levels, and because of its online leaderboard support.
  • Hypership Out of Control for the increasing speed gimmick, which works very well in Hypership, especially due to its retro style.
  • radiangames JoyJoy because of its pastel style graphics in a world where all shooters rely on neon.
  • radiangames Crossfire for the ability to switch the side of the screen you are shooting from, putting a new spin on the Space Invaders gameplay.
  • Star Crisis because even though it is criminally short, the music and retro style more than make up for its lacking length.

Best Platformer

This one was almost as hard to choose as the Best Shooter category, but thankfully I didn't play as many fantastic platformers this year. My choice for best Xbox indie platformer this year is Ophidian Wars: Opac's Journey, a Metroidvania-esque platformer with no combat. The game is entirely puzzle based, and that makes it both intriguing and surprisingly fun to play. At about an hour and a half to two hours long, Ophidian Wars is severely lacking a save function, but that doesn't stop it from being a fantastic example of an action platformer done right.

Upgrading your abilities is one thing that makes Ophidian Wars unique

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Deep Cave because of its addictive qualities, great music, and simplistic retro-styled graphics.
  • Inertia! for its gameplay gimmick, which works incredibly well in Inertia, and also for the final level (which alone makes the game worth 80 Microsoft points).
  • Figment for its unique setting and fascinating art design.
  • Treasure Treasure: Fortress Forage Extra Edition because, despite its short length, the game is a blast in cooperative play.
  • Apple Jack because despite its presentation, the game is surprising in both depth and entertainment.
  • Tobe's Vertical Adventure because even though it looks and plays great, I have barely started the game.
  • Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess because even though the game is a lot of fun, it's really, really short.

Best Puzzle Game

It's unfortunate that I didn't play very many puzzle games this year, as there were actually a fair amount of good ones that came out on the marketplace (things like DiceXY and Rotor'scope that I'd still love to check out at some point). However, out of the three or so puzzle games that I played this year, Aah Little Atlantis was actually the best one. Yes, I know, this game was a free Flash game before being converted to an Xbox indie title, but the additions to the game make it worth the $1.00. The interface is better, graphics are better, music is better, more levels, etc. The concept of sinking parts of an island to manipulate Atlanteans is an incredibly unique one, and the simplistic premise is complemented by sublime music and retro graphics. These things all make Aah Little Atlantis into the best Xbox indie puzzle game this year.

Manipulating Atlanteans has never been this fun.

Honorable Mentions:

Best Role-Playing Game

It's surprising how many fantastic role-playing games have come out of the Xbox Live indie marketplace. This year alone there were around ten that I would say are worth purchasing, and offer an incredible amount of content considering the price. However, out of all of the releases this year, Soulcaster and Soulcaster II stood out the most to me (I'm choosing to group sequels together). These games present a great, genre-blending concept of tower defense and role-playing. You play as the Soulcaster, a wizard who is able to summon three different souls, each of which possesses a different ability. As this wizard, you must traverse several worlds, strategically placing the souls in order to defeat the monsters that spawn on each map. The role-playing aspect of the game is upgrading these souls, which can be done by purchasing new weapons (strength) and armor (health, speed, or defense) for each respective soul. Each game is 240 Microsoft points, the equivalent of $3.00, and each is worth it for the shopkeeper's theme alone.

Seriously, I love Soulcaster.

Honorable Mentions:

Best Sports Game

Why is this even a category? I don't really care about sports games, to be honest, but somehow I played three sports games this year. Of those three, OSR Unhinged was, by far, the best. The game has some absolutely insane level design, which gives the Trials-esque gameplay a really cool spin. Things like antigravity are what makes OSR Unhinged unique. Despite its few flaws, (like the occasional extremely difficult stage) OSR Unhinged is a steal at $1.00, especially considering how much gameplay is offered (there's something around 50 or 60 unique stages, not to mention the bonus modes).

Like I said, insane level design.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Old School Racer, for being the predecessor of OSR Unhinged, and a good enough game in its own right to warrant a purchase.
  • Football Games Room, for presenting a nice twist on a long-running sport.

Most Innovative Game

These are games that, while maybe not entirely not, presented a great twist on a genre, creating something entirely new. I'm going to give this one to my favorite of the radiangames, which is Inferno. This game may seem like your typical shooter at first glance, but upon further inspection you will find a surprisingly deep experience. You guide a small ship through each level in this Gauntlet slash Legend of Zelda style game, upgrading this ship in terms of power, spread shot, fire rate, health, shields, and more. The inclusion of multiplayer, bosses, secret levels, new game plus, and more make Inferno possibly one of the best deals on the entire marketplace.

Later upgrades unlock some really cool abilities.

Honorable Mentions:

  • radiangames Fluid because it shows that simplistic gameplay can make for a surprisingly fun and challenging experience.
  • REVOLVER360 for turning the entire shoot-em-up genre on its head, and making me wonder, "Why hasn't anyone else done this before?"
  • Soulcaster because it manages to seamlessly blend tower defense and role-playing in a completely engaging and unique manner.

The 2009 Indie Game That's Still Relevant Today

Kind of stealing from Giant Bomb's own "2010's 2009 game of the year" award, this one goes to Miner Dig Deep, because Paul Barnett put it on his list of "best 2010 games" despite the fact that it came out last year. All kidding aside, Miner Dig Deep is still a blast to play, and (pun intended) is a surprisingly deep experience for the asking price of 80 Microsoft points. Paul Barnett was right in his description of the game, and the sense of discovery while playing this game is incredible. I keep coming back to this one, and likely will from time to time in 2011 as well.

Creating sprawling, underground metropolises has never been so much fun.

Honorable Mentions:

  • I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 because of the fact that it still manages to sell thousands of copies each month.
  • Aesop's Garden for simultaneously being the most frustrating and most interesting Xbox indie that I have played. This is seriously the hardest puzzle game I have ever played.
  • Arkedo Series - 03 PIXEL! because this is my favorite indie game of all time. See my review for why.
  • Streets of Fury because this game is both hilarious and a lot of fun to play.

Indie Games That I'm Most Looking Forward to in 2011

This was a really tough one for me to decide because (frankly), there is a lot to look forward to this year. Some of these games may, in fact, become Xbox Live Arcade titles, and some may be delayed until 2012, but that doesn't change the fact that I am completely pumped for these games. Out of these, the one I'm most looking forward to is Owlboy, because not only does it look stunning, but the retro tunes playing in the background make me giddy. This game looks to be pretty unique, and the fact that it has already won awards at indie shows has me completely sold.

...and I've been waiting for this game for a couple years now.

Honorable Mentions:

  • They Bleed Pixels because its style is fantastic and the title is eye-catching.
  • Solar 2 because it's the sequel to one of my favorite indie games of all time.
  • Arkedo Series - 04 SLASH! because Arkedo has described as "Geometry Wars meets the Legend of Zelda."
  • Mind Over Metal because the game looks great, and reminds me a lot of Metal Slug.
  • radiangames Inferno 2 because it's the sequel to radiangames Inferno, one of my favorite indie games.
  • Duality ZF because Xona Games never fails to deliver when it comes to fast-paced retro shmups.
  • Aban Hawkins and the 1000 Spikes because it comes from 8bit Fanatics, the developer of The Tempura of the Dead.

The Indie Game That Deserved an Award, but Didn't Receive One (Discounting This Award)

Let's face it; there were a ton of great Xbox indie games that came out this year. I didn't get a chance to play all of them, and even out of all of them that I played, I haven't mentioned all of them here. Out of all of the ones I haven't yet mentioned, however, radiangames Fireball is the one most deserving of this award. I am unabashedly a Geometry Wars fanboy, so the fact that this game is basically an improved version of the Pacifism mode in Geometry Wars 2 already makes it completely awesome to me. To those of you who aren't completely sold on this game, I still suggest checking it out, if only to support radiangames (in hopes that the developer can create amazing games full time).

Fireball is a great game in its own right, even if it is incredibly similar to Geometry Wars 2.

Honorable Mentions:

  • radiangames Crossfire 2 for improving on its predecessor in every way.
  • Decimation X because even though Decimation X3 is better than it in every way, it's still a good game.
  • Retrofit: Overload because even though it doesn't really differentiate much from Galaga, it's still a lot of fun to play.
  • Gravitron360 for having cool-looking neon graphics, even if I don't particularly like the style of gameplay akin to Lunar Lander.

The Most Promising Indie Developer of 2010

These developers, personally, I have very high hopes for, as the quality of the games they've been putting out surpasses 90% of everything on the indie marketplace. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, these guys will probably be releasing games on the Xbox Live Arcade within the next few years. Out of every developer, I'd have to say radiangames is on the right track. These games are developed by a single man, Luke Schneider, who is an industry veteran (having worked at Volition for several years), who decided to go independent with the goal of making a living on these games. With six incredible games already released, Luke is well on his way to becoming a published developer in the near future.

It takes a lot of hard work and focus to release six high quality games in a single year.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Zeboyd Games for creating funny and fun-to-play retro RPGs.
  • 8bit Fanatics for creating unabashedly retro games that are of exceptional quality.
  • MagicalTimeBean for creating the Soulcaster franchise, which consists of two of my favorite games on the marketplace.
  • Eyehook Games, both for their "eye-catching" name, and their unique rogue-like release, Epic Dungeon.
  • Xona Games, for keeping retro shoot-em-ups alive with three fantastic releases this year.

The Worst Indie Game (That I Played) of 2010

All right, enough positive things about the Xbox Live indie marketplace. Everyone knows that it's full of crap, and here are a few games to prove it. The absolute worst game that I played this year was Gravi Dot, a miserable excuse for a game. The goal in Gravi Dot is to collect a certain amount of colored dots in each "stage," and this is done by placing your character in a spot. These colored dots will hit you, creating offshoots of the initial placement. This makes the game almost entirely RANDOM CHANCE. Will you manage to get all of the colored dots? Who knows!? Just place your character down and hope for the best! Out of fairness, there are "Gravis" which slightly alter the direction that the colored dots go, but this does not alter the gameplay enough to justify purchasing the "game."

I don't care that this is a "kids" game! Bah!

(Dis)honorable Mentions:

Most Mediocre Game of the Year

These games aren't really bad... they're just... eehhh. Out of all the games I played, A Shooter was literally the most mediocre one I played. This game is seriously a five out of ten. Sure, it's a competent game, and a decently fun one. It's just... everything it aspires to be. The name "A Shooter" doesn't really inspire images of grandeur, so you know exactly what to expect. Shocking, yes, that this game is a shooter, a side-scrolling one in fact. There is literally nothing special about this game. It's not bad, but it's not good either. It's just there.

A screenshot.

Mentions:

  • Aah Impossible Rescue because it starts out strong, with a unique concept, but ends up dipping down in quality due to insane difficulty.
  • Didgery because it's an okay card game with some cool concepts, but costs way too much considering the content.
  • U Want Cookie? because even though it's a pretty good game, the piss-poor presentation makes it a really unappealing game.

Xbox Live Indie Game of the Year

And now... for the final award--Xbox Live Indie Game of the YEAAAAR! This year, there have been so many incredible Xbox Live indie games, that I'm surprised I found it so easy to pick my favorite--The Tempura of the Dead. It just goes without saying that this game is great. Everything about it just screams quality, from the chiptune soundtrack, the flicker of the 8-bit sprites, the gameplay twists that I would have found completely plausible in a real NES game, and even the Engrish. I just love everything about this game, there's not much more to say. If you're a fan of action games, samurais, zombies, video games, cool stuff, and/or black presidents, do yourself a favor and check out The Tempura of the Dead.

Even the pixel art is awesome! I love everything about this game!

Honorable Mentions:

  • Protect Me Knight for being an incredibly professional and addictive take on tower defense, and because of Yuzo Koshiro's involvement.
  • radiangames Inferno because of its genre blending and multiplayer, which give it both depth and great quality.
  • Soulcaster II because it both improves on its predecessor and stays strong in the unique genre combining gameplay.
34 Comments

Indie Reviews - Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess

Previous Reviews:  

  
Miner Dig Deep - September 18, 2010
Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp - September 17, 2010
Arkedo Series - 01 JUMP! - September 16, 2010
Soulcaster - September 15, 2010
Groov - September 14, 2010 
 

    
Title: Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess 
Developer: Mediatonic 
Price: 240 ($3.00) Microsoft points 
 

Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess

Coming from Mediatonic, Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess is a combo-based vertically scrolling platformer. You take control of the Duke, a narcissistic vampire whose princess has been (most likely) stolen by monsters. In order to discover which monster stole his princess, the Duke must fight five different monsters across a total of five stages. Yes, five stages. This game is incredibly short.

The core gameplay mechanic involves catching up with the monster and then hitting it. This must be done three times per stage. Each platform in the level increases the Duke's combo, with higher combos allowing the Duke to jump higher, as well as a visual flair (e.g. smoke trail, demon wings). This is a very fun gameplay concept, the only problem being the game's longevity. 


 The game is fun, but its longevity really hinders its appeal.

Beyond the five stage story, there is a score attack mode and numerous unlockable awards (and a single unlockable level). The score attack consists of 15 stages rather than only five, but none of these differ incredibly from the main story stages (in fact, five of them are from the story). The gameplay is very fun, but it just doesn't hold up in these levels, due to the fact that no new additional mechanics are introduced.

The real appeal of Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess is its humor. Every stage has its gag, usually consisting of the words "probably" and "stole my princess." This is the positive aspect of the game's longevity, as the humor doesn't get old (any longer, and it would likely be groan inducing). Some of the unlockables also carry on this theme, with one newspaper clip describing how a "demon" (the Duke) kidnapped a waitress (the princess) at a Burger Princess restaurant.    

 The corny humor in Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess is one of its main selling points.

Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess is a very, very hard game to recommend at 240 Microsoft points. The entire game can be finished in about 15 or 20 minutes, while other games at its price point and lower offer hours of gameplay. That's not to say that Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess is a bad game, but if the concept of vertically scrolling combo-based platforming intrigues you and you enjoy some corny humor, then this game is (probably) for you. 

 
Tomorrow: Leave Home
3 Comments

Indie Reviews - Miner Dig Deep

Previous Reviews:


Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp - September 17, 2010
Arkedo Series - 01 JUMP! - September 16, 2010
Soulcaster - September 15, 2010
Groov - September 14, 2010
Star Crisis - September 13, 2010


Title: Miner Dig Deep
Developer: Robir
Price: 80 ($1.00) Microsoft points

Miner Dig Deep

Perhaps one of the most aptly named games on the Xbox Live Indie Games Marketplace, Miner Dig Deep is indeed about digging deeper. The game is not limited to that, and its increasingly complex mechanics are what makes it so appealing, especially considering the price. While not the most beautiful game in terms of overall graphical design (particularly the font) and slightly floaty controls, Miner Dig Deep still succeeds at being a fairly unique upgrade focused game.

The central goal of Miner Dig Deep is, indeed, to dig deeper. This is accomplished, however, by collecting minerals, upgrading tools, and employing the usage of tools such as elevators and ladders in order to more efficiently transverse mines.There are a variety of factors involved in Miner Dig Deep, such as your lantern (which must be replenished with fuel periodically, and provides light for a certain distance from the character), the type of pick-axe in possession of the player (some pickaxes can't dig as deep as others), and inventory capacity (which must be upgraded in order to hold more minerals). This all comes together fairly well, and ends up being a lot of fun. This constant feeling of accomplishment in finding new minerals and upgrading new tools makes playing the game a lot of fun.

 There are a variety of mechanics involved in Miner Dig Deep

Miner Dig Deep's approach to visuals leaves much to be desired. The game looks a lot like a flash game, and this doesn't help the physics either. The main character gets stuck on curved ledges, and reacts oddly to dips and ditches inside mines. The font choice in the game is relatively boring, and in some cases the color choice seems a little odd. The game's designers likely didn't have access to a better graphical style, but these issues are still prevalent.

The game's simplistic style is very well fit by the game's sublime soundtrack. Mostly accompanied by soft piano music, the soundtrack does a good job at complementing the graphical style and premise. While not anything ground breaking or indisputably wonderful, the soundtrack does a good job when looking at the game as a whole.

 The graphical style does create some weird physics related situations.

Miner Dig Deep isn't a game for everyone. The game is a lot of fun, but the graphical style will detract from the game for a lot of people. If the concept of exploration and expansion appeals to you, and you're able to overlook the graphical style, there's a relatively complex and rewarding experience underneath the rough exterior, and all for only a dollar.

Tomorrow: Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess
7 Comments

Indie Reviews - Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp

Previous Reviews:


Arkedo Series - 01 JUMP! - September 16, 2010
Soulcaster - September 15, 2010
Groov - September 14, 2010
Star Crisis - September 13, 2010


Title: Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp
Developer: Ishisoft
Price: 80 ($1.00) Microsoft points

Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp

Originally a homebrew Nintendo DS game, Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp is a fairly standard platformer. Starring the titular Johnny Platform on a quest for biscuits and coffee (coffee gives Johnny extra lives), this game does have a degree of charm. Consisting of a total of 55 levels, this game is also fairly lengthy for only 80 Microsoft points. It may not be the best of the best on the Indie Games Marketplace, but it is a competent platformer with great level design and longevity.

Throughout these 55 levels, Johnny Platform has a single goal; reach the door at the end of each level. In order to do this, every enemy in the stage must first be killed, and in some stages the only goal is to solve a puzzle. The puzzle solving elements are evident in stages with enemies as well, but it doesn't get too complex until the later levels. When it does start to get complex, however, the game can get fairly difficult; a welcome challenge compared to the easy earlier levels. Every five levels, there is a checkpoint, so you're able to jump into the game wherever. Combined with the fact that Johnny Platform has 55 levels in total, there's a good amount of play time in this game.

 Consisting of 55 stages, Johnny Platform is a fairly lengthy game,

One minor complaint that actually ends up being a pretty major blemish is the fact that the soundtrack consists of a single song. This song is repeated incessantly from start to finish. At first, it's not that bad of a tune, considering it was originally written for a homebrew DS game. However, by the end of Johnny Platform, this single song will be torture to your ears.

Other than the single song, the sound effects are well-done, and complement the humor of Johnny Platform. Both Johnny and the enemies are voiced, with proclamations of "OH YEAH!" and "Oooooh." It isn't laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it does give the game a little bit of charm.

 The game can get pretty tough in later stages.

Another thing (that can't really be faulted to the game, due to its original development status) is the fact that the game is played on an image centered in the middle of the screen, and surrounded by a border. On my standard definition TV, this actually cut off a little bit of the top (so I couldn't see my lives, amount of coffee collected, or current level), but I'm sure the presentation would be better on a higher definition TV. It's only a minor complaint, but over time it got particularly annoying.

Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp is by no means a bad game, and I wouldn't even say it's mediocre. However, there's not much that makes Johnny Platform entirely special or unique; it's just a good platformer. That's not to say that you shouldn't buy Johnny Platform (in fact, I recommend you do buy it), just don't go in expecting to be blown away. What you will find is an enjoyable platformer with great longevity for such a low price.

Tomorrow: Miner Dig Deep
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