Posts Tagged ‘indie’

Spelunky Review

Spelunky Featured

Spelunky Boxart

Developer: Mossmouth
Publisher: Mossmouth
Platform: PC – Steam, PSN, XBLA

There was a point in time where I watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a lot, but only for a brief moment. After that childish love affair with Harrison Ford ended, the VHS went back on the shelves to collect dust. The concept of adventure in forests, caves, and the like were great for a film but it seems they would be able to easily translate into games too. No, this isn’t a post about the various Indiana Jones games that came out over the years, but Spelunky.

Spelunky is an incredibly fun game. You start out as a little adventurer person (there are many to choose from, some who you find along your travels). They explore the caves and you must keep them alive by defeating enemies, dodging traps, and also making sure you don’t fall too far – or onto spikes! Along the way, you’ll gain valuables which are exchanged into currency at the end of each stage. If you find a merchant, they’ll usually sell you something helpful, unless you decide to steal from and/or kill them.

What makes Spelunky so fun is largely due to how simple the game is to understand. You must get from the start of the stage to the exit in a certain amount of time without dying. Do this a handful more times and you’ll work through the whole thing. Controls are also spot on for the (sometimes) careful maneuvering needed. Good luck getting through the game in one go though. The whole thing is diabolically hard at points. Usually, the player’s own impatience works against them.

Spelunky Featured

The original free Windows version of Spelunky had cute pixel art, but the current art appeals to me even more. Listening to the game’s soundtrack is also fun although there aren’t quite enough tracks available. The biggest negative I perceive is the simple fact that there’s no online multiplayer option. At this point in time, I (and many other people) don’t really get to have get- togethers for gaming. But online gaming nights? Oh, that’s much easier to organize.

With randomized stages leading to infinite replay value, I have started my adventures hundreds of times. And yet, when I have nothing else to do all I want is to play even more Spelunky. It creates an enjoyable hold on players and is definitely worth the purchase if you’ve never played.


Score: 4.5

4 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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The Room Review

The Room Featured

The Room Logo

Developer: Fireproof Games
Publisher: Fireproof Games
Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS PC – Steam

In 2012, The Room launched on iOS and quickly gained attention. There was something about this puzzle game that attracted players. Without access to an iOS device, I sat dejected and waited for an eventual Android port. And yet, when that came, my attention was elsewhere. It is only now, with the Steam release, that I’ve finally gotten to spend time with The Room.

I think it was well worth the wait. The Room begins in a room with a large, ornate box at the center. There’s a letter on top of the box which is more than a bit cryptic and taunts the player into action. Can you solve the puzzles of this box and whatever lies within it? As such, you set to work by examining every keyhole, button, and doodad in hopes of figuring out its mysteries.

This puzzle game keeps things fresh by providing a host of puzzles all across the box. Once you solve them all then it’s time to move onto a new chapter. With new features of the mechanism to solve your brain is constantly being stressed to solve every last aspect. Many puzzles just require paying attention. Some require a bit more thought, though they rarely become a huge annoyance. If so, there’s a hint function available to save players from stressing out. Personally, I felt quite comfortable with the difficulty setting and imaginative puzzle types.

The Room Featured

The biggest difference between The Room’s mobile beginnings and Steam release are the visuals. Now every facet of the mysterious box looks absolutely stunning. Puzzles have also been tweaked to suit mouse controls. Still, a few puzzles felt obviously geared toward touch screen functionality. For example, one puzzle requires the player to click and drag for a fair bit of time to solve it. If you let up for even a second then the puzzle resets. It would be much easier to accomplish this constant “dragging” by touch controls.

The Room on PC costs $3 more than its smartphone brethren. If beautiful graphics are of most importance to you then it’s definitely worth the additional fee. However, if you don’t mind and want the best puzzle interactivity then it really seems mobile is the way to go. In either case, The Room is a great puzzle game. I wish it didn’t end so soon.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Blackwell Deception Review

Blackwell Deception Featured

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Developer: Wadjet Eye Games
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Platform: PC – Direct, GOG*, Steam

After Blackwell Convergence, both Rosa and Joey have grown into their roles. The duo has officially set up a spiritual business so they no longer need to discover ghosts on their own. Now, people can simply point them in the right direction. Things are looking up! Well, at least they are at the start.

Blackwell Deception is the longest game in the series yet and that’s because it takes the story in exciting and frightening directions. For one, things that were barely alluded to in the past are finally explained. It also seems that a far more menacing enemy makes their way into the story. What had once been a slightly silly jaunt through a medium’s life has definitely shifted in tone.

I like it. With more cases to solve in a longer span of time, there’s a lot more to discover. For those who prefer adventure games with puzzles, well, they have finally been bulked up as well. It’s not a lot, but there are at least a few instances that require careful thinking. In a way, I don’t appreciate this as it might create a barrier to those who were previously completely able to enjoy the games. Well, at least walkthroughs exist!

Blackwell Deception Featured

One issue with previous Blackwell games was that you always had to go back to Rosa’s apartment to look something up. By Blackwell Deception, she’s finally caught up with the times and has a smartphone! Now you can simply pull it up at any time and perform searches, call characters, and review case notes. This simplification removes most of the tedium which is a very welcome change.

The story has been something worth looking forward to but it is only with the first and fourth game that it seems to have been a truly excellent experience. Even though mysteries are resolved by the end, there is no longer a feeling of peace. Blackwell Deception feels like it’s leading to the climax whereas the middle titles just seemed to be lollygagging around. At this point, it’s hard to wait for Blackwell Epiphany but let’s hope it lives up to the high expectations formed by Blackwell Deception.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Blackwell Convergence Review

Blackwell Convergence Featured

Blackwell Convergence Boxart

Developer: Wadjet Eye Games
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Platform: PC – Direct, GOG*, Steam

Blackwell Unbound was an odd change of pace to the Blackwell series, which is why I’m glad to report that everything shifts back to the present with Blackwell Convergence. This time around, we’re back with Rosa and Joey as they help free various restless souls. Unfortunately, it seems that this time there’s far more danger afoot.

Strangely, it didn’t feel like the previous games had many moments of urgency. This changes with Blackwell Convergence somewhat, as there is now a greater mystery that must be solved, instead of just solving the cases of a few spirits. Even so, this chapter failed to leave as strong an impression as the original game did.

Blackwell Convergence Featured

Perhaps that has to do with the fact that, after playing the three games in a row, the concept has lost its freshness. I still have hope for what comes next, but it seems that there is often a lull in the middle of episodic series. Something larger might be forming under the surface, but as of right now, the plot isn’t ready to delve headfirst into it.

Something that I forgot to praise previously was the music for the Blackwell series. It is quite good and I find myself routinely considering checking if the albums are for sale. There’s definitely a great vibe from the music to match the noir-ish vibe. Of course, the visuals are fitting too although I can’t help noticing the subtle art styles from game to game. As a whole, Blackwell Convergence is still better than Blackwell Unbound, but not quite as good as I was hoping for. Well, onto Blackwell Deception!


Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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Blackwell Unbound Review

Blackwell Unbound Featured

Blackwell Unbound Boxart

Developer: Wadjet Eye Games
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Platform: PC – Direct, GOG*, Steam

After playing through The Blackwell Legacy I jumped right into Blackwell Unbound. Much to my surprise, the game actually positions itself as a prequel to the first. Instead of playing as Rosa this time around you’re Lauren Blackwell, the aunt. She also lives with spirit guide Joey although she appears to have long since come to terms with her ghostly partner.

As Lauren, your goal is to investigate two apparent hauntings in the city.  This time around there are two ghosts needing help (of course, they don’t realize it themselves!). You can tackle either situation first and neither takes particularly long. Apparently, this leads to a shorter game overall as it didn’t require two hours to beat.

Blackwell Unbound Featured

Although the game is shorter, it still sheds some interesting light into the whole spirit guide and medium dynamic. We also get to learn more about Lauren from when she was living and actually quite a shift form Rosa’s more reserved nature. Unfortunately, we likely won’t get to see more of Lauren since she’s gone by the time Rosa meets Joey.

Perhaps it was due to the even shorter length, or the less interesting storyline overall, but Blackwell Unbound felt like a step back. After all, my hopes were set on progressing Rosa’s story rather than fussing around with an other character. Perhaps the stories showcased here will come back as important points in Blackwell Deception or Blackwell Convergence. If they don’t, then this game may very well be skippable for casual Blackwell fans.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage Review

Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa's Rampage Featured

Viscera Cleanup Detail Santa's Rampage Logo

Developer: RuneStorm
Publisher: RuneStorm
Platform: PC – Steam

Are you the type of gamer who can perform the same sort of menial task over and over again? Does it sound like fun? Although this might seem weird to many, it definitely can be fun and that is proved by playing Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage. In this game, you’re tasked with cleaning up the mess Santa has left behind after a murderous rampage at the North Pole. All you’re armed with is a mop, bucket, and sensor to detect bloody bits and trash.

If nothing else, this is a pretty unique game. First-time janitors might find it a bit confusing, but there’s not much to it. After starting the job, you can choose to start mopping up the blood or disposing of bodies, bullets, and the like. No matter what you decide on, the beginning is pretty rough. Mopping requires water buckets dispensed from a machine but the water quickly gets overwhelmed with blood. Sometimes, you’ll knock the bucket over and cause a huge new blood spill. Oh, and stepping in blood at all will have you leaving a trail of fresh bloody footprints throughout the cabin.

Picking up bodies and trash aren’t exactly any easier. Although you can grab a biohazard bin from the dispenser, it has a habit of dumping out bloody bits of bodies instead. In any case, carrying that around to pick up small meaty chunks and shell casings is easier than running them one by one to the fireplace. Oh, speaking of the fireplace, that’s where you dump all the trash. After a few seconds of sitting in the fire any object will disappear. Of course, the game tells you none of this and hopes you can figure it out on your own.

Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa's Rampage Featured

Beyond these mechanics, there’s not much to it. There is no goal beyond the one you setup for yourself, which usually is “clean/destroy everything“. Unfortunately, there are some glitches right now that make it impossible to finish. For example, TNT explosions can cause objects to be lodged behind walls which means you’ll never be able to reach them. This happened in my first complete playthrough and was a bit disheartening!

Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage is under $3 and a ridiculous time-waster so it’s hard to bash it too much. I recommend playing with a partner to make the mess more manageable, although you might need to run a program like Hamachi to do it. All in all, it was a weird three hours spent cleaning digital messes and I was glad to have done it. My hope is that RuneStorm’s final product, simply titled Viscera Cleanup Detail, will expand on the concepts found in Santa’s Rampage.


Score: 3.5

3 out of 5 alpacas


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The Blackwell Legacy Review

The Blackwell Legacy Featured

The Blackwell Legacy Boxart

Developer: Wadjet Eye Games
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Platform: PC – Direct, GOG*, Steam

The Blackwell series by Wadjet Eye Games is one of the most notable independently published adventure games out there. In fact, in 2006, it was part of a very exclusive club as “episodic” titles hadn’t really broken into the mainstream yet. In anticipation of the final game in the series, Blackwell Epiphany, I’m playing through the previous four. My mission begins with The Blackwell Legacy.

The story begins as we meet a woman named Rosa releasing the ashes of her aunt over a bridge. Rosa seems confused, unsure of how things will play out now that the only family she had has passed away. However, she soon learns from her aunt’s doctor that the family may have an unprecedented issue with hereditary dementia. Shaken and distressed, Rosa returns home where she comes face to face with her worst nightmare – a ghost. Has her cognitive ability already started its decline or is this ghost real?

The Blackwell Legacy Featured

She quickly steels herself with the decision that the ghost – named Joey – is real enough. Using his 1930s vernacular he explains how the previous Blackwell women also had Joey tag along with them in their waking lives. He doesn’t even know how it happened but he has become something of a legacy to the family line. According to Joey, as long as he’s around, the two of them must help wandering ghosts come to terms with their own death. By acting as a medium, Rosa will be able to finally set their spirits free.

The Blackwell Legacy certainly spins a good yarn. As far as gameplay is concerned, it’s pretty standard point and click adventure fare. However, it’s incredibly easy and that was something I really appreciated. There are no ridiculous puzzles and only a few bits of deduction necessary anyway. Mostly, you’re safe to guide Rosa and Joey to various destinations and see how things unfold.

Since the series includes five games, the first is incredibly short. I devoured the experience in one two hour sitting and wished for more. Of course, there was, as I have the other games too! In any case, The Blackwell Legacy proves to be a very promising start to a long-running series. I look forward to seeing what happens next!


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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DROD 1+2+3 Review

DROD Featured

DROD Boxart

Developer: Caravel Games
Publisher: Caravel Games
Platform: PC – Direct, GOG*

DROD, known more formally as Deadly Rooms of Death, is a tremendously fun (and sometimes frustrating) series of puzzle games starring Beethro Budkin. This fellow is the exact opposite of dashing and explores dungeons, killing enemies and solving puzzles as he goes. The three titles included in GOG’s collection are DROD: King Dugan’s Dungeon, DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold, and DROD: The City Beneath.

The first game is the simplest in regards to story. In fact, it’s barely there. Still, the gameplay is practically perfect in the first anyway. It is played from a top-down perspective as you navigate Beethro through various rooms. He’s armed with a sword that can be positioned in eight directions and that’s about it. Moving occurs in a turn-based fashion which is important to note when enemies are progressing near you. If you don’t get your weapon facing them directly before they arrive then you’re dead!

Many rooms have puzzles which vary in difficulty and type. Oftentimes, you’ll have to find out how to hit buttons in the right order (and without getting killed). Puzzles are often very creative which is fun unless you get stuck on one for a long time. At times like this, just try quitting the game for a while before coming back to it. If you still can’t figure it out then you can head to the game’s official forum which serve as a great resource for confused players.

DROD Screenshot

Playing DROD: King Dungan’s Dungeon might seem hard, but you can eventually get into the swing of things with enough perseverance. The sequels continue to ramp up difficulty which is why you may want to play the original first, even though Journey to Rooted Hold and The City Beneath both have a greater emphasis on story. In any case, no matter which game you’re playing they all follow the same basic formula: Solve puzzles and stab stuff.

Visually the games are all quite similar and do not look very pretty. However, the graphics hardly matter because the gameplay is so engrossing. Wracking your brain for solutions to tough sections quickly becomes commonplace but that makes finally solving them all the more rewarding. In a weird way, struggling against the difficulty becomes pleasant too. Anyone who is ready to test their mental mettle will find a worthy opponent in the DROD series.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Jets’n’Guns Gold Review

Jets'n'Guns Gold Featured

Jets'n'Guns Gold Logo

Developer: Rake in Grass
Publisher: Rake in Grass
Platform: PC – Direct, Steam

Shooters (not the FPS sort) are one of my favorite genres to play despite my total lack of ability with them. There’s something about attempting to weave tiny ships through enemy bullets, fight gigantic bosses, and somehow come out alive in the end. Jets’n’Guns Gold is a more modern shooter but that hardly stops it from being a contender for the title of classic.

Jets’n’Guns Gold gets so much perfect that it’s hard to tear your eyes away from the screen – and more importantly – your hands from the controls. As with many shooters, the game starts you off by loading players into a fairly svelte ship and forcing them right into the action. Enemies don’t pull their punches, even on easy. And this might make me sound completely weird, but you can almost feel your ship taking the bullets. Shots feel heavy and powerful as they should.

If you keep getting killed then it might be a good time to try swapping out weapons for other equipment. The more stages you complete, the more are unlocked for use. Getting comfortable with certain loadouts is appealing, but it’s worth experimenting as well. Of course, even trying out different ship customization might not be able to help some. I, for one, spent a great deal of time on early levels simply because everything was too hectic! It’s a shame that easy difficulty couldn’t have been actually easy.

Jets'n'Guns Gold Featured

The gameplay is definitely solid and is backed up by an excellent soundtrack and attractive graphics. Although the art itself isn’t completely inspiring, seeing what creative ships and enemy types they came up with is a lot of fun. Maybe it’s just my eyes but everything did seem a bit small though, making some bullets smash into me without ever seeing them approach. On the other hand, the music is fantastic. For some reason, most shooters have excellent soundtracks and Jets’n’Guns Gold is no exception.

Fans of shooters should have already picked this up when it initially launched in 2006. If you somehow missed out on it though then now is definitely the time to jump on board. Newbie shooter fans might want to hold off on a purchase just yet, unless you’re ready to lose a lot before really digging into the experience. Jets’n’Guns Gold is succinctly defined with just one word: Awesome.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Fading Hearts Review

fhh

Fading Hearts Logo

Developer: Sakura River Interactive
Publisher: Sakura River Interactive
Platform: PC – Direct, Steam

I’ve enjoyed using Steam for years but have always felt disappointed at the lack of visual novels on the platform. Fading Hearts is part of a small group of games from the genre cropping up on the storefront, which leads to quite mixed results. Fading Hearts isn’t a brand new game as it actually launched in 2009. But is it a worthwhile title to play today or should you look to something else?

Well, first it must be said that there’s an incredibly diverse reaction to the game. Some love it and some hate it! I’m in the camp that was pleasantly surprised, although not everything about the experience was wondrous. With that said, let’s get into the review already.

Fading Hearts Screenshot 1

Fading Hearts is a very unique visual novel. You play as a teenager named Ryou who has two best friends – Rina and Claire. As you might expect, there is some romantic triangle stuff going on, but you don’t have to pursue it either. What got me so captivated was realizing that the game wasn’t just a droll cutesy dating sim. Instead, it can take a great many paths, many of which are far more interesting than Fading Hearts initially lets on.

Because there are so many ways the story can twist and change, you’re going to have to beat the game a few times to see everything. With a first playthrough taking 3 to 5 hours, it isn’t a massive time investment to explore a bit more to complete it. Different characters have different stories whcih are revealed if you befriend them, while whole other avenues open up if you make the right series of choices. The game definitely gets weird at times, but I enjoyed it.

Fading Hearts Screenshot 2

Alongside hanging out with friends, you are also trying to unravel strange occurrences going on around you. Beyond this, you also work on improving the stats of your character. Some of this aids with earning more money from part-time work, while others help you gain battle stats, but I won’t say anything more about that…

The negatives that many people appear to harp on are the fact that the story is sometimes silly (Y2K orphans, anyone?), has a few seriously odd twists, utilizes a fairly standard anime-style art, and is overall not a polished experience. These things are true but I don’t at all find them game breaking. Still, players should go in expecting that every once in a while there are typos, the music isn’t particularly endearing, and perhaps some of the plot points will seem too outlandish. With all that said, I had a lot of fun playing through Fading Hearts and will definitely be checking more alternative paths soon!


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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