Posts Tagged ‘indie’

Teslagrad Review

Teslagrad Featured

Teslagrad Boxart

Developer: Rain Games
Publisher: Rain Games
Platform: PC – Desura, GOG*, Steam

What is it about the puzzle platformer that continues to draw independent developers to the genre? In many respects, it doesn’t seem the easiest type of game to make. Instead, it seems one that (despite rampant saturation) is a genre full of new and exciting possibilities. Teslagrad is the latest puzzle platformer out that shows the greatest promise. Whether it lives up to expectations, however, is debatable.

Teslagrad is most certainly trying very hard. By simply starting up the game for the first time you’re greeted to a rainy night against gorgeous hand-drawn backdrops. Without any words, the story begins, as a young boy is forced to run far away from home in the stormy night. He comes upon the Tesla Tower and enters, wherein he will face a great many puzzling challenges.

Yes, Teslagrad is so named for Nikola Tesla. Why? Because the primary feature of most puzzles deals with electricity (and magnetism). You begin with nothing, but gain new items which allow you to interact with electrically charged platforms, charge items yourself, and the like. For some reason it was hard for me to get a firm grasp on electricity puzzles, though. It’s not as if I hate the genre. On the contrary, most of my free time is spent playing various puzzlers. So why these puzzles continued to feel more like guesswork than skill was an incredibly odd experience. It shouldn’t have to be said, but your own playthrough may very well feel different.

Teslagrad Screenshot

Metroidvania fans will be happy to know that Teslagrad also fits into that style. Tesla’s Tower is not a completely linear thing and you can charge into a variety of rooms whenever you want. If one puzzle seems too hard at the moment, go elsewhere. Maybe you’ll find a new item! Or, maybe you’ll stumble across one of the game’s five bosses. Considering how expansive the game feels, it was a bit of a letdown to see there were not more boss encounters. They are pretty neat battles, even if they rely very heavily on simple pattern recognition.

So we’ve got a game that is entirely ambitious, looks great, and has a huge non-linear castle to explore. Yet, something about it only ends up feeling slightly above average. Puzzles that required very precise jumps were incredibly annoying, especially when there were not checkpoints in the middle of them. Making a game mechanically tough can be done well, but it doesn’t feel like Teslagrad pulls that off. After all, it varies back and forth between easy and hard. Usually, if a game is hard it stays that way throughout, or slowly ramps up in difficulty.

There are definitely players out there that will love the intriguing experience that Teslagrad provides. If you think that’s you then go ahead and buy it! For me, I just couldn’t get over the feeling that the designers crammed all their expertise into creating something gorgeous and expansive but forgot the most important ingredient – heart.

Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas

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Zombie Shooter Review

Zombie Shooter Featured

Zombie Shooter Boxart

Developer: Sigma Team
Publisher: Sigma Team
Platform: PC – GOG*, Steam

Ah, the twin stick shooter. Its simplicity is what draws me in. Sigma Team are a fairly well known name within the genre thanks to their Alien Shooter games. But did you know they made a couple of zombie versions? That’s exactly what Zombie Shooter is. Instead of aliens you’re faced with copious hordes of the undead.

Players can choose to play as a woman or man and then level up their character between stages. There are a handful of stages and each has its own appearance. Levels aren’t huge although you usually have to locate and then plant dynamite to proceed. Other times, you flip switches to open doors. In any case, enemies constantly flock you making it difficult.

The main method of increasing difficulty seems simply to offer more of the stronger enemies at a time the further you proceed. This is kind of annoying, but also exciting. Playing through the first few levels is a breeze but Zombie Shooter suddenly kicks into high gear. By the end, you’re frantically running for cover and hoping you’ll survive the next massive wave. The leveling system of weapons makes it so you usually don’t run out of ammo, though.

Zombie Shooter Featured

Graphics are not particularly fancy but they weren’t even at launch. They seem to recall 90s games more than anything of their actual generation. One thing that they got right was the blood. Tons of gore proliferates the screen. Eventually, stages end up being so caked with blood that the floor is entirely red. You can change the blood color but what’s the point?

There are some problems with Zombie Shooter and the biggest is the main character’s ability to get stuck on environment geometry. It happened on three stages for me and was a source of very unneeded panic and frustration. Getting randomly stuck makes you an open target from all angles and routinely caused failure. Another issue is due to the isometric viewpoint. With no ability to change the angle, zombies can be hidden and launch surprise attacks.

All of this is to say that the game is fun, but very brief, and you likely won’t come back later. For whatever reason there is no multiplayer mode which would have enticed me to play some more. It won’t do much harm to play Zombie Shooter but you’ll probably want to seek out something with a pulse.

Score: 2

2 out of 5 alpacas

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Terror in Christmas Town Review

Terror in Christmas Town Featured

Terror in Christmas Town Logo

Developer: Michael Zerbo
Publisher: Michael Zerbo
Platform: PC – Direct

Back when DOOM was huge everyone wanted to jump in on the shooter craze. Pie in the Sky was a program which let users create their own 3D FPS titles. One game that utilized this software went by the name of Terror in Christmas Town. As the name implies, it is a shooter but with a Christmas theme.

Although there are elves, seals, and Eskimos dotting the landscape, there are also bunches of mean bears out to get you. How do you stop them? Simply pick up a shotgun or a rocket launcher! Because this is a game based around a holiday, however, using these weapons doesn’t render a big, bloody mess. Instead, the bears turn into smiling snowmen. Your own health is represented by a melting snowman. It’s kind of cute/creepy.

Terror in Christmas Town Featured

The game plays like what you would expect from a DOOM clone, except it has a more robust inventory system. But beyond that, it’s a pretty dull experience. There was no audio in game when I played, although there was an initial sound clip upon loading the game, so I’m not sure what that means. But without any sound at all, the experience is far lonelier. It’s also annoying to not hear bears roar or something to know that one has suddenly snuck up behind you.

Terror in Christmas Town is an interesting effort but there’s not much to it. The Christmas theme at least makes it stand out against other Pie in the Sky-made games, but why play it when you can just grab the genuine artifact?

Score: 1

1 out of 5 alpacas

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SteamWorld Dig Review

SteamWorld Dig Featured

SteamWorld Dig Logo

Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Platform: 3DS – eShop, PC – Steam

I’m going to let you in on a secret. Game reviewers play a tremendous amount of games throughout the year. To stay afloat, you learn to simply leave games alone once they are completed and reviewed. Nobody tells you this but most train themselves with the mindset all the same. The fact that I can’t simply toss aside SteamWorld Dig after completing it is a sign – this is something special.

Initially it launched on the 3DS eShop and met with a lot of positive press. Gamers, too, were loving every minute with it. Now that it’s out on Steam I decided it was finally time to see what the fuss was all about. From the outside, SteamWorld Dig doesn’t necessarily seem impressive. There is a cast of robots and the lead robot mines deep into the Earth, gaining new powers discovered in caves.

SteamWorld Dig Screenshot 1

Mining is quickly becoming an overplayed element in games. Thankfully, SteamWorld Dig isn’t yet another attempt to tweak Minecraft. Yes, you mine, but to create paths for yourself. The eventual goal is to reach the bottom, but there’s a lot to find along the way. Not only are there caves which offer special new equipment and abilities, but there are also lots of rare minerals to take back to the surface. A satchel full of goodies can be turned in at the store for loads of money.

One by one the town shops reopen. With them come copious new upgrades to your pick, armor, fists, and drill. Some upgrades cost coins while others require coins and orbs. Orbs are a rarer substance which is found from time to time while digging. It was annoying to need this second payment method because of its scarcity. As such, I had to skip out on multiple upgrades for a long time simply because I didn’t have enough orbs (but had more than enough money).

In any case, once you’re loaded up with upgrades SteamWorld Dig becomes much more fun. You can explore longer before your lamp burns out and even fall from greater distances without pain. Of course, you still have to look out for underground dwelling enemies! Mining straight down will advance you through the game faster, but it’s much better to explore side to side as well. Collecting more money and orbs is recommended before descending to the final areas.

SteamWorld Dig Screenshot 2

Each aspect of the world has lovely visuals. The colorful artwork was even upgraded from the 3DS release to PC and it shows. Simply looking at each robot reveals a bevy of details including one who has tiny spinning gears in his eyes!  Different layers of the world are themed differently as well. If the dull dirt and rocks are boring you, soon enough the landscape will change. Of course, along with that comes more dangerous territory. Acid spewing rocks, explosive barrels, and lasers will all get in your way alongside creatures.

Although I had some gripes with the lack of orbs and increased difficulty near the end, I would be remiss to discount the game. There were far more moments of being completely absorbed by the simple task of mining and collecting treasure. This is one of those games that scratches that “gameplay” itch in an incredibly simple but fun way. SteamWorld Dig is highly recommended. With randomized worlds it is quite a treat to explore. Play it, complete it, and go back for another round!

Score: 4.5

4 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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MURI Review

MURI Featured


Developer: Ludosity, Remar Games
Publisher: Ludosity, Remar Games
Platform: PC – Steam

Although my first computer was an Apple IIe, some of my fondest memories came after obtaining a magnificent machine running Windows 95. It was then that I gained a taste for rip-offs of more popular games. I didn’t play DOOM –  I had Chex Quest. I didn’t play Command & Conquer but took up 7th Legion instead. In any case, even these titles were fairly similar to what they duplicated. MURI, a modern shooter evoking a retro aesthetic, brings me right back to my youth.

The game is most comparable to titles such as the original Duke Nukem and Commander Keen. In MURI, you play as a scientist and mother named Adwoa. She has just helped design a new and powerful armored suit, but this causes unrest. Suddenly, as Mars disappears, everyone dons their suits and engages in battle. Although the story isn’t particularly deep, it was really cool to see Adwoa as the lead.

As would be expected from a retro PC game, it is a 2D platformer and shooter. There are four stages in all and you must work through them to find the exits. Of course, enemies dot the landscape and hardly want to let anyone pass. By default, the gun is rather weak, but this all changes upon grabbing power-ups. Goodies like “Mega” grant powerful homing bullets while “MKV” spews bullets out in a fan shape. Despite the simplistic play, it is a ton of fun.

MURI Screenshot

However, modern players might be fussed by MURI’s slow controls. This is because the game can run at 16FPS – an atrocity in this age. Personally, I really dug it but it’s easy to see why this could bug people. For one, it is harder to switch directions and time dodges as well. If this is an issue for you, simply switch to the turbo mode which brings the framerate up to 32. With that framerate selected the game moves far smoother.

Attention to retro detail wasn’t just provided in gameplay style and framerate. The visuals and audio also stand up to a DOS feel. The colors and blocky pixels feel directly out of the era. This definitely isn’t a game simply using the term “retro” wildly. Research was obviously done to make the color palettes as accurate as possible. Similarly, the sound attempts to emulate PC speaker sound. Yep, in all its blaring glory. It wasn’t annoying to me but there is an option to turn the sound off if need be.

MURI comes with multiple difficulty selections meaning most will be able to beat it. Playing on easy took me under two hours to complete, but normal took a little longer. I’ve yet to try the next difficulties but they are likely a far greater challenge. After all, the game’s name does translate to “impossible”. All in all, MURI was a tremendously fun experience and I just wish there were more levels to play. Maybe if I send a letter to the developer they’ll mail me a floppy with more?

Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas

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Two Brothers Review

Two Brothers Featured

Two Brothers Boxart

Developer: Ackk Studios
Publisher: Ackk Studios
Platform: PC – Steam

Late last year, Ackk Studios came to Kickstarter in an attempt to finish their game. Two Brothers showed a great deal of promise with a GameBoy-inspired aesthetic and not only reached its goal but more than doubled it. A little over a year later the game has finally arrived on Steam (with digital console versions arriving later on).

The story starts out like many others in gaming history. We are greeted to a couple who are explorers. Apparently married and happily in love, things are going swimmingly until the klutz of a husband steps on a trap. The wife dies, but it isn’t long before the husband joins her. Except he can’t – he wakes up in a strange alternate world. There are colors here (instead of the green/black style of GameBoy)! Apparently, it isn’t his time to die yet. He cannot rejoin with his wife and must return to living. This is just the first inkling that Two Brothers is doing something different.

It continues to slowly be ushered in during play. The game itself feels like it would be right at home on a handheld. Although it isn’t a perfect recreation of GameBoy technology, it does capture the feel. When playing in its native resolution the game is incredibly tiny (although, I think a little larger than the size of GB screens). Exploring through the top-down landscape, helping townsfolk, and fighting enemies are all handled well.

Two Brothers Screenshot

But there are little things that seem “off” in regarding this as a classic-style game. For one, there’s the story which utilizes death in an unusual fashion. In most games, when you die you get a game over screen or go back to a checkpoint. Here, you go back to this colorful and strange land above the clouds. If someone has died, you might even find them there to talk to. Another odd little touch is the health restoring hearts. These things actually look like real human beating hearts!

Two Brothers is an expansive experience that touches on The Legend of Zelda without stepping directly on its toes. This is quite impressive considering how many games do fail to be different from their subject material. That’s not to say this is a wholly new experience, but it is certainly refreshing. Give Two Brothers a look if you still wish Nintendo were making GameBoy titles instead of their fancy new 3D things.

Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Savant – Ascent Review

Savant - Ascent Featured

Savant - Ascent Boxart

Developer: D-Pad Studio
Publisher: D-Pad Studio
Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS PC – Direct, GamersGate, Steam

Usually, when musical artists venture into the world of video games the results are, well, not so great. There are such “classics” as the Make My Video series on Sega CD featuring INXS, Kriss Kross, and Marky Mark. Then there are more modern but equally unusual titles such as 50 Cent’s shooters. Those who recognize SAVANT as a musician might fear the same fate for Savant – Ascent. Thankfully, his input didn’t create some ego-stroking game-based catastrophe.

Savant – Ascent is a 2D shooter with a bit of a twin stick vibe even though that’s not really the case. On each stage you control Savant and must shoot up enemies that come at him from all angles. However, stages are quite small. Instead of running around you simply dodge left, right, or jump. Shooting is controlled via mouse or a controller’s analog stick. Sometimes, baddies will explode and leave a CD piece behind. Collecting and completing the four CDs grants Savant upgrades.

Upgrades are incredibly useful and basically necessary to beat the game. Therefore, you’ll probably spend a lot of the first stage trying to collect them. Savant – Ascent is pretty fast paced so it won’t take long. The most useful upgrades for me were the first and third, as they allowed for an extra powerful shot and markers for incoming enemies respectively. One negative thing is that it can be hard to notice the enemy notifications and sometimes there are none if the game thinks you already see the approaching attack.

Savant - Ascent Featured

So basically, this is quite a tough experience. Even after obtaining all upgrades there’s still a degree of skill (or just plain persistence) required to win. But doing so doesn’t take very long at all. There are three quite cool stages and a cool two-part boss fight… And that’s all. Completing the story mode took under an hour and that’s coming from someone who is not particularly skillful with most games. Yes, there is a time trial and endless mode, and Savant – Ascent is based on scoring, but it’s still quite short. When you factor in the price – $1.99 – it seems far more sensible.

Although the game has fully launched on PC there are some issues that need addressing. For one, having an Xbox 360 controller plugged in at launch causes issues with keyboard and mouse control. All you have to do is unplug it if you wish to use them, but the simple error is unfortunate. There was also a time when I received a “fatal error” upon barely starting a level and had to quit the game entirely. Blemishes like these are far from game-breaking but will definitely turn some people from it before even playing.

Interestingly, D-Pad Studios have committed to providing more stages and music in the future at no extra cost. If this turns out to be true then it’ll be a great way to enhance the value. As it stands, the current music is a lot of fun even if you’re not a SAVANT fan. Similarly, the visuals are crisp although I have to wonder if the final boss design was wise. As it stands, Savant – Ascent is a brief, but entertaining little game. If it can be spruced up to fix a couple of errors and see new content then it will definitely be worth returning to.

Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas

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Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine Review

Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine Featured

Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine Boxart

Developer: Himalaya Studios
Publisher: Himalaya Studios
Platform: PC – Desura, Direct, IndieGameStand, Zodiac

Even though most gamers seem to have forgotten adventure games existed until recently, developers have continued to make them year after year. There are a great many classic point and click adventures from the 80s and 90s but there are also those made in the past ten years. Some don’t quite stack up while others are actually quite good. Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine initially came out in 2007 but has since been granted an Enhanced Edition. Regardless of the edition, Al Emmo is skippable.

As the title implies, this is a game about a guy named Al Emmo. He’s 42, lives with his parents, and is a virgin. If you ignore the parents bit he’s practically an alternate Larry Laffer. Perhaps facsimile would be the better way to describe him. Although he hits most of the same beats, Al is not likeable in any sense because he is devoid of any true kindness. He carries out his tasks while whining and does some messed up stuff in the process. Instead of simply laughing at his antics, I cringed. By the end, Al’s quest leads him down some interesting paths but it’s not worth the journey.

Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine Featured

Perhaps the problem isn’t so much with Al but with the humor of The Lost Dutchman’s Mine as a whole. Including a transphobic incident masquerading as a joke in the first five minutes was certainly not the way to get my attention, at least. As the game proceeds, there are only more problematic jokes issued left and right related to women, sex workers, and Native Americans. To top it all off, the joke I had hoped would be thrown away at the very start was brought back on multiple occasions as a requisite plot point. The concept of a “man” dressing “as a woman” being ridiculous was apparently too hilarious to pass up a second and third jab. No, I’m sorry, but it’s not funny at all.

“But what about the gameplay?!” cry adventure game fans. It doesn’t amount to anything special either. The best features of the game is that it’s hard to die (and may be impossible?). This is no Sierra adventure. Even so, The Lost Dutchman’s Mine manages to be an almost stereotypical point and click experience. The story follows Al as he falls in love in Western town and seeks to get the lady’s attention. As a suave man has already made her acquaintance, it proves difficult for him. Everyone in the game has tasks for you and they spell them out directly. No matter what, there are always new puzzles to solve. Most aren’t particularly interesting, although some manage to be unique. For as long as the experience takes to build up though it feels like much of this could have been removed. It serves more as padding than truly entertaining quests.

Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine Screenshot

The game has received a few upgrades for the enhanced version. A new voice actor does his best to squeak away like Al, and does so in a slightly less annoying fashion. Cutscenes have also been changed from their original CG graphics to 2D animation. The animation isn’t particularly fantastic, but it does look better than the original CG art. All the same, Al retains a 3D model when wandering around the hand-painted style 2D town. It’s an unfortunate clash of art types because the backdrops are actually quite good.

Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine is an adventure game that functions as intended. I experienced no glitches and could solve each puzzle. However, it is a puerile adventure that should be easy to ignore. I know the developer can do better as they have proven themselves to in the past. Unfortunately, this is not an example of their skill.

Score: 1

1 out of 5 alpacas

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Race the Sun Review

Race the Sun Featured

Race the Sun Boxart

Developer: Flippfly
Publisher: Flippfly
Platform: PC – Direct, GOG*

Although I enjoy racing games, it’s pretty safe to say that the genre is usually pretty stagnant. Instead of innovation, the focus tends to be on continually improving graphics. That’s why Race the Sun is such a refreshing experience. At its core it is a racer, but an incredibly unique one.

Race the Sun has players controlling a sleek, solar-powered craft. It has wings, which allows you to glide at times, and a lot of possible upgrades. The goal is to race as long as possible before the sun goes down. Of course, this is an inevitability, so the real fun comes in trying to prolong the light a little more each race. This is accomplished via pickups on the playing field, which can reverse the sun’s descent, speed you up, and the like.

There are no other players to race against in the main mode, although there is asynchronous co-op and leaderboards to place on.  Basically, it’s just your craft alone in a host of procedurally generated levels. Getting used to the specifics of each level is exciting, and you’ll never be able to master them, as main stages change every day. Featured user levels also switch out regularly.

Race the Sun Featured

Playing is a very simplistic but entertaining experience as you glide your craft gracefully (or not) through obstacles. At full charge, you’ll be speeding along and hoping that your skills are enough to avoid crashes. The visuals and soundtrack help make Race the Sun less stressful, as well. It looks futuristic, which appeals to me. Then there is the music which is quite soothing. With these elements combined, it is more enticing to continue coming back into a stage for one more try.

Of course, this compulsion is also aided by a checklist of tasks to complete. Do well, and new levels and items are unlocked. This manages to be one of the best and most cumbersome design choices for the game. While some tasks are easy to complete, others will remain locked on your screen a while because of their difficulty. Not completing them keeps new features hidden, and that is annoying.

While Race the Sun excels at simplicity, it is this minimalist tone that may be viewed as a “lack of content” to some. However, that’s absolutely the wrong way to approach it. Sure, there are not hundreds of levels to choose from right out of the gate. But there are infinitely many stages available since they are updated daily. There is a devoted fanbase already involved with the game, and there will only be more once this Greenlight success finally launches on Steam.

Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Aqua Kitty – Milk Mine Defender Review

Aqua Kitty - Milk Mine Defender Featured

Aqua Kitty - Milk Mine Defender Boxart

Developer: Tikipod
Publisher: Tikipod
Platform: PC – Desura, GOG* PS Vita – PSN Xbox 360 – XBLIG

One of the first video games that ever hooked me as a child was Seaquest for the Atari 2600. It basically placed players in control of a submarine that had to ferry divers to the surface. However, sea creatures would attack the people first if you couldn’t get to them in time. It still stands as one of my favorite games. This is relevant because Aqua Kitty – Milk Mine Defender by Tikipod reminded me of those past experiences. They created a similar, but far more engaging, title.

Aqua Kitty situates players in a world where kitties are in desperate need of milk. They’re not just our pets, but instead seem to have taken the place of humans. The top feline scientists have found milk within the Earth and you are now part of the crew who is harvesting it in the oceans. There’s only one problem – tons of weird, robotic fish are trying to stop the harvesting effort! As one or two cats (in two player co-op), you run around in a submarine trying to keep the crew safe from the malevolent bots.

Each level has at least one kitty to protect. If weird UFO-like robots get to it, they’ll slowly abduct it away until you can’t save them. The game would be super easy if that’s all you had to contend with, but each stage ups the ante with more fish/robot types to stand in the way. Some bounce and shoot while others act as shields. Things quickly become hectic, but thankfully, the play screen isn’t that large. It simply scrolls horizontally and you loop back to the other side after reaching the end of the screen.

Aqua Kitty - Milk Mine Defender Featured

A little radar maps sits at the top of the screen to keep you alerted to when UFO ships are coming. However, it’s very easy to feel overrun by other enemies and completely miss that a UFO has arrived. That’s when audio cues come in, as the kitty researches will make a distressed mew upon being captured. Rush back and save them if you can! Aqua Kitty quickly becomes a very frantic game, even when playing on easy mode. The high difficulty might make the game impossible to finish for some players (try co-op to alleviate some challenge).

The visuals are another high point. They evoke retro games but also have enough style to be obviously modern. Of course, the pixellated kitties are incredibly adorable as well. Music in the game seems inspired from Commodore 64 greats, which I appreciated quite a bit. As a whole, Aqua Kitty – Milk Mine Defender is a great, well-put together shooter. It’s a little short, but considering its origins on XBLIG and PS Mobile, that is forgivable.

Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas

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