Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Short Hiatus

Being only one guy, maintaining this blog has been tough but rewarding. Supporting developers, shining light on promising games that might go otherwise unnoticed, it's the reason why I started Indie Game Enthusiast and continue to spread the word on indie games. 33,000 views since its inception, 7,000 views in January (my best month yet), a growing following on Twitter; I don't know how those numbers compare to other sites and blogs, but it's a great personal success for me and knowing that people read these previews, impressions, opinion pieces, interviews, is what drives me to continue this work. So thank you for your continued support, I appreciate it.

However, I'm also a college student and school comes first. So I'm taking a short break from my blog until the end of March. March 22nd to be specific, the start of Spring Break. I might post a few Quick Fix articles now and then, and I'll be active on Twitter, Reddit, NeoGAF, TIGForums, and Toucharcade. Forum posts and Tweets are quick and simple, but I don't have the time to dedicate to reviews and previews at the moment. Again, thank you for your support, watch my Twitter for news and info on cool indies and promising Kickstarters, and I'll be back in March with more indie coverage.

The Watchlist: Gang Beasts

Title: Gang Beasts
Developer: Boneloaf
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Android, WiiU, PS4, XBox One
In development
Gang Beasts is a stupidly silly local multiplayer party game with doughy ragdoll physics and horrific environmental hazards.
I'll be honest. I first saw a screenshot of Gang Beasts during Screenshot Saturday. It looked interesting but nothing really jumped out at me as amazing or something to be hyped about. And then I read this great RockPaperShotgun preview and realized that was a mistake. Gang Beasts is awesome.
Even in its extremely early playable alpha, the game is one of the most fun and funniest I've played in a while. RPS was right when they said "every fight turns into a desperate action sequence." Gang Beasts is pushing and prodding your opponent into an industrial grinder. It's having a four-way brawl atop speeding trucks. It's punching your opponent in the face while both of you dangle from a window washing platform. What's more, those exciting fights are incredibly simple to control - keys for movement, for punching and grabbing - and your cute colorful brawlers all have physics-based animations that add some satisfying yet oddly hilarious brutality to every fight.
And that's only the 0.0.1 alpha. Reading through the developer's IndieDB and Greenlight pages, they have even greater ambitions. A shopping mall with glass elevators to fight on top of. A hotel/casino featuring a bar for a good old-fashioned bar brawl. A construction site with destructible walls and floors to smash through. An amusement park with a Ferris wheel and roller coaster to fight on. Levels ranging from fights in the middle of freeway traffic to fights on top of a train. A single player mode with levels and bosses. Various moves like headbutts, elbows, and evasive dodges. It sounds incredibly promising and the alpha is a clear evidence that Boneloaf is well on their way to achieving those goals.
Gang Beasts is still in early development. You can download the alpha here; it's currently multiplayer-only, with up to four players able to brawl locally across several levels, but the developers plan to add AI bots and a Sandbox mode in the next build. You can learn more about Gang Beasts on its IndieDB page and vote for it on Steam Greenlight.

The Watchlist: First Strike

Title: First Strike
Developer: Blindflug Studios
Platforms: iPad, Android

Releasing March 12th
A nuclear armageddon is no one’s dream scenario. So choose your steps carefully, it’s a small path between war and peace. FIRST STRIKE is a great strategy simulation featuring snappy gameplay and an intuitive interface that makes dropping the big one as easy as ABC. But be sure to take the right measures to guarantee your people’s safety.
Put simply, First Strike is Defcon for the mobile gamer. Where Defcon lifted its inspiration from WarGame's aesthetic, First Strike's nuclear warfare is conducted on a slick 3D globe, with your tactical strikes arcing through space. It's an experience built for mobile, with a touch friendly interface allowing you to rotate and manipulate the planet with your fingers. But aside from First Strike's stylish looks, it also promises to be a challenging strategic game, offering  ten minute rounds as you research new technology and plan new strategies from expanding and conquering neighboring nations to performing recon on your enemy's resources and actions. According to the developers, this time limit put the focus on observation and fast-paced tactics and means a wrong decision could easily and quickly throw off your strategies
First Strike will be released mid-March on iPad and Android. You can learn more on the official site.

PC Spotlight #81: Box Out

Title: Box Out
Developer: DaPickyMonkey
Platforms: PC
Price: $6.99
To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect when I started playing Box Out, besides the fact that it was a precision platformer. But after my time with the game, I can say that I was quite surprised and impressed by Box Out's challenge and its twist on the switching mechanic.
I think the best description of Box Out would be a more methodical Super Meat Boy mixed with the color switching mechanic of Outland, Ikaruga, Polara, but even more complex. While those games only had you switching between two colors, in Box Out, you'll be dealing with two, three, four forms at at time, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Stone can stick to surfaces but can barely move. Metal can smash through obstacles and activate certain switches but sinks in water. Fire lets you pass through flaming projectiles but water puts you out. You'll be dealing with any combination of those forms, as well as Rocket, Cloud, and more. It's this aspect that turns what was already a fun platformer into a satisfyingly solid mix of precision platforming and fast paced puzzling, as you alternate states mid jump, whiile wall jumping between spikes, and evading hazards. The charming graphics and hefty amount of content (120 levels and hard-to-reach collectibles throughout each one) round out the experience.
Box Out might not be the next SMB or Teslagrad, but it's certainly a fun solid game that offers plenty of challenge that any of fan of tough platformers would enjoy. You can purchase Box Out on Desura.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Watchlist: Zaharia

Title: Zaharia
Developer: Inner Void
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Releasing late 2015
Zaharia is an RPG with an oriental and middle eastern flavored setting, inspired by Middle East cultures charm and made with care to be original but, at the same time, plausible and convincing.The player will be able to create his own character and use him freely, writing his own story in the world of Zaharia without neither compromises nor constraints. While exploring the game’s world, the player will discover its centuries-old history, and will come in contact with a world radically different from the ones inspired to European Middle-Age.
In the vein of Fallout, Underrail, and the like, Zaharia is an isometric turn based action RPG. But what makes the game stand out is its setting and premise. This is far from the ruined worlds of those games or Wasteland; it's a realistic fantasy world inspired by Middle Eastern culture and architecture. This is a world on the brink of leaving the mystic ways behind and entering a industrial and technological revolution. The deserts and sprawling cities hold many opportunities to build your skills and more importantly build your reputation and define your character. Stealth and taking enemies by surprise to gain an advantage is just as important as smart dialogue choices. The combat promises to be equally realistic, casting you not as an all-powerful warrior, but a skilled combatant who can easily be overpowered if cornered and outnumbered. NPC members have beliefs of their own and may even reject your orders if it clashes with their values. And they will remember your action and decisions, so your reputation and the factions you support will play a critical role in the missions you can undertake and their outcomes.
Based on the prototype demo, Zaharia has great promise and potential. While I enjoyed the gameplay, it was the atmosphere and world that was most intriguing and it's a world I'd like to see more of. You can learn more about Zaharia here, vote for it on Steam Greenlight, and support the game on Kickstarter.

The Watchlist: Classroom Aquatic

Title: Classroom Aquatic
Developer: Sunken Places
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Late 2014
Classroom Aquatic is the world's first trivia/stealth game. Players play as an exchange student in a school of dolphins, taking a test that the player is in no way prepared for. They must resort to cheating in order to pass it!
Classroom Aquatic is quite literally about a school of dolphins. Basing a game on a pun might seem like it would have little substance for an experience, but Classroom Aquatic takes the premise and runs with it, promising to deliver a weird game with a unique core mechanic. The framework is that you're a human exchange student in this submerged school and to pass the absurdly hard exams, you need to cheat. Playing the demo (available here), I was impressed by the atmosphere and how fun the gameplay was. The surreal tone adds to the enjoyment, but the game itself has a solid foundation to build on, as you cautiously peek at your fellow students' tests, watch the teacher's path for the best moment to glance over, and time distractions with thrown erasers. While I only played with a mouse and keyboard, I imagine the experience would be even more immersive and absurd with an Oculus Rift.
 While the demo is understandably bare bones, the developers plan to build on the gameplay with more environments and game modes, such a Detention where you must prevent other students from cheating off your test by tricking them with wrong answers or Science Fair which tasks you with sabotaging other science projects without getting caught. You can learn more about Classroom Aquatic at the official site, vote for it on Steam Greenlight, and support the project on Kickstarter.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

PC Spotlight #80: Retrobooster

Title: Retrobooster
Developer: Really Slick
Platforms: PC, Linux
Price: $17.99
Cave flyers have been around for years and the focus on moving through tight spaces while also avoiding objects and enemies have proved to be a popular framework for challenging games. Now Retrobooster promises to take the genre to new heights with modern visuals and physics and the game absolutely succeeds.
What stood out the most, from the moment I started playing Retrobooster, was the visuals. Now in terms of textures and other details, Retrobooster isn't exactly photorealistic, but once the bullets start flying and enemies start exploding, the game is an absolute visual treat. The particle effects, the subtle lighting playing across walls and ceilings, the realistic smoke of your thrusters against surfaces, it turns the relatively simple gameplay of evasion, maneuvering, and shooting into an intense frenzy of light and color and particles that's a joy to watch in motion. However, Retrobooster is more than a visually stylish experience; it's a challenging action game that requires skill to survive. Learning how to control your thrusters, momentum, and inertia takes practice, but once you get past the learning curve, you'll be able to weave through the dangerous traps and thread between projectiles with ease. The level design shines here, from the deadly crushers and moving gears to the claustrophobic caves and tight mazes of metal and stone to precisely move through, all while evading bullets and firing your own.
If surviving alone is too much of a challenge, you can also team up co-operatively or destroy each other in split-screen deathmatch with up to four players. But solo or co-operatively, Retrobooster is an impressive visual experience that is as fun and challenging as it looks. You can learn more about Retrobooster and purchase it from the developer's site and Desura, and vote for the game on Steam Greenlight.

Friday, February 21, 2014

IOS Spotlight #50: Word Mage

Title: Word Mage
Developer: Lazy Arcade
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $0.99
I've played several word games on IOS, from Bookworm to Spelltower, but none have been as intense and fast as Word Mage. Word Mage combines challenging wordplay and RPG elements better than I anticipated
Perhaps the most similar game would Spell Quest, another IOS word game with some RPG elements. But Word Mage has several elements and mechanics that make it the superior more challenging experience. The set-up is simple: your titular mage is at the top of the screen, facing off against various monsters. Chaining together letters to form words results in an attack; the longer the word, the more powerful the attack. What makes the gameplay so intense and adds a element of urgency is the timer. A bar decreases as you play, getting hit makes it reduce faster, and killing enemies restores some. When the bar is fully depleted, you fail. You really need to assess the board fast and weigh the choice of short but less damaging words over longer words that will take longer to find. It's truly a race against the clock, since the longer you take, the less time you'll have on the next wave of enemies. You need to be quick and always planning ahead, with only seconds to do so. Other elements add more complexity and challenge: you can only use words once and the board doesn't scramble, harder difficulties for each level that add more and harder enemies, leveling up, items to collect to create new powers, different powers to discover and equip.
Word Mage's passive and active abilities, such as Overcharge which makes five-letter words stop time to lightning attacks, add a strategic element not seen in other word games and the skill tree is quite varied. The charming pixel graphics, intense fast-paced wordplay, and surprisingly satisfying blend of RPG and word game makes Word Mage well worth your time. The developer will be adding more achievements and an endless practice mode in the first update and is working on an arena mode with random enemies.

You can purchase Word Mage for $0.99.

PC Spotlight #79: NeonXSZ

Title: NeonXSZ
Developer: Intravenous Software
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $19.99 (currently $9.99, 50% off) 
If there was one word to describe NeonXSZ, it would be "ambitious." A blend of Descent-style ship combat, copious loot, procedural environments, and a wide range of weapons and parts to equip, NeonXSZ is a fast stylish expansive action game.
From the get-go, NeonXSZ separates itself from other games. It's not the kind of experience that will hold your hand and guide you with missions and objective arrows. Instead you're let loose in this large word of transport tunnels, cityscapes, and other open areas, with only a few tutorial messages and then free reign to go and do as you please. It's a game built on exploration, in both exploring the world to find missions and enemies to fight and exploring the mechanics. I found this worked very much in the game's favor, especially with my favorite feature: the cockpit.
Given the perspective and mechanics, the cockpit plays a huge role in combat and gameplay, and the fully  interactive dashboard adds a great sense of immersion/ very screen has a function and it's fully interactive. You can rotate the digital map in the corner screen and change the secondary camera screen from front to rear view. Locking on to a target display their information on another screen. You can choose and change your weapons by selecting the icons on the center console. But beyond that integral aspect, the overall gameplay impresses as well. While the movement and controls take time to learn and adjust to, soon it'll be possible to easily skim through tight spaces or fly forward and let your momentum carry you while firing at enemies behind you. The gameplay is fast-paced and fluid, from close dogfights to distant firefights where using your displays and targeting systems is a must to blow away your enemies. The wealth of weaponry and equipment - drones, teleportation, shields, homing missiles, and more - and ship types allow you to craft the kind of playstyle.
NeonXSZ is an expansive game that really opens up once you take time to learn its system and mechanics, and should appeal to fans of deep customization, exploration, and fast fluid combat. The game is still in alpha, but is extremely playable and more content is on the horizon, such as the Combat Arenas and new areas that will be added in the next update. You can purchase NeonXSZ on Desura and vote for it on Steam Greenlight.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Watchlist: Trestle

Title: Trestle
Developer: Sets And Settings
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, IOS, Android
Releasing early 2014
Trestle is a hectic arcade game about standing your ground, testing your skill, and grabbing as much weaponry as you can.

Sets and Settings is no stranger to quick arcade gameplay; their previous IOS release Irrupt was a fast paced game of fast timing and evasion. But their upcoming Trestle looks to take that gameplay theme, turn it up to eleven, and imbue with an expansive arsenal, a plethora of enemies, and twitchy reflex-testing action. Set on a 3x6 grid, half of this confined arena belongs to you, where you move between spaces, collect weapons and picks up, and generally just try to stay alive. The other half is where all manners of dangerous projectile-spewing, area-smashing, laser-wielding robotic enemies appear. A frantic dance of close calls, evasion, and gunfire ensues, and you'll soon learn that even your safe area isn't as safe as it appears, since enemies can damage tiles or restrict your movement with energy pillars and lasers. Luckily, your character has a wide range of weaponry at his disposal, from your standard plasma bolts and flame thrower to a deadly disc gun and missile launcher.
Trestle will be releasing in 2014, along with several unlockable characters and multiple difficulties. You can learn more about Trestle and follow its progress on the developer's Tumblr.

Quick Fix: Submit your game pitch to the 2014 Banana Jam

I'm sure many of you have had ideas for games you'd love to see become reality one day. Well now, that dream could become a reality. Indie developer Nerd Monkeys has put together the 2014 Banana Jam. What's the purpose of this Jam?
This is a challenge for a few selected IPCA students as their final project. A public poll will decide what batch of game concepts they can use to produce their project. Your submission may reach full production and be published by Nerd Monkeys, earning you a royalty of its sales! The project development will be done live and the viewers can interact with the developers.
The chosen projects will developed into prototypes, then alphas; if the alphas are promising and have potential, "Nerd Monkeys will invest to take that project into the final stage", which could see a possible release on a variety of platforms from Steam, Desura, IOS, Android, and others. Progress and development will be live-streamed through Twitch. You can learn more about the Banana Jam here, and submit your game pitch through this form. The project goes live March 4th.

No Money, No Problem: Xaxi

Title: Xaxi
Developer: Noctuelles
Platforms: PC, Mac
By now, you probably know I have a love for games with exploration and abstract visuals. After being blown away by NaissanceE's otherworldly alien atmosphere, Xaxi scratches that itch by dropping you into a weird glitchspace to roam.

Xaxi is simple but oh so pretty. Set in an expansive landscape of jagged spires and glitched plains, it's a weird and wonderful place to explore, that tone only enhanced by the sleek monochromatic style. Xaxi doesn't offer much more than a world to admire and roam, but for fans of the genre, it's an enjoyable experience that's definitely worth a try.
You can download Xaxi here.

Quick Fix: Tower of Guns unleashes new trailer, release date

Tower of Guns is a game I've been enjoying very much and each build has only been better and bigger than the last. Now the game finally blows away its beta status with a new trailer and release date.

I think I said it best when I described Tower of Guns as a "mix of twitchy FPS, a roguelike, and some bullet hell in a steampunk blender" and the description remains apt as ever. You'll be able to experience the steampunk quad-jumping lead-filled mayhem for $10 (a 33% launch discount) when the game releases March 4th on Steam and GOG. Tower of Guns is currently available to purchase on the developer's site.

Look out for a SitRep on the game's progress as well.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Watchlist: Nothing To Hide

Title: Nothing To Hide
Developer: nCase
Platforms: PC, Browser
Releasing late 2014
As a fan of the genre, I've played many stealth games, from Thief and Chaos Theory to Blood Money and Dishonored. But I've certainly never played an anti-stealth game. Nothing To Hide wraps its unique gameplay mechanic in a thought-provoking framework of dystopian control and total surveillance that deserves your time and support.
What is anti-stealth? It's always being seen, needing to stay in line of sight of the cameras that watch your every move. It's assisting your own surveillance by carrying these camera around, making sure you're always in sight. Slip into the shadows and you'll seen be shot full of tranquilizer darts by your unseen masters. Playing as the daughter of Prime Minister of this society, you're attempting to flee and this creates the framework of the intriguing puzzle game that is Nothing To Hide. The charming visuals belay a unsettling atmosphere, reinforced by your character's wide scared eyes and the messages that appear to you in the environments.
Nothing To Hide is currently seeking funding, hoping to gather $40,000 by March 12th. The developer's open piecemeal approach to crowdfunding, as well as sharing the source code, is another element that makes this project one worth checking out. You can play the browser demo here; while the demo already feels very polished and playable, the developer has said the mechanics in the preview only account for a tenth of the ideas he has planned, some of which include mobile cameras, camera-attracting mannequins, line of sight reflecting mirrors, and more.
Nothing To Hide is a polished promising experience that impresses with its unique anti-stealth gameplay, visuals, and atmosphere. You can learn more about the game and support its development on the official site.

No Money, No Problem: Bosses Forever

Title: Bosses Forever 2.Bro
Developer: TOO DX
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Browser
Bosses Forever is stuck in Greenlight hell and that's a damn shame. I first learned about the game today, thanks to the Monthly Showcase over on r/gamedev, and it only took one playthrough to see that Bosses Forever is a fun charming challenging game that deserves far more attention.

Warning Forever was the first game I know to introduce the concept of an adaptive boss, an enemy that evolves and adapts to your playstyle. Surprisingly few games have attempted to put their own twist on the mechanic, but Bosses Forever does and does so admirably. Playing solo or cooperatively, you control your floppy haired, gun wielding character as you face off against a series of increasingly challenging bosses. The controls are simple, but very responsive, allowing you to precisely wall jump, dash, and evade the myriad projectiles that comes your way. With each new foe, Bosses Forever quickly enters crazy bullet hell territory as you deftly maneuver around missiles and all manner of bullets and explosives. And like the game that inspired its name, bosses will adapt to your tactics: if you stay in one spot, expect homing missiles soon, stick to the walls, and you'll have wall riding energy projectiles to deal with, and more.
Bosses Forever offers a challenging 2D arena twist of Warning Forever's concept that requires skill and precision to survive and is just a fun frantic experience. You can play or download the game here and vote for it on on Steam Greenlight.

The Watchlist: Gamma Void

Title: Gamma Void
Developer: Anisoptera Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Open alpha in February, full release sometime in 2014
Gamma Void is an action oriented space ship building and exploration game. You play as a robotic probe from a long extinct civilization, mysteriously reactivated after eons of disuse. The artifacts and memories of your civilization have been scattered and the ruins colonized. Your objective is to recover what you can and reinvent the rest. Pilot and redesign your ship, explore a dynamic ecosystem, and fight enemies. The game is set in an open, continuous, procedurally generated, and persistent world full many different types of living, growing, mostly hostile space robots. Everything in the world is made of destructible, physically interacting modular blocks.
Gamma Void caught my eye while I was perusing the latest Screenshot Saturday, and each new screenshot and piece of info only piqued my interest more. What luck, then, that the developer was taking part in the r/gamedev's first Monthly Showcase and I was able to get some great in-depth details about the game and its mechanics.
Set in a procedurally generated world of asteroids, stations, hostile plant life, various ship factions, and more, you control a lone robotic drone on a journey across this vast and dangerous place, out to find the ruins and remains of the long lost civilization that created you. It's an emergent landscape, where you could stumble upon an massive battle between two factions or watch the hostile plant life take over a station, where frontlines between faction shift over time or defeated enemies flee and return later with reinforcements. Luckily, your drone is far from defenseless; a ship building mechanic allows you to craft as simple or complex a vessel you want, from fast maneuverable and armed with railguns or a hulking ship wielding torpedoes and cannons.
Physics and destruction play a key role in travel and combat, with recoil and thrust affecting your movement, and every object consisting of modular parts that can be blown apart. A skilled player could swoop in and destroy the supporting holding a large ship together or destroy its thrusters and blow it away as it spins out of control. Your drone is equally vulnerable, but Gamma Void reveals one of its most visually stylish mechanics when your ship is damaged: regrowth. Escape from combat, hide behind an asteroid, and your drone will regenerate over time, allowing you to re-enter the fray.
Gamma Void already impressed me with its modular angular art style and its promised mix of exploration, combat, construction, and emergent AI sounds very exciting. An open alpha will be releasing very soon and you learn more about the game on the developer's site and Twitter.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

PC Spotlight #78: NaissanceE

Title: NaissanceE
Developer: Limasse Five
Platforms: PC
Price: $19.99 (currently on sale for $17.99)
One element I value in games, probably only superseded in importance by a game's actual gameplay, is atmosphere, the way audio, visual, and interactivity coalesce to immerse the player into a world. I've experienced the abstract landscapes of Mirrormoon EP and the typographical environments of Type:Rider but I don't think any game I've played has compelled me to explore and established a sense of place in the way that NaissanceE has.
The environments are expansive, monolithic, not always in terms of being open to exploration but in terms of sheer scale. You feel small, lost and utterly alone in this world. It's a world that feels alien and weird, not in the twisting Escher-esque sense that Antichamber had, but like you just don't belong here, that this is truly not a place made for or by humans.. Even though it isn't a horror game, there's a distinct feeling of tension and apprehension of the unknown, and the unsettling sound effects add to this. You feel insignificant within the massive alien spaces, the technological canyons and geographical caverns.
The game is certainly linear, this is not some sprawling world, but you do have to find your way and it's easy to get disoriented, lost, turned around. NaissanceE accomplishes that feeling of exploration and discovery well, enticing the player with weird and intriguing architecture and structures far away and then later, you exit a corridor and you're there. It's a great feeling, that makes the game seem less like a linear adventure and more a journey where you're discovering the path. You never feel pushed or pulled in a direction, the game never takes control of your camera to direct you or tell you to head that way or in this direction. It's masterful in that aspect, subtly driving the player forward not through objective markers or compass arrows but with cues in the environment and the reward of some new area to explore.
But NaissanceE doesn't simply offer a world to walk through. It's actually a very challenging platformer and a puzzler. While the bulk of the gameplay is exploring the world, the developers have no qualms about presenting you with a tough platforming section, where timing and precision is key. Each section feels unique, with its own interesting mechanics to wrap your head around. The puzzle mechanic of manipulating light and shadow to reveal platforms or move objects is also well done and visually cool. However, those tough platforming section revealed my biggest gripe with the game and that is the checkpoints. The checkpoints aren't an issue when you're just moving through the world, but they become frustrating and feel much too spread out when you're playing areas where a missed jump can put you many minutes and several platforming sections back.
No explanations are offered, no story to why you're here or what built this otherworldy place, and none is needed. NaissanceE is all about the experience, that mysterious, engaging, ominous atmosphere that permeates every aspect of the game, and the challenges you face while traversing its cavernous spaces and claustrophobic halls. You can purchase NaissanceE on Steam.

No Money, No Problem: HOMEunculus

Title: HOMEunculus
Developers: University of Utah/EAE Team
Platforms: PC
Made for the Global Game Jam 2014, HOMEunculus is only a short prototype, hopefully for some future full-length game. While HOMEunculus is short, it's also one of the eeriest and most interesting takes on the first person puzzle genre I've seen in a while
Mannequins are creepy. The dead eyes, the human visages frozen in expression, and games and movies have shown that they love to move when you're not looking. HOMEunculus drops you into a dark deary house, its halls filled with dozens, hundreds of staring, frozen wooden mannequins. It's just unsettling and weird in that "This is wrong" sense. What makes HOMEunculus even more intriguing is its core mechanic: press a key to bring up a pincushion doll, use the mouse to manipulate its limbs, and all the mannequins move in turn, mirroring what you do to the doll. Raise arms to unblock paths, bend them over to create a staircase of bodies. It's unique and never ceases to be creepy and unnerving.

You can download HOMEunculus here.

Friday, February 14, 2014

SitRep: Heart & Slash

Title: Heart & Slash
Developer: aheartfulofgames
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Dec 2014
Back in October, I previewed Heart & Slash, a promising game I had found on TIGForums. Better yet, it even had a playable alpha and while still early, the 3D roguelike brawler's promise and potential was evident. Now the game is on Steam Greenlight and recently launched a Kickstarter.
From the early alpha, the core mechanic's proved fun and filled with potential, as you executed fast paced combos with a variety of weapons. In the time since, a plethora of content has been added to the game: powerful new weapons from boxing gloves and brass knuckles to the cleaver and the decimating particle gun, new enemies and myriad variants such as rocket-firing Heavy Lifters and chainsaw-wielding BigGrunts to the aerial Flybots and agile NimbleBots, more body parts, and an improved tutorial.
Heart & Slash is planned to released in December; you can learn more about the game's development on TIGForums, vote on Steam Greenlight, and support it on Kickstarter.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

No Money, No Problem: Maverick Bird, Flappybalt

Title: Maverick Bird, Flappybalt
Developers: Terry Cavanagh, Adam Saltsman
Platforms: Browser
Flappy Bird needs no introduction. Both the game's rise, the media and public response, its subsequent removal, and the myriad clones that flooded the App Store in its wake has been the source of discussion and debate for days. To support developer Dong Nguyen , a Flappy Jam was started and all the dozens of games that have been submitted, I think these two stand out the most. It helps that they're from the creators of Super Hexagon and Canabalt.
Cavanagh's Maverick Bird takes the aesthetic, creativity, and awesome music of his biggest hit and molds those elements into a new Flappy-inspired reflex action game. The controls are simple: up to flap, down to dive. The physics are spot on and controls are tight, the music has the kind of beat that just drives you and easily lets you get into the zone. The gameplay is simple yet has some complexity due to the ability to dive, which allows for obstacles not possible in similar games. It's just all its elements in sync delivering some top notch quality twitch gameplay.
Similarly, Saltsman's Flappybalt puts you in control of one of Canabalt's signature birds. Rather than the usual Flappy gameplay, here your goal is to bounce of the walls, precisely timing your flaps to avoid the spiked panels that appear on the sides of the screen. It's a nice take on the mechanic and the game is very challenging. 

Maverick Bird and Flappybalt are both excellent fun game that demonstrate how creativity can give a common mechanic a new twist. 

The Watchlist: Olympia Rising

Title: Olympia Rising
Developer: Paleozoic
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
In development, potential 2014 release
Olympia Rising is a 2D Action Adventure game reminiscent of the best 16-bit classics. Lush pixel graphics and fluid animation bring this ancient Greek-inspired world to life as you jump, climb, slash, and blast your way through various regions of the Underworld. Taking inspiration from beloved titles like Castlevania, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Kid Icarus, Olympia Rising delivers an exciting, action-filled experience
Olympia Rising puts you in control of the young heroine Iola, as you travel through the depths and layers of Hades to reach the surface and find the answer for her awakening. This monumental journey is fraught with danger and powerful enemies, but armed with your weapons, magic, and movement skills, you'll be able to overcome the perils that await. Playing the browser demo, I found that even in this early stage, the game certainly excels in delivering a polished fun experience. The visuals are charming, the animations smooth and fluid. Same can be said for the combat, as you explore the caverns and ruins of the Underworld, striking down its otherworldly denizens. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect is when you build a smooth flow through an area, leaping from one enemy to the next, tripling jumping around platforms to continue your chain. It just feels satisfying and the solid responsive controls means such skill rests in the player's own ability. Olympia Rising is a game that should appeal to the fans of speed-running, platformers, the thrill of moving through an environment with swiftness and precision, as well as fans of exploration and old school challenge.
Olympia Rising is a fun challenging game that promises to mix exploration with a blend of precision platforming and combat. You can follow its progress on the developer's blog, support the game on Kickstarter, and vote for it on Steam Greenlight.

*Now I don't always advocate for specific games, but Olympia Rising is a game with a solid promising foundation and great potential and it desperately needs support for the last leg of its Kickstarter. The campaign only has 3 days left and needs to achieve 30% more funding to reach its goal. Please give the browser demo a try and consider giving the game your support on Kickstarter.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SitRep: Broforce

Title: Broforce
Developer: Free Lives
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
I first covered Broforce back in August; it had actually been my first impulse buy and since then, it's become my most played game besides Overgrowth. The hectic over-the-top ode to beloved action movie heroes has made huge progress since then, now being published by Devolver Digital and set to release on Steam Early Access next month

But the gameplay, the wild premise, and awesome heroes is what defines Broforce and those regards, the game has expanded greatly. Popular heroes such as Neo, Boondock Brothers, Machete, and Conan have joined the roster. New environments and effects have added variety and diversity, from the rain-drenched city, vents to sneak through, elevators to crash, pipelines to explode, sand to collapse, dynamic weather, and more. Multiplayer has improved, with new modes like Explosion run and now the official addition of online gameplay in the latest update. And at its core, the fast challenging gameplay remains as fun as ever, as you raze environments to the ground, reduce enemies to blood stains, and plan the best approach to kill everything.

You can purchase Broforce from the developer's site or Humble, and play the early "Brototype" here.

Monday, February 10, 2014

IOS Spotlight #49: Toast Time

Title: Toast Time
Developer: Force of Habit
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $2.99
Put simply, Toast Time is a game about TERRY (toast-ejecting recoil & reload system) and his fight against inter-dimensional enemies out to steal time. Yeah, it's that kind of game, but behind Toast Time's zany premise lies a worthy successor to Super Crate Box's hectic arcade action.
Toast Time takes the basic foundation that Super Crate Box  popularized (random weapon pick-ups, fighting enemies in an small arena, collecting crates to unlock new weapons) and evolves the formula. The game has a simple one-touch controls scheme that's perfectly suited for mobile; you tap to shoot towards that spot and propel yourself in the opposite direction, and shoot the ground to launch upward. However simple intuitive controls don't mean the gameplay itself is simple and easy. As levels become more complex, with walls, platforms, and special items like jump pads, and enemies come in from all angles, you find that Toast Time is all about timing your shots (to build combos for high scores), controlling your movement (to get the best angles to converse your limited ammo), and adapting to whatever weapon you pick up. The weapons are diverse and satisfying to use, from dual shot toasties and slicing baguettes to rapid-fire breadcrumbs.You can also customize TERRY with items such as headbands and Bo staff, as you fight across the numerous levels and single-life Iron Man survival mode.
Toast Time will definitely appeal to fans of games like Super Crate Box and Spell Sword, and offers an experience that feels unique and challenging, with levels that change as you play, simple controls that work well and take time and skill to master, inventive weapons, and is just fast-paced and frantic. The game provides an addictive feeling of being half out of control as you bounce around the screen, half in control as you position yourself and time combo shots.

You can purchase Toast Time for $2.99.

The Watchlist: Darkest Dungeon

Title: Darkest Dungeon
Developer: Red Hook Studios
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Releasing 2015
Darkest Dungeon is a hard-core RPG about the stresses of dungeon crawling. You will lead a band of four heroes on a perilous side-scrolling descent, dealing with a prodigious number of threats to their bodily health, and worse, a relentless assault on their mental fortitude! Five hundred feet below the earth you will not only fight unimaginable foes, but famine, disease, and the stress of the ever-encroaching dark. Darkest Dungeon focuses on the humanity and psychological vulnerability of the heroes and asks: What emotional toll does a life of adventure take?
Most gamers are probably no stranger to the dungeon crawler. It's a classic genre, seen in myriad forms and styles, but the upcoming Darkest Dungeon plans to approach the genre from an unexplored angle, the human angle. What would happen to the mind and body as you bled, toiled, endured the dank darkness filled with unearthly horrors?
I've been describing the game as "The Road" of dungeon crawlers, and I think that best sums up the Red Hook's take on the genre. Presented in a gothic 2D style, your team of four warriors venture into the claustrophobic dungeons, facing danger and death at every turn. Combat is turn based and strategic, as you focus on team structure and maximizing your advantages while limiting disadvantages. Yes, disadvantages; Darkest Dungeon isn't just about the combat and exploration, but also the psychological toll it takes on your team. That's where The Road comparison comes in; like McCarthy's book, Darkest Dungeon plans to delve into the bleak emotional damage your actions cause, as fear, madness, disease, and the dynamics between your group members threaten to leave you all dead in the dark corridors. Resting at campfires or taking a much-needed rest in town may be able quell these encroaching dangers, but how much can your team take before they break?
Darkest Dungeon is planned to be released sometime in. You can learn more at its official site and support the game on Kickstarter.

IOS Spotlight #48: 137 BC

Title: 137 BC
Developer: GamerNationX
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $4.99
Strategy games have found a nice niche on IOS; from Autumn Dynasty to Ace Patrol, it's a thriving genre. 137 BC is the new addition, and while it is flawed in some aspects, it's excels in others, delivering an experience with great potential and promise.
Set in the titular year, 137 BC places the might of Rome under your command in an invasion and siege of Gaul. I think that historical premise was what made the game appeal to me so much, as I have a love for history and non-fiction, and directing legionnaires was just more compelling than other units seen in other games. As for the game itself, I think it's best to discuss its flaws first and the most critical flaw are the clunky controls. Dragging units onto the field, tapping where you want to go, trying to select multiple units can be imprecise and more often than not, I was moving the camera around or making units go in the wrong direction. Also I found the UI unclear, despite the How To Play messages; there was gameplay aspects and mechanics that were hard to figure out.
But for its flaws, 137 BC also does many things right. The core gameplay is strong: multi-day siege where you breach walls with ladders and smash through gates with rams, or take out archer towers with catapults and your troops close in on enemy fortresses as flaming arrows rain down above. The atmosphere is great as well, capturing the brutality of ancient warfare. The battles are bloody, with blood and crushed corpses littering the ground when a catapulted stones rolls through your legion and your decimated forces flee. You can zoom out to see your unit icons moving into position, or zoom in to see your legionnaires pushing their catapult and firing arrows.
Between its campaign and sandbox mode, 137 BC offers a wealth of content, with deep RTS gameplay. The control issues are a negative, but the developers are aware and listening to feedback. I believe the game's current polish and its potential to improve makes it an experience worth playing. You can purchase 137 BC for $4.99.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

PC Spotlight #77: Deadlock

Title: Deadlock
Developer: 5-Bits Games
Platforms: PC
Price: $6.02 (33% off)
First person platforming, the bane of gaming for many players. Many games do it poorly, some do it well, and then rare games like Mirror's Edge excel. Deadlock is one of the few that gets first person platforming right, within a stylish sci-fi framework.

Well I've seen some comments comparing Deadlock to Portal 2, probably because of the perspective and a special gun, Deadlock is far from Valve's puzzle-focused game. It's a fast-paced precision platformer, challenging you to double jump and dash through a gauntlet of high tech hazards. Your gun acts as a mobile on-off switch, allowing you to activate or deactivate jump pads, turrets, fans, gates, and doorways as you race through each level, sometimes aiming while flying through the air. While the game is only five levels, they're long, with the first taking me almost 45 minutes to complete, and the rest only growing more complex and challenging. Besides the story levels, you can also speed-run through Sparks, short sections of levels turned into speed courses, so there's no shortage of platforming fun. Perhaps, what's most impressive about Deadlock, besides its sleek sci-fi aesthetic, is just how satisfying its core gameplay is. The platforming feels extremely solid, you're very maneuverable and agile, and the areas are just begging to be mastered, with shortcuts and ways to shave off seconds weaved into the level designs. 
Deadlock is a challenging first-person precision platformer, that satisfies with its great level design, finely tuned controls, and cool visuals. You can purchase the game on Desura.

PC Spotlight #76: Trace Vector

Title: Trace Vector
Developer: Vexel Games
Platforms: PC
Price: $9.99
Honing your reflexes and skill to react in mere moments is a thrill shared by many games, and Trace Vector's neon webs of lines and color offers stylish fast paced challenge
Set on a minimalist network of paths, dead ends, and other exotic modifiers such a boost strips and portals, you have a simple goal in Trace Vector: collect fuel nodes and reach the exit. The task is easier said than done though; your line moves automatically, guided to take different forks in the path, slow down, depending on your inputs. While the controls are mechanically simple, the gameplay is never less than thrilling, as you only have seconds to study the myriad paths as you approach, plan out the best route to collect fuel, and then react fast enough to make the proper turns as you race ahead.. Earlier maps are simple and short, but quickly branch into intricate webs with numerous routes to consider.
In both its level-based Adventure mode and Endless challenge, Trace Vector is fun, fast, and will definitely test your reflex and reactions. You can purchase Trace Vector from Desura and vote for the game on Steam Greenlight.

Friday, February 7, 2014

IOS Spotlight #47: Pocket Moto X

Title: Pocket Moto X
Developer: Mark Kevern
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $0.99
Say "2D bike game" and more often than not, you'll lose an IOS gamer's interest pretty fast, which is probably why Pocket Moto X had gone unnoticed for six months. The genre is almost ubiquitous on the platform, but Pocket Moto stands out due to its polish and Trials-esque gameplay.

What I found most appealing about Pocket Moto was its colorful art. The world is vibrant, and peppered with little touches such as how the world gets dark and shaded when you enter caves. Those details extend outside of the visuals as well, from the character bios to their different poses in the bike selection screens. It's those details that make Pocket Moto stand out from the many other bike games on IOS. The gameplay also doesn't disappoint in the gameplay; while not as fast or challenging as Bike Baron, Pocket Moto's levels require a similar finesse as you leap over gaps and maneuver your bike through tough obstacle courses. It's fun, the controls are responsive, the physics feel finely tuned.
Pocket Moto X is a fun charming hidden gem for fans of Trials-esque games. You can purchase the game for $0.99.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

PC Spotlight #75: Rage Runner

Title: Rage Runner
Developer: Hypercane Studios
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Ouya
Price: $4.99
Speed is thrilling. Games like Super Hexagon, Super Meat Boy, and others have demonstrated the white-knuckle thrill of reaction under pressure, where you only have moments to react and respond. Rage Runner may not be the most polished or complex game, but it certainly gets one thing right: an intense sense of speed
Guiding your ship through the gauntlet of hazards in each level is no easy task. From simple walls and columns to more dangerous obstacles like spiked crushers, every moment of Rage Runner is one of reaction, as you thread your way to safety, orient your ship to pass through the tightest gaps, and blast through walls as they rush towards you at high speed. Fans of Goscurry and Race The Sun will right at home with Rage Runner's close calls and difficulty, and the visuals of racing through the tight corridors with mere inches to spare and only seconds to react is just satisfying. Power-ups such as shields and missiles add some variety to the fast paced evasion/
Rage Runner isn't very deep and won't offer complex mechanics, but if you're looking for a high speed reflex-testing experience, Rage Runner is worth a try. You can purchase the game on Desura and the Ouya store.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ramblings: Why I'm An Indie Gamer

On the merits of indie gaming
(This was originally posted in response to the thread Indie > AAA on NeoGAF)
When I first posted here in July, I had only recently gotten into PC gaming. Now almost seven months later, I wanted to share my thoughts on the debate again from a more informed perspective. In those months, I've found myself immersed in the indie gaming scene. I rarely touch my consoles anymore, I check r/IndieGaming and TIGForum everyday, and have become one of the primary contributors to the NeoGAF monthly Indie Games threads, as well as the author of my own blog focused on indie gaming.
To say it was a radical shift, and an unexpected one at that, is probably an understatement. A year ago, even less than a year ago, I would have never imagined myself to be such an advocate for indie gaming. While I had dabbled in freeware and flash games over the years, I was always primarily a console gamer, mainly Playstation, since I was a kid. Between Uncharted, God of War, pretty much anything by Rockstar, I always loved games with the best visuals, crazy set pieces, bombastic action, etc....you know, the typical AAA experience.
However, I found myself less enamored by the wonders of AAA gaming as I got older. Now don't get me wrong, I'm still impressed by and enjoy big-budget console gaming as much as the next guy. The Last of Us is probably one of my favorite games of 2013, maybe even all time. But as games shifted more towards online focused, and many just seeming rote and uninspired, I was looking for original and unique experiences to play. And I found them in indie games
Personally I feel that gaming is the most innovative art medium out there. It's definitely the youngest, and definitely has to grow and develop more before being appreciated on the same level as literature and film, but I still feel that gaming is the one form of art that can truly immerse you in an experience, through a multi-faceted array of the visual, audio, narrative, and of course the interactive element. While many AAA games seems to only represent gaming as entertainment, the indie side of gaming has embraced the medium as an art form and in this way, continue to deliver unique original experiences that just can't be found anywhere else and certainly wouldn't be attempted by AAA publishers.
There are several reasons why I feel indie gaming is so much more rewarding than its AAA counterpart. Perhaps the most evident is the closeness between developer and community. While Ubisoft, Rockstar, Square Enix may communicate with its fanbase through community managers and the like, more often than not, indie developers have a direct line of communication between themselves and their fans, through devlogs, Tumblrs, Twitters, and forums. It's this closeness and transparency that makes indie development, in many ways, feel like a conversation between creator and community, more intimate than the relationship between fanbase and publisher.
The other reason and probably the one that intrigues me the most is the seemingly endless depth of originality and diversity that indie games offer. Put aside the notions and biases, look beyond those common cries of "It's all 2D pixel art platformers" and "Everything's inspired by Dark Souls", and you'll find a wide expanse of unique titles of all genres, styles, and themes.
In 2013 alone, I played the bleak hopeless tale of Gods Will Be Watching, delved into twisting meta-rabbit hole that was The Stanley Parable, fought for desperate survival and died under the cold rain in the roguelike Neo Scavenger. I explored an abstract frontier in Mirrormoon EP and discovered unexplored worlds in Outer Wilds. I watched my plans fall apart in blood and anarchy in Prison Architect, dropped tangos with timing and precision in Door Kickers, endured bullet hell mayhem in Assault Android Cactus. I become the lynchpin in fates both big and small in Papers Please, I admired the fluid artistry of Dust: An Elysian Tail, and honed my skills in the frantic Samurai Gunn.
That was only 2013. 2014 is even more promising, between the free-form rocket-propelled platforming of Cloudbuilt, the Greek mythos given life in Apotheon, the hyper-kinetic high-speed Distance, from the atmospheric worlds of Hyper Light Drifter and Rain World to the first-person adventure awaiting in The Witness and Routine. And that's only a fraction of what indie gaming in 2014 has to offer. And the fact that each and every day I discover new promising experiences that I had never heard of before, speaks volumes about the diversity and potential of independent gaming
However there is a final element that makes indie gaming worthwhile and worthy of your time and attention and it's an element that's easily summed up in one word: "independent." Indie developers are free to express ideas, values, narratives that just wouldn't be profitable or perhaps be deemed unfit for mainstream gamers. Would Rockstar or Ubisoft seek to tackle the subject of cancer and its effect on family (That Dragon, Cancer) or lead a player through a world crafted from the history of typography (Type:Rider)? Would a game about a troubled girl's childhood (Journal) focus test well enough to see release or would an experience about building massive self-sustaining autonomous factories on alien worlds (Factorio) be considered too complex and complicated to be released without hand-holding and myriad tutorials and tips? Indie developers are able to breathe life into their wildest concepts and most personal experiences, unfettered by the restrictions and barriers of AAA development, able to tackle concepts and themes that big mainstream developers can't or won't.
But in the end, it doesn't matter if a game has pixel graphics, or is inspired by Dark Souls, or is on IOS, or is an mobile-to-PC port, or is indie or AAA or whatever. What matters, what should always come first, is the gameplay, the experience itself. Is the game good, is it worth playing, is it fun, is it enjoyable? Doesn't matter the platform, or budget, or team size; a good game is a good game, period. Perhaps that's what we should strive for, not to enjoy or dismiss games because they're labelled as indie or AAA,, but to judge a game by the depth of its experience and the wonder of its artistry, by the quality of its gameplay,

Saturday, February 1, 2014

IOS Spotlight #46: Rocket Robo

Title: Rocket Robo
Developer: Bad Kraken Games
Platform: IOS Universal
Price: $0.99
One of the more innovative advantages of the IOS platform is its potential for unique control schemes. Between tilt, multi-touch, swiping, virtual buttons, the platform allows for games and controls that wouldn't be possible on other systems. Rocket Robo combines tilt, swipes, and one touch controls to make a fun inventive puzzle action game.
Set in the varied confines of two worlds (with the third coming in an upcoming update), you control a small robot as he collect stars to restore a space lighthouse. The controls are simple but work perfectly: tilt to angle yourself, tap or hold to activate your thrusters, and swipe to switch between planes. Yes, Rocket Robo is clearly inspired by LittleBigPlanet, with its patchwork environments and worlds that consist of a background and foreground to move between, but it takes these aspects and forges its own identity. While there are hazards like bombs and saw blades to avoid, Rocket Robo is first and foremost focused on puzzles and exploration; numerous new mechanics are introduced throughout the levels, from level rotating to manipulate light in dark environments to movable level sections and zero gravity.
Rocket Robo isn't the most challenging game, but it's certainly polished, fun, and offers a great art style to admire and finely tuned controls. You can purchase Rocket Robo for $0.99

PC Spotlight #74: XenoRaptor

Title: XenoRaptor
Developer: Peter Cleary
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $10
Very rarely do I impulse-buy games. I saw XenoRaptor on TIGForums last night and was instantly intrigued by the crazy description and impressive GIFs. If "a weapon which teleports attack bears into the cockpit of enemy ships" doesn't peak your interest, nothing will. I tried the demo and then purchased the game ten minutes later,  I'm a big fan of dual stick shooters and bullet hell mayhem action games, and XenoRaptor does not disappoint.
The last indie that compelled me to buy it so fast was Broforce and in a similar fashion, XenoRaptor is wild, over-the-top, and just fun. The controls are fluid and very responsive, allowing you to evade enemy fire and enemies themselves with ease. But being able to maneuver with ease doesn't mean the game is easy. The gameplay has the same fast, frenetic, frantic pace of Assault Android Cactus, as bullets and enemies fly in from all angles, and you must constantly stay on the move, rarely given a moment to rest. However, XenoRaptor offers the player far more freedom in terms of gameplay. From engine types to customizing your loadouts to altering your dragons color pattern, you have a wide range of options to mix and match. Want to be a teleporting, mine dropping, laser blade wielding cyberdragon? Or evasive and armed with railgun and chaingun? Or do you want to mind control enemy ships and use your laser like a tractor beam? All those playstyles are equally viable.
 XenoRaptor's charm extends to its environments and visuals as well. Controlling a weaponized space dragon mech is just feels more exciting and cooler your usual SHMUP ship, and better yet, the health and overheat meter is represented Dead Space-style, by lights on your dragon's body, keeping the UI minimal and the screen free of clutter. The backdrop of planet, stars, and asteroid fields are impressive and in some instances play a role in gameplay. Asteroids can be dragged along with your tractor beam or used to funnel enemies through chokepoints so they destroy themselves.
XenoRaptor doesn't just offer hectic single player chaos; you can also play co-operatively and competitively. I haven't tried those modes yet, but they're there for people who enjoy multiplayer. The game is still in beta, with more maps, enemies, bosses, and ship components to come. If you're a fan of arcade shooters, bullet hell fun, and tactical depth, XenoRaptor is right up your alley. You can purchase XenoRaptor or download the demo from the developer's site, follow the game's developer on TIGForum and Tumblr, and vote for the game on Greenlight.