How goes it, stranger?
This week’s Indie Rundown is proof that the marketplace, well, she moves in mysterious ways. Where last week we couldn’t find much to consider worthwhile, let alone capable of wearing the Catch of the Week crown, we have an overabundance of quality contenders for you this time around. Each game got a pair of measured looks too, as both Nate (who despite a full schedule seems to be ubiquitous, a digital ninja, hats off to that) and myself played the entire list, so you know we’re not foolin’. Maybe it’s something in the water around here (Ha! Pun!), or maybe the new, fancy blue ‘Indie Games’ labels are starting to make a difference. Regardless, the good news is that’s good news for everybody.
We’ve also got a bit of news for the site we’d like to share with you. First up, if you’re a developer (Indie or otherwise, upcoming or established), please take a look at our new Review Policy, which sheds a little light on our review grading / practices, and adds ‘developer challenges’ and an ‘extra lives’ option for your released games that you think deserve a second chance. For visitors and fans (if we may be so bold), it’s a good read for you as well, in case you’re wondering exactly how we arrive at the conclusions we do.
Lastly, with this week’s Rundown, we’re introducing what we hope will be a semi-regular occurrence here at GearFish: code giveaways for Indie Games! Yeah, we thought you’d like the sound of that. Hard to haggle with free, right? This week, we’ve got four codes for games represented right here in this post. One code each for our co-CotW games, Tribute Games‘ 8-bit styled brick-breaker Wizorb, and Astroboid Games‘ RTS-like, not twin-stick space shooter Astralia, one for Checkmark Games‘ first-person role-player Dark Delve, and another for Bang Zero Bang Games’ entirely not serious but surprisingly deep shooter Sherbet Thieves.
Participation is simple. Given the themes for this week’s dual Catch of the Week games (Wizards and Space), dig up a favorite quote from a game, book or movie pertaining to either theme (if it’s obscure, you’d better give the title as well). Bonus points if you pick something dealing with space wizards. Hell, we’ll even allow it if you just find the U2 reference in this Rundown (no we won’t, but Hurley will give you props -ed).
Once you’re set with your line, drop it in the comments section below or follow us on twitter @GearFish and either tweet the link to this Rundown with the hash tag #GearFish and/or ‘like’ us on our Facebook page here, and add your witty line on the Indie Rundown post. One entry per person, but you’re welcome to submit as many lines as you like, they just won’t get you anything extra.
We’ll pick our four winners randomly from the bunch during next week’s Rundown, so you have until next Saturday (10/8) to get your lines in. Since this is the first week we’ve done this: if our followers top 100 (a modest amount), we’ll throw a 1600 point Microsoft Code into the winnings as well for you to go mad crazy with. So spread the word and everyone wins. Sound like fun? Well, it better, because that’s all we’ve got. Work with it. Oh, and good luck. May the quotes be with you.
And now, on with the show.
_Catch of the Week (x 2!)_
Wizorb 240 (Hurley)
Wizorb takes your standard brick-breaker formula, then adds light adventure elements to it, crafting an odd amalgamation that at times is great fun, but with some frustrating, ‘last brick standing, just finish this damn level’ moments waiting at the other end of its spectrum.
You play as Cyrus, a wandering wizard (capable of transforming into a wand and ball, nice trick to pull out at parties) that wanders into a destroyed village. Turns out that village is a giant charity case, a rebuilding effort spearheaded and financed entirely by you, thank you very much, and doesn’t involve much exploration beyond a repairable shop and small gifts from the townsfolk for bailing them out (fyi: you do earn an amulet piece for repairing everything). Then you’re thrust out onto the world map, to tackle five distinct hub lands with 12 levels each. And those bricks aren’t going to break themselves.
You’ll notice the Zelda is strong with this one, complete with graphics and music that would feel right at home on a Game Boy Color. That’s not a insult to its design, but a knowledgeable nod in its favor. The first world’s music is also a clever update to the original Zelda’s dungeon music, and the comparisons don’t end there. You’ve got simplified controls that use only the thumbstick and A and B, and you’ll occasionally break through / unlock some cool, also Zelda-styled bonus rooms and shops that are a secret to everybody, punctuated at the end of each world with fun boss encounters that grant you pieces of an amulet upon defeating them.
It’s fun, though that same formula works against it, as it can’t disguise its monotony of breaking bricks. There are some spells at your disposal to ease the burden, provided you’ve saved up / collected enough energy, which would be wise. The later levels between each boss battle started to wear me down, throwing more obstacles and angled shots at me. Regardless if I’ve sold you on it or not, I’d recommend giving Wizorb a play. There’s enough here to see you through to the end where you’re thankful the journey is over, but left feeling satisfied for having undertaken it.
(Nate) – Wizorb, it is absolutely the best game of this type that I’ve played. If you like these, or even if you’re on the fence, it has enough to try to convert even the most jaded of brick-breaker haters (the Wingball spell in particular is aces), but comes with its own set of frustrations.
Astralia 80 (Nate)
This is one of those games that I have a feeling a lot of people are going to pass over because they’ll either mistake it for something it isn’t (a twin-stick shooter) or because of timing, as most indie sites (the closest thing the community really has to press) are all in a tizzy over Wizorb’s release. It’s a shame, because Astralia is one of the few genuinely different titles out there that, for the most part, does what it wants to well.
Astralia is a shooter, in space, that isn’t a twin-stick. Shocking, I know. Firing at a ship activates your fighter’s auto-lock and (like the ZF-1) returns every following shot to the same location. Auto-fire is the name of the game here for the most part, but that’s fine because the game is more about resources, ammo types and your floating minions than it is about how accurate you are with each thumb. It actually has quite a bit in common with Abaddon: Retribution (another interesting genre-blender) in that it mixes a level of attack and defense against overwhelming odds with spending the earned resources on upgrading and manipulating turrets. In this case, they take the form of reproduceable drones that are built and deployed from your starfighter’s onboard nanotransformer. Yeah, it’s as cool as it sounds.
While not expertly handled in the language department throughout, Astralia still manages to pull off a legitimately interesting plot. The quirky dialogue explaining everything is pretty entertaining to read and there’s an element of immersion that comes from the designer clearly having thought through the reality of the game’s world itself: there’s a reason for your ship’s drones, the AI can’t pull triggers, shipyards in love, etc. It’s not major stuff, but little details like that help. It’s not going to win any awards, but I kept moving on merely to find out what was going to happen next. Which, past stage four or five, admittedly gets pretty damn difficult.
The fact that the game is a dollar really seals the deal: it’s absolutely worth owning and I hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
High Gravity Wells 80 (Hurley)
H.G. Wells (ah, see what I did there? I’m sure the developer noticed) takes a simplified approach and control scheme (using the face buttons) to control four colored gravity wells you then use to manipulate, swing, and ‘steer’ your spaceship into the docking station.
It starts off easy on you, getting the feel for just the right amount of momentum you’ll need to shift a certain way, then adds obstacles and asteroids, proving sometimes the easiest concept requires you to achieve the hardest level of mastery to overcome. This also invites a requisite amount of frustration as the difficulty increases, though where other games would make you quit, HGW gives a sense of overall satisfaction after a rough run, earned with time. Like Astralia, it runs the risk of being lost in the indie shuffle, but if you’re looking for a worthwhile ‘reflexes’ game, you’ll find it here. Color me pleasantly surprised.
Math Fighter 240 (Hurley)
Come on Caveman. Geico needs you to step up your game.
I’m not normally much for educational games, but Math Fighter is done well enough I’d say anyone could jump in and enjoy it- well, on the lower difficulty sessions (no calculus for me).
While the math portion involves answering questions on the clock in a multiple-choice format, the players take on a fighting game style (with healthbars) to denote progress. There’s even multipliers that allow for taunts and special moves that each character can deploy after a string of correct answers. Cliche as it is to say it, this game makes learning math fun! (that exclamation’s there to make a point!)
If you’re feeling ballsy, there’s online versus, and matchmaking that will interrupt your game with a challenger if you’re playing solo. No more pseudo-intellectual jargon from friends and family. Time to settle things with a good old-fashioned math-off! (exclamation also there to make a point!) Prepare to embarrass and likely be embarrassed…
(Nate) – …if for no other reason than the game includes the grade-level of the questions you’re answering. My girlfriend was over when I played this and I was feeling pretty awesome about myself all the way up until she pointed out that I was acing second grade math.
Also, flying asian kid. In a math game. Come on.
Robotriot 80 (Hurley)
You’re Slug, an intergalactic robot repo man, boarding and disabling ships to be towed, one power core at a time. Of couse the denizens of these ships won’t go without a fight, bringing into play your standard platforming / shooting, in delightful 8-bit trappings.
Progression is generally shooting switches and collecting keycards to open doors, but it’s what you’d expect from a game like this. There’s a lives system, yet you’re allowed to continue, starting exactly at the last checkpoint you crossed, really negating the reason for lives in the first place. Only your score is sacrificed, but there are no leaderboards, again negating the point of keeping score, unless you like to challenge yourself. On the plus side, the controls are easy to grasp, and overall I dug its old-school style; it’s a decent game that felt like Mega Man most of the way, with the platforms, closed-off arenas and boss fights that follow predictable patterns.
It’s a pretty short trip (12 stages across 3 ships, then it’s a Game Over Man screen, literally) and there’s no save games, so you’ll have to beat it in one sitting, which should take an hour. Still, it’s worth the dollar they’re asking for the nostalgia alone, and the chiptunes soundtrack gets stuck in your head. Despite the brevity, I had fun. Recommended for the NES set.
Dark Delve 80 (Hurley)
The usual suspects.
Dark Delve is a first-person dungeon crawler that looks to be thought-out and fairly complex as far as indie RPGs go. The trial doesn’t allow you to start a campaign, instead letting you try out one of its challenges, which gives you a preset party and mission, then turns you loose. Maybe the campaign eases you into combat and exploration, but here it sort of assumes you’ve already got the swing of things. Not the introduction you were hoping for. If you don’t get lost wandering the same-y hallways, the enemies will take care of you just as fast.
That being said, I hesitate to dismiss it because of that opening miscue, as like I mentioned, some time and effort was clearly put into this. I mean, there’s actual branching skill trees, a customizable party, an interesting (if familiar) story, and achievements to earn of the indie variety. You can’t knock a game that takes care to deepen its experience. If you’ve enjoyed past RPG games put out on the marketplace, DD is probably up your alley, with a lengthy campaign, despite its user-unfriendly demo.
Kairi, who as a child made dolls from strangers’ hair clippings, also reviewed DD at Indie Gamer Chick.
Sherbet Thieves 80 (Hurley)
It’s impossible for me to convey the ridiculous at work here.
It exactly games like these that win you over with their humor and gameplay, despite the ludicrous plots they come up with. Sherbet Thieves is a literal interpretation; you, a jetpack-wearing redneck, need to prevent various space-faring animals, pirates, aliens, and magic carpet-riding space stoners (Yep. See above pic.) from stealing all ‘crops’ away from a sherbet farmer. Makes sense to me.
So basically, as the game describes itself, it’s a ‘twin-stick sherbet defense’ game. Funny menus and in-game quips aside, it would still go for naught if it didn’t have a somewhat solid shooter base for it to stand on. Here you do. It’s nothing revolutionary, but there are different weapons (that can be upgraded) to purchase, and a good mix of enemy types that’ll have you carefully choosing targets while on defense, making this more than a skin-deep shooter with a few jokes. There’s only 13 levels, yet that feels about the right length at the right challenge, and local co-op if you can corral a friend.
Kairi, who apparently encountered ultra-rare ‘Sun Thieves’ instead of ‘Sherbet Thieves’ in her game, also reviewed this at Indie Gamer Chick.
FastBall 2 80 (Hurley)
FB2 is another one of those ‘perpetual-motion, jump to avoid obstacles’ games that I wish would just come up with its own genre title so I could stop having to describe every game like it as such. (How about Perpetual Motion genre? Can we go with that?) This one in particular has you take the form of a ball, rolling around collecting stars. From what I see, it doesn’t do anything new (though you can use ‘tokens’ to skip frustrating levels), and it’s also got a heavy Impossible Game vibe to it. There does look to be a wealth of stages to attempt though. Not my cup of tea, and I don’t drink tea, but it’s functional.
Falling Blocks 80 (Hurley)
First-person platforming is a tough club to get into. Even when it works (Mirror’s Edge), you can still find plenty of frustrating points that wouldn’t otherwise be from a different perspective. In Falling Blocks, that problem is exasperated by the fact that you see nothing of yourself, not your feet or even your shadow, making judging the distance for jumps on sometimes skinny blocks a chore more than fun.
I like the two modes available, a ‘climb as high as you can under a time limit’ (that gives you more time after you reach required heights), and a ‘paint’ game that has you jumping and tagging blocks with a preset timer, but the loose controls (you move too fast, when precision is a must) and first-person view make this only a maybe.
Kairi references her mother’s driving habits in her review at IGC.
Sideral Defense 240 (Nate)
Tower Defense, only the action takes place along straight lines and resource management is a factor, necessitating the use of a valuable turret spot for a mineral gathering outpost. It’s attractive, there’s a couple of cool visual effects, like space-ships phasing through your shields. After a couple of stages though, you start to get the impression that you’re in for a much more painful ride than it seems at first. There is pretty much one way, and one way only to beat the later levels. Build order and timing becomes vital. Having exactly the right towers in place in the right places at the right times. The shift from “easy” to “nightmarish difficult” happens almost immediately after the first boss.
I don’t know if I’ll be coming back to this one, but I can say fairly confidently that it’s a tower defense game. Yup.
_RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!_
Devil Blood 80 (Nate)
A dull, nightmarish run through empty corridors pursued by the game’s lone enemy type: a flying skull. There are some good ideas at work underneath the excruciatingly boring gameplay, but that’s like defending a shit sandwich by talking about how good the bread is.
Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Avatars 80 (Hurley)
Or press the guide button, then Y, to just ‘knock it off already!’
Say the game’s title five times fast. Have a laugh when you inevitably flub the words. You just had more fun than you would playing this memory game, based off a Family Guy joke. The music and constant VO of the title gets old fast, and yes, you can opt to turn both off, but then you’re just playing FREAKING SIMON, tapping buttons in order, watching your avatar flap his broken appendages about. Not fun.
(Nate) – Just go look up the Family Guy video on youtube. Save yourself the time. Here, we’ll do it for you:
Ranger Wars 80 (Hurley)
Ranger Wars is an arena fighter for up to four players locally, and you really need those four players. You can try practice mode, but the other three guys just sit there and let you stomp them Mario-style. There’s no A.I. They never move! So if you don’t have three friends (with three controllers) you miss out on a majority of the game. Hell, if you don’t have even one friend nearby, it’s unplayable. With ‘way too prevalent this week’ floaty controls / jumping, and overall stagnant art, there’s no reason to download this.
ZOMBIECRAFTT!!1 SAMPLER 240 (Hurley)
I’m assuming this is some sort of running gag / parody of Minecraft and its cadre of clones, though what value it holds to gaming I’m not sure. There’s not much to it. You can break / replace blocks, and you can fight letter C-shaped ‘alligators?’ that would otherwise kill you. There’s a few other blocks to find, but they all do the same thing (break / replace). Given the 2D perspective and no zoom-out, it’s hard to be creative, if that’s what you’re going for. So that’s it. This may be the Skyfish finale, but it’s going out with a whimper. Maybe there’s updates coming, or maybe I just don’t ‘get it’, but currently I wouldn’t pay free for this.
Convict Minigames 240 (Hurley)
You seeing what I’m seeing? That Triforce piece has arms and legs! And it’s smiling!
It’s a collection of five minigames, but four of those five are more or less throwaway, WarioWare-type trifles, good for a look or two but ultimately forgettable. ‘Triangle Man’ (pictured) is the worthiest of the bunch, a platformer with some neat tricks, like controlling two or more ‘triangle men’ at once, but $3 for really one entertaining minigame (and one that could end up being more frustrating the farther you get) is not a solid deal in my opinion. $1, and you had me.
Kairi also refused to aid and abet this game over at Indie Gamer Chick.
Ball Lightning 80 (Hurley)
Ball Lightning is a judgement call for me. The demo is sparse, covering only one level (of seven), so it’s hard to get a sense of where the ‘increasing difficulty’ will come from. The controls are a bit stiff for platforming, the jumping feels entirely too floaty, and the graphics are ‘simple’ at best. The developers also readily admit in the ‘extras’ menu that it was developed in a relatively short amount of time, and it shows. In another Rundown I might give it the ‘functional’ stamp, as there are no broken parts, but with better options available to fill your brief platforming needs this week (Robotriot), buying this would seem like a definite downgrade.
_That’s It. Curtain’s coming down.._
So all in all, not a bad week. Let’s hope that momentum’s going to carry over into the next Rundown. We’ve got a couple of interesting items on the horizon for October and the holiday at the end of it, as well as a web-wide Indie promotion (Achievement Unachievable) setting up its tent, so be sure to stay in touch. Something to say? That comment section below is looking a bit lonely. And if you missed the opening here (and mention of some sort of contest?) go ahead and rewind. I’ll be here…
Back? Well, you’re just in time for me to sign off. Til next time, keep your eyes open and your controller charged. There’s some rough games out there, and somebody’s gotta play ’em. Might as well be you. (Too much? Did I take it too far?)