Friday, July 24, 2009

A Quick Shout Out To xnPlay

I wanted to shout across the pond to xnPlay, who recently reviewed 3 appplications on Xbox Live Indie Games (World Clock, TheAmazingRumblingHypnoDisc, and 3D Magic Images). More power to yah. I still have trouble selecting the download option on apps without vomiting. Hey the World Clock does look pretty, I'll say that much. Anyhow, we don't always agree on the game reviews, but props for taking a run at 3 apps in a row. Check them out here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lazy Review #2

Chick Chick Chicky

Bah a square-headed green duck!! This new title for Xbox Indie Games (it's official peeps) is best summed up as a Pac Man style game for kids. It's colorful, kid-friendly and you play as a duck or a chick (baby chicken, not a bikini model) that gets chased around a maze by a cat. Collect all of the pellets and get to the exit and you win the level.

It's a pretty simple formula that's time-tested and the cartoony twist can't hurt. The difficulty seems aimed at younger gamers as well because instead of 4 ghosts, you are initially chased by just one cat for the first several levels. This is exceedingly easy as you really can't get trapped. There are some other design twists as well, like worms that pop up and can be snagged for points (sort of like fruit) and it offers multiplayer so you can play with gamer newbs or kids.

I'd say this is probably better suited for the 200MP, but it's not unreasonable at the current 400MP.

Rock Paper Scissors Xtreme!

I'd say that the "Xtreme" is debatable and the exclamation point is just plain deceiving. This is what it sounds like - a game of Rock Scissors Paper. And obviously, it's automatically less extreme when you're so pathetic that you can't play this game in real life with real hands. I mean, at least add something to the basic mechanic - or use creative graphics/animations. Not even the music had me bumpin'.

I am guessing the developer knows exactly what he's up to. My proof is that he also includes a rumble/massage based 'game' and crystal ball 'game' within the same download. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Insult to injury, the developer even plugs his other game while you try to quit out of this one ("Cold War Commander"). So I tried that [simplified platformer with a political satire twist] and it also includes a rumble/massage addition. I think cross-advertising should not be allowed.

Do I have to beg? Please stop. I appreciate the over-the-top themes, and might even smirk with you if this is an intentionally mockery, but we've (can I speak for everyone here?) had enough. You've got skills, so use them for good.


Last up is a virtual foosball game. Like most games in this category (billiards, ping pong, darts, etc) I always would opt for the real thing, but that's not to say that a well-built game doesn't have its niche. I actually really liked the look of this game (see screenie), with a nice 3D feel and simple interface.

But if you had to name the most important thing about a foosball video game, what would it be? Right, the controls. And unfortunately they are pretty rough. It must not be easy to recreate, especially considering that even real life foosball is challenging to control well. But really, I might as well have been trying to hold my controller with two bananas - there was just no way to make the ball go where I wanted - it was 90% dumb luck. Tilting the players seemed to do nothing to the velocity, and the ball would ricochet more akin to pinball than foosball.

4 of the 5 goals scored came as of result of the player (including the CPU) scoring on itself. There was also a common problem where the CPU was have the ball stuck in a corner for 10-15 seconds. If you like foosball, try the demo and see if you figure out a trick to controlling the ball that I missed. If you do, it might be worth the 200MP.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nebulon Review


So it's not exactly like XBLIG was thirsty for another top-down space-themed shooter, but that doesn't mean that one can't be judged on it's own merits and still be loads of fun. I am not entirely sure why it is that indie developers crank these things out like a sausage maker cranks out....sausages, but it's probably because people like them! (ppppshhhht - sound of a beer opening)

The first thing I am going to do is credit the developer, Dark Omen Games. Based on feedback, a new control scheme is being implemented (optional) and re-released. You see, people these days (darn kids!) seem to expect a dual stick control scheme (move ship with one joystick, fire weapon in any direction with other joystick) and Nebulon departed from that recent norm. I'm impressed by the dedication and receptiveness to make a revision - my only concern being how it might impact strategy and gameplay.

See, upon first release, Nebulon intended to use a reticle aiming system. The left joystick controlled movement, but the right joystick was used to aim a reticle, not automatically fire - as a result, moving while firing was much more challenging. Players were forced to move then fire, escaping foes and then turning to take them down from a safer spot. To be honest, it grew on me because it forced a different approach to combat. Will allowing for dual stick controls make it easier? Too easy? We'll see.

On to the fun stuff (wait, that wasn't fun?). Nebulon looks pimp. The actual ship and enemy design are nothing special, and I get slightly urked that so many indie games fall back on simple shapes for characters. However, what makes it look good are the flashy effects and the gooey background. Fun explosions and a unique 'fluidity' to the way characters ripple through background create a gorgeous first impression.

Also noteworthy, the gun is really satisfying. It's not "pew pew pew" and it doesn't have to be a perfect shot - bullets feel heavy and dangerous. Sometimes simple design decisions like this go unnoticed - but add in the aforementioned satisfying explosions and deep SFX, and you've got a cornerstone of a good shooter. The gun just feels good.

"But what about the powerups?!" cries the little gamer in the back row. You'll like them, little fella. There's a simplistic sort of experience system where you collect the remains of enemies and when you have enough you can upgrade your gun. Like many space shooters, staying alive is key to building up your gun's awesomeness, which in turn is really your only chance of staying alive - vicious cycle, but often an expectation of the genre. And you've got a finite number of "bombs" too for those 'desperation' moments.

My issues are primarily with the enemy design. Single blobs combine with other single blobs to form double and triple blobs. I like the combo mechanic, but again I find the simple shapes mundane. Also, these bastards come flying at you at high speeds, and if there are several cruising your way just due to chance, you're really at luck's mercy. Trying to escape to open space often has you running directly at another foe, and the combined speed makes dodging nearly impossible. This lead to some frustrating deaths. Additionally, I found it a bit counter intuitive to wait for blobs to combine, but soon found that single blobs never (rarely?) drop "experience." So there was actually a disadvantage to being quick on the trigger and picking off the little guys before they combine. Not a game-breaker, but a head-scratcher.

Besides that, my only nagging complaint is that if you enter a crowded genre in the indie community, extra effort should be placed on offering something fresh. I didn't really get anything beyond a solid shmup experience - no major risk/reward design decisions beyond the control scheme, and that doesn't have much payoff. Nothing that will lead to more than a couple playthroughs for me personally. It's missing some other common features too, like big bosses and multiplayer - so it might not stack up for players who lean towards those features.

But all and all, fans of the genre should certainly have a look. At 200MP, it's priced well, looks/sounds nice, and is easy to pick up and have fun (aka blowing things up).

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lazy Review #1

Bennu is a physics-based puzzler with a bit of Bionic Commando thrown in. The story/intro was certainly... puzzling, but I do appreciate the attempt at a theme.

Basically you swing your orb around (which apparently is a bird that was transformed, and you use it's beak like a grappling hook or something?) and make contact with bricks of the same color to break them. You can touch colored flames to change the color of your orb.

It actually looks pretty nice and is conceptually strong, if not entirely unique. For me personally, the controls just made me frustrated. I could not make the orb go where I wanted. It felt very floaty and sporadic. With the entire game resting on the controls and physics, I just couldn't get over that. True puzzler fans might have more luck and fun.

Shield Defense
Shield Defense has you controlling a very immobile tank with a very powerful shield that reflects attacks. It's sort of like a tower defense game, where you are the lone tower. Only you're a tank, got it?

The reflection mechanic is pretty fun. It's entertaining to use your enemy's attacks against themselves. As you take down foes, you get money and can upgrade your tank in a number of ways.

It looks solid with cartoony tank graphics and lots of enemies. I have this nagging feeling that I can play something very similar for free with a quick google search - it's just not a very deep experience. And again, the core mechanic (in this case reflecting attacks) just doesn't feel tight or satisfying enough. It was very frustrating when you only had a couple enemies left to beat and it's nearly impossible to reflect the bullets in the direction you want. As the end of each level approaches is actually gets more boring, which is weird.

Actually worth a trial though. It's addicting in the same way that Tower Defense games can be.

Gallery: Landscapes
Yes that's the screenshot. A lake with some mountains. This is yet another screensaver/clock application. I am mostly doing this in order to call out a very worthy and applauded developer, Binary Tweed, who released the well received "Clover" early this year. This is his follow up I guess.

I can only hope this is some sort of twisted experiment. One of the good guys has been bitten. Infected, and spewing puss, he is the walking dead.

We're now at the point where the system is being broken on purpose. People download these apps (out of curiosity, or because they tell all their friends?) and then they appear on both the New Releases and the Most Popular lists. Shitter's full.

Lazy Reviews

I am starting a new feature called "Lazy Reviews." The idea being, there's tons of games on Xbox Live Indie Games, and not all of them really need an in-depth review. These are generally games that I try out on a whim, not because I've been drawn to it in any way. A good portion might also be the types of games (or apps) that clog up the airwaves. You know, the ones that boil my blood. Rumble Fart Xtreme, and the likes. There might be some well-targeted smaller niche titles too though.