REVIEW: Crypt of the Serpent King

Despite some stellar-looking titles in the bunch, I haven’t always enjoyed Rendercode Games‘ releases. They’ve occasionally been more about style over substance. But, generally speaking, each new title has been slightly better than the last in terms of its playability1. Crypt of the Serpent King ($1.00) is the developer’s swan song on XBLIG, and while it feels like the culmination of Rendercode’s work on the service, it’s still lacking in some spots. Important spots.

Crypt of the Serpent King - Screen

This dude is pretty and ugly. Pretty ugly.

Crypt is best described as a first-person hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, with some light RPG mechanics. Traversing a series of labyrinthian and randomized floors (don’t worry, the minimap fills in as you explore), you’re tasked with finding a certain number of keys to unlock a boss room, fighting dozens of baddies in-between. The RPG aspect comes in the form of gaining experience, used to level up your personal attributes such as health, melee attack power, and speed. Finding gold in chests scattered throughout allows you to purchase new weapons between stages, choosing from melee (sword, halberd2, etc.) and a pair of ranged bow options.

Depending on the level of difficulty chosen, you’ll find less food (recovers your health) and gold, which should force you to play conservatively and purchase new gear wisely. Then again, dying in Crypt isn’t as roguelike as you might think; you keep all experience and gold you’ve found even after death3, mitigating any disasters that might befall you. On the reverse side, ‘Hardcore’ mode attempts to please masochists, taking away the map and the chance to heal.

There’s enough variety in the enemy and boss types, to be sure, but the same can’t be said for the way you approach each of these fights. Essentially, so long as you start your attack animation and ‘walk into’ your foe by the time you’re swinging whatever weapon you have equipped, you’ll deal damage and avoid taking any yourself. This makes all basic encounters a cinch, and reduces every boss fight to a simple, repetitive exercise of attack and retreat, attack and retreat.

Crypt of the Serpent King - Screen2

Less tense than it looks.

And ‘repetition’ is the operative term in Crypt of the Serpent King, as each level looks and plays out exactly the same, regardless of the randomized layout you’re given4. There’s only a handful of room / hallway types, and the visual ‘sameness’ that greets you at every door opened and every corner turned begins to wear out its welcome by a few stages in. Add to this the increasing key requirements (each floor tacks on another missing key) and the requisite backtracking that implies, and you’re all set for tedium.

To be fair, messing around with different weapons can be fun, and Crypt of the Serpent King‘s art and enemy design may be impressive, but ultimately, the varying difficulty levels and only slightly-changing layouts can’t do enough to mask the game’s more serious flaw of repetition. As is, it’s merely a pretty and passable dungeon crawler that’s capable of more.


  1. There’s definitely been improvement if you’re counting from The Monastery (terrible) up to Assault Ops (decent) and onward, which I am. 
  2. My personal favorite. Excellent range, and the piercing attack is quick enough to stop most of the enemies’ attack animations. 
  3. Depending on who you talk to, this can either be a very good thing, or a very bad thing. 
  4. Enemies come in pairs, and are only ever found in ‘key rooms’, which basically takes away any tension or surprise that random exploration might have supplied. Even with the dull combat, random enemy placement would’ve helped to mix things up further. 

REVIEW: Space Battle

Both from a visual and a purely mechanical standpoint, there’s nothing new to see in the bland-sounding Space Battle1 ($1.00); it’s an amalgam of every twin-stick shooter set in space that you’ve ever played2. And not necessarily the good parts of said shooters either. Developer Chris Antoni’s take on the genre feels more ‘me too’-ish than anything else, and the dour, spartan backgrounds do little to help matters. On the surface, it’s entirely predictable.

Space Battle - Screen

The offline action takes place over sixteen challenging— albeit same-y— solo levels. The initial stages one-up themselves, adding a new enemy type until eventually you’re fighting off hordes of every type. It gets hectic. Unfortunately, it never feels all that thrilling. You get the standard ship upgrades, granting you additional shots or boosting your movement. You get a powerup that freezes enemies in place. And that’s about it. Even the overused, gimmicky, ‘bullet time’-esque slowdown that occasionally triggers when you’re near enemies or dodging laser fire can be more trouble than it’s worth, suddenly disorienting you and limiting your view.

Still, the game’s ‘Online War’ mode offers up a few interesting wrinkles to try and offset the rest of the otherwise familiar package. Rather than make things just a one-on-one duel, Space Battle mixes together parts of RPG-style progress grinding and card deck building, letting you put together an armada of ships (culled from the game’s single-player enemies) and purchase additional card slots and upgrades with currency earned through winning fights. The game allows you to tweak said loudouts beforehand, then sets you loose in a galaxy hub screen and offers up to 31 players online3 to match decks with and battle against.

Space Battle - Screen2

In theory, this should make for exciting combinations and battles, but your options are limited to a handful of choices and upgrades. Essentially, it boils down to picking the upper tier cards (earned randomly from wins) and maxing out your own ship’s stats. Building an impressive deck is slow, too. The cost to buy additional slots is high, making the process more of a grind than it needs to be, and with hardly anyone around playing XBLIGs online (a side effect of a dying scene), you’ll have to make do with the A.I. more often than not.

All in all, though, it just feels like a retread of past twin-stick shooters. And that’s not the vibe you want your game to be saddled with. Despite the interesting idea behind the online play (an idea you likely won’t get to appreciate in its intended form), Space Battle looks and plays too generic everywhere else to hold your interest for long.


  1. Seriously, Chris, I enjoy your games, buddy, but you’ve got to think of a better title than Space Battle for the next one. Literally anything would be better. Eyeballs in Space, maybe, or Chuck’s Fantastic Space Adventure. I mean, I don’t know what somebody named Chuck has to do with it, but you get the idea. Something else
  2. And if you’ve played a decent amount of XBLIGs over the years, you know that ‘twin-stick shooter set in space’ is a rather common idea amongst indie developers. I guess it’s a rite of passage. 
  3. Wishful thinking. I never found a single soul to do battle against. 

REVIEW: Game of Horror

Love it or hate it, plenty of indie titles have gone after the ‘jump scare’ market on console and / or PC, to varying degrees of success. XBLIG has been no stranger to the craze, but, when done right, it provides plenty of legitimate terrors… at a legitimately cheap price point. You can go ahead and add NeuronVexx‘s Game of Horror ($1.00) to that ‘done right’ list, if only for its gleeful willingness to quicken your pulse with each passing second spent in its pitch-black mansion.

Game of Horror - Screen Confirmed: not a nice guy.

While the game is less a machine for easy jump scares1 than it is a slow-burning sense of dread at what waits for you on the other side of the door, Game of Horror does a great (albeit familiar) job of ratcheting up the tension without making things too complicated. Your objective is straightforward; some serial killer nicknamed ‘The Eviscerator’2 is tossing people into a maze-like mansion and throwing away the proverbial keys, then hunting them down for sport. Should you find said keys (think Slender-like collectathon) to unlock a series of doors and survive, you’ll be granted your freedom.

Oh, but did I mention your search and the path you take is randomized on every attempt? Starting in a very Resident Evil-ish main hall, the game closes off each portion of the mansion behind a themed door (Clubs, Hearts, Diamonds, etc.). Each area contains a handful of rooms, offices, and storage closets, with you searching all the drawers and cabinets3 along the way. Exploring one section for a key grants you access to the next, etc. etc., all while ‘The Eviscerator’ silently— and continuously— stalks you.

There’s very little music in the game, which makes the idea of that relentless pursuit and its scares that much more terrifying, hearing the approaching killer’s breath through its mask, say, or the jiggle of a door’s handle being turned. You don’t have any real means of fighting back, either. Your only options are to duck behind furniture, shut off your flashlight and pray it doesn’t see you, or try to ‘block’ the door from being opened4. You can be ‘caught’ twice, with the third time being fatal and resetting your progress.

And so it goes, until you either escape or chicken out and curl up into the fetal position in the corner (…I chose the latter). Granted it’s nothing original, but it’s unnerving and not for the faint of heart, as the description states. And that’s really the only endorsement this game’s prospective audience needs. I still can’t understand why anybody would readily commit to scaring themselves for entertainment, but Game of Horror is absolutely up to the challenge.


  1. Don’t worry; you’ll still get plenty of those. 
  2. It’s… cute, right? Yeah, you don’t earn that title by being the affable sort. 
  3. The game helpfully ‘fills in’ objects you’ve searched already, ensuring you won’t easily backtrack or waste precious time second-guessing your work. 
  4. Word to the wise, this option isn’t very reliable. Mash on the button prompt all you want, the killer getting in seems like a 50 / 50 chance either way. 

REVIEW: The Sexy Exorcist

Everyone needs a profession. If only for that fact that everyone has bills, and those bills need to be paid, one way or the other. Options for legitimate employment abound. Some work in construction or law enforcement, others are doctors or nurses, some peddle penis pills on the internet1, while still others take up being an amateur exorcist that meets strange women in public bathrooms and pulls the lever of a slot machine over and over (…and over, and over, and over, and even over-er, again). That last profession winds up to be the unhappy sum of The Sexy Exorcist‘s ($1.00) parts.

The Sexy Exorcist - Screen

Does that ‘slot machine’ bit sound familiar to you? It might. Though The Sexy Exorcist is its own game (well, being ‘new’ only by its date of release, I assure you), it’s really just Date The Boss with some additional artwork and a different story. Which isn’t a vote of confidence. Both games share a developer (DUALHAZE) and an island inhabited by one-dimensional characters and gameplay, and both suffer the crushing fate of being nigh unplayable and nauseating if playing it in anything more than five minute increments2.

You see, just like that game, The Sexy Exorcist is a series of ‘buy / trade for items’ quests, with said items being required to progress. You accomplish this by befriending the local populace (i.e., girls) and finding out what their interests are via the game’s built-in social site, Douchebook3. The hook is that you’re perpetually broke and uncool, requiring you to constantly earn more cash to impress your new lady friends and meet inane mission objectives.

The Sexy Exorcist - Screen2

This is where that infernal slot machine comes in, as gambling and leaving it all to chance is your best bet4 for making money to buy those increasingly-expensive gifts (oh, you can also ‘guess’ which card a fortune teller is holding up, which is equally ‘bleh’). If continuously mashing a button sounds fun to you, trust me, it’s not. From there, it’s basically on repeat, with only a few diversions along the way, each section culminating in an interrogation / questionnaire by a possessed girl, one which happens to be your only client. Fail to answer her correctly three times (only the very last question is timed, so feel free to cheat), and you’ll have to start the whole thing over again. Oh, cruel fate, what have I done to deserve this?

Unfortunately (and not at all surprising), the entirety of The Sexy Exorcist is a monotonous waste of time, a lever-pulling nightmare that you should most definitely miss out on. Bad gameplay ideas are easy enough to come by, but reusing those bad ideas and dressing them up in a different outfit? That’s just unforgivable.


  1. And I swear it’s not me! The very first email you receive in-game is from a guy named ‘Tim’, a poor soul suffering from ‘size’ issues. Could be coincidence, or it could be the developer’s subtle way of paying me back for slamming his previous games. Can’t say I don’t deserve it. Karma is a bitch. 
  2. Sadly (in this case), XBLIG trial demos last for eight minutes. 
  3. Okay, not gonna lie; that one’s kinda funny. 
  4. Forgive the pun. It was too easy. 

Year Three of theXBLIG

Whoa… Three years online for theXBLIG… I mean, that’s…

Oh, right. It’s been awhile since I’ve written something down here. Excuse me for a moment while I dust off the articles and clear out the cobwebs from the corners of this site.

(clears throat) Ahem. Okay, that’s better.

Wow, three years of reviewing XBLIGs on this very page. Er… pages. I never thought I’d get this far. I know it’s not an eternity by any means, but it’s still a good chunk of time, particularly in internet-time, where sites rise and fall on a daily basis. Over that span, the site has amassed over 315,000+ views and published almost 400 reviews and articles, spawning 5,100+ comments and countless discussions that were only slightly-related to videogames.

To me, that’s an incredible thing. Not because I sometimes have a short attention span and a tendency to move onto different things before I finish the first, or because I feel like congratulating myself1, but rather because in those three years, the service known as ‘Xbox Live Indie Games’ (or as ‘XBLIG’ to its close friends) has provided us with so many great games2 and proved to be such an amazing experience for myself and plenty of others.

That experience hasn’t come without its share of downsides, of course. There’s been no shortage of duds to suffer through, and it’s no secret and no mystery that XBLIG isn’t what it once was. At this point, new releases of any quality are a luxury, and the future of the service (and this site) is anything but guaranteed. I can’t make any promises either, but I know I’ll be around until the very end.

That said, there’s always the very real chance I won’t get another online ‘birthday’ to celebrate, so I might as well offer up a huge ‘thank you’ to all my fellow indie journalistic types, to the great indie developers I’ve been privileged to meet and chat with, and, last and certainly not least, all of YOU guys for stopping by and willingly subjecting yourselves to my brand of rambling. Keep playing games, everyone, and thanks again for three fantastic years!

With much love and appreciation,

Tim

.

 


  1. Well, maybe a little. Yay! 
  2. There’s occasionally-updated leaderboards for that. 

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