Paintball Wars 2

REVIEW: Paintball Wars 2

The original Paintball War came out at (what I consider to be) a turning point for first-person shooters on XBLIG, a time of enlightenment when developers really started to hit the mark in terms of control and design. It’s no surprise that the FPS flood doors swung wide open soon after. Almost two years on, we now get a sequel to one of the first FPS1 games I covered. And… very little has changed. Paintball Wars 2 ($1.00) definitely follows the adage ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’, dropping you and up to fifteen others into a colorful (and familiar) online deathmatch, featuring everyone’s favorite non-lethal2 weapon— the paintball gun.

Paintball Wars 2 - Screen

And to be honest, part of me would agree with that adage. Paintball Wars 2 retains the same setup as its predecessor, letting you paint your foes on a single, medium or large-sized (according to player vote) map. The action is fast-paced3 and fun, with constant ‘duels’ springing up, avatars jumping over hedges and / or searching for a moment of respite underneath a bridge. Ammunition is once again strategically-scarce, though refills litter the battlefield. The arena here doesn’t have as much verticality as in the previous game, as the wide open spaces favor confrontation over positioning. If anything, this limits ‘sniping’, forcing players into close quarters.

Similar to the mainstream AAA shooters, the game offers up a ridiculously large slate of unlockables, gained via kills and leveling. You can choose from a number of typical perks and additional weapons, and attachments for said guns. This includes more accurate barrels and scopes, and some superficial customization stuff like gun camo. All in all, you’ll have plenty of rewards to earn in continually playing. Killstreak cards are awarded for successive kills (or can be found in the environment), doling out temporary bonuses like invulnerability or dual wield.

Paintball Wars 2 - Screen2

Online play has the usual small hiccups here and there, but the games I found were relatively lag-free… when I found them, that is. The bright side? You aren’t exactly held captive by the whims of the XBLIG community. One of the biggest pluses of this series has been the addition of AI bots4 offline. ‘Single-player’ features its own unlockable ranks and perks, helping to supplement the online half of the game when other players can’t be found. It’s a nice idea to increase its function and longevity.

It’s just all so familiar, with developer Strange Games taking zero risks, nor applying any lessons it might’ve picked up since the original’s release. Granted, it’s not bad if you’re looking for some madcap fun; just don’t expect to be wowed or confronted with anything new. Consider Paintball Wars 2 more of an ‘add-on map’ than a legitimate step forward for the series.


  1. Well, I suppose it should be considered a hybrid FPS / third-person view, but it’s much, much easier to play entirely in first-person. Be sure to change that option immediately. 
  2. Ha, say that to my left leg, which got butchered in a ‘real’ paintball match last year. ‘Only stings for a second‘, they said. My bruises would say otherwise. 
  3. Think of the game’s ‘flow’ as somewhere between Call of Duty and Unreal Tournament
  4. Albeit laughably easy to kill. 
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Xenominer Swarm

REVIEW: Xenominer Swarm

Though some would classify the original Xenominer as a ‘sci-fi Minecraft‘ and nothing more on sight alone, it’s heavy emphasis on survival on a harsh planet made it much more than a simple clone. It’s one of the few games I’ve played on XBLIG where I was actively brainstorming ideas for a potential sequel, so sure of its fun and success. For its second game, developer Gristmill Studios took a step back, to put out a multiplayer FPS set in the same universe. DownGate Deathmatch tried, but it was not a very good game. Now, the team is back with another attempt, hoping to expand the universe yet again.

Enter Xenominer Swarm ($1.00), which keeps a lot of the same gameplay systems and options from DownGate Deathmatch intact, and seems no less ambitious. The big change to the format this time around is the game is now a four-player cooperative FPS, having you battle aliens in a semi-wave format across a variety of modes and maps. You essentially play as a mercenary for hire, completing contracts to earn enough money to buy new weapons / gear, and unlock access to additional planets and missions, with the difficulty and rewards scaling upwards accordingly.

Mission types include ‘Mining Contract’, which sees engineers digging for minerals / crafting supply crates to send back home, a self-explanatory ‘Base Defense’1 setting, and a kill-everything mode called ‘Bug Hunt’. Regardless of the blocky planet, the contracts typically have you guarding a ‘base’, which serves as your spawn point and shipping station. You can swap characters here, and place assembled crates to be beamed off-world.

The class-based solider system returns as well, with the standard ‘Marine’, the workhorse ‘Engineer’2, and the sniper-ready ‘Recon’ types. While the first and last units haven’t changed greatly, the always-vital engineer class has been given an armament upgrade, allowing you to craft defensive turrets and guns to guard your base / fellow marines. All of the classes come with numerous ways to customize your ‘ExoDrone’, changing armor / helmet types, weapons, ammo types, and even a handful of perks.

Xenominer Swarm - Screen

In theory, this range of options and the mission variety should equate to an evolving, entertaining game. It doesn’t quite get there, though, for the same reasons that DownGate Deathmatch failed to deliver on its grand promise; all the parts are here, but everything lacks punch and a sense of urgency. The so-so online play doesn’t help (there were a few framerate stutters I noticed, and I was dropped from some matches), and it still has the clunky, unsatisfying combat that can be found in the previous game. Ammo, too, is once again sparse, forcing you to rely on engineer teammates to re-up, or expend energy to slowly regenerate bullets. Neither option suits the quicker style of game the developer is going for.

The result is another uneven experience. In a lot of ways, Xenominer Swarm remains ahead of its time on XBLIG, granting you an awesome amount of content and adaptable gameplay, all for a single dollar. Despite the ideas and that freedom, it remains tied down by underwhelming combat, some initial confusion as to how it all works, and a snail’s pace in terms of progress and gameplay. It’s still worth a look, especially if you have three friends to play with, but I sincerely hope that Gristmill can work out the kinks in this side series. It really could be something great.

 


  1. A game type that goes on for twenty-plus minutes, the equivalent of one day / night cycle in-game. Take my advice: pack a lunch if you’re heading out on this mission. 
  2. The only class that can equip the P.I.C.K., the game’s version of the Minecraft pick axe that lets you dig up and place blocks in the environment, or create power sources and build up your base. 
Dead.Kings

REVIEW: DeadKings

The game of Checkers1 is an old one, possibly the oldest. It’s rules are relatively simple; two sides, two sets. Men can make diagonal moves on the board, only going forward, while King pieces—having reached the other side of the board unscathed— have the luxury of moving diagonally in either direction. The idea is to ‘trap’ and / or ‘capture’ all of your foe’s pieces. There are good moves and bad moves2, and a fair amount of strategy involved, but generally, anyone can jump right in and play.

Ditto for DeadKings3 ($1.00), although in many ways, Checkers isn’t the game’s primary focus. As the sequel to a fan-favorite game called, appropriately enough, BloodyCheckers4, you’d kinda expect it to be. I mean, you’ll play plenty of rounds of Checkers, against the AI and / or human players. All of the parts and rule sets are there, mind you, and some not-so-official powerups, but DeadKings is also all at once a dungeon crawler, an RPG, part roguelike, and even a co-op adventure game, if you prefer to play nice with others.

Dead.Kings - Screen

To that end, you are a reincarnated knight, brought back to the entrance of a vast, extremely hazardous, and unmapped castle. Your ‘goal’ as stated is to ascend the floors of said castle, finding ways around locked doors and gates, triggering a number of devious traps and enemies, and challenging dozens of opponents (including Death Himself) to a very impolite game of Checkers5. All of this, in order to eventually level up your knight and reach max level, to open every door, and to claim the Sword of Valor for your own.

Easier said than done, natch. Though really, it’s not the ‘games’ you should be worried about. The castle itself is the real challenge, practically a living, breathing character, providing multiple ways for you to die and get lost in its labyrinthian corridors. That said, you can also thrive, once you’ve built up a small treasury of gold and earned a few abilities / items. From there (and once you’ve gained the ability to warp around the map), it’s essentially an open world. Do as you wish. Uncover some secrets, burn some bats, or troll your co-op partner and teleport him to the pits of the castle6.

Whatever happens, it’s important to keep your light handy. As in the original game, your candle is basically life itself. Should your flame be snuffed out, you are in a world of trouble. Besides the obvious result of being left in the dark, you cannot open chests, doors, or enter paintings (how you start Checkers matches, buy certain powerups, etc.) without it. Later in the game, this is potentially less of an issue, but in the early going, you’ll have to be on guard.

Dead.Kings - Screen2

Given that mechanic, the maze-like floors, and the shifting nature of its hazards (DeadKings has its own version of Lost‘s Smoke Monster), the sheer scope of the castle can sometimes be intimidating. The game is built with co-op in mind, which should cut down on any frustrations you may have. Although, as is the case with other games this size, a few bugs still exist in the current form. Fixes are inbound, but none really detract from the overall experience.

Thankfully, the game keeps you too busy and too entertained to notice. Play some Checkers (or don’t), solve the castle’s various mysteries, adventure with— or against— a friend, and, perhaps most importantly, continue to explore. Even then, you’ll likely never run out of things to do. After five-plus hours, I’ve only scratched its surface7. And that’s a very good thing. However you choose to play, and whatever endeavor you wish to focus on, DeadKings— and its expansive castle— gives you plenty of excellent options.


  1. Checkers is my game, and really, my only game. Although I was taught the basics on a couple of occasions, I still to this day can not sit down and play a game of Chess. My simple mind just doesn’t know it. Mock me if you’d like. I deserve it. 
  2. And if you should need some refreshment of the rules or wish to learn some new strategies, DeadKings offers plenty of lessons. Educates as much as it entertains, if you will. 
  3. This review is also featured at Indiepitome
  4. An admission: the game was released before my time reviewing XBLIGs, and therefore, I have not played it to any great degree. Again, mock me if you’d like. I deserve it. 
  5. If you so desire; a forthcoming update will add a few minigames to spice up the match-playing, and you can always bypass the Checkers games entirely (see ‘RageQuit’). 
  6. A sarcastic ‘Thanks!’ to GNAWMAN for that. 
  7. Only 25% completed, and I’m Level 18. Seems there’s a lot of castle still to discover. 
TASSURUS 3012

REVIEW: TASSURUS 3012

The main calling card of TASSURUS 3012 ($1.00) is a return to the arcade thrills of old, pumping quarters into a hard-as-nails shooter that loved to punish you, but also made your eventual victory that much sweeter. This was before genre mashups, before twin-stick shooters really existed, back when eight-directional fire (and you couldn’t move and shoot at the same time) was as futuristic as it got.

This was also before ‘we’, collectively as gamers, knew better. TASSURUS 3012 is essentially a series of wave-based rounds. These can be tackled solo, or with a friend locally, warping from one training room to the next, clearing it of robotic sentries and avoiding the roving mines that seek you out. Its claims of 65,000+ levels are a nice gesture, but feel merely like a tick on a marketing checklist, as the dull grey walls that comprise the entirety of any level’s geometry (a design that’d be right at home on a Commodore 641) are the only visual differences from stage to stage.

Those walls can be removed / added as needed via switches, inviting some strategy. Each arena comes lined with several exits, though, giving you an out should you need it. Enemy AI starts out docile, but gets smarter and more aggressive as you advance, with one hit all that separates you (and your foes) from death. At the same time, you are rewarded for clearing the room. Take out all enemies two waves in a row, and you’ll unlock the ‘weapons portal’, which gives you a chance to upgrade your guns, provided you can successfully run the gauntlet of mines / foes on the other end. While undeniably helpful, those same upgrades only last as long as you do; one life.

You’ll find that your life is precious, and in constant danger. Although the levels aren’t expressly ‘timed’, you do have an impetus to work quickly. After a set period, mines are released into the arena from one of the entrances. Most can be avoided or outrun, but the dreaded ‘ottomine’ is another story entirely. This one actively seeks the player out (and cannot be destroyed!), gaining speed relative to how many enemies are left standing. The continual threat the mines pose does add a dash of random to the proceedings.

TASSURUS 3012 - Screen

Of course, your patience with the basic level design and simplistic shooting mechanics will be tested. It does indeed recall the arcade shooters of yesteryear, but that throwback to a simpler time is not necessarily an automatic upgrade; there’s a reason we’ve evolved to our current generation of games / consoles. Still, if you hunger for the knowledge of those old arcade games, one could do worse than TASSURUS 3012. One could also do better.


  1. Speaking of Commodore 64 and the old-timey stuff, I’d recommend giving The Retro Years a look. 
Level Zero

REVIEW: Level Zero

Level Zero ($1.00) is actually quite prophetic for a game title. A side-scrolling shooter in the most basic application of the term, it never quite starts, or goes anywhere meaningful. Instead, it feels like a demo, a ‘proof of concept’, full of placeholder art and text, scraped together and shoveled onto the marketplace like a discarded child.

Level Zero - Screen

Now before you accuse me of being unfair / dramatic, take a look at the screenshot above. Besides breaking the unwritten rule1 of indie game marketing (never use captures of your menu / title screen as part of your promotional screenshots), the proof is in the pudding… er… the screen grab. Level Zero was made in five days, the result of ‘messing’ around with XNA. To be fair, plenty of games have stewed for even less time in the developmental soup2. The amount of days spent working on something versus the end quality of that game doesn’t automatically equate to bad.

It doesn’t inspire any confidence, either. And for good reason. Level Zero IS a shooter, one that functions and has a definite objective: shoot everything that comes on-screen, and survive for as long as you can. Basic, yes, but it’s a viable foundation. Now, stop me if you’ve heard the rest. There’s powerups, like a temporary shield, or a temporary increase in firing speed, and ‘nukes’ that predictably clear the screen of enemies. Bullets can harm you, as can asteroids, and some kind of gaseous fog that occasionally drifts on-screen.

Level Zero - Screen2

As exciting as it looks?

Sound familiar? Of course it does. We’ve all played this game a hundred times before, under a hundred different names. Sure, Texel Games has built a shooter. It’s a noble pursuit, and a great personal achievement. They should be proud. Yet minus a unique graphic style, an intriguing storyline, or some other interesting mechanic to tie the parts together, all they’ve got is a game that works. That’s hardly a good reason to ask others to buy into it.

Everyone has to start somewhere. XNA and XBLIG were made to be that ‘start’, but that doesn’t mean everything that is created in XNA and XBLIG is created equal. As I write this, there’s plenty of ‘side projects’ and ‘late night hobby’ games being made. Plenty that have came before, and just as many to come. Games that are totally going to be worth your time and money. Just not Level Zero. Not when it’s so basic, and so drab, and so damn uninspired.


  1. Although, really, somebody should be writing this down. 
  2. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but videogames? No problem. 

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