REVIEW: Caroline’s Important Life Diary

I’m assuming that the story presented in Caroline’s Important Life Diary ($1.00) is meant to be a semi-serious meditation on the life and choices of a young girl trying to fit in, both within her circle of asshole friends (more on that in a bit) and the greater world around her. The title character is that perfect sort of non-descript type (as most of us are / were at that age), lost in the shuffle of faces  and voices and therefore invisible to society. But the actual story— if you want to call it that— is also lost, lost in translation1 and in some of the strangest sequences I’ve ever played in a game. And I’ve played a lot of XBLIGs; I should be immune to the peculiar.

The format is a hybrid mix of visual novel and simple minigames, with a graphical style that looks like it came straight out of the Atari 2600’s back catalog. With a little MS Paint thrown in as well.

Caroline and her friends comprise a unit formed from the initials of their names, the C.O.O.L.2 girls. It’s not known what the other girls in the crew have had to do to keep their street cred, but Caroline specifically has to constantly show her worth to the group. Her story is told both in text and voice-acted… strangely. Given the choice-heavy narrative, text would have more than sufficient. The decision to voice these characters— with some of the most cringe-worthy dialogue imaginable— is baffling and distracting.

Anyway, Caroline has to take part in various activities to earn C.O.O.L. points and keep herself in good standing with the rest of the club. These life events include spitting on random people walking by, dodging lasers on the way to school, and stealing knives from a store after closing time. Yeah, it’s a pretty odd and edgy life Caroline finds herself living. These choices and minigames net you said C.O.O.L. points (or take them away), which help steer the story.

In various scenes, you can yell at the crowd that came to watch your play, talk to your headmaster3 on the way to a party, ignore your friends’ requests to spit4 on any ugly kid, refuse to go along on a late night raid, etc. That being said, it pays the most points to be a jerk. So it would appear that the game wants you to be an asshole in order to be ‘cool’, amass points and win the game, more than make the morally-correct choices. That’s not me advocating one side over the other, just that the game is short enough already (about twenty minutes per playthrough), and being a dick to other people seems to be the surefire way to extend the story.

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Of course, it’s up to you. You don’t get much closure or view towards the future of Caroline’s life, but you are calling the shots in the present. There are multiple endings (how many isn’t exactly clear; I found three) based on your choices and the total number of C.O.O.L. points you’ve accrued by a certain point.

Though why you would want to take part in any of this is beyond me. Caroline’s Important Life Diary is not that important, and isn’t really a diary at all. It’s a bizarre series of scenes and text wrapped up in stranger plot points and bad dialogue, propped up by two or three ‘minigame’-style events that don’t do anything to redeem the rest of it. There’s plenty of indie games out there that do a stellar job at telling personal stories in various formats. Not so here. Caroline’s story probably deserves to be told, but not like this. Not like this5.


  1. To put it another way, the dialogue and story here would be like me trying to be witty and speak the lingo of teenage life… in French. I’m not French, so I’d be lucky if you could understand me, let alone think I was an authority on the subject. You’d probably say ‘Qui est ce connard?‘ 
  2. I love acronyms as much as the next guy, but there is not a single bone in my body that would allow me to form (or be a part of) a group of friends and label ourselves ‘C.O.O.L.’ by using our initials. That would simply be, not cool
  3. The headmaster bit as a whole is weird, and has a strong undercurrent of a predatory relationship. Early in the game, he calls her pretty, then later reveals to Caroline that he is the one who drives her to school each day. Why Caroline never seems to have noticed this before isn’t clear, but it’s not even the worst part. The headmaster tells her this is all because of some ‘deal’ he made with her father to drive her. Which is a little fucked up. For one thing, Caroline has a sketchy father that doesn’t seem to mind handing off his daughter to strange men, and two, Caroline probably needs to steer well clear of her school’s headmaster in the future. 
  4. These girls really like spitting on people. 
  5. Yeah, you’re damn right that’s a Matrix meme, son! 

REVIEW: Solaroids: Prologue

When you’re ‘the last’ of something in a series or a group or anything, be it Airbender, Samurai, of Us1, or any other finality, you carry an incredible weight and hype on your metaphorical shoulders. This is it. There is nothing else to come. You’re the final act. And in realizing that realization, suddenly you’re expected to not only be good, but even be the best ‘the last’ thing to come along. With that knowledge, Solaroids: Prologue ($1.00) is the very last XBLIG, released about a month and a half after the official cutoff date.

Your initial thought is undoubtedly that it’s a space shooter, and you’d be correct. By its name, you’d surmise it’s a relative or close personal friend of the classic game Asteroids. And you would also be correct. You’re ‘2 for 2’ now. Then, you’d probably say it has a twin-stick control scheme. And… wrong. You were really close, man. It’s indeed a space shooter where you shoot larger asteroids and break them into smaller asteroids, where you (eventually) face down more sophisticated enemies, but if you want to follow the original source material, you’re going to need the ‘tank’ style turn controls, with the added benefit of forward and reverse thrusters to fine tune your fancy flight and trajectory.

Gameplay is similarly classic, in that dull, ‘watching paint dry’ sort of fashion. In the way back when, Asteroids was exciting stuff, the pinnacle of videogaming. In the modern era, not so much. There’s a reason these ‘classics’ have turned into free browser games; they’re not that revolutionary or involving anymore. That’s not to dismiss or discredit these games for their contribution to history, just to state that their idea has been used dozens of times over.

To its credit, Solaroids: Prologue has a better graphic presentation, has power-ups (think shields, faster bullets, ship buddies for added firepower, etc.) and 4-player split screen2. The argument here is that the game is both more fun with and meant to be played with others, and that’s probably the case… if local multiplayer is an option for you. By yourself, the classic setup of chasing down asteroids hasn’t aged nearly as well. Especially when it requires you shoot so damn many of them to progress.

solaroids-prologue-screen

Enemies do show up the more you play, albeit gradually. Ditto for their size and intelligence and tactics, meaning you’ll eventually wander into some challenging firefights that will take full advantage of your acquired power-ups. In that regard, the game sheds its Asteroids origins. Yet with that being said, it’s still a generic and tame shooter, from the backgrounds to the gameplay and everything in between. As a ‘prologue’ to a perhaps bigger or more fleshed out endgame, you’d almost expect that.

So while Solaroids: Prologue plays and controls well enough, it’s a space shooter that you’ve seen and played well before you’ve even seen and played it. It’s a slow burn to get to the more exciting battles, and even then, your patience isn’t going to necessarily be rewarded with anything beyond the ordinary. This is the last XBLIG, and the last space shooter you will play for XBLIG. Despite the sadness of that finality, this game won’t be greatly missed.


  1. You’re probably not asking, but I’m telling: The Last Airbender (movie) was terrible, The Last Samurai was pretty good, and The Last of Us was a phenomenal piece of gaming, entertainment, and storytelling. 
  2. In what was a recurring theme for XBLIGs, a lot of the games would benefit from having two or more people around to enjoy couch co-op. Unfortunately, in an era where people are constantly on the move / playing online, you don’t necessarily have the controllers or friends in immediate supply. That’s not to say that local multiplayer is a bad choice, just not an option that is as prevalent as it was in gaming’s past, when it was required. 

REVIEW: Chasing Styx

Chasing Styx ($1.00) is an RPG-like bullet hell shooter featuring a screen-full of bullets at every turn and a humorous tale concerning Cerberus (three-headed guard dog of the Underworld, if you please) falling asleep on the job, only to let a pack of cutesy bunnies slip into the realm of the undead and subsequently upset the fragile hellish-to-adorable ratio they’ve got going on there. But really, it’s an entertaining excuse to kill and / or re-kill several demons, multiplying slimes, and other abominations.

Though that distillation doesn’t exactly do the game justice. ‘Shooting’ represents Chasing Styx’s core idea and minute-to-minute gameplay, but it does much more than simply give you targets to shoot. To put things in a larger scope, Chasing Styx is an a retro-looking adventure game with RPG elements that just happens to be a shooter. Cerberus and his extra heads form your ‘ship’ (complete with a center ‘heart’ vulnerable spot), while the River Styx functions as your hub world, letting you do business (i.e. earn and trade upgrades) with vendors and catch a ride with that old jokester Charon to half a dozen lengthy stages1.

Chasing Styx lets you tackle those challenges in any order, with the second half unlocked once you’ve acquired coins found in previous lands2. Said stages offer an overhead view and open floor plans, letting you choose your route at some points. This goes beyond simple choice, however, offering multiple paths that can lead to shortcuts, stiffer challenges, or traps that require careful navigation whilst dodging enemy fire. Each of the levels also contain a handful of hidden secrets and treasures, which are key to acquiring game-changing abilities and attacks. Some grant you things like additional hearts (your HP), an extra primary attack slot, or new weapons.

You’ll need them, too, thanks to the frequent battles that keep you on your toes. With smart (and sometimes re-used) enemy design and some equally-great boss battles, you’ll have to make judicial use of your special abilities and know when to strafe or ‘blink’ through bullets to escape tight quarters and an advancing enemy. It’s stressful but satisfying stuff when you pull it off.

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Which is both a gift and a curse. It’s mainly a single player experience, though you can do everything cooperatively. And that’s the thing; while the local co-op would (presumably) make things easier, playing it solo can occasionally be a frustrating experience, mostly due to the lack of mid-stage checkpoints (you do get to restart from any boss fight, albeit with the health you reached that point with3). Spending twenty sweaty minutes just to get to a boss you have no serious way of beating is not a very good feeling.

Still, the game is far too well done to stumble over the small things… like you dying repeatedly. If anything, it forces players to be wiser, and the in-depth ability and perk tree is there to let you find a winning combination. In summary, you’ve got a fantastic-looking shooter that’s fantastically designed, with a really stellar soundtrack to boot. Chasing Styx might very well be the last great XBLIG4, and you’d be doing yourself a big favor by picking it up.


  1. Don’t let that number mislead you. All told, you’ll spend at least 4 to 5 hours completing the game, even more if you’re trying to collect everything. And after that, you’ve got Boss Rush and Survival modes to conquer, as well as additional ‘costumes’ for Cerberus to unlock. 
  2. Everyone knows you’ve got to pay your way in the land of the dead. Rides aren’t cheap, and Charon doesn’t do charity. 
  3. Which really is a slap in the face; what the hell am I supposed to do up against a boss with a massive health bar when I’ve got one heart? Answer: Lose repeatedly, until I’m forced to exit in shame. I mean, at least give me half-health, let’s make things interesting. 
  4. Certainly the last great XBLIG shooter, and hey, you can always pick it up on PC, if you prefer to game on a service that isn’t newly dead. 

REVIEW: Snake Party

Not to be confused with another way to say there’s a bunch of dudes clustered in one location, or a very strange (and very specific) kind of reptilian gathering, Snake Party ($2.99) represents another notch in the classic ‘snake’ game category. And it’s kind of a sort-of sequel / upgrade to the eight-years-earlier Snake3601 from the same developer. That’s also kind of very similar-ish?

At any rate, you have the familiar mechanic of your ‘snake’ chasing down ‘targets’ that can both extend your time left on the clock and increase your body size to eventually-ridiculous lengths (phrasing!). The challenge, of course, is to manage that growth within the confines of a given level, avoiding walls and obstacles, as well as your own self. The rooms are varied as such, with over 100 challenge stages, the difficulty increasing as you shift from different tiers as often as you’d like, including Easy, Expert, and Insane2.

Each tier is suitably stocked to offer variety and plenty of said challenge. Victory conditions and modifiers for every level change as well, with some asking you to collect a certain number of targets, or navigate for a set time with infinite growth, obstacles blinking in and out of existence, etc. This mixes things up nicely, ensuring you never get too comfortable completing a single task or playing in one set pattern the entire way through.

There’s also various survival modes to test your skill, and four-player couch battles return with their own devious modifiers, letting you compete for high score, bragging rights, and the always-precious free space to move around in (things get cluttered fast, no surprise). That would probably be the ideal way to play the game, but for XBLIG, it might be limited to who you have available in your immediate surroundings and how many controllers you have.

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Though the biggest question, of course, would be how much you enjoy the Snake gametype, and if you don’t mind essentially playing the same game as what you already can find in your web browser, your phone, your watch, your calculator, or any number of other places that Snake clones exist. Given its similarity to the previous Snake360, too, you might have already had your fill of it in this particular presentation.

Even with those drawbacks and aforementioned games, Snake Party is plenty fun and plenty challenging, albeit close to the same thing you’ve seen and done before. But, if you’re new to it, or play too much Slither.io, or just enjoy the arcade-y hook of it in any form and / or have four controllers on hand, there’s more than enough content to keep you busy, be it with friends or going solo.


  1. Eight(!) years ago; man, Xbox Live Indie Games has had a hell of a run, when you think about it. 
  2. And while Hard is predictably tough to handle, and Expert is difficult stuff to anyone but the most-practiced Snake-titioner, Insane is just… just… why would you do that to yourself!? 

REVIEW: ESPERriririnTelekinesisTIME

Forget the unwieldy title (hey, at least you don’t have to write it out several times over the course of this review1), the goofy art style, and the mention of rainbows, ESPERriririnTelekinesisTIME ($1.00) is anything but a kiddie attempt at an indie game dumped onto the marketplace in time to beat a deadline. Rather, it’s a super tricky, brutally-difficult bullet hell shooter… with a telekinetic twist.

The shooter part is standard practice, asking you to weave through a screen full of bullets, or lasers, or enemy ships, or any number of flashy, death-causing objects. The amount of trouble escalates as you advance, requiring the usual nimble moves and muscle memory. Your focus, however, should be on the two main ‘boss’-type enemies that populate the room. Defeating them is the objective.

All well and good and somewhat straightforward, but it’s the game’s ‘telekinesis’ skill that takes things a step further. As soon as a level and its ensuing bullet chaos begins2, a bar at the top begins filling up. Once it’s ready, you can unleash it to temporarily stop time and shift that stage’s enemies around using the thumbsticks. This works to both give you a breather in the cramped spaces and to highlight any weaknesses in the bosses’ original starting points.

Levels are actually fixed in place, one-room affairs. Though I’d consider them more as puzzles than a simple background to do battle on, as each stage is a riddle you need to solve in order to kill what you have to and advance. Some require you to dodge bullets or learn bullet patterns, yes, while others require you to wait out your telekinesis gauge in order to move enemies into range so you can attack them. It’s clever design, maddeningly so once you’ve died a few dozen times trying to figure out a solution.

ESPERriririnTelekinesisTIME - Screen

Enjoy the demo stage; that’s as ‘easy’ as you’ll get.

That said, and, depending on your tolerance for bullet hells and constant failure (that’s meant to teach you a valuable lesson, natch), ESPERriririnTelekinesisTIME‘s tricks can turn your mood around really fast. Just as quickly as you’re jubilantly celebrating your victory in one stage, the next’s seemingly-impossible mechanics will have you creating new curse words on the fly. Some of the backgrounds, too, can be distracting, swirling and obscuring bullets and potentially ruining a run that might otherwise be perfect.

The difficulty of the room simply amplifies those issues even more. This is a game that can be incredibly rewarding… and incredibly frustrating. ESPERriririnTelekinesisTIME will not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s absolutely an intriguing take on a bullet hell shooter that you shouldn’t pass up based on looks alone.


  1. I mean ‘copy and paste’, of course, but still. It’s slightly agitating. I’ve gotta right-click the mouse and everything, and then the name runs on soooooo long that it wraps around the margin and makes everything look funny, and then I’m like, ‘Damn, what can I do to fix this?’, and then that stresses me out for a few seconds. This is so tough, you guys don’t even know. 
  2. And trust me, things get busy fast. The game’s ‘demo’ stage is a cakewalk, and not nearly indicative of the difficulty you’ll face moving forward. Just an FYI. 

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