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.


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.


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, 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. 

REVIEW: Death Quota R

If I’m going ahead and making grand assumptions1 here, I’m going to assume that the ‘R’ in Death Quota R ($1.00) almost certainly stands for Robots, as they are your main antagonist in the game. Which is a nice break from the usual zombie menace that developer Edelica Digital Bros. goes to whenever a new Death Quota must be met. Evidently, that quota is about to be reached, as this game represents the developer’s last project on XBLIG.

This also marks the third title in the series, an FPS buried under a Minecraftian layer of blocks. Yet you shouldn’t assume that you’ll be doing any crafting or remodeling here; the ‘levels’ in Death Quota R boil down to, more or less, collect-athons. Each stage finds you— or with a friend in local co-op— gathering a certain number of ‘powercores’, dodging flying drones and mowing down robotic patrols as you go (past games in the series had a similar objective). Once you’ve secured the amount that stage requires, a helicopter is summoned and sent for your extraction.

The entirely of this race to collect things takes place on a medium-sized island, teeming with alien structures and dark interiors, serene beachfront property, and… trees. Lots of trees. It’s also really familiar. Edelica has been getting quite the mileage out of that solitary map, as it’s been more or less the same since ZDQ 2 and the original Zombie Death Quota. Regardless of that familiarity, the map handles the task of hiding the powercores you seek in some out-of-the-way places without being overly annoying about it.

Combat remains as solid as ever. Besides your trusty, infinite-ammo-having handgun, you’ll have a handful of standard weapon types to switch up the killing (the loadout changes slightly for each stage), as well as scattered crates that appear periodically and / or get dropped from defeated enemies, netting you additional ammo, health kits, and powercores. If you tire of the short campaign (six levels), there’s always online battles for up to six players.

Death Quota R - Screen

That multiplayer will be hit and (mostly) miss, however, as XBLIG is perpetually vacant in its online lobbies. That leaves you with the single-player campaign, which gets highly repetitive after the first couple stages of collecting, and collecting, and collecting. Sometimes you collect more, sometimes less. The robotic sentries, too, will gradually get on your nerves, with their constant teleporting and shielding (more like taunting, the metal bastards).

It’s hard to shake the feeling of familiarity. The game looks great and handles just as well, but Death Quota R is really just more of the same idea already realized, under a semi-new coat of paint. Newcomers to the series will probably appreciate it for what it does, but if you’ve played a Death Quota game before this, don’t expect much refinement in Edelica’s XBLIG denouement.

  1. ‘Grand assumptions’ account for like, 85% of the decision-making in my life. You can probably guess how well that’s worked out for me. 

REVIEW: Loot Or Die 2

For me, the first Loot or Die was an enjoyable shooter that scratched a 2D Destiny-like itch, handing over generous amounts of loot in exchange for a run through simplistic space environments filled with various, spongy enemies. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Loot or Die 2 ($1.00) does all that again, and again cribs a little bit more of Destiny‘s approach to shoot and loot, with similarly fun results….. provided you still like to grind for hours on end achieving the desired statistics and perks for your armor and weapons1.

Loot or Die 2 - Screen

This game (as well as the first one) isn’t nearly as deep and grind-y as Bungie’s space opus, but it’s still has that familiar undercurrent that runs throughout. You can roll solo, or form a fireteam of four to tackle everything in co-op. Levels are straightforward affairs, Point A to Point B (save for the new ‘Patrol’ and Defend’ mission types, which are just glorified ‘kill all the enemies’ types), defeat a boss with an easily recognizable pattern to earn a loot drop, and repeat.

Which is fine, because Loot or Die 2 gives you what any good sequel should; more of what you liked about the original. In this case, it’s chasing new and improved armor, weapons, and runes (think special abilities) across several locales and planets, fighting numerous— albeit same-y— enemies and a handful of bosses. That idea of loot-based progress is fun, and felt incrementally, slowly building you up to take on the next planet’s deadlier (read: spongier) foes.

Similar to Destiny’s enjoyable leveling-up, you must seek out various materials to ‘mod’ your weapons and equipment, giving them new perks and increasing their effectiveness. They can range from granting you additional currency and materials, allowing you to use your abilities more often, or to being able to heal yourself faster and better, among others. Leveling up these attributes won’t (generally) break the game’s systems2 and make you an untouchable badass, but it does go a long way to convincing you can be, while letting you choose your preferred style of play.

Loot or Die 2 - Screen2

Other improvements include daily quests to complete for guaranteed high-level loot, a hub world for players to gather up and set off on missions, and a vault for storing and organizing your most precious loot. Granted, you can finish the game in about an hour, but there is no set ‘end’. The game’s new prestige mode effectively lets you play forever, scaling up the enemies and your weapons each time you reset the game world.

On the downside, the difficulty this time around isn’t as drastic (meaning the title of the game isn’t quite as literal); I was able to progress pretty far on subsequent planets just by using armor and weapons I found early on. Also worth noting, Loot or Die 2 doesn’t include a player-versus-player mode / arenas like the original game. The solid co-op makes up for that to a degree, but it would have been nice to have the option return for the sequel.

These are minor quibbles in the grand scheme, however, as you’ll be far too busy trying on new armor and testing out new weapons to care. If fun is the measure by which you judge something’s worth, this game accomplishes that mission easily. Loot or Die 2 doesn’t feel as fresh or as memorable as the first game, but it’s still just as satisfying to grind for the perfect loadout now as it was then.

  1. I know I do, because I’m a very sick person. I need help. 
  2. Unless you go with a build that lets you constantly regenerate health and steal health from your enemies, like me. Hey, it’s not cheating if the game allows for it! :) 

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