All posts by Tim Hurley

Gamer. Helluva nice guy. Writer / Big Cheese at theXBLIG.com, review site dedicated to the advancement of indie games on consoles.

REVIEW: Battlepaths

Man, calling your game an RPG used to mean something. Androgynous party members, high-fashion battle-attire, 80-hour hairstyles… er, main quests, and mostly melodramatic storylines that nevertheless gave you a reason to Fira and Dia your way through literally thousands of fights.

Not recently. With the exception of Penny Arcade 3, every other XBLIG RPG covered here (which, yes, now comprises a grand total of 3) has suffered the same non-story fate. Battlepaths (80 MSP) lumps itself together with that crowd, though with the distinction of being mechanically-sound and far more customizable than most.

Your name changes depending on your starting stat preference, but the hero always looks like a step above Neanderthal. Villages are under constant threat from Orcs, Skeletons, and your typical RPG villains. The world is large (three huge areas, accessed once a certain quest is completed) and vibrant, but not very emotive. Don’t expect long chats.

Fighting is turn-based, fast, and seamless. You look like you’re bumper car-ing into foes (BRPG). And that combat is more or less a miniature war of attrition multiplied several times over; just thumbstick-mash in the direction of your target. Don’t fight outside your weight class, don’t get surrounded or suckered by ranged attacks, carry potions or a regenerative spell, and you’ll generally be okay (penalties for death aren’t severe). Though with that ease, comes repetition.

What nixes that tedium and makes for a more interesting formula is the idea of acquiring loot, then better loot, then epic loot. Combat and dungeon crawling are redeemed entirely with the chance to find top-notch stuff, and Battlepaths gets that part right. Every treasure chest and enemy drop is a chance to raise your standing in the world. A higher-rated armor piece or weapon isn’t necessarily the obvious choice either; like Torchlight, it’s all about stat-boosts and modifiers. Leveling up is equally inclusive. You are as lethal or as guarded as you want to play.

There is some backtracking if you’re not careful. Without a map, you can get lost, though the game does a serviceable job of pointing you in the right direction. Which is part of the problem. Complete a quest, pick up another quest, bumper car through it, loot some, and repeat. The overarching storyline is there isn’t really one. Which is a shame. Beneath the gorgeous art and well-done RPG aspects is a shallow series of missions that never escalate the conflict (whatever it is) into anything resembling a must-play.

Desert… Pyramid… Ah, I see what you did there.

And that’s okay. To be clear, Battlepaths is far from a bad game. I’m fine with it. I liked it. It takes some time to get going, and the story never does, but if you love your loot and level grinding (Me! and… Me!), you can stamp that ticket here. At 80 MSP, you get a respectable RPG-like to sink an estimated 20+ hours (whoa, and with additional challenge rooms, whoa…) into. How many of those 20 hours are memorable, though, will fluctuate from player to player.

REVIEW: Super Amazing Wagon Adventure

Indies are known for their retro art, either out of love or actual necessity, and Super Amazing Wagon Adventure (80 MSP) looks as if it’s been biten by a radioactive and blockily-rendered Atari spider, a style that shaves detail but gains so much more in personal identity, if such things at odds are possible. It recalls The Oregon Trail from my / your youth (I still remember signing up on the ridiculously-long waiting list at my school), though this trail is paved with the never-ending blood of rabid squirrels and obscene amounts of historically-inaccurate weaponry.

A shooter for the most part, trading off between side-scroller and twin-stick, SAWA follows in the wagon wheel-marks of a trio of settlers heading west, their pilgrimage documented through WarioWare-like mini-games (with no less absurdity or variety) that switch up their play style in roughly twenty second increments.

There are shops (prices paid in animal pelts) and forked paths that give off a hint of depth and collection, but mostly you’ll be picking up the scattered weapon upgrades and gunning down everything that twitches, from bears and giant bats to zombies and your own inner demons. The added ability to rename the adventurers is a small but substantial personalization choice (‘Hurley’ never could make it past those damn snakes) on an otherwise random journey.

Though the game’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness; the random event. A huge part of the fun in SAWA comes from the whims of any given adventure. One screen you’re sharing a romantic interlude, the next you’re hunting with a buffalo-killing (& retrieving) falcon. Sounds pretty awesome, I know, and it is. You’re riding high at full health for all party members, blasting away with your newfangled laser cannon… until you roll into a snowstorm with wolves or swim in a river full of piranha.

This!… Is!… Manifest Destiny!

What makes these scenes different and all the more distressing are the enemies (like wolves and piranha) that don’t simply fly / run / swim past your wagon, but pursue it with a vendetta, leaving you little room to maneuver and avoid still-oncoming threats. Your enthusiasm (and patience) is quickly sapped whenever the game decides it wants you dead. Which is often. You’ll find you don’t have any say in the matter. Like Birth Order, success is largely left to chance.

Despite that misstep, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is zany, bite-sized fun. It’s unapologetically silly, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t laughing while charbroiling the wildlife or reading the death-knell text, even beyond the overdone difficulty. The Survival and Shuffle modes, the bevy of unlockable wagons (gained by playing through special scenes or modes, more than just superficial upgrades), and your continually-evolving forays to the West give you plenty enough reason to replay. Even if you never live to tell about it, the trip is more than worth the price of admission.

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EDIT 8/28: An update for SAWA has been released, putting it on par with the PC version’s increased content, namely a new unlockable wagon (‘The Glitch’), a new battle for Survival Mode (‘Fighting Fish’), and a handful of additional scenes, enemies, and random encounters (amounts to about 10% more content). Given it’s free if you’ve bought the game, you really can’t go wrong here.

REVIEW: RotoSchutzen

If you’re one of those people that believes in and bases their existence around absolutes, then it’s probably safer for the both of us if I refer to RotoSchutzen (80 MSP) henceforth as a ‘mini-game’, rather than a full product. That is what it is, in actuality, a half-game, not masquerading as one so much as it is gallingly so.

Dropped onto a deserted (but lushly-illustrated) planet defended by turrets and mines, you (the little helicopter-box guy) set off in search of ‘the big button’ that you must push. All of that comes from the marketplace description, and that’s all you’re told for the duration of the game.

Gameplay consists of you trading a barrage of shots with the resident turrets of varying size / shot pattern, and maneuvering around mines or steam traps. Occasionally you’ll hit switches to open up doors, tracing their wiring back to the source, then its back to the turrets. You’ll be forced into small caverns with a lot of enemies, resulting in death, though the checkpoint feature here is incredibly friendly, usually putting you within a few feet of where you met your end.

The trailer says (or doesn’t say) it all.

Though in flying over its green fields or through its steamy interior, there’s no implication of how you came to be here or what the planet is about. While the results of pushing ‘the big button’ are obvious enough, there’s no reason given for any of it. There’s no extras, no New Game+ or impetus to play through again, leaving you with a rather hollow victory.

RotoSchutzen comes from creator Owen Deery, who by his own admission is focused on bringing polished but quick, one-off games (sorry, ‘mini-games’) to market. I’m not against that idea from the outset; if it works, and it’s full-featured or an arcade-type, why not? There doesn’t have to be a minimum timetable. But with something like Bytown Lumberjack (from this past March) or now with RotoSchutzen, you need a little more content or replayability if you hope to get gamers on board. 80 MSP ain’t a bad entry point, I agree, but I can’t recommend something that finishes in under an hour and exudes almost no personality during it.

That’s the story of RotoSchutzen, regrettably. A good-looking game with well-oiled gears, just dressed up and given nowhere to go. If the developer adopts a new policy and throws his full weight behind an idea, I’ve no doubt it’ll be amazing. Just don’t look here for any of that promise.

REVIEW: Go Gimbal Go

It’s easy enough to check off the ‘platformer’ category, but sitting here and actually classifying Go Gimbal Go (240 MSP) is a bit more involved. I’ve seen it compared to SNES racer Uniracers. They have speed and some course designs in common, but I don’t see that as much as a ‘Sonic’ with sticky fingers. I can guarantee Uniracers never put forward the crazy-saccharine Rainbow Island and its fun-loving populace, invaded and thus occupied by King Commandroid, nor does it star a purple ball with an affinity for hats and a giant grabber hand.

Though in opposition to the Saturday morning cartoon story and vibe, Gimbal is anything but a kid’s game. Sure, it’s up to Gimbal to rescue the kids and right the wrongs across some seriously vibrant landscapes that Nintendo would be proud of, but the challenge on tap in this game will reduce most grown men to tears.

As far as the ‘Sonic’ comparison, you do grind various rails (the rainbow-colored ones boost your speed) and leap to and from rotating platforms / wheels, dodging enemies that will (initially) only slow you down when hit, while a timer ticks off. The goal is straightforward. You must reach the exit before zero. Checkpoints, as well as rescuing children and / or performing ‘tricks’ mid-air (spinning your grabber hand), put seconds back on the clock. Medals are awarded at the end of each stage, pursuant to how much time you had left.

It’s a fun setup. Unfortunately, the difficulty I mentioned previously is a double-edged sword, promoting patience and achievement, while at the same showing its ugly side directly with World 2 and the levels beyond. With some of the spiked layouts and rotating sawblades (all of which mean death upon touch), slower reflexes and room for launch error make it quite literally a sliver above humane. The developer should have been mindful of such and added an extra life (or two) to the starting counter of three (EDIT 8/20: Developer Gimbal Lock Studios has updated the game to include an ‘unlimited lives’ option in the menu).

To its credit, Go Gimbal Go drops helpful tips for each tricky jump or area. Its controls and sense of weight / gravity feel right, and it does train your reflexes to match the challenge— via constant death. Whether it’s the drive to succeed or to avoid shame at having been bested by a place called Rainbow Island, you won’t be permanently discouraged (probably).

It kept me at it for most of the way, building up a tolerance to the tougher spots or returning to earlier levels to seek out new hats (I feel the developers missed out on a top-tier ‘hat’ in turning down my Dr. Richard Gimbal design). A highly-polished first effort that hits the mark in almost every category, Go Gimbal Go is exactly the kind of off-kilter stuff XBLIG needs more of. Just maybe not as many spikes next time, guys.

REVIEW: Overdriven

Shooters of any vein have typically been my bread & butter, so in watching the Dream.Build.Play trailer for Overdriven (80 MSP), I couldn’t help but take notice. It looked fantastic, for one, and all the not-too-picky elements I look for were present; one ship shooting a bunch of other ships in different and interesting ways. See, easy to please.

Overdriven takes on the vertical shmup across seven levels, using the shooter-standard ‘unknown alien invasion’ premise, ‘last human hope’ etc. etc for a setup. Sine Mora it is not. What Overdriven (the ship / pilot, not the title) does get is a pair of lovely ladies whispering sweet nothings into his / its ear, and by that I mean pertinent information about the current stage and twenty variations of ‘watch out!’.

The game’s big sell and namesake mechanic is a beam shot that slows your ship’s movement but makes for a stronger, concentrated fire. Health is also sacrificed while ‘overdriven’, dropping your ship to within an inch of its life. It creates a tense trade-off once the screen gets lively and comes in handy for the bigger baddies and end-level bosses.

In a twist, stages aren’t unlocked simply by beating the previous. Beyond the first three, you’ll have to find a set amount of ‘alien artifacts’ scattered around town or dropped by enemies (5 per stage) to earn the right to advance. I found (more like stumbled onto, all dumb luck-like) the majority the first time through, though there are some cleverly-hidden ones. For collectors, there’s plenty of said artifacts and oddities (hidden cows?) to find, set to excellent music throughout. Also seven level-specific challenges that play out like self-contained mingames, with Awardments to pin to your digital chest for bragging afterwards, do well to invite extra playtime after clearing the story.

Minor quirks abound. The game suffers from the same ‘bullet recognition’ problems as other shooters, with enemy fire hidden in your own leading to some cheap hits. The bosses don’t vary much (except in name) from stage to stage, and bits of the art recycle. In fact, Overdriven‘s only serious problem is its art, pretty as it is. Especially in darker stages and during a firefight, it becomes almost impossible to tell your foreground from background, leading to health-sucking grinds along barriers and / or deaths. Repeated runs through the level will commit these segments to memory, but it’s a mentionable annoyance that could be an issue for players on higher difficulties.

Otherwise, it’s reliable. The controls feel solid, shot patterns are tough but navigable, and it forgives almost as much as it forgets. Overdriven slips comfortably into its Bullet Hell suit, and posits a good challenge for both ends of the shooter skill set. It doesn’t do anything extraordinary with its shmup license, but it’s fast, fun, and assembled the right way. Competence is a compliment here.