Category Archives: Shooter

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. 
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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.

chasing-styx-screen

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: 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: 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: Indiemon VS Zombies

Speaking of nerd cards in need of being revoked, I’ve avoided developer RicolaVG‘s Indiemon series on XBLIG for various reasons, tops among them being that I’m not a huge fan of Pokémon… …I know, it’s heresy, right!? Semi-adorable creatures battling other semi-adorable creatures, with you collecting them1 like a packrat and sending them to endless war; what’s not to love? But… throw some ‘undead’ into the mixture… label it Indiemon VS Zombies ($1.00)… and now you’re speaking my dead / slightly-decaying language, friend!

Indiemon VS Zombies - Screen

That ‘language’ I speak of takes the form of that ‘old reliable’ videogame fallback, the twin-stick shooter genre. The game features twelve Indiemon slaying mobs of zombies, each with their own unique attacks and special moves. And just as reliable (i.e. predictable), those zombies are fought in a pair of rather bland arenas, in a wave-based format according to difficulty. In other words, it’s like every twin-stick zombie shooter you’ve ever played.

Well, somewhat. Indiemon VS Zombies attempts to mitigate some of its me-tooism via upgradeable skill trees, giving each indiemon access to his or her— or its— secondary attacks, in exchange for XP earned during each wave, natch. Some of these ancillary weapons are better suited to the game than others (like say, a gun that can shoot through multiple rows of zombies at once), but they do inject some much needed variety. You can also tweak movement speed and XP gains, or buy additional lives and ammo, which again, helps to give the proceedings a little more depth than just ‘shoot ALL the things’.

Indiemon VS Zombies - Screen2

It still boils down to just that in the end, of course, and it’s a familiar fight. Even the A.I. phones it in. Being surrounded is never good, but you can always just strafe around the edges of the map and do just fine, or have a friend tag along as a second character and gun (there’s local co-op, if you insist). Though short of unlocking some additional indiemon for good play (outlast all waves on a particular map, collect a certain amount of extra lives in reserve, etc.), there’s not much else to it beyond the first hour.

And that makes Indiemon VS Zombies just so-so. Fans of the Indiemon series will undoubtedly be happy with the game, while twin-stick enthusiasts can probably find a favorite character to run through it with. Granted, it’s a fairly generic shooter underneath the Pokémon-ish paint job, but come on… Semi-adorable creatures battling hordes of the ravenous undead; what’s not to love? Eh, you’ll have to answer that one for yourself.


  1. Personally, I’d call it some form of slavery. Not to mention the inhumane storage conditions, being trapped in a tiny ball until your master calls upon you to fight on his / her behalf.