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REVIEW: Rise of the Ravager

Rise of the Ravager (80 MSP) represents an interesting approach to shooters. It’s not the mythology and ‘End of Days’ theme, though a plot is always welcome in an otherwise storyless genre. Stationary Turrets are nothing new either, ditto the bullet-matching gameplay (the face buttons correspond to enemy weaknesses). Rather it’s the addition of upgrades to your turrets, the scarcity of points to use, those gifts that you giveth and taketh away, that elevates it beyond a typical shooter.

Despite each monster / alien / bug falling into one of four color categories, there are multiple enemy types (dive bombers to bullet sponges) and flight patterns, patterns that get harder to follow as the number of targets onscreen increases with each level. Initially, you’ll have one turret at your disposal. You’re able to withstand three direct hits on the ground your turrets cover, and given a rechargeable shield. More than enough, you say, though the stages accelerate the pace and drop speed quickly. Mercy isn’t in its vocabulary.

Thankfully, Rise of the Ravager has seen fit to allow you some turret customization. Upgrade points are awarded after the level, with further points to be had for flawless runs (shield damage is okay, but no direct hits) and / or hitting color-coded spy ships. Given how many points you’ll have to sink into the higher upgrade tiers, nailing these optional objectives early will prove vital later. Upgrades run from your standard gains to fire rate and shield repair, to more tangible goods like screen-clearing bombs or extra turrets (all but required for single players).

Much like March to the Moon did before it, the idea of buying and resetting upgrades between each level becomes more than a matter of preference. Instead, it’s a necessary talent you’ll need to hone in order to survive. A setup that works in one stage might not hold up in the next, as the levels themselves can be unpredictable, throwing hundreds of bug fodder your way of varying order and speed. There’s also the multi-form bosses that will have you swapping bullet palettes every other second. They’re chaotic and nerve-wracking, like any good boss battle should be.

Though the biggest surprise to the game is also my lone critique; it’s really fucking hard. The game is clearly balanced with local multiplayer (up to four) in mind. That’s always an odd decision when it comes to indies, considering most of its prospective audience will be playing alone. Some households will have two controllers, but the four the game is hoping you have, with the warm bodies to back them up? Probably a rarer occurrence. This is where the ability to swap turret powers in and out at will becomes essential, as you’ll most likely need to make boosting the number of guns and / or purchasing an auto-sentry your top priority after the first few levels. Even then, you’ll have to mentally adapt to faster and more complicated enemy waves just to stand a chance.

Rise of the Ravager - Screen

In the end, though, the various skill combinations (and option to refund), multiple levels, and New Game+ (ha, more like Difficulty+) make it easy to recommend as a shooter. Just be forewarned that Rise of the Ravager’s slick presentation masks a hardcore attention to detail that may turn off some looking to tackle it solo. But, if you find you’re up to that challenge and love a good ‘end of the world’ prophecy, this game will reward skilled hands and quick-thinkers.


Review on Indie Gamer Chick

REVIEW: Voxel Runner

Combining auto-running with a voxel style, Voxel Runner (80 MSP) is the newest in the vaunted series of games with very literal names (and that’s only a partial joke; I personally would have had my heart set on Run Voxel Run, but I digress). It’s also not a bad debut (from developer Dizzy Pixels) and addition to the sub-genre despite the numerous competitors (The Impossible Game and its ilk) that came before it.

The game trots you out on a perpetual jog / jump / slide / crash course over 30 consecutive stages (with checkpoints every two or three levels) of escalating difficulty and complexity. You should know what you’re getting into. Still, games like this beg the question; what does anyone see in dying over and over again merely to learn patterns for one stretch, just to die over and over again in the next section? That I don’t know the answer to. Much like quasi-cheeses injected into hot dogs, there’s a market for it. Must be a lot of death (and cheese) fetishists out there.

To its credit, Voxel Runner seems to go easier on you than most of its predecessors. The controls are tight and responsive (so long as you don’t hold down the jump button by mistake), and each series of obstacles runs a manageable length before triggering a respawn point. You’re still destined to die, naturally, though the game attempts to disguise some of that banality in repeated deaths with its abilities (see trailer above), introduced one at a time and eventually used in tandem.

Occasionally there are multiple solutions to a given sequence. Using the speed boost and high jump abilities, for instance, can bypass some jumps and spikes, cutting down on time and irritability on your multiple retries. And while pattern-learning is still a necessity, the patterns themselves are varied and somewhat satisfying to plow through on a perfect run, cheating death for a few, always-fleeting seconds.

Voxel Runner - Screen

So, ‘laying down’ is considered an ability now?

The awards / achievements for fulfilling certain requirements (of course I earned the trophy for reaching my death quota first) are nice; leaderboards would have been a stronger impetus. As it is, there’s not too much in the way of replayability. Auto-runners by definition are a streamlined experience, one and done, and part of the curse in being a critiquer is always seeing how something could have been improved upon or expanded, but Voxel Runner is more solid than most.

Even with that competence and its graphical aesthetic, the game will likely have a tough go at making any converts or significant inroads. There’s too many other options already, and with a certain BIT.TRIP title just released, that task is heavier. Voxel Runner is a cheaper alternative, however, and its forgiving nature means more people that aren’t necessarily dialed into death-avoidance will find some enjoyment here.


Review on Indie Gamer Chick


Love. It’s a funny thing. Sure, some can dismiss it as blind lust, coded into our DNA from the beginning as an excuse for proliferation, pass it off as a chemical imbalance masquerading as the feeling, or as the premise and end result of many Korean dramas. None of that changes the fact that, for me, it was love at first sight with Bleed ($2.99). Still, I began to question myself. For months I wondered if the game would live up to the image I had built up in my head. Now, days after I first nervously pressed start, I remain smitten. Does Bleed make good on expectations? It bloody well does.

Bleed is in essence a finely-tuned platformer, crossed with the self-choreographing mechanics of a very difficult bullet ballet. Your character, the pink-haired and ever-encouraging Wryn, goes guns blazing through seven expertly-plotted and beautifully-realized stages. You’ll see flashes of Mega Man in the bosses, and the storyline follows a No More Heroes / Scott Pilgrim slant, with Wryn fighting the greatest heroes the world has ever seen in an attempt to take the throne and limelight for herself. Each stage will test your reflexes and trigger finger, and each numbered ‘Hero’ fight is as fresh and exciting as the last, with enough loving craftsmanship to fill ten games over.

This alone would be enough to pique anyone’s interest, but all of that is taken to the next plateau with Wryn’s athletic ability to dodge attacks (up to three times per jump) and slow time. Bullet Time is nothing new to gamers, but the way it is implemented here with such ease and accurate handling makes me wonder why it ever took so long to make a proper transition. After a short learning period, you’ll be weaving through danger like a pro. The satisfaction gained from watching yourself improve at Bullet Time and pull off spectacular stunts is immeasurable, and never loses its cool factor. You’ll never suffer from a lack of the spectacular either. Between you and the end battle sits hundreds of tight spots in which you’ll need to maneuver into and out of, and the moves Wryn brings to this dance rival anything Keanu Reeves did while in the Matrix.

Fancy moves are nice, fancy armaments are nicer. While Wryn’s default dual pistols handle the job quite well, a secondary gun you can trust is just as important. From flamethrowers to mines to laser rifles, to a katana that deflects bullets, the combinations and options impress. And style is everything. An always-ticking combo gauge measures your skill at creating beautiful chaos while avoiding hits, and your score on each stage amounts to currency. Upgrades to your health and bullet-time, as well as additional weapons, are available in the shop between stages.

You can replay levels to grind out more money (and occasionally you should), but much like that combo gauge, the emphasis is always on speed and what’s next. The game quickly ushers you to the next stage or mini-boss, never letting off the gas, and you don’t want it to. Every fight is different depending on the difficulty and your gun loadout, and tinkering with both can yield surprising and / or improved results. No matter the situation, there are two constants in Bleed; the purest forms of adrenaline and fun. Well-tested balance and thoughtful checkpoints ensure both stay stocked throughout.

Bleed - Screen

There are more great moments, more intense set-piece sequences, more intelligent designs at work here, than AAA titles you’d shell out $60 for. And that’s just during your first playthough, directly after the ‘Thanks for playing’ script fades. There are additional difficulties to best (that devilishly remix enemy layouts and attack patterns, rather than just up the player damage), and an arcade option that goes retro, tasking you to go as far as you can in one life. A challenge mode gives you the chance to take on the bosses under multiple circumstances, either to practice tactics, or, for the incredibly confident, to tackle up to three of them at once! With plenty of weapons and upgrades still to earn, and alternative characters to unlock, Bleed is a game you’ll log several happy hours on.

It’s pitch-perfect in its execution, and renders all possible criticism moot. I’ve been told I have a flair for the dramatic. I profess love too easily. I’m guilty, even if I truly mean it at the time, but what the hell, here goes nothing; this is the best XBLIG I’ve ever had the privilege of playing. You can be skeptic, but in this rarest of cases, trust me that the game earns that title utterly. If you have a pulse, if even a fraction of your heart is occupied by videogames, you must play Bleed.

REVIEW: Gateways

I think we’re all in agreement that Portal was a great game, and (if indie games are the barometer) quite the inspiration to a number of developers. I’ve dished out plenty of admonitions right here on the site, to studios that have either lifted the storyline wholesale for their own use, or shoehorned the idea into their game when it didn’t even require it. Smudged Cat Games‘ Gateways (240 MSP) is probably the most blatant offender of them thus far. Scientist-type ‘Ed’ finds and uses a ‘gateway gun’, which is Valve’s portal gun in every way but name.

Though Ed isn’t content to take on a talkative sidekick and work with the standard portals. He wonders aloud why he’s being led to different parts of the facility to find his experimental weapons, bopping escaped monkeys on their domed-helmet heads, but the story never takes off. It’s just an impetus to drive the different gun types and equipment you’ll use.

They’re the real story in the game anyway, adding clever puzzle ideas and gateway attachments that Portal could only ever dream of, from the mod that shrinks or grows Ed to fit the environment, to one that bends gravity and rotates the whole level, or the time portal gun, that allows you (and plenty of ‘you’ clones) to be in multiple places (and on multiple switches) at once. The way they all work together is flawless.

The lab you find yourself in is one giant, seamless level, with areas and secret nooks filling in as you explore, Metroidvania-style. The mapping feature is tremendously helpful in Gateways, not only serving to track Ed’s location, but as an objective marker (a red arrow always points you to the next goal) and a record of unfinished business; for five orbs, the game’s scattered (and limited) currency, you can find out whether a puzzle is solvable with your current setup. If not, the map obediently marks it and tells you once you’ve found the requisite stuff.

And with puzzles popping up at every bend and intersection, you’ll work for each inch of ground covered. It’s definitely not meant for the easily frustrated; Gateways makes you look foolish time and time again, despite some obvious (well, in hindsight) solutions. This is lessened somewhat, in that you can literally buy yourself out of any puzzle that gets too… puzzling, provided you’ve saved up enough orbs. It’s not the most dignified way to play, but there’s no shame if the option is there. Later in the game, when you unlock the use of all the guns at once, ushering in multi-part puzzles that will stagger the stoutest of brains, you’ll give in as I did.

Oh yeah, this shit’s crazy.

So there is a downside, and, oddly enough, it’s that the puzzles are too good. The amount of effort it took to build them is duly noted; I considered it a victory just getting to the last puzzle (about five hours playtime). And after (spoiler!) watching the solution video, there’s no way I was even going to attempt it. You can’t purchase your freedom regardless of orb count. The last few puzzle rooms in general were stubborn, lasting over an hour from ‘hmmm….’ to ‘ah-ha!’, but that final one takes it, hands down. 98% completion is good enough.

Though don’t let my defeatist attitude sway you. I still consider it one of the more unique, exquisitely-constructed games around. Gateways handles its puzzles and open-world progression as skillfully as any arcade or retail game I can think of, and then some. It’s not only the best game to come out of the Uprising so far, it’s one of the best XBLIGs available. Do yourself one of the biggest favors you’ll ever do for yourself and plunk down the MSP for the game, play it, then come back and thank me.


Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on Clearance Bin Review

Review on The Indie Mine

REVIEW: Sushi Castle

Ignoring the urge to joke that this is a review of a medieval-themed chain of Japanese restaurants instead of a game, Sushi Castle (80 MSP) is actually a roguelike dungeon shooter whose obvious inspiration is PC indie The Binding of Issac (thanks @MavericForever). Both of them, in turn, owe their existence to Legend of Zelda. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, of course, and Milkstone Studios abides, opting for ninjas and their aesthetic in an attempt to differentiate itself. So, it’s clearly not original, but is it any fun?

It is. Having been a recent convert to the world of ‘losing all your shit once you die’ games, I quite enjoyed Sushi Castle, which places random chance on equal footing with skill. And that randomness applies to every part of the game, not just what room you find yourself in.

Using the dungeon template of the original Zelda, each room must be cleared of enemies before you can advance. Other doors require scissors (taking the place of keys), which sometimes lead to treasure rooms or wishing wells, or (careful what you wish for) more trouble. Enemy spawns and types, weapons and outfits, items that can boost or subtract your stats— they all switch up. Complete a pair of floors with a boss at the end of each, enter the next section. The goal is to get to the end without dying, however you can.

And however you go about it, expect to have a fight on your hands. Either you’re swamped with enemies or there’s traps waiting to be sprung, often in a friendly disguise like chests or items. You can never take for granted that the next room (or its contents) will be lax. And it’s those random layouts and payouts, the nagging uncertainty that precedes each decision you make, that provide the most tension and fun, and ensure a new challenge (or frustration) each playthrough.

With death comes the total reset as advertised, so there’s no strategy in holding back; hoard when you can, buy when the chance presents, and when the times comes, hit with everything you’ve got.

One final bit: The DLC section in the menu, which lists Sushi Castle‘s future intentions once the game hits certain sales milestones. I’m okay with DLC in retail. I’m even more comfortable with in XBLIG, as it’s a free update if you’ve bought the game. I just wish developers wouldn’t go out of their way to tell me what they’d like to add. Whether it’s the case or not, it smacks too much of shipping a half-finished game, dependent on the wallets of others.

Still, Sushi Castle is fun for console gamers who’ve missed out on ‘Issac’ roguelikes until now. Despite the groundwork having been laid for it, the game establishes an identity, and I welcome the DLC, if / when that happens. Not that it’s even needed. What’s in place already is good.