Tag Archives: cool soundtrack bro

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. 
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REVIEW: Deck of Heroes

I should probably have my nerd card revoked for saying this, but I’ve never even tried a strategy card game up to this point in my life, let alone bothered to understand its appeal. I mean, I can barely stand to play ‘Go Fish!’, let alone a variant of Poker or Rock, Paper, Scissors with some form of fantastical creature drawn on them. Not that you should confuse my lack of fluency in these games as contempt or a dismissal, I just really don’t think I’m any kind of authority to be talking about them. But, here I am, with Deck of Heroes ($1.00).

Minus a storyline or any kind of roving mythology, Deck of Heroes is simply a digital card game, albeit one with a decent amount of unique cards (108) and a more well-known, well-played game serving as its inspiration (that’d be Blizzard Entertainment’s Hearthstone). While this game isn’t as flashy and willing to raid your wallet1, Deck of Heroes does let you roll as one of four races (Human, Orc, Elf, and Undead2), then put together a team of cards from that pool, or just choose from a handful of ready-made decks.

Once you’re in-game (there’s local and online versus modes, or you can play the A.I. solo while you wait for a challenger to show up), the setup and conditions for each turn-based battle are pretty straightforward; eliminate your opponent, and survive. This involves the use of said cards, representing a particular minion / bonus perk from your chosen class. Each ‘turn’ in a game allows you to stock up on mana (your means of buying cards / effects), or add cards to your available hand to choose from.

The ‘strategic’ part comes in how you stack your cards, and where you deploy your minions. You can place a maximum of six cards on the top and bottom rows, with the top row serving as your ‘defensive line’, soaking up any incoming damage and / or attacking your enemy’s lines. Each card has its own ‘attack’ stat and ‘health’ count to consider, so you’ll need to plan your round’s moves accordingly. Minions will cancel other minions out should the numbers be in your favor, or you can whittle down your opponent’s health. Other ‘buff’ cards can amplify those choices, such as by swapping cards / rows, spawning a random minion, increasing stats, etc.

Deck of Heroes - Screen

Unfortunately, the ‘strategic’ element can be largely circumvented simply by having patience. There’s little to stop you from building up your mana pool to its max limit, then repeatedly calling in heavy hitters to quickly take out enemy minions and / or wear down your opponent’s health. That lack of serious strategy hurts the game’s single-player portion (the A.I. is perpetually one step above ‘brain dead’), but Deck of Heroes is undoubtedly intended to be played against another human opponent, either online or locally.

The end result may not as fancy as other games of this sort, but Deck of Heroes does a passable impression of a strategy card game… provided you have a friend to play against. I can’t stress that part enough. If you’re in this purely for the hope that the A.I. can provide a meaningful challenge, you’re better off looking elsewhere for your fix.


  1. Sorry, Hearthstone, your not-so-F2P ways make for easy fodder. 
  2. This is XBLIG, so you know zombies have to make an appearance at some point. It’s required by law.  😉 

REVIEW: Pillar

Let me preface this review by saying that I like Michael Hicks as a developer. He does not settle for predictable ideas, nor does he compromise on his original vision. He’s one of the guys behind XBLIG’s last Uprising, even taking part with his interesting (yet ultimately unsatisfying) Sententia. He cites Jonathan Blow as an influence (easy enough to tell in his own projects, really), which is certainly okay in my book. Video Games as a medium need more people willing to take a chance and tell a story that not everyone will get at first glance. That said, his latest, Pillar1 ($4.99) is yet another interesting project that’s lacking… well, much enjoyment.

Not that ‘enjoyment’ has to be everything in a game, but it plays a large part. There’s more to Pillar than what’s on the surface, but Pillar is a puzzle game, first and foremost. Well, a collection of minigames, I suppose. Its puzzles and its gameplay revolve around the idea of human personalities, its six characters built on traits like Giving, Enduring, Distant, Capable, etc.. There’s no dialog in the game, no written story of any kind, but there are connections and conclusions to be made. There’s plenty more to be said (and, more specifically, seen) about introverts, extroverts, and everything in between. Also the titular ‘Pillar’ itself, a supposed source of great knowledge that these characters are after.

The game takes that task and its cast seriously, letting you pick and choose freely between said personalities, even going so far as to ask you who you are, and where you are, in the game world when you continue. Each character is given an initial setup, letting you read into their personality type. One character spends all her time praying in Church, say, while another takes part in the rat race of Capitalism. One might avoid human interaction, while another seeks it out. Eventually, the game draws two of these personalities together, in order to solve a series of increasingly-difficult puzzle sequences.

Those puzzles vary in form and style. Distant / Focused uses a stealth mechanic of sorts, avoiding detection and using ‘voice’ as a distraction to lure guards (just normal people) and / or to unlock doors. Enduring / Renewing has you collecting orbs and opening life-depleting gates, while avoiding personal contact. Giving / Capable presents the most involving puzzles of the bunch, which sees you constructing and lighting various numbered lamps, using pressure plates in specific order. Regardless of character pairing, you can bypass most of the puzzles completely by ‘losing’ (which isn’t a bad idea2), but you’ll only be cheating yourself, not to mention missing out on the puzzle pieces that comprise the characters’ ‘notes’3.

Pillar - Screen2

The ‘lamps’ puzzles are easily the best part about the game.

Unfortunately, Pillar falls in love with its puzzles whether you do or not, throwing room after room at you in succession. Some ideas work better than others in longform, but the game would have been better-served to hand them out in moderation, rather than stretching its mechanics out to pad the puzzle count or drive the point home. Of course, you can always take a break or switch personalities, and then come back to a previous part, but the puzzles can play and feel like an extended slog anyway, in sharp contrast to the game’s quieter, contemplative moments. It seems bizarre to say this, but Pillar is a puzzle game that might be better off without its puzzles.

Much like Sententia, Pillar is a lovely idea that suffers some in its transition to videogame form. It tries to say important things about Life and about Us— and does, to an extent— but it ultimately feels flat-footed and outright dull in certain spots. No doubt the developer poured his heart into it, and he’s to be commended for it, but despite that care and lofty ambition, the end result is just not very fun or balanced. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t play Pillar. Just consider it more as a piece of self-explorative art, rather than a videogame you’d play for entertainment.


  1. Pillar marks the first XBLIG I’m reviewing that I didn’t actually buy on my Xbox 360. The game is also available on the PS4 (at a higher price), which is the platform I played it on. Sacrilegious? Perhaps. Supporting indie games on all platforms? Probably. 
  2. You totally should ‘lose’ on occasion, as some of the sequences that occur after you fail are worth a look, and give you even more insight into a character / personality. 
  3. Nothing groundbreaking, but completed puzzles (a la Braid) do offer some enlightenment (and trophies in the PS4 version). 

REVIEW: Boot Hill Heroes

As much as I like to rip Kickstarter every now and again, for its various dreams dashed and games that didn’t live up to lofty promises, the site has produced mutiple hits, insofar as video games I legitimately want to play and / or have played. I’m not always so quick to ‘back’ these games at the time, though, and one game I wish I would’ve backed is Experimental GamersBoot Hill Heroes ($4.99).

Billed by the developer and others as a sort of ‘Western-themed Earthbound1 / Final Fantasy / Chrono Trigger, the game is in fact all of those things, for better and for worse. To start, Boot Hill Heroes is a masterclass in RPG tropes; Underdog hero losing his father at an early age? Check! Saving the world from a menace only you are seemingly able to see? Check! Bizarrely-dressed team members2 that no one would take serious yet somehow wield incredible powers? Check! Grinding through fetch quests and long-winded conversations just to move the story along? Double check!

Of course, most of these are necessary evils / components to any worthwhile RPG. The important part is being able to corral all of these things into a cohesive whole, and the game does a decent job at that. Boot Hill Heroes has you playing as Kid, a young farm… well, kid, setting off to find a job to support your Ma, only to get wrapped up in a much larger adventure involving the nefarious Saints-Little gang3, a conspiracy-in-the-making involving a local Indian tribe, and plenty more colorful characters / situations along the way.

All of this is conveyed through a gorgeous and expansive overworld steeped in a heavy Western accent, featuring a Final Fantasy-style ATB system4 for its combat. Less turn-based and more reactive / frantic, it allows the player to run through several different styles and stances within the game’s unique ‘Vantage’ battle commands. There’s plenty of intricacies to pick up along the way, but generally, you want to anticipate the flow of battle, using ‘Vantages’ like block / dodge to avoid hits, then counterattack with your heavy hitters and offensive skills once you’ve tallied up enough points to do so. You’re free to execute and / or cancel out these moves as you please, keeping the fights fresh and evolving. Don’t misconstrue that as me saying those battles will be easy. Your enemies are tough and (mostly) smart, defending and attacking almost as well as a human player5.

Boot Hill Heroes - Screen

Man, and I just got this awesome hat and everything.

To that end, the game rewards concentration and committment, handing out XP and items to make the next fight more manageable. As soon as you start to feel overwhelmed or lost, something happens to reel you back into the swing of things. You get a horse early on, letting you explore and move around a bit easier. Townsfolk have plenty to offer, both in narrative and side missions. Even your family dog is a loyal pup / teleporter6, doling out directions and saving your game at opportune moments, just another neat trick in a long line of surprising bits you’ll find.

And from the art on down to the music, it’s evident that developer Experimental Gamer cares a great deal about the game and the world it’s set in. Sure, the battle system and the characters and the story are well-done, but that attention to detail extends itself to the small, out-of-the-way stuff too. Nearly every NPC is thoughtfully-designed, with his or her own western-tinged dialogue blocks and backgrounds (it helps to talk to everyone too, as these people can sometimes grant you ‘status buffs’ that last for a limited time). Environments and towns are loaded with personality, giving this version of ‘The West’ its own cadence and feel, much as classic RPGs painstakingly introduced their lore to players and made them care about the characters they’d be spending dozens of hours with.

Boot Hill Heroes - Screen2

Hell, there’s even a downloadable card game companion if you’re into those sorts of things. Suffice it to say that Boot Hill Heroes really nails the look and feel of a classic SNES RPG / JRPG, which is a blessing and a curse. That is to say, it can be slow-going and obscure, almost too retro. Its we’ll-tutorial-you-as-you-play style, while helpful, doesn’t cover everything in exacting detail. There will still be some trial-and-error. Nor do things move swiftly. You’ll have to grind quite a bit, gathering tons of items (and selling them to make cash) and improving weapons to take on the bigger challenges. That plodding pace, both in terms of progression and storyline, can be a hassle at times, but the world itself is always interesting, always with something to see just around the next corner or boulder.

It’s been keeping me busy. I won’t even pretend to say I’ve finished or seen all of Boot Hill Heroes (I’m about five hours in, of what is titled as a ‘Part One’ of unknown parts), but the amount of effort and love and humor that’s gone into what I’ve played is clearly apparent. If any of what I’ve said before this (as well as any of those other titles I’ve name-dropped) makes sense to you or conjures up pleasant memories of RPGs-past, then Boot Hill Heroes will be a vital refresher as to why you played those games in the first place.


  1. I’ve never played Earthbound personally, but I hear / read good things. It’s on the bucket list, as so many things are. 
  2. Lots of hats to wear? Sooooo check! 
  3. The ones that killed your Pa. Right bastards they are. 
  4. ‘Active Time Battle’, to be precise. If you don’t know the term, see the middle-timeline Final Fantasy games for more info on that. 
  5. Although it’s not necessary or convenient, Boot Hill Heroes does feature a local four-player co-op, with each person controlling one party member. I doubt most people will ever make use of it, but hey, it’s a nifty feature if you have the means. 
  6. Seriously, this dog is like everywhere. It’s magic or voodoo or witchcraft or I don’t know what. I started calling him Mr. Omnipresent. I think he can read my thoughts. Send help. 

REVIEW: Super MechaMan

Your natural inclination is to read Super MechaMan ($1.00) like ‘Mega Man’, thus assuming you’re getting yourself into some kind of very colorful and kiddish Mega Man-inspired platformer. That wouldn’t be wrong of you to assume, either, especially when some of the screenshots show off a character in a blue, mechanized suit, firing off blaster shots at snails1. Yet, you’d be wrong.

Super MechaMan - Screen

Broken down into its ‘no bullshit’ purest form, Super MechaMan is nothing more than Mario with a Mech suit. Furthermore, once you have that Mech suit (via a powerup doled out like mushrooms), you really need to do almost nothing else to win the game. But that comes later. The game starts off with a kidnaping kidnapping, as most of these things usually do. Bad guy takes your chick for no apparent reason, you take offense to it, and storm off after him, an army of foot soldiers and themed worlds between you and the inevitable climactic fight. Surprise, Super MechaMan takes no risks with the formula.

Gameplay is similarly lifted from its inspiration; you move from left to right to reach the exit, can stomp enemies on their head, and you bop bricks to acquire coins (a hundred earns you an extra live, natch). Super MechaMan comprises a total of ten levels, split between four world ‘types’, including a luscious greenscape (so nice we gotta use it twice!), a moonlit ice level, etc, each with their own enemy re-skins and soundtrack. The music is actually quite good, which counteracts the otherwise basic platforming and combat ‘rinse and repeat’ stuff.

Super MechaMan - Screen2

A simple boss fight concludes each world, but none of them will tax your skills. Particularly if you have the Mech suit. Sans suit, one touch kills you, but getting hit while in the suit merely demotes you back to human form. Which kind of stinks, actually, considering you’re basically a God when in Mech form. The ‘arm cannon’ makes all enemy / boss encounters a breeze. Sure, it takes more shots to maim a critter than the old ‘jump on the head’ routine, but it saves you from having to get up close and personal, eliminating any and all challenge the game might have presented.

You’re not missing much anyway, unless you enjoy really generic platformers2 you can complete in a half hour. Like Croc’s World before it, the whole thing seems ready-made for phones, the ‘copy and paste’ stuff that chokes off originality and just clogs up the marketplace out of spite. The colorful worlds are nice, but the lack of difficulty makes Super MechaMan ‘a curious glance’ at best, with ‘a skippable bore’ being the more likely outcome.


  1. Which, for the record, seems a little ridiculous. Snails? Really? I’m not telling anybody how to make their game, but ‘snails’ are not what I think of when I hear ‘threatening foot soldier’. What’s the worst they could do? Chase me really slowly, leaving a slimy trail behind? Oh, great, a mess I have to clean up? I’m shaking in my little Mech suit. 
  2. You shouldn’t. Please say you don’t.