Tag Archives: Indie Games

REVIEW: Shutshimi

When your hero is a cigar-smoking fish with human arms and the muscles to back it up, you just know a game like Shutshimi ($1.00) is going to come after you. If Super Amazing Wagon Adventure was the modern day, hyperventilating re-telling of the Oregon Trail, then Shutshimi is the shooter equivalent of a game jacked up on steroids (come on, you know that fish is juicing), humor, and TL;DR gameplay.

Like SAWA before it, Shutshimi specializes in sample-sized servings of kinetic gameplay, served up in randomized and disparate pieces that somehow manage to form a coherent package. You’re never in the clear or in total control of your fate. Just as you settle into one style or type of weapon, the round is over and the game forces you to switch up your approach and tactics.

Everything in the the game happens in ten-second increments, and it’s more than just a unique hook or bullet point for the back of the game box. Here, that caveat makes perfect sense, stemming from the long-held belief that goldfish only had a few precious seconds of memory (they don’t; in fact, they’re quite clever). Truth be damned, though, if it makes for quick, intense firefights.

Waves end whether you shoot or kill anything, followed up by a ‘shop’ round, where you must choose from a trio of temporary powerups or powerdowns. This can range from a new weapon (shotgun, lasers, etc.), defensive items (fishbowls are life in Shutshimi, saving you from certain death) or…. er… party mode (lots of flashing lights). Either way, it doesn’t come easy, as each effect is hidden somewhere in the often-humorous description. This too, is made all the more thrilling by the short time allowed to select. ‘Read fast and choose wisely’ is the best advice.

Shutshimi - Screen

Even with the constantly-changing modifiers and loadouts, the emphasis is always on shooting and keeping the challenge dialed up. Boss fights provide that test, multi-round affairs that see you whittling away their health over a series of waves (or in one go, if you’re awesome like that), broken up by regular rounds / shop visits. The game’s difficulty options are tiered, allowing you extra lives to get your feet wet (…get it?), before throwing you into the deep end of the pool (…get it?) on the higher settings and tougher fights.

Playing on medium difficulty and above (‘Heartless’ is truly heartless), the game tracks your scoring records and saves progress towards a number of awardments and unlockables. You can don a number of fancy hats that give your fish a certain style, or open up a few other extras if you’re sufficiently skilled (….I …I am not).

That doesn’t change the fact that Shutshimi is one seriously badass fish. Sure, it’s random and all over the place, but that’s exactly what makes it fun and worthy of your time. No two gameplay sessions ever play the same. It takes a risk in throwing the ordinary shooter conventions aside, ultimately relying on its charming, schizophrenic style and challenging gameplay to win you over. And it does. This fish comes highly recommended.1


Review on Indie Gamer Chick

  1. This review is also featured at Indiepitome 

REVIEW: Gear Head

Gear Head ($1.00) is the kind of game you’d get if Mario was a car nut instead of a plumber. Given his Italian heritage, you could probably find him extolling the value of a Fiat on some street corner in Milan. Or, considering his wealth acquired over the years, maybe he’d be a Maserati or Lamborghini guy. If you’re picking up princesses from fancy castles, you need to look the part, right? Yeah, Mario would be a boss, blasting Jay-Z’s ’99 Problems’ on his way over.

Unfortunately, Gear Head in reality is nowhere near the original kind of fun you could have envisioning Mario in a three-piece suit and playing a high-stakes (and high buy-in) game of poker, Peach on his arm feeding him Martinis, dueling Bowser not with the bottom of his boot, but with his mind. Nor is Mario the only mascot referenced.

A platformer with very familiar mechanics, you’ll bop the skulls of many a docile animal, breaking ‘?’ and ‘!’ bricks with your head. The latter ‘!’ blocks supply you with car parts to rebuild your stranded wreck at the end of each level (each stage requires a set amount to be collected), while the question bricks award you with ‘gears’ that work primarily as your health. Get hit by an enemy, and the gears will scatter, with the next hit being fatal, a la Sonic.

The game is split into three hub worlds of four stages apiece. With no continues and only a small reserve of extra lives (more can be earned by completing each world), you’ll have to play it somewhat smart, planning jumps and attacks accordingly. Gear Head does a nice job of accentuating that challenge, as well, putting you on a timer and running its routes through enemy-lined corridors with low ceilings.

Gear Head - Screen

Snow World? You bet your ass you get a Snow World.

It’s all fine, albeit very pedestrian, until the third hub of levels swaps out cute animals for head-stomp-resistant zombies (this is XBLIG; you didn’t think the Undead would be left out of the fun, did you?). Though this move turns out to be a pretty smart one, as it forces you to rethink previous strategies and play more frugally. It’s not a drastic change, of course, but for a game that played it virtuously-safe prior to them, zombies help the cause here.

It’s still all mimicry and borrowed parts from other platformers, but Gear Head does a better impersonation than most. Though as has been the case before with fan projects, that statement works both with you and against you. I’ll drag out my line: A dollar is a cheap introduction, yes, but when the much better originals are always widely-available, there’s little reward in playing a low-rent homage.

REVIEW: Stop the XOID!

You know, there may be something to this whole ‘Let my five-year-old kid build my game’ concept. Sure, there’s the immediate D’aww! factor of pint-sized game development, but worse things have come from perfectly-capable adult types with millions of dollars. So, kids and indies, why not? I have to admit, it worked out pretty well for X S.E.E.D (also from a five-year-old). Now we come to Stop the XOID! ($1.00), and once again, a kid takes the reins of Designer.

Billed as a sort of ‘proactive Tower Defense’, the game has you (or up to four friends locally or online) defending the planet from an invading army of robots known as XOIDs (pronounced ‘Zoids’, if you’re curious), one blocky arena at a time. Well, it’s only three levels, to be exact, but you get the idea. It’s curiously labeled a ‘beta’, so maybe it’s a miniature invasion to start. Like Delaware, or something.

While the scope of the war may not be epic, the impending battle remains the same. With an albatross-sized robot waiting patiently at the top (it serves as a boss battle, technically) infinite waves of enemy foot soldiers descend on your base below, threatening the ball of energy known as ‘lifeforce’. Destroying those advance parties will earn you dropped cash, which you can then spend at the local armory, conveniently-located just next to this raging conflict.

You’ll have a number of weapons on hand, ranging from guns and upgrades for those guns, to grenades and the very helpful sentry bots that you can place to guard your fort while you make the arduous climb to the top of the level. Taking down the big boss will complete the stage …and that’s about it. No bits of story to move things along or any progress saved. Pick another level (each successive arena ups the challenge) and repeat the difficult hike.

Stop the XOID! - Screen

I say ‘arduous’ and ‘difficult’ not because the journey is long or terribly fraught with danger, but because your character is so inept at the platforming. Even jumping gives him trouble, and he slides to a stop like the ground is made of ice, causing further frustration on tinier ledges. Battles often went on longer than they had to simply because I couldn’t will my generic space marine to the top. So while you can complete the levels solo, the busy work and anti-climatic nature of finishing it just isn’t worth the hassle.

That’s not to say it wouldn’t be entertaining in a group co-op setting (assuming you can find online matches; I couldn’t). Having others to divert enemy fire and / or make the climb in your stead makes it a much more manageable war. Stop the XOID! doesn’t offer a long-lasting campaign or a great deal of variety, but it plays like an adequate time-waster… so long as you have friends to roll with.

REVIEW: The Undead Syndrome 2

And then, like a hopeful ray of light shining down from a bizarre Japanese sun, The Undead Syndrome 2 ($1.00) was released onto the indie channel. Only momentarily blinded by its arrival, my heart stirred at the sight, and I was bathed in memories of foggy environs, KI powers, crystal implants, and giant, vein-covered babies. As the sequel to one of the oddest experiences around (and a personal favorite), this new game had quite a bit to live up to.

Once again channeling parts of all the great, classic survival horror games (notably Silent Hill and Parasite Eve), you’re dropped into the continuing saga of our unknown— and possibly murdered— female lead. After the events of the first game, she wakes up in an alien structure, impaled on a spike. Nearby, others are similarly hung up, including her attacker. She learns the Matrix-like truth that she is being ‘plugged into’ the unending nightmare she’s experiencing, and that whoever or whatever is behind it all is studying them for research purposes. Hmm, guess we’ll be taking the red pill today.

The game’s alien rabbit-hole leads back into the interconnected nightmare, and it’s as strange (and familiar) as ever, morphing from claustrophobic Japanese-style rooms to large, open dreamscapes filled with all sorts of ugly creations bent on stopping you. Using the gifted-to-you ability to shoot energy from your hand (known as KI), you’ll have to cleanse the dream bit by bit, exploring, finding keys and other useful items through some simple platforming, and then revisiting old areas once you’ve gained a new way forward.

That route is mostly trial and error, mind you, as one of my biggest issues with the previous game— the lack of a map or objective markers— leads to some guesswork once again. Helpful floating text in the environment occasionally points you in the right direction or offers a clue to solving some basic puzzles (plus it looks really cool), but it’s largely on you to make a mental diagram of your surroundings and remember which doors were locked the last time you came through. If you’re like me, you’ll get lost a few times before eventually stumbling onto the path the game wants you to take.

Combat feels more amped-up this time around, introducing new enemy types and larger battles, for better and for worse. Given that foes respawn the minute you leave, and backtracking plays a huge role in the game, you’ll be fighting a lot. A lot. Thankfully, the RPG-style leveling and versatile body implants return, rewarding you for fighting those waves of enemies and experimenting with your crystal loadout, trading off KI power or health for greater protection from poison or paralyzing blows. The higher the percentage, the less susceptible you will be to enemy attacks, and really, this perk is worth its weight in the diamonds you’ll equip. Trust me.

The Undead Syndrome 2 - Screen

That’s right, random status ailments rear their ugly head again, and are more annoying than ever. Having to pause mid-fight to bring up the menu and scroll down to the required item is a momentum breaker, and that’s assuming you’re carrying the herbs you need. While enemies drop money (the mysterious spectral salesman and his store are back!) and said healing items, it’s never a guarantee you’ll have what you need in any situation. With the hulking crab-baby bosses (a total of three) guarding the keys you’ll need to progress deeper into your nightmare, you’d be wise to stock up.

Each fight plays the same, with you first attempting to hit their weak points on their arms to expose their head, which takes more damage. This is easier said than done, with the game’s loose combat controls not-suited to precision hits. All this while the bosses give chase, stomping you and inflicting those goddamn status ailments you’ll learn to loathe. Your best bet is to carry plenty of curative items and use the game’s speed run feature to keep a distance buffer between you and them. Otherwise, you may be forced to restart or backtrack to a shop to purchase more. Which is… very not fun.

It’s a shame, as the rest of the game flows well-enough. It ends on a cliffhanger, of course, without any definitive showdown or further exposition. Although abrupt ends tend to infuriate (especially after another 3+ hours of work), that means we can probably expect an additional chapter or two in the series at some point. Which I’m all for. Minus those truly terrible boss fights and the absence of a map, The Undead Syndrome 2 is an intriguing follow-up to an already plenty-intriguing original that fans should enjoy.


This review is also featured at Indiepitome


REVIEW: Legend of Max

Say what you will about developer 3T Games, they sure know how to keep cranking out those indie platformers. Legend of Max ($1.00) is just the latest to join the club. Quality may take a dip with that harried development cycle (less than a week after The Blaggers and three months since the oh-so-underwhelming Unreal Land), but hey, quantity has to count for something too, right?

Legend of Max - Screen

Well, yes. More of something, which in the case of 3T’s platformers, is a lot of same-y looking (and playing) games. For the canine hero in Legend of Max, I guess you could say it’s ‘new dog, old tricks‘ (…Damn, I’m just too clever for my own good). The move towards a pixel style is much appreciated after the Microsoft Paint-look of Unreal Land, but really, you could swap design and protagonists and wind up with almost the same game.

Here, you’re a dog in search of its master, collecting bones for points (as opposed to balloons, as was the case in Unreal Land) and generally moving from left to right in order to reach the exit. The eclectic cast of enemies mirrors the rosters from other 3T games, including its bizarre set of rules; larger animals like cows and camels are fair game to be jumped on, while diminutive types such as bees and bats are not, and take away one tick of your doggie life reserve (which you’ll want to hang on to, with no continues or saved games).

Levels themselves play out a little bit different in Max, allowing you to jump into the pits that would normally kill you in other platformers (water is still off-limits). Searching these subterranean rooms will often net you extra lives or loot, some of it required— certain stages ask you to find a key or throw a switch in order to progress. Most of the objectives can be competed by following the standard route, but if you’re not a thorough adventurer, you’ll do some backtracking.

Legend of Max - Screen2

Oh Max… only you would sail into a swarm of bees.

Otherwise, you know the drill. The game does deserve an honorable mention in trying to break up the monotony. It shoehorns other genres into a the mix at certain points, like adding a basic shooter during a boat sequence (see above screenshot), switching over to a poor man’s Space Invaders in the next moment, or in finding puzzle pieces to unlock an exit gate. All nice ideas, and you have to appreciate the effort, even as some frustrating bits with enemy placement strike a sour note later on.

So in the end, I find I have no strong feelings either way regarding the game. I’m squarely in the middle. Of course, you might be thinking ‘I’d buy that for a dollar’, though you have to consider the particulars. Legend of Max isn’t broken or all that bad, but it is lightweight, economical development ready-made for quick consumption; no real risks, and thus, no real rewards in playing it.