Tag Archives: Indie Games

REVIEW: Crawlers and Brawlers

As the old adage goes, if you’ve played one procedurally-generated dungeon crawler you’ve played all procedurally-generated dungeon crawlers1. You’d be tempted to think the same of Ugly Beard GamesCrawlers and Brawlers ($1.00). And you’d be right to, in a sense, yet also, not. The game reminds me— in a good way— of a handful other retro-ish hack n’ slash dungeon crawlers on the service, including games like Lootfest and the excellent Cursed Loot.

It’s certainly familiar in a lot of those usual, ‘bullet point on the back of the box’-y ways; archetypal heroes (think mage, knight, etc.), plenty of pixels, said procedurally-generated dungeons that task you with killing everything in sight and eventually toppling some big baddie end boss, all the while RNGeezus-ing you with new loot2 to build up your character and increase your base stats. Throw in a change of scenery and blocks of dialogue, rinse and repeat to the end, and hopefully you enjoy yourself along the way.

And you should, because the formula still works. Crawlers and Brawlers gets most of that right. There’s a decent range of attacks and magic tricks to use no matter what class you pick, tied to your character’s agility and an RPG-style leveling system that changes based on the gear and weapons you have equipped. The dungeons are linked together with a massive overworld that’s populated with NPCs (some that need your help, natch) and plenty of hidden nooks to explore by land and by sea. The game allows for local co-op, and there’s even an online multiplayer offering that lets you battle against others with your high-level characters (just don’t expect to find any matches, because XBLIG).

Sure, you’ve done the whole ‘land overrun by monsters and town held captive by evil-doers’ thing before, yet the mechanics here are solid. Though the trappings may be a tad unremarkable, the game’s story does its best to keep things fresh, including some unorthodox encounters and fights (there’s a ‘museum’ bit with the boss’s health tied to you breaking rare and precious artifacts that’s pretty funny).

Crawlers and Brawlers - Screen

Crawlers and Brawlers works best when it’s showing off that humor, and even better if you happen to have a buddy next to you for co-op dungeoneering. In fact, the lone mark I have against the game is the fact that the dungeons themselves can be a major slog to go through by yourself, punctuated by hundreds of dull fights and dead ends as you search for the next floor or exit.

That’s what you should logically expect with procedural levels, yes, but it’s still worth mentioning. So maybe don’t mind the repetitive battles (so much). Or maybe do, with the promise that there’s something better on the other side. It’s still a charming and well-crafted adventure from start to finish3, worth it for the unique boss fights and dialogue alone. And with XBLIG on its way out to pasture, you may not find another new game4 quite as good as Crawlers and Brawlers again. Buy it. Play it.


  1. Don’t bother googling that. It may or may not be an adage, and it may or may not go the way I say it does. Just go with it. 
  2. As a known Destiny addict, the game’s loot is even color-coded according to Destiny‘s rules; green for uncommon, blue for rare, and purple for legendary. Well-played, Ugly Beard Games, well-played. You know what’s good for me. 
  3. It’s a pretty lengthy game, by the way. About ten hours total in my playthrough; surprising for an XBLIG. 
  4. Well it was new, three months ago when I started writing this. Yeah, sorry about that. But hey, the game is still worth your while no matter what time you’re reading this. 

REVIEW: Block King 2

Much like the original, the genius (those always judging books by their covers would say anti-genius) of Block King 2 ($1.00) isn’t in its basic, blocky1 looks or its limited selection of game modes; it’s in its uncanny ability to bring together groups of friends to take part in frantic, FPS-style, human-Jenga deathmatches. Said matches are usually full of obscenities, WTF moments, and plenty of human error blamed on the game, internet connections, and other imaginary obstructions2. Oh, and fun, too. There’s a lot of fun here.

Block King 2 - Screen

The premise of the game remains unchanged. You— and up to seven others online— battle for the high ground3 while simultaneously breaking apart the ground beneath you… and others, of course. While you shoot and control your avatar from the standard FPS perspective, the emphasis here is more on platforming. Your success ultimately depends on your ability to dodge and jump with as much grace as you can muster, and maybe get off a well-timed shot or two. If you can grab the lone powerup (think higher jumps, multi-shots, etc.) at the beginning of the match too, well, you’re most of the way there.

New this time around are a couple of different block types, including one that prevents you from jumping (not good when you’re in the heat of battle), and another that automatically sends you flying once you touch it. The game’s biggest change comes with the much-needed inclusion of A.I. bots that will stand in for human players while playing offline, which is extremely helpful given the lack of an online community. Such is the state of XBLIG; you’re more than likely going to  have to organize matches with friends yourself, rather than hoping to find random people playing the game.

Block King 2 - Screen2

Which you should, because Block King 2 is a hell of a lot of fun to play online. Thankfully it’s not required as it was with the first game, but that’s definitely the intended way to go (and sadly, you won’t be able to unlock new characters and skin colors unless you play online). Once again, games like Block King 2 prove you don’t need the fanciest visuals and a dozen different game modes to make a great game. All you need is a rather simple idea, some blocks, randomized chaos, and a few friends.


  1. Sorry, too easy. 
  2. Add some blatant racism and homophobic remarks to the mix, and you’d have your average online gaming experience. 
  3. The ‘high ground’ is tactically important, always. Anakin didn’t have it, and look what happened to him. Sure, you get a cool suit and the voice of James Earl Jones, but you’re giving up Natalie Portman and an actual human body with all your appendages. Seems like a steep penalty for not having the ‘high ground’, amirite? 

REVIEW: Ultra Aktion!

Imagine if someone took yours and my beloved Contra, replaced every character and enemy with squares and rectangles, cut the game’s length down to a third, stripped it of most of its alien / 80s dudebro charm, and released it as Ultra Aktion!12 ($1.00). In essence, that’s what you’re getting here.

And much like Contra, there’s not much to Ultra Aktion! other than said dudebro3 shooting. ‘Evil is bad / Kill evil with guns / Save world’ is the game’s entire justification (albeit satirical) for its setup. Not that it needs much of a setup. It’s pure side-scrolling shooting with a solid feel, replete with familiar Contra-esque gun powerups (the ‘spread shot’ is still God, all these years later) and blocky environs that vaguely resemble the style of those retro levels.

You can play though the rather paltry three levels alone, or with up to three others in local co-op, but there’s not much reason to. The whole thing can be completed in less than fifteen minutes, with the levels just looping back around until you run out of lives (the game isn’t that difficult) or just give up and return to the menu. Minus the aforementioned powerups, Ultra Aktion!‘s casual design doesn’t evoke much nostalgia, and plenty of other games have done far better at mimicking what makes Contra work.

Ultra Aktion! - Screen2

So it’s hard to figure who would be interested in Ultra Aktion! The game is honestly and correctly labeled as a ‘short’, which is probably meant to excuse its simpleness and brevity, but that’s not to say it should be forgiven for it. Were the aktion…. ummm, action… onscreen a little more competent or unique, it might not have mattered. As is, Ultra Aktion! is better to listen to for its chippy soundtrack than take part in its terribly uninspired gameplay.


  1. Not sure of the reason for the deliberate misspelling of ‘action’, unless developer Fun Infused Games just prefers the German form of the word…. …. maybe? 
  2. Also, no Konami code? That’s just unfathomable. 
  3. Well, duderectangle, I guess. 

REVIEW: APOC TOWN

At outset, APOC TOWN ($1.00) seems to be on the right track. It pairs two of my favorite things; the visual style and general feel of the developer’s previous, Loot or Die1, and those always fun and rascally-ambitious enemy types, zombies. Granted, zombies have overstayed their welcome in everything that’s videogame and pop culture, but they’re hungry for flesh and dead already, making them the perfect antagonists for any project. Yet even with that can’t-miss pairing of ideas, the game isn’t very fun. Or forgiving.

APOC TOWN - Screen

Part of that is due to the apocalyptic setting and its approach to survival. Though APOC TOWN isn’t specifically what some would call a ‘roguelike’, it very much plays and feels like one in that you only have one life to live2, with your progress reset if you should die (or fail to save your game!). Despite its simple appearance, the game is much more complicated than it looks. Rather than going around wantonly bashing in skulls3, you must constantly be scrounging around for materials and ammunition, repairing or finding new weapons (because they will break, often), and crafting what you need in order to live to see another day.

You’ll occasionally get help. Similar to Survivalist (but not nearly as deep), there’s a heavy emphasis on community in APOC TOWN, slowly building up your initial starting point into a working enclave of A.I. survivors.  You’ll recruit others to populate your home base via a handful of preset mission types (rescue, hunt, mercy…), which in turn increases your available pool of resources. You can also find help from actual, breathing humans, as the game supports up to four players online (or via system link, if that’s an option).

And playing with others seems to be the route APOC TOWN wants you to take. Surviving in a zombie-infested apocalypse isn’t easy, naturally, but to make matters even more pressing, the game dials up the difficulty every ‘day’ you and your group survive, throwing even more zombified creatures (birds, dogs, larger zombies) and mobs your way. Given the scarcity of ammo, crafting materials, and medicine, it’s a hell of a lot to account for. If you’re going on alone, the game doesn’t really allow you to survive.

APOC TOWN - Screen2

If you’re seeing this on your screen, you’re lucky.

That isn’t so much of a problem if you have friends to share the load, but with XBLIG’s notoriously-absent online community, you’re never guaranteed to find anyone waiting in the co-op lobby4. Even then, the impetus to expand your base and find better gear is lacking due to the daily repeating objectives and the unrealistic amount of resources required to do so. There’s flashes of some interesting mechanics at work here, to be sure, but it’s not enough.

The resulting game is a mixed bag of genres and ideas, some that work… versus those that really don’t. On the one hand, APOC TOWN is a challenging take on survival horror, with a good amount of depth and too many intricacies to go into in just one article. And on the other, it’s a fickle and unforgiving game that basically refuses to be played solo. The TL;DR: Worthwhile if you have friends on standby willing to help, but alone, it’s far too frustrating to stick with.


  1. With touches of State of Decay and even ZombiU, among the usual ‘zombie game’ conventions. 
  2. Well, technically, that’s not true. Though your starting character can and probably will die, horribly, and losing all of his or her stuff, you will immediately take control of another survivor back at your camp. Assuming you’ve done your job and recruited survivors, that is. No man is an island. 
  3. Not advisable, since doing literally anything depletes your agility. Be very selective when bashing in skulls, my friend. 
  4. And I never did. 

A Fitting Tribute to XBLIG

Earlier this month, Microsoft quietly announced the end date for XNA and Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG). Starting from September 9 of this year, no new XNA memberships are being sold or renewed. Developers with current subscriptions now have exactly one year to create and release games on the service. After September 9, 2016, no new games will be allowed to release on XBLIG. At this point, you better start buying whatever games you may have missed out on. One year after that, in September 2017, the marketplace will be closed forever, with developers being given final payouts soon after. It’s important to note that you will be able to re-download any XBLIGs you’ve bought before that date, and continue to play them.

For anyone that follows XBLIG in any form, be it player and / or developer, the news was difficult to hear, albeit wholly expected. The indie service, the first to offer literally anyone the ability to create and publish a game on a major home console, has admittedly been winding down for the past year. Fewer and fewer titles are being released under the XBLIG banner, and the service itself has been plagued by a series of extended, damaging outages, resulting in a number of delays and issues for developers. As a result, most developers have written off XBLIG entirely, moving their projects over to PC and / or other avenues, or canceling them outright.

While there will undoubtedly be plenty of time later to debate what went right and what went wrong with XBLIG, the good folks behind Indie Games Uprising, a once-annual promotion of new XBLIG games, have just unveiled a tribute to the service. This tribute highlights developers that got their start with XNA and XBLIG, showcasing their newest (or forthcoming) games while offering a nostalgic glimpse back at some of their earlier projects on the Xbox indie channel. The full list of games and developers can be found at the link above, but the tribute page itself is a fitting monument to the oft-overlooked successes and good times that XNA / XBLIG helped foster. Whether you are a grizzled veteran or a casual observer, you owe it to yourself to play these great games before they’re gone and remember what XBLIG has meant to you.