Tag Archives: Indie

REVIEW: PLARINET

From the developers of ‘that strange symbol game about tree masturbation (…I think)‘ comes their next game… the not-as-strange or as obtusely-named PLARINET ($1.00). Oh, and you’ll be pleased to hear it’s an actual game this time around, not some interactive nature porn. In fact, PLARINET‘s actually quite good fun. I dare say developer HITMARK BROTHERS has— if you’ll excuse the easy pun— hit the mark with this one1.

PLARINET is an arcade-ish / shooter game set in hostile space. As an astronaut with his very own shuttle, you’ll be exploring the galaxy on a single screen, rocketing or space-walking to various planets that suddenly spring up from the ether. Once there, you’ll mine these planets by hand— an impressive feat— collecting various items that represent all of Humanity and its body of artistic merits (sports, music, entertainment, …nudie magazines?), in order to form an ‘Akashic Record’2. Which is… Er… Just…. just know that you’ll be collecting a lot of stuff, and working towards a high score.

Of course, your work has not gone unnoticed by the local alien population, which either hates Humanity, or things like Basketball… …it’s probably Humanity. Out on your own, exploring / mining, you are vulnerable to enemies and passing planetoids, as well as the resulting explosion / vacuum that each planet leaves behind once it has been completely mined. Your shuttle, however, works as both a means of transportation and as a weapon, allowing you to shoot at said aliens that inhabit any given planet and spawn repeatedly.

This trade-off in mechanics presents quite the conundrum, you see. While you can only ‘dig’ as the astronaut, you need the ship to survive and fend off enemies. Killing those enemies drops food, which the astronaut needs to refill his health, but this uses the ship’s power, which is replenished by batteries you unearth during excavation (the universe is made of energy, after all; why not fill the planets with batteries?) It’s a vicious— albeit clever and fun— cycle, forcing you to manage fuel and balance between work and necessity.

PLARINET - Screen

Possible premise for Dead Space 4: Instead of cracking a planet and digging up a religious ‘Marker’, the USG Ishimura discovers a ‘Tiny Boy Pissing’ statue instead. The narrative will never be the same.

PLARINET certainly keeps things fresh and challenging, constantly randomizing new threats and rewards, like derelict vessels to explore for items, giant UFOs hiding inside planets, rogue spaceships, or a rainbow-spewing comet that drops multiple items (and some potentially rare ones) for you to scoop up. Those items can and will repeat, though, with no clear way to force new objects to appear. Thanks to that same random nature, you can play forever and never get the specific item you need to complete the game3.

Luckily, the game and its mechanics are interesting enough that total victory isn’t important. It’s the journey, man, the journey is what makes the trip worthwhile, and as a pick-up-and-play arcade type with a style of weird all its own, PLARINET delivers.


  1. A ‘Happy Ending’ for all, and no shame the next morning! 
  2.  According to Wikipedia, it’s ‘a compendium of mystical knowledge supposedly encoded in a non-physical plane of existence known as the astral plane.’ Far out, brother. 
  3. I once survived for close to forty-five minutes, never finding the final three items to complete my deck. I was a sad astronaut. Space was angry that day, my friend. 
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REVIEW: Level Zero

Level Zero ($1.00) is actually quite prophetic for a game title. A side-scrolling shooter in the most basic application of the term, it never quite starts, or goes anywhere meaningful. Instead, it feels like a demo, a ‘proof of concept’, full of placeholder art and text, scraped together and shoveled onto the marketplace like a discarded child.

Level Zero - Screen

Now before you accuse me of being unfair / dramatic, take a look at the screenshot above. Besides breaking the unwritten rule1 of indie game marketing (never use captures of your menu / title screen as part of your promotional screenshots), the proof is in the pudding… er… the screen grab. Level Zero was made in five days, the result of ‘messing’ around with XNA. To be fair, plenty of games have stewed for even less time in the developmental soup2. The amount of days spent working on something versus the end quality of that game doesn’t automatically equate to bad.

It doesn’t inspire any confidence, either. And for good reason. Level Zero IS a shooter, one that functions and has a definite objective: shoot everything that comes on-screen, and survive for as long as you can. Basic, yes, but it’s a viable foundation. Now, stop me if you’ve heard the rest. There’s powerups, like a temporary shield, or a temporary increase in firing speed, and ‘nukes’ that predictably clear the screen of enemies. Bullets can harm you, as can asteroids, and some kind of gaseous fog that occasionally drifts on-screen.

Level Zero - Screen2

As exciting as it looks?

Sound familiar? Of course it does. We’ve all played this game a hundred times before, under a hundred different names. Sure, Texel Games has built a shooter. It’s a noble pursuit, and a great personal achievement. They should be proud. Yet minus a unique graphic style, an intriguing storyline, or some other interesting mechanic to tie the parts together, all they’ve got is a game that works. That’s hardly a good reason to ask others to buy into it.

Everyone has to start somewhere. XNA and XBLIG were made to be that ‘start’, but that doesn’t mean everything that is created in XNA and XBLIG is created equal. As I write this, there’s plenty of ‘side projects’ and ‘late night hobby’ games being made. Plenty that have came before, and just as many to come. Games that are totally going to be worth your time and money. Just not Level Zero. Not when it’s so basic, and so drab, and so damn uninspired.


  1. Although, really, somebody should be writing this down. 
  2. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but videogames? No problem. 

REVIEW: Halloween Scream 2

A long time ago, in a galaxy… uh, exactly like this one, actually, text-based adventure games were the extent of the world’s interactive entertainment possibilities. There were no such things as high-definition graphics, procedurally-generated everything, or decent animation, really. If you wanted to experience a story, you had to click through screens of semi-descriptive text and essentially create that story yourself, imagining the environments and the characters that occupied them. Halloween Scream 21 ($1.00) is a throwback to that bygone era.

Halloween Scream 2 - Screen

Nothing ‘screams’ excitement like a visit to a stuffy museum.

And it probably should have stayed there. Halloween Scream 2 is all-text on repeating stock photo backgrounds, a ‘choose your own adventure’ game without the ‘choose your adventure’ part. The story— a continuing yarn about a girl vampire seeking to end the curse on her family’s bloodline— is a mostly linear one. Her travels to find an ancient amulet and avoid a mysterious foe take her through the heart of Europe, with stops in England, France, and Germany.

Breaks for puzzles typically ask you to find a certain item or tool, or click through an old-school, North / East / South / West-type exploration segment (you may even need to draw your own map on notebook paper to keep track of things; how older-school is that?). Those same bits may be the cause of some frustration. While the route you need to take to progress the story isn’t exactly hard to see, the clues and conditions that need to be met may not be as obvious. If you’re not the patient sort, this’ll likely devolve into clicking on every available option until you hear the requisite ‘chime’ of an important detail being discovered.

Halloween Scream 2 - Screen 2

You’ll notice ‘A bit of enjoyment’ isn’t part of this inventory.

That linear format and the ‘only one solution’ gameplay don’t help matters, as the only branching paths lead to some sort of end, with you returning you to the last checkpoint (and possibly having to run through a puzzle or item sequence again). And while the story in Halloween Scream 2 isn’t half-bad in summation, a handful of spelling errors and story inconsistencies (a French-speaking desk clerk in a German hotel, for instance) may take you out of the narrative.

Even that’s less likely to bother you, if you have any interest in what Halloween Scream 2 is selling. It’s clearly a niche game for a niche audience, meant for those strange connoisseurs of text-heavy passages and trial-and-error puzzle-solving. For the majority of us, however, this trip down Gaming’s memory lane to ‘the simpler times’ would be better off left in the past.


  1. Yeah, little early for the holiday, I know. Hey, not my fault. I didn’t release the game in July! Take it up with management! 

REVIEW: Servo Series I: Overclockers

Although the Roman numeral in Servo Series I: Overclockers ($2.99) would seem to indicate this is the first game in a series of open world, bot-on-bot first person shooters, it’s not. Well, not really. It’s markings match that of a game that blasted its way out of late 2012, calling itself Project Crossover. That one had potential, potential that was squandered by boring fetch quests and massive amounts of walking. Or  hovering. Whatever. A lot of something that wasn’t fun.

Some quick research showed that Stamper Games was behind that former attempt, and really, once everything’s been tallied up and been given a once-through, this new game is a slightly better-looking version of the first. Oh, and that bit about ‘potential being squandered’, and ‘boring fetch quests’? There’s a lot of that present in Servo Series I too.

Swapping out rebellion and evil corporations for a secretive sect of robots addicted to high clock speeds (it’s as tech-focused and uninteresting as it sounds), the game once again has you— a robot with unorthodox programming and exceptional traits— traveling a foggy landscape, completing quests for various friends and factions (the slow, thickly-robotic voice work returns) in towns scattered across the wasteland. Taking on these missions typically advances the narrative and grants you experience, which can then be applied to different health and weapon upgrades upon leveling up.

Getting from one place to the next is now much easier (and less busywork), thanks to Fast Travel hubs found in towns and the No Man’s Land between them. Transportation conveniences aside, you’d still do well to make the journey yourself, in order to earn additional experience and loot fallen enemies (you can carry as much ill-gotten hardware as you want, then sell off duplicates). Cash can then be spent at vending machines, which house new weapons and improved versions of existing types, as well as armor and shields.

Ammo is slightly scarce this time around, perhaps to add challenge, or to focus on the importance of the new melee system and your bot’s ability to block incoming projectiles / attacks. It’s a nice thought, but most fights can be won simply by waiting for your enemies to exhaust all of their ammo before pouncing. And although tracking enemies in open ground can be hard, you can always just wait for a bot’s zippy one-liner to carry through the fog, often proclaiming their superiority to you… right as you kill them. Good stuff.

Servo Series I Overclockers - Screen

Unfortunately, for every old problem that’s sorta-fixed, Servo Series I adds a new one to the roster, such as a user-unfriendly inventory system and the inability to hurry conversations along without skipping the entire message. There’s some balance issues as well, as enemies can be unfair the deeper you travel in the game (I got one-shotted a few times, even at higher player levels), leading to restarts (argh! those long loading times!) and inevitable frustration.

Most of all, Servo Series I: Overclockers is just not very fun to play, the same verdict that I leveled at the original game. It’s improved in certain areas, but the most vital aspects in designing an entertaining game have been ignored. The plodding, ‘Point A to Point B’ mission structure and bland combat do nothing to accentuate an already-dull storyline, and the sudden spikes in difficulty will likely finish off what’s left of your patience. As such, there’s absolutely nothing here that requires your interest or involvement.

REVIEW: Croc’s World

While it seems that every week and / or month of the year is the official sponsor of some cause or issue we need to be more aware of and contribute our money to, I’m assuming the stretch of time between late April to our current spot in May has to be called ‘Release a generic platformer that borrows its entire existence from Super Mario Bros.’ Yeah, that’s a little long, probably won’t fit on a calendar or Hallmark card, but how else do you explain the trickle of similarly-designed XBLIGs leaking onto the marketplace?

Croc's World - Screen

Sprakelsoft‘s Croc’s World ($1.00) is the newest homage to the plumber, a console port of a decent-looking mobile title by the same name. But outside of the obvious upgrade of using a physical controller over a sketchy virtual pad, it’s Mario and pedestrian platforming all the way through— including the same-y sound effects— to the extent that they should’ve just added a ‘Super’ at the front of the title and dropped the charade.

Graphically, the game alternates between an outdoors level with plenty of greenery, and the standard cavern setting. Over the course of thirty stages, the Croc will run & jump, collect a hundred gems to earn an extra life, stomp the heads of his foes, and bash bricks— albeit with the help of a football helmet, because safety first, kids.

For an additional powerup, you get a bag or rocks to throw at your enemies… …I’m not sure why. You’d think he would use his jaws, or whack them with his tail, but I digress. Both the ‘helmet’ and ‘stones’ upgrades also act as health, allowing you to absorb up to two extra hits before dying. Though with generous checkpoints and unlimited continues, there’s not much of a penalty for failure.

Croc's World - Screen2

Admittedly, the croc does look adorable with that helmet on.

In fact, the only mystery these types of platformers contain is trying to determine which of your enemies can be stomped on, and which ones have to be avoided. In Croc’s World, bees and crabs pose no threat to our reptilian hero (maybe it’s his tougher, scaly skin?), while slow-moving porcupines and even-slower swinging spike balls are your archrivals. Waiting for these enemies / hazards to complete their patrol cycle generates more yawns than challenge anyway.

You can reach the end of Croc’s World in about an hour with minimal effort. As a distraction for younger kids, it may run longer and hold some interest. But if you know better, have a decent background in videogames (you know what ‘NES’ stands for) and harbor even a below average talent for platformers, there’s simply no reason to play this. You’ve seen it all before. Move along.