Tag Archives: Indie

REVIEW: Parkza

I’ve always been a bit of a night person. Part of that is my work schedule, but another side is more personal; I think the Sun is kind of a dick to People, and I refuse to support its policies any more than I already have to. Yeah, it’s responsible for all life as we know it, and it does a good job of keeping us warm, but let’s look at the flipside.

For one, too much of it isn’t a good thing. Ever heard of skin cancer? Dry farmland? The bastard doesn’t care. It’s indiscriminate with its rays. Also, let’s not forget that its supposedly ‘all-powerful’ abilities are finite. One day (granted, that’s going to be billions of years from now), it’s going to start dying and get really fat, scorching our surface and eventually swallowing us up. Does that sound like a friend to you? And if you need more evidence, the Sun will also steal your girlfriend. Yeah. Such is the story behind Parkza ($1.00).

Parkza - Screen

Based on retro hits like Buster Bros. (or Pang, to non-U.S. readers) and Oops Up!, Parkza drops the whole ‘world under siege by giant balls’ routine and tries to make it a more human. So yeah, the Sun— or Suns, as it were— take your girl right in the middle of a lovely picnic, and you’re tasked with getting her back.  How are you going to do that? By shooting a bunch of bouncing Suns and breaking them down into tinier pieces, all while avoiding getting hit by them, of course.

You know that’s going to be easier said than done, and using a harpoon gun (…I’m …I’m assuming that’s what it is) that only fires straight up seems like it would be ineffective. Still, it gets the job done, albeit in a roundabout way, as the game’s core theme is that of subtraction. Larger suns will split into smaller suns, making harder (and more numerous) targets. Naturally, your harpoon gun(?) works on a delay, with you unable to fire again until you’ve hit a target or it strikes the stage’s ceiling. Lucky for you, suns break apart with direct or indirect hits, allowing some breathing room for bad aim.

A lot like Space Invaders, levels typically have obstructions that you must fire past or otherwise work around. Some of these barriers wear away as you fire at them, but you’ll also be required to climb / jump over other platforms, both in an effort to chase down enemies and avoid a traffic jam of miniature suns. To aid you in your quest, there’s a host of powerups (none of them explained; you’ll learn on the job) that will occasionally drop from split enemies. And you will need them. With ‘one-hit death’ rules firmly in place, you’ll have to hope for a spare shield and do a fair amount of retro parkour.

Parkza - Screen2

Though that brand of light platforming and heavier difficulty makes Parkza show its age, and it won’t be pretty. Save for the local co-op (or up to four in a ‘Deathmatch’ mode), which might help lessen the burden, you’ll be relying purely on your skill and expert timing to match the game’s tougher (I would say unforgiving) later rounds and still beat the clock. Worse, you’ll have to play a perfect run— without dying— in each hub world in order to continue from that point on after death, upping the potential frustration.

In the case of Parkza, that frustration might be more trouble than its worth. As a homage to the previously-mentioned titles above, it’s the ideal substitute for those raised on old school difficulty and studied perfection, without the hassle of emulators. But for those hoping for a retro idea with a more modern feel, you should look elsewhere.

REVIEW: Tapper

I’m not a indie game developer (of course), or even a partial expert on the craft. I try not to pretend to be, either. Though I imagine if I were, my first prototype for a twin-stick shooter would look and play a lot like Tapper ($1.00). Notice I said ‘prototype’ in that previous sentence, and not ‘the final product’ I planned on releasing.

Tapper - Screen

The reasons against releasing it would be partially cosmetic. My game is nothing but a series of squares. I know I’m not making Thomas Was Alone: Shooter Edition, and that my square art isn’t intended to be ‘art’. That is to say that it’s not a stylistic choice, or meant to evoke an emotional response. They’d simply look and feel like placeholders for actual art that didn’t happen, and that wouldn’t be right.

Gameplay too, would be a sticking point. Sure, I’ve got an able, functioning twin-stick shooter framework. It’s a simple game of survival, one life to live. I’ve got my hero ‘green square’, facing off against an unending army of ‘red squares’, Green Party versus the Communist Party, maybe, or just a bunch of squares going at it, to simplify. Some blue squares too, acting as mobile bombs, which I can then detonate at key moments (typically, surrounded by red squares in a no-win situation). It’s okay, but hardly something I’d be impressed by for more than a few minutes.

I could try to disguise that fatal lack of depth a bit, say, with a online leaderboard, or some additional modes or mechanics. But I don’t. I do, however, include the option to zoom out or in, making the squares and the battlefield bigger or smaller, depending on player taste. It doesn’t really add anything to an already bare-bones roster of gameplay components, though, so I’d feel guilty asking money for it.

Tapper - Screen2

Thankfully, I don’t have to feel that guilt or question my product’s worth on the marketplace, because I’m not an indie game developer. Zyborg Mobile Ltd. is, and Tapper is entirely his game. I want both you and him to know that the above sarcasm isn’t my attempt at a lame joke or a putdown, either, I’m just wondering who the prospective audience for something this basic would be.

It’s the studio’s first title on Xbox (he’s primarily a mobile developer), but he’s hardly a stranger to more complex game design. I was pleasantly-surprised to find out that Those Who Survive, an intense-playing Minecraft / Slender mash-up, was done by the same guy. That’s absolutely a game worth downloading, while Tapper should have been left on the cutting room floor.  

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.

REVIEW: Super Dungeon Quest

From a visual standpoint, and from reading its idea on paper, Super Dungeon Quest ($2.99) is the kind of game that appeals to me right away. It would probably appeal to most others, too. A straight-up dungeon hack & slash, with a hint of roguelike flavoring and a ton of lovely-looking sprites, several character classes to choose from, and some light RPG values that enable you to level up your stats as you go.

Super Dungeon Quest - Screen

So why then, after playing through the game’s randomized dungeons with two (of seven) different character classes, a fireball-slinging Wizard and a melee-focused Warrior, am I left with such an empty, repetitive feeling? To understand that, you have to first recognize the gameplay for what it is; a twin-stick shooter. Sure, you don’t use the right thumbstick, but attacks can be auto-aimed and spammed repeatedly. For the range-based Heroes in particular, like the aforementioned Wizard, and the Archer, Bomber, etc., the ‘shooter’ vibe is strong. Less so for the blade-wielding types, but each character has their own special attack / move that helps offset any shortcomings based on weapons.

It’s all faster-playing than you might think, with you twin-sticking your way through hundreds of blurred baddies and collecting gold on the way to each floor’s exit. Once you’ve battled through enough villains and found the key (you don’t necessarily have to kill everyone to find it, though you should; that extra gold you’ll farm is, well, golden), it’s rinse and repeat all the way to the skill bank, which allocates your typical boosts to health, attack power, mana, luck, etc, in exchange for gold. Said upgrades are basically interchangeable between the Heroes, as you’ll only ever need increased weapon power and health to breeze through the game on its normal setting.

Super Dungeon Quest - Screen2

And oh, what a breeze it is. There’s absolutely nothing else tying you to the game, as it is minus a story, bosses, or even an excuse for all the looting. Once you’ve traversed the entirely of the dungeon (fourteen floors = forty minutes, slightly longer on Hard), the game simply returns to the title screen after tallying your stats. There’s two alternative modes to try your luck at, both wave-based, and which play exactly the same as the main game— albeit in a single arena— with you again earning gold to spend on upgrades between rounds.

With none of your progress saved upon death (it’s a roguelike, natch) or success, and no leaderboards of any kind for the arenas, it’s all rendered moot in the end. Running through the dungeons once or twice is enough to get your fill, too, as each floor and character starts to feel the same as the last, with only the cosmetic side of it changing as you advance. It plays well-enough, and certainly looks great, but Super Dungeon Quest is just empty adventuring. 


This review is also featured at Indiepitome

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

REVIEW: Space Hordes

These days, the only thing more omnipresent than a zombie wave shooter is the space-based wave shooter. Considering how many zombie games are on the indie channel, that’s really saying something about its omnipresent-ness. Neither subgenre smacks of originality or elicits much joy. You have to offer something unique if you want to stand out. Throwing its uninspired hat into the interstellar ring, Space Hordes (80 MSP) looks to make a dent by offering up… a typical space-based wave shooter. Hmm. So much for pep talks.

Space Hordes - Screen1

Squint all you want. Your ship’s still small.

Really it’s not all that dire. The twin-stick component works well enough, and the art is evocative of the retro style it claims to mimic. That’s clever marketing-speak used to hide the fact that all of the assets and (eventual) projectiles are tiny, which will make spotting threats harder once chaos settles in. Given that you’re tasked with defending your home base from said threats, and that your very life depends on its survival, the miniature art can be a mixed blessing.

Space Hordes’ only thrown bone comes with its ammo / build system, a very basic tower defense setup that allows you to use funds collected from defeated enemies in order to place defenses (turrets, mines, barriers) around your base as desired. Ammo is selected with the face buttons and comes in various, effective uses such as ‘freeze’ or ‘corrosive’ shots. And once the boss rounds or enemy surges hit, judicious use of both mechanics will be necessary to succeed.

Space Hordes - Screen2

Up to four players can take on enemy squadrons at once, and ideally, the game is designed for that dream of a fully-loaded local multiplayer lobby. With a single man, spending money laying down fire and barriers as quickly as the cash comes in, the challenge clearly outweighs what any one person can manage. Translation: Without backup, you’re sunk. No lone wolf tactics here.

Minus the blandness of another shooter set in non-descript space, there’s really no reason (or hope) in visiting this part of the galaxy if you don’t have one or two friends in tow. Even with those friends, there isn’t anything being done here that you haven’t seen elsewhere many, many, many times over. Pass.