Tag Archives: Leaderboard Game

REVIEW: Magicians & Looters

I love surprises. Especially when they’re as pleasant as Magicians & Looters (80 MSP). This is also why I love XBLIG; the chance that someone, somewhere, is crafting a masterpiece right under your nose. Three days ago, I knew absolutely nothing of the game or its existence. Now, I consider it one of the best XBLIGs available, a ‘swords and sorcery Metroidvania’ packed with enough playtime (6+ hours already), variety, loot, and humor to satisfy literally anyone.

The game concerns three apprentices at a school for magicians. When the school is attacked, the head teacher imprisoned and the council commandeered by the requisite evil sorcerer, the trio embarks on a roundabout journey to retrieve their master and rescue the day. The story is solid but knowingly only semi-serious, with some easy laughs and bizarre moments, like a Fruit Magician and a talking cat (which I’m convinced is essential to any good game) that bestows new character powers upon you at key moments.

You get to play as all three students, first in sequence as the story begins, then able to be swapped at every save room. You can (mostly) outfit them as you’d like, buying weapons and accessories from shops, or whatever you unearth in one the world’s many secret rooms or hard-to-reach alcoves (a la contemporary Castlevania). The agile Vienna fights with her bare hands, while her brother Brent relies on a trusty sword / shield combo. Warrior-type Nyn brandishes dual-blades. Each character has their own moveset and upgrades that apply to them. Likewise, you will find that certain areas can only be accessed by specific characters.

Regardless of the situation, they’re all a joy to use, and their individual personalities fit nicely within the game’s story. The dialogue is well-written and well-paced, and it’s genuinely fun just to watch them interact with each other during cutscenes, or upon entering save rooms. Given the adventure theme and pedigree, exploration is of course required. And it’s a breeze, thanks to thoughtful layouts and a handy Metroid-esque map that fills in as you go, and can be observed in-game. The compass and treasure indicators ensure you never get lost or lose track of spaces to return to once you’ve acquired new items or moves.

It helps that those different hubs feature some incredibly crisp and gorgeous visuals, from a foggy mountain climb to dimly-lit caverns, down to the aesthetics and minutiae (insects and animals, or how the sound is muffled while you’re underwater). Varying enemy types and boss battles populate each area, and they too, much like the music, the animation, controls, the bonus obstacle courses, so on and so on, are handled brilliantly by the game.

Magicians & Looters - Screen

In fact, so much is done right here that it’s odd to find a rather serious complaint. The only knock against the game I can find is its sometimes ridiculously-hard boss fights, ones that require a perfect loadout / character choice (when allowed), the utmost concentration and precision, and more than a little luck. Though you’ll assuredly stumble a half-dozen times or better against one or two of them (the Red Wizard in particular can go right to Hell, to put it nicely), I urge you to keep at it. I am. The rewards outweigh the potential frustration.

Magicians and Looters represents an indie developer at the top of their game. From top to bottom it impresses, at once both fresh and fun, and suffers very few missteps along the way. Almost no other game on the service can match its quality. As such, it joins the expanding Leaderboard pantheon here, a near-flawless adventure you won’t find at retail, an experience that simply shouldn’t be missed.


Review on Fate of the Game

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on The Indie Mine

REVIEW: Blood & Bacon

First-person shooters are suffering a crisis. Where once XBLIG was happy to see a FPS, going so far as to forgive bad design or controls just for the sake of playing one, now the problem is over-saturation. Too many trying to copy too much, bouncing from military shooter to zombie wave shooter. Too many falling short of the accepted norm, skimping on content or releasing unpolished messes. Too many recycled ideas and endless pseudo-sequels. Then, like a blood-red bacon… ahem, beacon, of hope, enter Blood & Bacon (240 MSP).

This game is an antibiotic for what ails indie FPSes. No half-baked concoction, no stiff controls, no detrimentally-repetitive waves, and perhaps most importantly, no zombies. Well, no traditional zombies. Instead it’s undead livestock, refreshing enough to feel different, and dead enough not to upset animal rights groups. Yes, it’s a wave shooter (with a 100+ ‘Days’ to fight through), but only in name and format. Trust me, you haven’t played a wave shooter like this.

Nor have you seen this much blood. When the screen gets busy (and it will, with you versus hundreds of enemies possible), so does the exploding viscera. Blood & Bacon is on a liquid-only diet, the self-professed bloodiest game on Xbox Live. It’s hard to argue against that boast. It helps that the weaponry on tap is geared towards said carnage, running from the typical shotgun and rifles to an uzi, grenades, and one very ‘effective’ gun that you earn later on that is best saved for larger crowds.

Rounds and the roster of baddies start off simple, and gradually increase in number and challenge. Enemy types shuffle in and out, never quite the same combination, continually changing the approach and challenging you to mix tactics. Powerups to boost your speed and / or killing potential, as well as ammo and self-revives, prove to be invaluable. By the time you reach the first multi-phased boss, and the even sinister-er Princess Blubbergut (…the experience is memorable, and defies explanation), you’ll have left Easy Street behind and wandered into a rural quagmire, no one there to hold your hand.

Well, save for the online co-op, which is where Blood & Bacon reaches its fullest, Left 4 Dead-est potential. Teamwork here is not a suggestion but a necessity, working together to lead and dispatch tougher, armored foes, and tackle the higher levels. Careful management of the health pumps and keeping your partner standing takes precedence. Victory is not handed over lightly, but the sheer satisfaction that comes from beating a particularly tough wave or exhausting boss fight, alone or with a friend, far outweighs the struggle.

Blood & Bacon - Screen

Definitely not for the squeamish.

That hard-fought progress is what keeps you coming back, complimented by the smaller things that build the larger whole; story elements, the excellent voicework and soundtrack, controls / camerawork, and plenty of interesting (and well hidden) easter eggs to be found. Simply stated, there’s nothing here that upsets or feels unfinished, and any faults you may find will be temporary. With the promise of patches and free DLC support (a new map, enemies, have been mentioned) for many months down the road, you can rest easy knowing the game will be updated and expanded upon.

When it’s all said and done, Blood & Bacon stands as nothing less than the resurrection of the wave shooter, all pork and no gristle, full of the exacting attention and care you don’t typically see in indie development. It’s even more impressive to say that after several hours of playtime, I still haven’t had my fill of things to do or see. The game brings with it a new look to the first-person genre on the indie channel, making more than good on great expectations and raising the bar for other developers. An absolute must play.


EDIT 9/1: A ‘lite’ version of the game, re-titled B&B Fatfree, has been released for $1. Comprising the first ’50 days’ (of the full 100) of the game, it still contains all of the greatness I stated above.

REVIEW: One Finger Death Punch

Hey Microsoft, you paying attention? Here’s a really good reason to come around and start courting more indie developers for the Xbox One. It’s called One Finger Death Punch ($2.99), and it’s better than any Orwellian camera device ever cooked up. Coming from a developer you might not expect (despite winning awards), Silver Dollar Games has crafted one of the finest examples yet on why indie development is not only key to any future console’s success, but required.

Even watching the game is fun.

The idea is remarkably simple; a lone stick-figure ninja against a mob of angry stickmen, offering the highly-cinematic thrill of beating the blank faces off of all comers. The game comes with as much content and polish as an arcade title, streamlined controls (there is no movement, X and B do everything) that your grandmother could adapt to, and undeniably fun, infectious core gameplay that cannot be equaled.

Oh, and trust me, that simplicity— it’s deceptive. Enemies start off easy enough (plenty of fodder to go around), but soon you’re facing off against stronger opponents that can take a punch, require delicate timing, and multiple, specific button presses… in careful order. Button-mashing will get you nowhere, as misses leave you vulnerable to attacks and ruin your chances at perfection / stage medals. As the game takes pains to state— you’d rather wait on a enemy to get closer than miss completely.

Fortunately, One Finger Death Punch has been lovely built from the ground up to make you feel completely in control. Forget overwhelming odds (200 vs. 1 in a blinding thunderstorm? Piece of cake.), multi-hit / patterned enemies, and all the chaos happening on the screen— you are ‘the one’, fighting a hundreds-strong Mr. Smith army, over and over with multiple weapons and collectible skill combinations. No heavy-handed storytelling by the Wachowskis getting in the way here, just you kicking ass in serious style.

One Finger Death Punch - Screen

Using an overworld map as a hub, you can take multiple paths, and play through a dozen-plus stage types and survival modes (including a No Luca No Survival). Whether it’s a timed fight, a one-hit defender round, boss battle, or a lightsaber duel, the game doesn’t tire or get boring. Every stage (of 250, mind you) is an epic, choreographed battle, with a sometimes razor-thin line between success and failure. Not that you’ll mind the challenge. With plenty of unique runs and special attacks to fill the level with smashed debris and the blood of your enemies (without a hint of slowdown), virtually no loading / instant restarts, the pace never slackens, or takes pity on you.

Never have I had as much fun with an XBLIG, or felt like a fictional ninja badass, as I have with One Finger Death Punch. The game is an instant classic. There’s not a mark to be said against it. It excels in every possible way, challenging the best of us while still remaining pick-up-and-play enough that literally anyone could start in on it, and subsequently get hopelessly addicted. Stop reading this and buy it immediately.

REVIEW: Grid Space Shooter

Not long after the title screen it hits you. You begin to notice the similarities at work; the twin-stick (and responsive) controls, a grid layout, the enemies that resemble or take the form of shapes, the bright colors that pop out, all the damning evidence pointing towards Grid Space Shooter (80 MSP) being a more frenzied Geometry Wars.

Grid Space Shooter - Screen

The bigger they are, the more pieces they break into.

Which is fine, especially when you take that well-established twin-stick base and improve on the concept as Meh Games has done. And it’s not aping Geometry Wars so much as it is spiritually channeling. The feel is there, though Grid Space Shooter goes the extra step towards customization, offering up several different ships that trade off various perks, such as increased speed for less firepower, and have their own ‘ability’; a bullet-time move (my personal go-to), say, or EMP systems, to fend off the throngs of restless natives.

Powerups and bonuses will come into play as well, ‘dropped’ at random or left behind by the hulking boss ships. These can range from health pickups (your shield will take up to three hits before the next is fatal) and score multipliers, down to AI drones that will boost your damage and fire spread, but leave you more vulnerable to attack. As for weaponry, there are plenty of unique secondary armaments (homing missiles, shockwaves, clusterbombs, and the like) that can mean all the difference when the going gets tough. And it will.

Facing off against the huge, multi-part, multi-armed, capital ships is a dynamic and thrilling dismantling job each time. Most of these fights will involve smaller waves of enemies and / or avoiding debris.  Then there’s the constant strafing, circling around with special weapons, and deft maneuvering needed to take down the big guys. And that’s against one boss ship. Once the game throws two (or three!) at you to contend with, the chaos requires an almost Zen-like approach, seeing the shot openings and avenues of escape before they happen.

Which makes the resulting explosion and ship tally at the conclusion of each round all the more satisfying. It’s fast-paced, though the cadence of the game flows logically. The challenge and enemy counts / types evolve as you advance across three sets of eight stages, for a total of 24 levels and an unlimited-run Arcade mode.

Grid Space Shooter - Screen2

Replayability isn’t a problem either, with individual online leaderboards for each hub of levels, the Arcade mode, and for GemQuest, which becomes unlocked once you’ve cleared every other stage. GemQuest plays similar to the main game, with its objective re-tuned to collecting gems. The required number to pass increases with each level, as do the difficulty and hazards. One could argue that it’s not as fun as the headliner (if you’re that type), but it’s still a nice reward and worthy time-sink.

Without a doubt, I can say it’s one of the best shooters I’ve played for XBLIG, twin-stick or otherwise. And given their proliferation, that’s really saying something. Ignore the pedestrian game title / studio name and what they imply. Grid Space Shooter is absolutely aces.