It seems that Super Amazing Wagon Adventure (review) just got a little more super, or amazing, or perhaps both super and amazing. Or just added a ‘Turbo’ to the end of the title. Whatever. It means DLC.
In celebration of the game’s recent acceptance and release on Steam (a hearty Congrats! are due to developer Sparsevector), the Xbox Live Indie version of the game has received a little extra love, namely the ‘Turbo’ update that the PC and Steam versions were blessed with. Packing new character customization options, wagons, and some added gameplay scenes (plague monkeys… don’t get any on you), it should pepper in a little more ‘far-fetched’ into your westward journey.
Good news for anyone that had grown tired of my incessant whining (borderline, and besides, I call it ‘artistic longing’), Aliens vs. Romans (80 MSP) made its late April launch and has been in the hands of a patient indie crowd for just under a week. So, after a pair of so-so, tide-me-over side projects and a handful of trailers that were set to stunning, is Aliens vs. Romans as groundbreaking as it claims?
Yes and no. The game attempts to rewrite history by providing an alternate ending to the fall of the Roman Empire— Aliens did it. Awkwardly-somersaulting aliens with energy-based weaponry, to be exact. To take the republic back, you’ll need to commandeer said guns (and try some others that are graciously beamed down to you) in order to forcefully evict said extraterrestrials. Set in our hero Jonas’ hometown of Coloseo, you’ll fight wave after wave of enemies in a mid-sized arena with decent cover and vantage points.
Trailers and screenshots make it plainly evident, but I’ll go ahead and still state the obvious: Aliens vs. Romans is a beautiful game, right up there with Shark Attack Deathmatch in terms of XBLIGs that can match the visual fidelity of Arcade or even Retail games. So, ‘groundbreaking’ as far as looks, yes. If you’re not a shallow ass, though, you’ll know that you should never date a game based on appearance, as it’s what’s on the inside, the personality, that you should praise and pay attention to.
In this regard, A vs. R isn’t bad either. There’s only so many ways to dress up a wave shooter, and this game tries on every dress in the store. Your ultimate goal is to take down the mothership terrorizing your town. In the interim, you have your prototypical numbered rounds, where you’ll simply gun down every alien, sure, but these are bookended by other wave types that inject some needed variety. This includes ‘Predator’ battles (cloaked foes), ‘Turret’ waves (stationary guns that pack a punch), and ‘Dropship’ segments (lock-on missiles are your friend), all while working with new weapons (a shotgun type, scoped varieties (including thermal vision), and a grenade launcher) that are doled out over the course of the fight.
Hate to see you go, love to watch you blow up.
While the controls, AI, and weapon variety are solid, Player Health can be an issue, particularly against the stationary turrets and mothership / dropship missiles, which can end your life in one volley. Yes, to be fair, health regenerates. You can earn extra lives, too, and it’s not like the game is unconquerable in its current form, though the absence of a continue option or saved progress might impede some players. It’s on the short side in content, as well. The lack of additional modes, scoring, and / or an unlimited run means A vs. R is limited. You can bring down the mothership in roughly 35-40 minutes (about 15 waves), with only a hint at future trouble (i.e., the obligatory sequel setup) for your reward.
Aliens vs. Romans does a great job in remixing the bored-to-death formula of most wave shooters, but it still falls victim to the same genre faults of repetition and subsequent tedium. It’s a good trade for a dollar, just a superficial joy, with no incentive to return to it once you’ve cleared it. To put it another way, Sick Kreations’ alternate Rome is a beautiful place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Indies are known for their retro art, either out of love or actual necessity, and Super Amazing Wagon Adventure (80 MSP) looks as if it’s been biten by a radioactive and blockily-rendered Atari spider, a style that shaves detail but gains so much more in personal identity, if such things at odds are possible. It recalls The Oregon Trail from my / your youth (I still remember signing up on the ridiculously-long waiting list at my school), though this trail is paved with the never-ending blood of rabid squirrels and obscene amounts of historically-inaccurate weaponry.
A shooter for the most part, trading off between side-scroller and twin-stick, SAWA follows in the wagon wheel-marks of a trio of settlers heading west, their pilgrimage documented through WarioWare-like mini-games (with no less absurdity or variety) that switch up their play style in roughly twenty second increments.
There are shops (prices paid in animal pelts) and forked paths that give off a hint of depth and collection, but mostly you’ll be picking up the scattered weapon upgrades and gunning down everything that twitches, from bears and giant bats to zombies and your own inner demons. The added ability to rename the adventurers is a small but substantial personalization choice (‘Hurley’ never could make it past those damn snakes) on an otherwise random journey.
Though the game’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness; the random event. A huge part of the fun in SAWA comes from the whims of any given adventure. One screen you’re sharing a romantic interlude, the next you’re hunting with a buffalo-killing (& retrieving) falcon. Sounds pretty awesome, I know, and it is. You’re riding high at full health for all party members, blasting away with your newfangled laser cannon… until you roll into a snowstorm with wolves or swim in a river full of piranha.
This!… Is!… Manifest Destiny!
What makes these scenes different and all the more distressing are the enemies (like wolves and piranha) that don’t simply fly / run / swim past your wagon, but pursue it with a vendetta, leaving you little room to maneuver and avoid still-oncoming threats. Your enthusiasm (and patience) is quickly sapped whenever the game decides it wants you dead. Which is often. You’ll find you don’t have any say in the matter. Like Birth Order, success is largely left to chance.
Despite that misstep, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is zany, bite-sized fun. It’s unapologetically silly, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t laughing while charbroiling the wildlife or reading the death-knell text, even beyond the overdone difficulty. The Survival and Shuffle modes, the bevy of unlockable wagons (gained by playing through special scenes or modes, more than just superficial upgrades), and your continually-evolving forays to the West give you plenty enough reason to replay. Even if you never live to tell about it, the trip is more than worth the price of admission.
EDIT 8/28: An update for SAWA has been released, putting it on par with the PC version’s increased content, namely a new unlockable wagon (‘The Glitch’), a new battle for Survival Mode (‘Fighting Fish’), and a handful of additional scenes, enemies, and random encounters (amounts to about 10% more content). Given it’s free if you’ve bought the game, you really can’t go wrong here.
Despite this being their first release, the Brothers Lewandowski and Team2Bit already have a storied history; running a successful Kickstarter campaign, becoming reality-TV darlings, and all while promoting and prepping retro beat-em’-up Fist Puncher for release later this year. For now, they’re testing the crowded waters of XBLIG with their ‘IGN’s Next Game Boss’ winner, endless runner Washington’s Wig (80 MSP). Props for the NES-era box art.
The premise concerns faithful canine Dogsworth McFreedom coming to the rescue of General Washington and fledgling revolutionary forces. More pointedly, bringing the good sir his powdered wig at mid-Delaware Crossing and changing the course of a country. If the whole thing sounds like preposterous revisionist history to you, that’s because it is preposterous revisionist history. If you have to be told this and haven’t yet cracked a smile, you are in serious jeopardy, my friend.
You gotta love that soundtrack.
Stressing complete accessibility, the game requires only the ‘A’ button, for jumping (and double-jumping!), sliding, and avoiding Dogsworth’s enemies— other dogs, adorned with the British flag (natch) that try to slow or stop you in your assuredly patriotic quest. As is the case with all endless runners, knowing enemy / obstacle tactics (to jump or not to jump, and when) is key, and is entirely visual, making success a matter of timing instead of memorization.
Though Dogsworth won’t undertake the hairy task alone. You will find aid from other animal allies (via high and low routes) to bypass enemy blockades, as well as powerups for invulnerability and to increase your pup’s speed. Each step on the ice of the Delaware builds momentum; it’s important to note that you should only go airborne when necessary, as speed factors into every mode.
Arcade mode uses your standard level format, increasing the challenge and enemies after each successful delivery, only to be told by Washington that you’ve retrieved the wrong wig (that whole ‘Princess is in another castle’ thing, but with fake hair). ‘Endless Run’ drops progression in favor of one long run and one life, to see how far you can get. Also available is a two-player race mode, and an addicting Time Trial option placing particular emphasis on perfection and speed powerups. Rounding out the package are some solid tunes (the ‘whispering’ title ditty will get lodged in your brain) and guest tracks, and local highscore boards in each category. Time Trial also gives you access to other playable characters, with cameo appearances from the purple goat of Escape Goat, and Tom from A Virus Named TOM. They don’t change the mechanics of the game, though it was nice to see some familiar indie faces.
Ultimately what separates Washington’s Wig from something like Pig & Bullet is personality. It’s still simplistic and arguably just as repetitive, but whereas P&B felt unnaturally extended and couldn’t shake its ‘flash game’ origins, WW uses its humor and quirk to win you over. Having a more varied enemy set and gameplay base on which to build helps as well. Lasting appeal may still elude Washington’s Wig, but fun in the interim will get you your dollar’s worth.