Tag Archives: Recommended

REVIEW: Chasing Styx

Chasing Styx ($1.00) is an RPG-like bullet hell shooter featuring a screen-full of bullets at every turn and a humorous tale concerning Cerberus (three-headed guard dog of the Underworld, if you please) falling asleep on the job, only to let a pack of cutesy bunnies slip into the realm of the undead and subsequently upset the fragile hellish-to-adorable ratio they’ve got going on there. But really, it’s an entertaining excuse to kill and / or re-kill several demons, multiplying slimes, and other abominations.

Though that distillation doesn’t exactly do the game justice. ‘Shooting’ represents Chasing Styx’s core idea and minute-to-minute gameplay, but it does much more than simply give you targets to shoot. To put things in a larger scope, Chasing Styx is an a retro-looking adventure game with RPG elements that just happens to be a shooter. Cerberus and his extra heads form your ‘ship’ (complete with a center ‘heart’ vulnerable spot), while the River Styx functions as your hub world, letting you do business (i.e. earn and trade upgrades) with vendors and catch a ride with that old jokester Charon to half a dozen lengthy stages1.

Chasing Styx lets you tackle those challenges in any order, with the second half unlocked once you’ve acquired coins found in previous lands2. Said stages offer an overhead view and open floor plans, letting you choose your route at some points. This goes beyond simple choice, however, offering multiple paths that can lead to shortcuts, stiffer challenges, or traps that require careful navigation whilst dodging enemy fire. Each of the levels also contain a handful of hidden secrets and treasures, which are key to acquiring game-changing abilities and attacks. Some grant you things like additional hearts (your HP), an extra primary attack slot, or new weapons.

You’ll need them, too, thanks to the frequent battles that keep you on your toes. With smart (and sometimes re-used) enemy design and some equally-great boss battles, you’ll have to make judicial use of your special abilities and know when to strafe or ‘blink’ through bullets to escape tight quarters and an advancing enemy. It’s stressful but satisfying stuff when you pull it off.

chasing-styx-screen

Which is both a gift and a curse. It’s mainly a single player experience, though you can do everything cooperatively. And that’s the thing; while the local co-op would (presumably) make things easier, playing it solo can occasionally be a frustrating experience, mostly due to the lack of mid-stage checkpoints (you do get to restart from any boss fight, albeit with the health you reached that point with3). Spending twenty sweaty minutes just to get to a boss you have no serious way of beating is not a very good feeling.

Still, the game is far too well done to stumble over the small things… like you dying repeatedly. If anything, it forces players to be wiser, and the in-depth ability and perk tree is there to let you find a winning combination. In summary, you’ve got a fantastic-looking shooter that’s fantastically designed, with a really stellar soundtrack to boot. Chasing Styx might very well be the last great XBLIG4, and you’d be doing yourself a big favor by picking it up.


  1. Don’t let that number mislead you. All told, you’ll spend at least 4 to 5 hours completing the game, even more if you’re trying to collect everything. And after that, you’ve got Boss Rush and Survival modes to conquer, as well as additional ‘costumes’ for Cerberus to unlock. 
  2. Everyone knows you’ve got to pay your way in the land of the dead. Rides aren’t cheap, and Charon doesn’t do charity. 
  3. Which really is a slap in the face; what the hell am I supposed to do up against a boss with a massive health bar when I’ve got one heart? Answer: Lose repeatedly, until I’m forced to exit in shame. I mean, at least give me half-health, let’s make things interesting. 
  4. Certainly the last great XBLIG shooter, and hey, you can always pick it up on PC, if you prefer to game on a service that isn’t newly dead. 
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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: Loot or Die

I may get some hate mail / bewildered comments for this, but what the hell; in a lot of ways (and certainly in the spots where it really counts), Loot or Die ($1.00) could be considered a 2D Destiny. Yes, that Destiny. Granted, that’s not an absolute, end-all comparison1, and no one’s going to mistake the art styles from one game or the other, content, etc., but the idea of collecting better armor and weapons to take on tougher challenges is as important (and fun) here as it is in Bungie’s brilliant but flawed magnum opus.

Loot or Die - Screen

Chris Antoni’s newest (and certainly his most complete) game isn’t quite on that same level, but a similar logic— and gameplay mechanic— applies; you explore a series of planets / locations, defeating increasingly-tough enemies and bosses, with the hope that they will drop rewards, your only currency and means of countering later worlds and foes. It’s that simple. The game’s title says so, and makes it abundantly clear what its— and your— repeated objective is; you sir, must loot, or die trying. And oftentimes, that latter option is your only option, until the RNG Gods smile upon you and bless you with better gear and stronger weapons.

Thankfully, you won’t necessarily be going alone. Loot or Die allows you to form a fireteam of up to four, using a drop-in drop-out multiplayer in any of the game’s modes. Rolling with friends to tackle the game in co-op increases the challenge (enemies have their own attacks / patterns), but also your enjoyment. Even playing with randoms on earlier planets can test seasoned players, as your gear and items will smartly adjust to that planet’s difficulty.

Speaking of that gear, each item and weapon in the game carries stats that affect things like your total health, overall damage dealt, etc. Equipment ranges from helmets and chest pieces, to pistols, rifles, and machine guns, while special ‘rings’ will grant you perks when equipped, both offensive (doom blades!) and defensive (healing). There’s also a chance to find ‘epic’ versions of the armor and guns, imbued with an additional status bonus that can transform an otherwise regular item into a vital piece of armament.

It’s a nuanced leveling process, enabling those who take the time to study each item. On the flipside, those same items can lull you into a false sense of superiority. You can leave one planet / boss encounter feeling like a veritable badass, only to be immediately and decisively humbled on the next. Part of the fun is in dying though, and learning new tricks or testing out new combinations. Just be sure to leave extra room in your inventory at all times2, as each boss is guaranteed to drop an epic item of some sort.

Loot or Die - Screen2

Should you tire of the main game and have a competitive side, you can always take things to the PvP arena to settle any doubts about who has the best loadout / humblebrag3. Your stat bonuses attached to your armor and guns really come into play here, as you trade off between things like ring cooldowns, healing, or stealing life from your opponents as you deal damage. Regardless of loadout, it’s a chaotic battle royale for up to eight players.

Beyond that, there’s still plenty to do if you so desire. Much like Destiny, it’s arguable that Loot or Die is even better in its ‘end game’ than it is in its traditional ‘campaign’ mode. A sixth ‘planet’ is unlocked when you complete the game, putting you up against all of the bosses you’ve fought previously, in new, devious pairings, while ‘Defend The Flag’ functions as a sort-of ‘Horde’ setting with an emphasis on defense, having you outlast waves of enemies on a timer. Both modes offer up intense challenges, requiring effective teamwork but also rewarding you with some of the very best weapons and armor in the game should you succeed.

The good news is, you won’t mind the grind to earn any of those rewards or the grief from any of your potential failures. From start to finish, it’s all just… really satisfying. There’s very little to take issue with here, and the developer continues to tweak the game and add new content4 based on community feedback. Ultimately, you won’t play Loot or Die for its storyline (it’s nonexistent!) or its hyper-realistic visuals (or lack thereof); you’ll play Loot or Die because it’s a hell of a lot of fun. And fun beats out everything else.


  1. See that there? That could be taken as immediate backtracking, rendering your hate mail / bewildered comments invalid. I don’t take a concrete position, and I win no matter what! Man, I love being the boss of my own site. 
  2. Something I wasn’t too good at keeping in check. I screwed myself out of some potentially cool rewards more than a few times. 
  3. Like, say, having a kickass gun named after you, one that fires the logo of your site as bullets. Yeah, that actually happens. Thanks, Chris! 🙂 
  4. An upcoming update will add even more ‘end game’ rewards / drops, increasing variety, …and giving you even more reason to grind out a few more rounds, natch. Happy hunting, and good luck. 

REVIEW: Boot Hill Heroes

As much as I like to rip Kickstarter every now and again, for its various dreams dashed and games that didn’t live up to lofty promises, the site has produced mutiple hits, insofar as video games I legitimately want to play and / or have played. I’m not always so quick to ‘back’ these games at the time, though, and one game I wish I would’ve backed is Experimental GamersBoot Hill Heroes ($4.99).

Billed by the developer and others as a sort of ‘Western-themed Earthbound1 / Final Fantasy / Chrono Trigger, the game is in fact all of those things, for better and for worse. To start, Boot Hill Heroes is a masterclass in RPG tropes; Underdog hero losing his father at an early age? Check! Saving the world from a menace only you are seemingly able to see? Check! Bizarrely-dressed team members2 that no one would take serious yet somehow wield incredible powers? Check! Grinding through fetch quests and long-winded conversations just to move the story along? Double check!

Of course, most of these are necessary evils / components to any worthwhile RPG. The important part is being able to corral all of these things into a cohesive whole, and the game does a decent job at that. Boot Hill Heroes has you playing as Kid, a young farm… well, kid, setting off to find a job to support your Ma, only to get wrapped up in a much larger adventure involving the nefarious Saints-Little gang3, a conspiracy-in-the-making involving a local Indian tribe, and plenty more colorful characters / situations along the way.

All of this is conveyed through a gorgeous and expansive overworld steeped in a heavy Western accent, featuring a Final Fantasy-style ATB system4 for its combat. Less turn-based and more reactive / frantic, it allows the player to run through several different styles and stances within the game’s unique ‘Vantage’ battle commands. There’s plenty of intricacies to pick up along the way, but generally, you want to anticipate the flow of battle, using ‘Vantages’ like block / dodge to avoid hits, then counterattack with your heavy hitters and offensive skills once you’ve tallied up enough points to do so. You’re free to execute and / or cancel out these moves as you please, keeping the fights fresh and evolving. Don’t misconstrue that as me saying those battles will be easy. Your enemies are tough and (mostly) smart, defending and attacking almost as well as a human player5.

Boot Hill Heroes - Screen

Man, and I just got this awesome hat and everything.

To that end, the game rewards concentration and committment, handing out XP and items to make the next fight more manageable. As soon as you start to feel overwhelmed or lost, something happens to reel you back into the swing of things. You get a horse early on, letting you explore and move around a bit easier. Townsfolk have plenty to offer, both in narrative and side missions. Even your family dog is a loyal pup / teleporter6, doling out directions and saving your game at opportune moments, just another neat trick in a long line of surprising bits you’ll find.

And from the art on down to the music, it’s evident that developer Experimental Gamer cares a great deal about the game and the world it’s set in. Sure, the battle system and the characters and the story are well-done, but that attention to detail extends itself to the small, out-of-the-way stuff too. Nearly every NPC is thoughtfully-designed, with his or her own western-tinged dialogue blocks and backgrounds (it helps to talk to everyone too, as these people can sometimes grant you ‘status buffs’ that last for a limited time). Environments and towns are loaded with personality, giving this version of ‘The West’ its own cadence and feel, much as classic RPGs painstakingly introduced their lore to players and made them care about the characters they’d be spending dozens of hours with.

Boot Hill Heroes - Screen2

Hell, there’s even a downloadable card game companion if you’re into those sorts of things. Suffice it to say that Boot Hill Heroes really nails the look and feel of a classic SNES RPG / JRPG, which is a blessing and a curse. That is to say, it can be slow-going and obscure, almost too retro. Its we’ll-tutorial-you-as-you-play style, while helpful, doesn’t cover everything in exacting detail. There will still be some trial-and-error. Nor do things move swiftly. You’ll have to grind quite a bit, gathering tons of items (and selling them to make cash) and improving weapons to take on the bigger challenges. That plodding pace, both in terms of progression and storyline, can be a hassle at times, but the world itself is always interesting, always with something to see just around the next corner or boulder.

It’s been keeping me busy. I won’t even pretend to say I’ve finished or seen all of Boot Hill Heroes (I’m about five hours in, of what is titled as a ‘Part One’ of unknown parts), but the amount of effort and love and humor that’s gone into what I’ve played is clearly apparent. If any of what I’ve said before this (as well as any of those other titles I’ve name-dropped) makes sense to you or conjures up pleasant memories of RPGs-past, then Boot Hill Heroes will be a vital refresher as to why you played those games in the first place.


  1. I’ve never played Earthbound personally, but I hear / read good things. It’s on the bucket list, as so many things are. 
  2. Lots of hats to wear? Sooooo check! 
  3. The ones that killed your Pa. Right bastards they are. 
  4. ‘Active Time Battle’, to be precise. If you don’t know the term, see the middle-timeline Final Fantasy games for more info on that. 
  5. Although it’s not necessary or convenient, Boot Hill Heroes does feature a local four-player co-op, with each person controlling one party member. I doubt most people will ever make use of it, but hey, it’s a nifty feature if you have the means. 
  6. Seriously, this dog is like everywhere. It’s magic or voodoo or witchcraft or I don’t know what. I started calling him Mr. Omnipresent. I think he can read my thoughts. Send help. 

REVIEW: Dead War

The protagonist of Bandana GamesDead War ($1.00) is hard to get a read on. She’s on Death Row for murder at the start of the story, saved (ironically) by the onset of a zombie apocalypse. As you venture forth, you learn more about her and her background, shaping the character in subtle ways. Some of those decisions on her personality can be made by you throughout the storyline, choosing when and who to help. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but then again, it’s not often that XBLIG presents semi-complex characters in its games (let alone a zombie title). This was an unexpected surprise.

It could be said that those same ‘lowered expectations’ might apply to the genre itself. Zombies are old hat; mindless fodder led to the slaughter against whatever vast array of weaponry you find and whatever trumped-up reasons you’re given to do so. Thankfully, Dead War trounces some of your preconceived notions about what the game may or may not offer. It is a zombie shooter, but like Survivalist, any comparisons to other games like it on XBLIG end after that.

The game plays from an overhead perspective and controls like a twin-stick shooter, presented across seven fairly-large and varied levels / chapters. These environments take you from the prison you call home to an abandoned hospital, to darkened subway tunnels and a university full of stranded survivors, as well as a few more places in-between. Given its undead denizens and arcade-ish control scheme, you’d expect it to play more action-oriented. To my delight, Dead War focuses more on exploration, driven by bits of story and real objectives, rather than just waves and waves of zombies1.

And though it borrows a bit from RPGs and squad-based shooters2 in the process, I kept coming back to the sense that Dead War felt more like a roguelike in places. You need patience and a steady hand. Little things like a simple map are a luxury you need to earn / find. Rooms and corridors are deliberately kept hidden from view until you open the door / turn the corner, essentially leaving you blind— and on-guard— for most of the game. This cleverly forces you to explore your surroundings carefully, and interact with other characters to advance and fill in the story gaps (and your map).

Even gathering extra ammunition (corpses only yield so much) requires some tact, with boxes locked behind amusing, reflex-heavy minigames. Need money for supplies or a better gun? Civilian entrepreneurs would love to sell them to you, but you’ll have to gamble. You can bet and win money at various kiosks in the world, allowing you to try your hand at Blackjack, play the Slots, or damn the odds and lay down money on horse races3 (see below).

Granted, it’s hardly realistic, but it all makes for a nice change of pace from the standard zombie killing that other titles serve up on repeat. And while nothing here is graphically-intensive, the game works with what it has, making effective use of lighting and claustrophobic rooms to create tension when needed. Dead War‘s locales also contain plenty of optional storyline should you desire it, stored on computers and TV broadcasts scattered around the world, including a few humorous anecdotes about other games and media (there’s riffs on Resident Evil, The Walking Dead, Metal Gear, even Destiny4).

Side activities considered, it’s tempting to dismiss the game as ‘easy’, when really it can be quite difficult at times. The game strikes a nice balance between you being well-armed for any situation and encouraging you to conserve ammo5. Either way, you’ll want to play smart. In another nod to roguelikes, should you die or fail an objective at any point in the chapter, you’ll have to start the level from scratch. This could potentially wipe out the last half-hour or so of your progress. It’s maddening (Chapter 4 can be an annoying ‘escort’ mission), but it’s also fair. Nothing comes easy. Try to rush through this apocalypse, and Dead War will make you pay for it.

Dead War - Screen

Part of the charm is in that challenge, of course, and it’s that challenge (as well as its well-done ancillary bits and minigames / side missions) that allows the game to rise above its crowded genre. All told, you’ll probably need 5+ hours to see it all the way through. And you totally should. It takes a good amount of convincing— and quality game design— to get me excited about another zombie game. Dead War manages that and then some.


  1. Although you do get plenty of those, rest assured. Aside from the standard ‘vanilla’ type, you get the ‘green’ acid spitters and ‘red’ exploding zombies, which can put an end to you (and your squadmates) really quick. Tread lightly, and carry a big shotgun. 
  2. There’s only one chapter that uses ‘squad control’ to any great extent, and it’s actually more of a hassle than fun. The commands are spotty, and the AI loves to throw itself at danger (and refuse to retreat), so really, you’re better off just lone-wolfing it. 
  3. ‘Big Thanks’ to Bandana Games for naming a horse after the site! I didn’t expect that either, so I’m honored. 
  4. Admittedly, it’s become an addiction. Even though it’s not what I’d consider a ‘great’ game, I can’t stop playing the damn thing. 
  5. On a ‘Normal’ playthrough, anyway. I can’t speak for things on ‘Hard’ mode, because… well, I’m not cut out for real trouble.