Tag Archives: Shooter

REVIEW: Rock, Paper, Lazers

‘Another day, another twin-stick shooter’ has to be the refrain going through most outside gamers’ minds when peeking in on indies. The only thing they’re still taking bets on is if the game will meet the zombie quota. Less about the undead, and focused on shooting everything else repeatedly, Rock, Paper, Lazers (80 MSP) tries to escape stereotyping.

It does this by wisely avoiding outer space (another near-staple of twin-stickers) and setting the fight on the pages of a book. You are a rock that shoots lasers. Hence the clever title. Rock, Paper, Lazers is a wave shooter. Survive for the amount on the timer, advance to the next wave. Powerups like shields, rockets, and flamethrowers, appear on the page sporadically to better your chances.

Teleportation is the game’s big bullet point. During the rounds, switching from one page to the next makes sense given the action takes place in a book, but it doesn’t significantly alter the way the game is played, other than becoming an inconvenience in later waves or on a higher difficulty. In single-player, you teleport at random after a certain time. A few seconds before you transfer, a graphic stretching from the page you’re on highlights where you’ll land on the next. That illuminated path and accompanying sound effect, meant to be helpful, actually distracts in the thick of a fight. For me, it led to more deaths than combat.

Reading is fundamental. Also dangerous.

The battles start to stale, so the game tries out themed-enemy encounters and backgrounds (Halloween, Ninjas, etc.). This doesn’t require a new approach in tactics or otherwise buoy the combat, though it is variety. And yet, throw all the ninjas and powerups on-screen that you can, Rock, Paper, Lazers is just a wave shooter and little more. Multiplayer allows four people locally to take on the waves, which would probably be more fun, should you have that option. Even with friends, the game will struggle to retain freshness beyond a half hour.

Familiarity is what makes twin-stickers so accessible, the quick gameplay that’s instantly recognizable though difficult to master. That same familiarity tends to stifle originality, leading to a deluge of entirely competent, even fun games, that piggyback and eventually cancel each other out, their one of two interesting gameplay wrinkles not enough to salvage an identity. On XBLIG, that problem runs rampant. Thus, if you’ve played one twin-stick shooter, you’ve played Rock, Paper, Lazers.

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First Look at ‘Aeternum’

News of an up-and-coming shooter headed to XBLIG isn’t exactly the most original thing you’ll read. It’s an incredibly crowded field already. Unless your hero pisses bullets and has grenades for hands, with a storyline involving reanimated, cybernetic poultry with a taste for classical music (back off world! my idea!), you’ve got a climb ahead of you. Aeternum may or may not have an uphill battle upon release, but it holds promise to me, seeing as I happen to actually know the guys behind its development and what they’re capable of. Well, somewhat.

Brooks Bishop is 1/2 of Two Fedoras, a website dedicated to all things Indie. While the site is on hiatus, he’s slid easily into his side career of game development. Aeternum is his first project, a Bullet Hell shmup a few years in the making, coming under the studio moniker of Wasted Brilliance. He’s taken on a writing partner for Aeternum‘s story, one of my personal heroes, but also a man with seriously sexy hair and 1/4 of Gear-Fish, Nate Graves. Friend of the pair Jesse Bishop rounds out the group, and is on board to handle Soundtrack duties.

And now, the premise:

Ellica is a Demonic Magic Studies student at one of the most prestigious schools in the realm, Aeternum Academy. But her schoolwork has to take a back seat one day when she discovers her best friend Macy is missing!

Help Ellica brave the crazed groundskeeper, an overzealous hall monitor and waves upon waves of wayward flying cats in the adventure of a lifetime… or maybe just the adventure of this week.

While story and dialogue will have a role, it looks to be a light-hearted affair. Any mention of cats is always good. For shooting purists, the option to turn off dialogue is available. There’s an interview with Nate up at the developer’s blog, which highlights some of the challenges involved with storytelling in shooters, as well as a little more insight into Aeternum‘s world and characters. The game promises four stages in total, with boss fights based on pattern. It’s also going to be very hard. With four selectable difficulties, including an ‘insane’ mode that even bests the developer, this will undoubtedly get tagged ‘There Will Be Bullets’.

Brooks pegs the script’s progress at about 60%, with all the principal assets and most of the stage work completed, just additional art and polish and odds and ends to go. I can’t lock down anything more than Winter 2012 for a release (XBLIG, with PC likely to follow), but with any luck, we won’t be waiting too long to give it a try. Shooters run through my veins as equally as blood, and with these fine gents behind the game, it should be something special.

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For more on Aeternum, visit the game’s Information page

REVIEW: StarWings

If the very best thing your game has going for it is some of the cheesiest voice acting around, it’s safe to assume you’re in for a shelling. That I strongly considered giving this a recommendation purely for the chance that you, reader, would be so inclined as to try it yourself (see Link below to inquire), can’t be a vote of quality. I ultimately couldn’t bring myself to do it, knowing that asking you to spend a dollar on StarWings (80 MSP) is a direct violation of your human rights.

Star, Lain, and Trey are mercenaries, as evidenced by their crazy hair and ineffectual avatars. Together, they comprise StarWings (as in arwings), and form a poor man’s Star Fox (Star = Fox, Lain = Slippy, Trey = Falco). They’re hired by the Cornerian— ahem, Galaxy Defense, to put a stop to a Bandit army that’s threatening galactic peace, or something along those lines. It’s not required reading. What’s important is it’s a side-scrolling shooter with some minor weapon upgrades between stages.

There’s a problem immediately. You only ever control ‘Star’, the group’s egotistical (had to name the squad after himself, of course) leader. The game hinges on his health bar alone, making your squadmates, for lack of a better term, expendable. Problem is, they go wherever you go. And they never break formation, so avoiding incoming fire is a pain in the ass, multiplied by three. The bullet patterns aren’t too severe as to make it unplayable, but when you’re flying the equivalent of an eighteen-wheeler in three ships, it makes for a pretty big target. You’ll find it’s common to face the boss at the end of each stage down a wingman, or at the very least, weakened, through no fault of your own.

The experience is hampered further by highscores that aren’t recorded and a quick save system that doesn’t work, at least on some consoles. I tried it three times, on three different stages; not once could I load the save file. Switching over to a memory card, however, DID work (the developer is currently looking into the problem). Not that you’ll really need to save your progress. The game is four levels long, and takes about twenty minutes to complete. Extras? No.

It doesn’t bring me any particular joy to bash a game, but StarWings is akin to handing over game development and a case of beer to eighth graders who’ve only seen a screenshot of Star Fox to build off of. I don’t advocate either, and it’s clear to see why. I’m positive that the material and voice acting are meant to be laughably bad. That’s fine, and contributes to the ‘campy’ feel, but if the short gameplay and busted (for some) options were to fall into that same category, I’m not laughing.

REVIEW: SCHAR: Blue Shield Alliance

Generally, it falls on your parents to prepare you for the world, but in the event they mollycoddled you (being the only son / daughter, the prettiest, whatever), allow me to state a few truths. Three things in life are guaranteed— Death, Taxes, and twin-stick shooters on Xbox Live Indie Games, set in space. It is absolutely no surprise then, that SCHAR: Blue Shield Alliance (80 MSP) proclaims itself to be of that party, or that I am officially out of openings for twin-stickers.

Remarkably, there is an extended story, about CoNs destroying space-faring human settlements (‘Alien Race attacks Earth and its colonies’ for short), as well as some neat ‘on this day in history’ stuff that shows up on the front end menu like Mass Effect. This compliments an already lengthy codex detailing the characters and the backstory. No expense was spared in crafting the game world BSA takes place in.

The same can be said for your ships, which come with preset stats and special weapons (heal bots, turrets, mines) for varying tastes but are upgradeable with salvage collected during the missions, kept all to yourself or shared equally with your allies (co-op for up to four, locally).

There’s some larger set pieces (i.e. larger ships) and escort sequences, though the gameplay boils down to generator defense time and time again. Salvage is the ingredient throughout, collected and used to rebuild said generators, as well as for re-supply and the mentioned upgrades. Survival and Freeplay modes are worthy of a few plays, and repetition is less of a problem with friends, but a little more mission variety would have been appreciated.

This is compounded with the later campaigns, which throw more and more enemy ships your way as substitute. Solo, you’re upgrading between missions to stay ahead of the curve, but at times (when tasked to guard two or more generators spread across a level, let’s say) the game really wishes you were playing the four-player co-op. This tends to be a problem with the average XBLIGer, brought up in an era of ‘online everything’ and short the two or three additional controllers / friends.

Haven’t you guys ever heard the expression, ‘fair fight’?

By the middle missions of the Mars campaign and beyond, you’re vastly outgunned, leading to hopeless battles where there’s little chance of turning the tide as the lone gunman, or in the wrong class of ship (with its placeable turrets, the ‘Euphrates’ class is key). The AI should have allowed for all possibilities instead of a ‘catch-all’ solution in overwhelming odds that ends up feeling like punishment to single players. As such, the balancing isn’t what it should be. Friends are damn near required to get anywhere at some points.

It doesn’t negate the solid framework in saying it may not be the most gorgeous or original shooter, and with the wealth of options and content, you can’t argue the effort in SCHAR: Blue Shield Alliance. The above problems, the ‘sameness’ to every mission, and the occasionally rough difficulty give me pause, though, to recommend you try before you buy.

REVIEW: RotoSchutzen

If you’re one of those people that believes in and bases their existence around absolutes, then it’s probably safer for the both of us if I refer to RotoSchutzen (80 MSP) henceforth as a ‘mini-game’, rather than a full product. That is what it is, in actuality, a half-game, not masquerading as one so much as it is gallingly so.

Dropped onto a deserted (but lushly-illustrated) planet defended by turrets and mines, you (the little helicopter-box guy) set off in search of ‘the big button’ that you must push. All of that comes from the marketplace description, and that’s all you’re told for the duration of the game.

Gameplay consists of you trading a barrage of shots with the resident turrets of varying size / shot pattern, and maneuvering around mines or steam traps. Occasionally you’ll hit switches to open up doors, tracing their wiring back to the source, then its back to the turrets. You’ll be forced into small caverns with a lot of enemies, resulting in death, though the checkpoint feature here is incredibly friendly, usually putting you within a few feet of where you met your end.

The trailer says (or doesn’t say) it all.

Though in flying over its green fields or through its steamy interior, there’s no implication of how you came to be here or what the planet is about. While the results of pushing ‘the big button’ are obvious enough, there’s no reason given for any of it. There’s no extras, no New Game+ or impetus to play through again, leaving you with a rather hollow victory.

RotoSchutzen comes from creator Owen Deery, who by his own admission is focused on bringing polished but quick, one-off games (sorry, ‘mini-games’) to market. I’m not against that idea from the outset; if it works, and it’s full-featured or an arcade-type, why not? There doesn’t have to be a minimum timetable. But with something like Bytown Lumberjack (from this past March) or now with RotoSchutzen, you need a little more content or replayability if you hope to get gamers on board. 80 MSP ain’t a bad entry point, I agree, but I can’t recommend something that finishes in under an hour and exudes almost no personality during it.

That’s the story of RotoSchutzen, regrettably. A good-looking game with well-oiled gears, just dressed up and given nowhere to go. If the developer adopts a new policy and throws his full weight behind an idea, I’ve no doubt it’ll be amazing. Just don’t look here for any of that promise.