Tag Archives: video games

Year Two of theXBLIG

Man, has it been another year already!? Time flies when you’re writing indie game reviews, I guess. Don’t worry, I’ll keep this one short. Don’t want to pat myself on the back too much, just enough to keep my ego properly inflated.

Two years online… Wow. I do remember last time I did this, I was worried the site might not even make it two years, between the rumblings of XBLIG’s demise (only somewhat exaggerated) and the looming releases of the next-gen consoles. Well, that worry was for naught; the site still stands! That said, we sure limped into this second birthday celebration, as the new releases have pretty much dried up. XBLIG seems destined for a slow, depressing death.

There’s no point in glossing over the reality of a situation. While Xbox One is picking up steam, and indie gaming has started taking hold there (with the ID@Xbox program), the Xbox 360 has not been as fortunate. New releases have slackened off on Xbox Live Indie Games in the past few months. It’s sad to see. I can’t write that the service still has its best days ahead of it, as that would be a lie even I can’t force myself to believe.

What I can say is that the community itself— people like You, reading this— is still going remarkably strong. Proof is in the numbers, really, as this site has had a fantastic run since last June. As of today, we’ve surpassed 214,000 views, posted 318 articles / reviews, and seen 3,500 comments on those posts. Granted, that’s not the most impressive showing for a website, but for one dedicated to a fading indie service, with games that are often criticized (yes, by me too) for being childish and loaded with boobs, it’s not too shabby.

I owe a great debt to this community, my fellow gaming journalists / writers, all the great XBLIG developers, and, of course, you guys. It may sound cheap, and more than a little cheesy, but it’s the honest truth. While I’d still be playing indie games otherwise, there’d be no point in running this website if it wasn’t for all of you. So thank you, all, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for being involved in this wonderful madness known as theXBLIG.

Year Three begins today!

REVIEW: Stop the XOID!

You know, there may be something to this whole ‘Let my five-year-old kid build my game’ concept. Sure, there’s the immediate D’aww! factor of pint-sized game development, but worse things have come from perfectly-capable adult types with millions of dollars. So, kids and indies, why not? I have to admit, it worked out pretty well for X S.E.E.D (also from a five-year-old). Now we come to Stop the XOID! ($1.00), and once again, a kid takes the reins of Designer.

Billed as a sort of ‘proactive Tower Defense’, the game has you (or up to four friends locally or online) defending the planet from an invading army of robots known as XOIDs (pronounced ‘Zoids’, if you’re curious), one blocky arena at a time. Well, it’s only three levels, to be exact, but you get the idea. It’s curiously labeled a ‘beta’, so maybe it’s a miniature invasion to start. Like Delaware, or something.

While the scope of the war may not be epic, the impending battle remains the same. With an albatross-sized robot waiting patiently at the top (it serves as a boss battle, technically) infinite waves of enemy foot soldiers descend on your base below, threatening the ball of energy known as ‘lifeforce’. Destroying those advance parties will earn you dropped cash, which you can then spend at the local armory, conveniently-located just next to this raging conflict.

You’ll have a number of weapons on hand, ranging from guns and upgrades for those guns, to grenades and the very helpful sentry bots that you can place to guard your fort while you make the arduous climb to the top of the level. Taking down the big boss will complete the stage …and that’s about it. No bits of story to move things along or any progress saved. Pick another level (each successive arena ups the challenge) and repeat the difficult hike.

Stop the XOID! - Screen

I say ‘arduous’ and ‘difficult’ not because the journey is long or terribly fraught with danger, but because your character is so inept at the platforming. Even jumping gives him trouble, and he slides to a stop like the ground is made of ice, causing further frustration on tinier ledges. Battles often went on longer than they had to simply because I couldn’t will my generic space marine to the top. So while you can complete the levels solo, the busy work and anti-climatic nature of finishing it just isn’t worth the hassle.

That’s not to say it wouldn’t be entertaining in a group co-op setting (assuming you can find online matches; I couldn’t). Having others to divert enemy fire and / or make the climb in your stead makes it a much more manageable war. Stop the XOID! doesn’t offer a long-lasting campaign or a great deal of variety, but it plays like an adequate time-waster… so long as you have friends to roll with.

REVIEW: 2048: Xbox 360 Edition

Oh, poor Mobile Gaming Pop Culture. After losing Flappy Bird to the great Bird Nest in the Sky (though it’s destined to be resurrected), it needed a new craze to bide its time during the long workday. Enter Threes! and 2048, bringing number matching / stacking to the forefront of the Internet’s consciousness. 2048: Xbox 360 Edition ($1.00) is the classic bandwagon game, looking to pry loose a quick buck and strike while the iron… er, numbers table, is hot.

2048 - Xbox 360 Edition - Screen

For the uninitiated, all of these games follow a simple, but strict code of operation; slide and match similar numbers in a grid to pair them together, constructing them into ever-increasing values until the board eventually fills up and you have no more moves to make. Your ‘goal’ is to get the highest score. Threes! centers around adding values of… well, you know, while 2048 (and this Xbox version) asks you to work around the number 2, joining tiles in an attempt to reach the elusive… you guessed it, 2048.

You can move the tile set in any direction but diagonal, so long as an open space or possible pairing exists. And while your initial moves can be made without much thought, sliding together matches late in the game can be harmful if you paint yourself into a corner. Higher values are harder to match, introducing a fair amount of thought and strategy to your moves.  Call it Tetris inbreeding mixed with a Rubik’s Cube, call it a time-waster and / or a passing fad, but it’s incredibly-addicting, if you’re not careful to watch the time.

2048 - Xbox 360 Edition - Screen2

See, letters. That’s totally different, right?

This game continues where Gabriele Cirulli’s original left off, and adds a slight ‘twist’ in the form of pairing letters. This merely dresses up the gameplay, of course, giving you something different to look at without breaking any new ground. Personally, if we’re brainstorming clones here, I’d like to see a Jim Carrey version based on stacking The Number 23. But we can’t always get what we want, can we?

Bottom line, 2048: Xbox 360 Edition offers nothing new to fan the flames of the originals it so blatantly follows. Even with a spot-on impersonation, global leaderboards, and the letter-based secondary mode, there’s little reason to invest in this game, or any of the other recent and future bandwagon titles for that matter, so long as an official, free version exists somewhere.

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Oh, and if anyone’s looking for a challenge to beat, I posted my best of 5432 on the leaderboard. Not much to some, maybe, but I considered it a pretty impressive run. Be gentle on my ego.

REVIEW: Super Broken Games

Besides a casual glance at it on the marketplace, my first experience with Super Broken Games ($1.00) came with a tweet from the always-lovely Cathy at Indie Gamer Chick, who could not play the game due to epilepsy concerns with the pulsating menu and in-game effects. After booting up the game for myself, I could understand why, but thankfully developer Feel Good Seal included an option to turn off the effects and issued a patch to fix another potential issue.

With backstory out of the way, Super Broken Games is a series of deliberately-broken minigames, with each based around a particular failed idea or controller caveat. Using varying forms to go about this (sometimes you’re a snake in a maze, other times a bouncing ball, a seemingly-drunken flying ball, etc.), it all amounts to 37 ways to die and / or frustrate yourself.

Granted, a few take the legitimate approach, giving you somewhat normal controls and a straightforward objective (collect all the items, reach the exit), with numerous hazards in place. Challenging, but achievable once you’ve determined the correct path and gotten a handle on whatever controls you’ve been dealt. The vast majority, however, take a more dastardly route, flipping the schemes entirely, or adding a second snake to control, forcing you to watch two screens and babysit two characters, etc.

These minigames revel in playing the jerk, and seem to be there purely to set you off in a rage. So the obvious question would be: Why would anyone want to get pissed off playing a bunch of busted setups? I’m not sure. Maybe you’re a masochist. Or maybe your parents didn’t love you enough and you’re living a transient lifestyle, seeking out painful experiences as a way to feel alive and fill the hole in your heart that never quite healed (…that last bit may be a stretch).

 Super Broken Games - Screen

More than likely, you do it because you appreciate a good dare, which is what most of Super Broken Games feels like. Much as people choose to climb Mt. Everest because ‘it’s there’, so too will gamers play ridiculously-hard or unfair games to prove a point to themselves or others. ‘Others’ might end up being the key word, as the game allows for local multiplayer up to four. Turning ‘constant failure’ into a party game sure beats going solo.

Ultimately though, the novelty of being ‘broken’ may not be enoughSuper Broken Games opts for a playful sort of fun with its controls, but it lacks the artistry and addictive qualities of other masochist titles like Super Meat Boy or N+. Mean is always mean, but being mean on purpose? That’s just mean.

REVIEW: Bitcoin Tycoon

Though popular culture (and the jokes it spawns) doesn’t always translate well to videogame form when it’s the ‘whole game’, Bitcoin Tycoon ($1.00) had me at ‘breeding alpacas’. That says more about me than it does in making it a thrilling feature in a videogame, but I digress. Yes, the screenshots are true. The game is a SimCity-lite, allowing you to build your own metropolis, to be financed entirely by using the trendy, scam-happy digital currency known as Bitcoin.

Bitcoin Tycoon - Screen

It all starts with a hot dog stand, but the building mechanics are incredibly-simple, letting you place (but not edit or remove, bizarrely) different structures wherever there is a open space. The map is decent-sized, and so long as you are not trying to lay down Alpaca farms directly on top of each other, you can cram quite a few buildings / objects in one area. From your humble beginnings, a town will slowly begin to emerge.

Pieces run the gamut of your typical city builder, including restaurants (people need to eat), hydroelectric dams (people need power), advertising billboards (people need to buy things), and sketchy government buildings (people need to be spied on). Of course, each piece comes with a custom description of its properties, often skewering the Bitcoin currency, pop culture icons (the Winklevoss twins?), and political realities for jokes, and it does a fine job at that.

Unfortunately, for a SimCity-type, there is dreadfully little in the way of strategy or challenge. Although structures rise in price and materials the more you place, you don’t have any of the everyday concerns that running a real city entails. No public opinion to bow down to, no traffic jams to unclog (although a Tesla dealership is available), no server issues and / or always-online requirements (my small jab at EA), and no natural disasters to rain on your Bitcoin parade.

Bitcoin Tycoon - Screen2

Bottom line, you simply build however you please, and then build some more. Even without paying attention to which structures do what and how they affect the economy (certain objects require a set amount of electricity or people), you’ll be reasonably on your way to building the more expensive pieces in under twenty minutes. Under an hour, and you’ll likely build the final piece, a monument to the founder of Bitcoin.

After that, well, you’ve got nothing. You could always continue construction, but with no progress being saved or extras to concern yourself with, Bitcoin Tycoon is a largely-empty experience. Once you’ve had a ‘lulz’ or two at the one-liners, and maybe surrounded the Winklevosses with ill-tempered alpacas (…I may have a problem), it’s purely superficial from then on. The game is totally worth its weight in fake currency, but real money? Maybe not so much.

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This review is also featured on Indiepitome