Tag Archives: Xbox Live Indie Games

REVIEW: Overdriven

Shooters of any vein have typically been my bread & butter, so in watching the Dream.Build.Play trailer for Overdriven (80 MSP), I couldn’t help but take notice. It looked fantastic, for one, and all the not-too-picky elements I look for were present; one ship shooting a bunch of other ships in different and interesting ways. See, easy to please.

Overdriven takes on the vertical shmup across seven levels, using the shooter-standard ‘unknown alien invasion’ premise, ‘last human hope’ etc. etc for a setup. Sine Mora it is not. What Overdriven (the ship / pilot, not the title) does get is a pair of lovely ladies whispering sweet nothings into his / its ear, and by that I mean pertinent information about the current stage and twenty variations of ‘watch out!’.

The game’s big sell and namesake mechanic is a beam shot that slows your ship’s movement but makes for a stronger, concentrated fire. Health is also sacrificed while ‘overdriven’, dropping your ship to within an inch of its life. It creates a tense trade-off once the screen gets lively and comes in handy for the bigger baddies and end-level bosses.

In a twist, stages aren’t unlocked simply by beating the previous. Beyond the first three, you’ll have to find a set amount of ‘alien artifacts’ scattered around town or dropped by enemies (5 per stage) to earn the right to advance. I found (more like stumbled onto, all dumb luck-like) the majority the first time through, though there are some cleverly-hidden ones. For collectors, there’s plenty of said artifacts and oddities (hidden cows?) to find, set to excellent music throughout. Also seven level-specific challenges that play out like self-contained mingames, with Awardments to pin to your digital chest for bragging afterwards, do well to invite extra playtime after clearing the story.

Minor quirks abound. The game suffers from the same ‘bullet recognition’ problems as other shooters, with enemy fire hidden in your own leading to some cheap hits. The bosses don’t vary much (except in name) from stage to stage, and bits of the art recycle. In fact, Overdriven‘s only serious problem is its art, pretty as it is. Especially in darker stages and during a firefight, it becomes almost impossible to tell your foreground from background, leading to health-sucking grinds along barriers and / or deaths. Repeated runs through the level will commit these segments to memory, but it’s a mentionable annoyance that could be an issue for players on higher difficulties.

Otherwise, it’s reliable. The controls feel solid, shot patterns are tough but navigable, and it forgives almost as much as it forgets. Overdriven slips comfortably into its Bullet Hell suit, and posits a good challenge for both ends of the shooter skill set. It doesn’t do anything extraordinary with its shmup license, but it’s fast, fun, and assembled the right way. Competence is a compliment here.

REVIEW: Washington’s Wig

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.

REVIEW: Chompy Chomp Chomp

“Build me a better Pac-Man!” I shouted, to anyone that would listen. I did this at my most desperate hour and at the top of a hill overlooking the sleeping city, as this was how I’d seen it done successfully in the last act of rom-com movies, so it had to work. Not that Pac-Man needs my dramatics or an update; turning on one’s enemies and devouring them whole is still one of the eternal ideas of gaming. If it ain’t broke, why the hell is the plumber here don’t fix it, and Chompy Chomp Chomp (80 MSP) only tweaks that formula, for the better.

Due to impeccable timing (and perhaps destiny), this review is coming fresh off an update to the game that adds some sought-after bits and fixes some flaws, including A.I. re-balancing and the option to toggle on / off powerups. The most noticeable and welcome of the update gifts is the now few seconds of invulnerability after respawn (thank you, Utopian World of Sandwiches, and also for that sweet moniker).

The idea: four Chompys enter an arena… and four Chompys leave. What? It’s family-friendly. Each of you represents a color, and a target shadow below you indicates whom to chomp. What follows is mostly-controlled chaos, rainbow-colored Chompy binge-eating, timed or by score limit. During the battle, offensive and defensive options pop up on the board, as well as fruit / score multipliers (vital to victory, trust me) and poison to slow you down or reverse controls (grrrrr). After some time, you get a warning tick down, followed by a color switch, and everyone gets a new target. Cue more fun.

It’s all at once parts of Pac-Man and Assassin’s Creed‘s multiplayer, with you and others cat-and-mousing it across various stage boards (with three variations apiece), powerups often determining whether you’re lunch or wearing the leader’s crown. Initially it’s frantic and a bit confusing, but after a few primer rounds, you’ll find it’s incredibly simple (the best arcade-likes usually are) and addicting, even offline versus bots. Though I’d imagine the real mileage will come from breaking this out amongst friends or against online competition. I can’t vouch for online (didn’t find any matches) but two-player local did the trick just as well, if not better (you can’t slap people over Xbox Live).

What it lacks in variety, it makes up for in pick-up-and-playability. Also, while just clean aesthetics and gorgeous menus won’t bring the boys to the yard, they do accent the level of polish present throughout CCC, and are deserving of a mention.

There wasn’t a single time I didn’t panic when my would-be assassin was closing in, controller shaking at the inevitability, nor any round I played that I wasn’t smiling or thoroughly enjoyingChompy Chomp Chomp is an absolute blast to sample, a sublime arcade experience that really shines once four people get together, locally or via the wonderment that is the internets. Congrats to ‘Sandwiches and welcome to the leaderboard, guys and gal.

REVIEW: Pig & Bullet

It’s not often that I’m filled with such disdain for myself that I question the decisions I make as if I’m a second party outside of my body that’s trusted to be objective. Spending a dollar on a game and losing isn’t grounds for reevaluating self-worth. With most dire muck, there’s still a crumb of entertainment to be nibbled. But every once in a while, a title comes along that utterly underwhelms and comes back to haunt my digital wallet almost instantaneously. Pig & Bullet (80 MSP) is that ghost today.

Placed in the hooves of a slaloming pig, the game has you avoiding a literal bullet hell and snatching turnip multipliers to run up the score in each wave. IKA mode requires the opposite, with you collecting bullets on a blue / red rotation, while the third, ‘Masow’ mode, is a sped-up version of collection with random bullet trains (ha! get it!?) roaring past. Yes, it’s the stuff that flash games are made of, translated to XBLIG as a spruced up but simple arcade thrill.

Just make bacon out of this and do us all a favor.

The problem is there’s just not enough content here, and it wears out fast. If your game is going the arcade / score-running route, it helps with longevity to push competition in the form of online scores. Unfortunately that’s easier said than done within the XBLIG framework (understandable), but local leaderboards should be the minimal entry fee. Pig & Bullet only keeps track of your current session. No unlockables, no extras, and very little replayability.

As an iOS game, it may (and I’m stressing ‘may’ in case you couldn’t tell) work as an on-the-go cheap fix. On XBLIG (and as on iOS) though, your dollar can get you so much more. I also question the critical praise used for P & B. Kotaku’s take was favorable, fine, but the Edge Magazine snippet is taken out of context. In terms of fun, I ask simply, where, and at what point? Every one of the game’s four ‘modes’ is only a slight (and mostly visual) variation from the last. The only thing worth a damn here is the soundtrack by Rama Amoeba (Japanese glam rock!) and Yasushi Kaminishi, formerly of Capcom.

For a title that started its life as a free browser game, you’d think the ‘improvements’ added to this release would go far enough to dispel the sense you’re still playing a browser game. They don’t, and your dollar can’t be returned. If you’re the type that must see for yourself (curiosity and all), click the marketplace link above and give Pig & Bullet its eight minutes. That’s all it deserves.

REVIEW: Monster King

Monster King (80 MSP) marks the second JRPG I’m playing in as many weeks, Mortal Legacies (review) being the other. In a quick vote between the two titles, Monster King is the superior, though when taken against the whole of the indie RPG catalog, it falls somewhat short.

As the eponymous hero, you’re told that monsters have besieged the lands of… somewhere. It’s never elaborated upon. You don’t get a proper name or any speaking lines. You’re just told to fight. It doesn’t matter if you’re personable, as you’re not accepting sidekick applications. The whole setup is bare-bones. In every way, you’re lone wolfing it in MK

Combat is of course turned-based, via the typical menu selections; Attack & Magic, use a potion, flee a battle. In a nice gesture, you automatically equip the best weapon and armor for the job, and shops in the various towns will only sell to you if its beneficial for you (a completely foreign concept in our reality). Exploration is minimal. Outside of potions or new weapons / armor found in scattered chests, there’s not much to see. Mostly you fight random battles in the field, covering ground until you reach a bridge or bottleneck, at which point you’ll take on a boss for the right to pass, then repeat. So long as you’re well-leveled, battles are fast, if uneventful, though there is an interesting wrinkle.

As in Meat Loaf?

MK subscribes to the theory that ‘Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good monster at your side’, enabling you to first weaken and then add the game’s monsters to your armament, Persona / Pokemon style. The idea works well in practice too, adding a degree of experimentation to fights despite the expected ‘try fire vs. ice, etc.’ checkmates. Given the high cost of some magic, it’s an effective option once you’ve learned each monster’s weakness. And though you’re not rewarded with anything for doing so, there is a strange sense of accomplishment once you’ve captured the lot of them.

And that roster of creatures is diverse, if nothing else. Psychic rats. Brains in jars. There’s a Tree Killer (doesn’t kill trees, oddly) that is timber with an uzi, and a Not Ready, which looks like a pixel Quagmire (maybe it’s the prominent jawline). That’s worth a chuckle, though some of them are duds (Snowman, blah. Hover Dude, really?).

In terms of excitement there isn’t much, a few hours of old-school monster-slaying, but I found it charming. Grinding out progression, one character level and one stat increase at a time, evoked Dragon Quest for me (the first monster, Sludge, is an easy stand-in for a Slime). Nostalgia is a factor, sure, and it’s an innocuous RPG without much of a story (till the very end), but it moves swiftly and doesn’t overstay its welcome.