Monthly Archives: April 2012

Dark Scavenger Review

Right. Okay. Here goes. This is the narrative of Dark Scavenger as best I understand it: You play a wayward space traveler who’s been rescued by a gang of intergalactic scavengers. Said gang consists of three members: a robed skeleton weaponsmith, someone kind of H.R. Giger-esque space horror, and what appears The Joker’s love child if he ever decided to knock up a goblin. This motley crew then deploys you to a nearby medieval planet in search of……uh…. space fuel… or something. Long and short of it: this game is starts off frickin’ nuts, and only gets more fruity the further you descend into its deranged world of complete lunacy.

The gameplay is a bit more straightforward; best described as a heavily streamlined fusion of point n’ click adventures and RPG battle systems, which I guess is still relatively bonkers in its own right. The basic gist is that you select locations or objects from a map of the current area, which will then (in most cases) trigger an amusing/dangerous storyline event of some kind. You then have to resolve these events by either using suitable equipment from your inventory, thus reducing that equipment’s durability, or by choosing from a list of simple (and often detrimental) actions. Resolve the event correctly and you’ll be rewarded with loot, which can then be crafted into a new piece of equipment (either a Weapon, Item or Ally) for use in future events and battles.

Example situation: You’re given the opportunity to skip the game’s first real boss by providing him one of your Allies for use as a mate, for which I proposed he use my recently acquired ‘Your Mother’.  Although he seemed slightly disappointed to be doing her “again”, it was still deemed a sufficient enough offering for me to simply waltz right on past and avoid a potentially difficult fight. And yes, this is a good illustration of the humor you should expect in Dark Scavenger.

While such exchanges are worth a good laugh or too, many of them tend to be a tad less clear-cut than that example, often with no reasonable way of knowing which option will net you more of that all important loot or just be a complete waste of Your Mother’s precious durability. That said, I think a good chunk of this game’s appeal comes from not having even the slightest clue of what crazy-ass nonsense it’s going to throw at you next! Luchador gorillas, weaponizing the sun, a game of crossbow russian roulette; it’s all utter madness that’s so left of field it’s outta sight. The maddest thing of all however, is the overwhelmingly gigantic size that your inventory of crazy gadgets will have grown to by chapter 3, and that’s bearing in mind that you’ll only be able to pick up about ⅓ of all items in the game on a single playthrough!


Most of the equipment only really come into play during the inevitable combat encounters however, in which every single gadget has its own silly twist. Such effects range from the mundane to the ridiculous, like the Toe Hoe’s ability to deal extra damage to enemies that’re standing on one foot, or the Adorable Teddy’s tendency of stunning all human opponents with its daunting cuteness. What minimal ‘strategy’ this battle system has relies on you comboing effects like this together in order to keep your opponents stunlocked and to also change up your one major healing move.

However there’s not much depth beyond that, as most fights can be won by continually using the same powerful weapons over and over, with enemies doing little more in response than wail on you with normal attacks or occasionally charge up for a high damage move. In all, it feels more like a parody of a battle system than anything else, and sadly the joke wears a rather thin after the initial amusement phase passes over you. It’s not just the battle system that suffers from this issue though; such a criticism can easily be extended to the game as a whole.

While Dark Scavenger can easily ‘boast’ several hours of content, a vast majority of it is you repeatedly performing the same actions with no variation, all the while steadily building up an immunity to the game’s quirky humor. And once that novelty finally wears off, you’re just left with just a fairly monotonous pixel hunt that never seems to end. After a while of playing my brain simply drifted off to sleep and I went into autopilot mode: enter new area, click everything, use equipment that matches the description, start a fight, use your powerful equipment to win the fight, move on to next area. Repeat, repeat, repeat ad infantanium. It doesn’t really help that the game ain’t exactly pretty to look at either. Both the environment and character art feels slightly crude, and I found the interface to be highly reminiscent of 90s web design *shiver*.


Still, Dark Scavenger is sure to pry at least an inkling of a chuckle out of all but the most stoic of gamers, and that’s something to be commended. However nothing can change the one inescapable fact that makes the game super difficult for me to recommend on any level: it looks and feels exactly like a simple flash game. You know, one of those free browser based ones that amature game designs churn out? And I don’t mean that as an insult to Flash game makers or the people behind Dark Scavenger; I just feel as though that’s the level of production values and longevity I’m seeing here.

So why does that matter? Plenty of those simple flash games are great fun! Well, it matters because Dark Scavenger ain’t a free little distraction you can boot up in your browser (even though the save files are stored in the browser cache for some reason?). Quite the opposite in fact, It’s an application you have to pay £6.65 for the privilege of using, which to me strikes as the very definition of ‘pushing it’. Make no mistake, I’m sure there’ll be at least a couple of people out there who’ll love this thing to bits, however its shockingly low production values (for a priced game anyway), limited gameplay and lack of any lasting appeal make it extremely difficult for me to support buying it at just about any price that doesn’t end in “pence/cents”.

Dark Scavenger is currently available for £6.65 (~$10.83) from Psydra’s official site, however it’s highly recommended you play the demo (also on the offical site) before considering purchase.   

Good

Quirky humor,
Huge variety of wacky gadgets.

Bad

Limited gameplay,
Crude visuals,
Gets boring once the charm wears off.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review

I’ll come out and say it, I LOVE concept art. There’s just something so pleasant about seeing a creator’s pure unadulterated vision, one that isn’t clouded by the harsh realities of modern game development such as hardware limitations, finite budgets and the incessant cries of “add more space marines” from the marketing department. But for something so beautiful, it gets treated pretty badly; mainly being relegated to obscure ‘bonus’ sections as a cheap and easy way to fill ‘em out. I think the most apt moniker I’ve heard it be given in recent memory was “the mechanically separated chicken meat of video games”. Lovely.

But that makes it all the more interesting that Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet was headed up by hollywood artist Michel Gagné (of Iron Giant fame), an immensely talented concept artist who, by his own admission, knows absolutely naff-all about games. His mission? Create a video game that truly captures the essence of that high quality 2D artwork without any compromise.

So, did it work? Well, first let’s get something straight: there’s absolutely *nothing* unique about how Shadow Planet looks; basically It’s just a montage of black silhouettes with a bit of clever parallax mapping thrown in. For those of you who don’t understand what I’m getting at here, I just described a graphical style so goddamn common in the indie scene that it makes me want to cry tears of liquidised hate. Yet, even with my heart turn to stone from experiencing one too many Limbo wannabes, I can’t help but gaze in awe at Shadow Planet’s gorgeous visage. See for yourself, take a gander at one of the hundreds of delicious screenshots floating about the net and give praise to the mighty Gagné + assorted other dudes/ladies. They totally did it bro, they made playable concept art!

Or better yet, you should watch the video embedded above this very paragraph (don’t worry, i’ll wait) because honestly, it’s only when things start moving that the magic really happens. You see, Shadow Planet’s world is a quite literal hostile environment; it writhes an pulsates with your very presence, letting you know at any opportunity that every inch of it wants you dead (and that it’s more than capable of making that happen!). You feel like less of a hero fighting off an alien menace, and more like a foreign parasite aimlessly drifting around the innards of this gigantic cyborg beast, desperately trying to fend off it’s freakish immune system. It gives the game a surprisingly dense eerie tone, one that only gets more ominous when the dynamic soundtrack throws in couple of Inception-esque “brrrrrrrmmm!”s every time your ship goes decidedly FUBAR. Which happens an awful lot by the way, as your craft has the structural integrity of cheap cardboard box on a particularly rainy day. For the casual gamer this title is not!

Oh wait. Yeah, I should probably talk more about that whole ‘game’ part too huh? Well first, the narrative! Which is minimal to say the least: An (Insanely Twisted Shadow) planet oozing with violent….’stuff’ has started causing trouble in the neighborhood, so your species got scared and sent you and your adorably twee UFO to sort that shizzle out. The game’s actual structure is as equally inspiring; In a nutshell it’s a bog standard by the numbers ‘metroidvania’, with an emphasis on the Metroid more than the Vania (sorry, no loot or leveling to be had here!). It ticks all the right boxes: Open world map layout? Check. Plethora of gadgets and upgrades? Check. Almost *too* many hidden collectables? Double check (and yes, that includes *sigh* concept art).

But much like it was with the visuals, the quality of the gameplay’s execution shines so brightly that any criticisms over originality or innovation simply melt away. I realize that just praising the overall ‘game design’ is probably the most vague and unhelpful piece of critique ever given in a game review, but I really can’t think of a more fundamental way to phrase it. Everything is just so…… sensible. Well paced puzzles, no section too long or two short, checkpoints in all the right places, combat that requires a bit of thinking, intense boss fights, plus a whole bunch of other nuances that’re too small for me to even attempt to define in words.

Even long standing issues with the Metroidvania template have been addressed, mainly the need to constantly ask the age old question of “do I have the right doohickey to open/kill/solve this thing, or do I have to come back later?”. No longer must you awkwardly cycle through every item in your inventory like you’re in a LucasArts adventure title; now you simply scan the object in question and the the game’ll straight up tell you what tool you need to get the job done all nice like. Even better, it’ll actually add a location marker for that object on your map, as apposed to the genre norm of expecting you to perfectly memorized the location of every nook and cranny!

Most of these are very minor features on their own, but they all add up to create a delightful sense of polish and finesse that’s sadly all too rare in indie games scene. I think the only real oversight is the absence of fast travel system, although the game world’s modular structure and the moderate length of the campaign (about 6 hours) makes it an issue barely worth even mentioning.

But for all that snaz, Shadow Planet still left me with a lingering sense of disappointment. Partly due to its rather lackluster final act, but more so the games failure to fully utilise some of the things that make it so compelling in the first place. Case in point: It constantly throws more and more new gadgets at you such as laser beams, saw blades and tractor beams, yet provides little practical use for them outside of their introductory puzzles. Combat suffers from this too, with many of the tactical possibilities of your sizable repertoire only being presented once or twice, and mainly during boss fights at that. But let’s be honest here, when my core point of criticism is that a game just isn’t repetitive enough, what does that tell you about its overall quality?

It’s kinda funny actually; I can easily imagine a world where, like so many of its high concept brethren, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet ended up being a perfect example of style over substance. And I pity the people of that theoretical world, because we live in one where it turned out pretty damn great in every aspect that matters. Sure, it doesn’t come even close to breaking new ground in any conceivable way, but who cares? This game is full of perfectly sound game design, a thick palatable atmosphere and, quite frankly, it’s bloody gorgeous to look at. A reasonable gamer could ask for little more at only £9.99.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is available on the PC for £9.99 via Steam or GFWL (hah!) and on Xbox Live for 1200 MS points (£10.20). The PC version includes the ‘Shadow Hunters’ multiplayer DLC pack for free, sold separately for 400 MS points (£3.40) on Xbox Live.

Good

‘Concept art’ level graphics,
Thick atmosphere,
Smart game design from start to finish.

Bad

Small number of puzzles/combat scenarios per gadget,
Disappointing endgame.

Break Blocks Review

This boi gonna be honest with ya bro. He don’t know whack about breakdancing, b-boying or whatever you want to call that fancy jig that all the youths like doing on top of cardboard sheets. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t find the idea of combining it with rhythm action and puzzle solving mechanics a pretty intriguing prospect. Think of it: two athletes strutting their stuff, competing for the crowd’s praise in a war waged through sheer spectacle – what could be more entertaining than that? Playing pseudo-Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move at the same time of course!

Well okay, that descriptor is slightly misleading. Rather than having you both puzzle and break simultaneously, the game switches between the two modes play on the fly. In the puzzle mode, you’ve gotta drop piles of multi-colored blocks onto the play area without the resulting stack getting too high. Then, after lining up several blocks of the same colour, you can make your b-boy do a “power move,” a dance move so goddamn dope that it destroys all the matched blocks and gives you a proportional boost to your crowd approval rating (health basically).

What blocks you have at your disposal is determined in the rhythm mode, in which *spoilers* you have to correctly press the direction buttons in time with the music! Timing every beat perfectly will get you a huge wad of same coloured blocks, ideal for adding a huge boost to your next power move. Flub your tempo however, and you’ll end up with a mish mash of colours that’ll be almost impossible to neatly fit anywhere on the board without ruining your technicolour masterpiece.

On paper, the puzzle side of things sounds rather low-key, but when you’re juggling it with the rhythm mode it actually becomes quite intense. This is especially true in the later songs, where the stop-start nature of the gameplay can make keeping with the beat a pretty challenging endeavour. Things only get more complicated once the game starts introducing hybrid colours, a type of block that can only be used in a power move if they’re adjacent their two parent colours. e.g. red and yellow make orange, so an orange block needs to be accompanied by both a red and a yellow block before it becomes useful.

As you can probably imagine, keeping track of all that junk at the same time is a good way to give yourself a headache, but it’s also the (only) thing that makes Break Blocks fun in the first place. Nailing every beat, then lining up a massive screen clearing combo that chains together every colour, is an immensely gratifying achievement when you finally manage to pull it off. It’s a shame then, that actually getting to that point isn’t anywhere near as exciting as it should be, mainly thanks to something that should’ve been the star of the show: music.

Just to reiterate, the extent of my knowledge on this subject starts and ends with a Wikipedia article, so I ain’t got a clue if the jams in Break Blocks are appropriate to the sport or not, but what I can tell you for sure is that they’re all kinda boring. It’s not *bad* music by any stretch; I’m sure they’re quite pleasant tracks to listen to on their own, but that doesn’t necessarily make them much fun to ‘play’ in a game context. Sure, they’ve got a nice steady beat in most cases, but – if you’ll pardon the vaguely druggie speak- I never managed to get much of a ‘buzz’ from trying to synch up with ’em.  They all just kinda plod along with the same simple riffs repeated over and over, never really reaching any satisfying melodies or meaningful crescendos. And that would be totally fine if it was merely background music and not, you know, something intricately connected to the entire premise of the game!

In fact, the whole breakdancing angle is a bit of a dud; there seems to be almost no connection between gameplay and the supposed dance battle that’s going on in the fiction. For instance, you’re not really “battling” against anyone. The game presents you with rivals who are allegedly trying to out-groove you but, in practice, they do little more than arbitrarily reduce your crowd approval rating every now and then. And should you tear your eyes away from the action for a moment, you’d realise that neither you avatar nor your opponent is really dancing anyway, more shuffling around awkwardly like a confused teenager at their first party (i.e. dancing like me). Honestly, you could rip out the entire dancing element from this game and it would have absolutely no effect on how it works. Hell, it might even improve it!

Just to be clear, I do genuinely commend the developers for attempting this fusion of dancing, rhythm action and puzzling. But when the dancing side is almost non-existent and the rhythm parts are distinctly underwhelming, all that’s really left is a fairly okay puzzle game. The current price point for Break Blocks sits between ~£0.65 if you buy at the minimum price from the developers’ “pay what you want” campaign, or £3.50 from Desura. I’m gonna say that its true value as a game lies much closer to the former than the latter. A little harsh, yes, but while a “fairly okay puzzle game” can still be fun and all, In this case it’s been so diluted by the game’s other failings that I doubt it’ll provide much lasting entertainment to anyone but the most stalwart puzzle fans. It’s an interesting concept piece for sure, but little more than that.

Break Blocks is available at £3.50 from Desura or any price above £0.64 on the official site. Currently, 20% of all proceeds are being donated to the Doctors Without Borders charity.

Good

Interesting fusion of genres.
Simple but fun puzzling.

Bad

Lacklustre music.
Weak breakdancing premise.

Introducing the IndieFort GamersGate bundle!

If you’re looking for a good deal on some quality Indie games, then you may want to mosey on over to our good friends at GamersGate and pick up their IndieFort pay-what-you-want bundle worth over £45, but available for a minimum asking price of merely £6!

For those of you not familiar with these kinds of campaigns, it really is as simple as: 1) Chose a price 2) Pay it, and 3) Then all those titles will be yours forever! That’s right, if you *really* wanted to, you could get the whole bundle for as little as $6. That said, please do try and think of the hard working Indies who put their heart and soul into these projects. It’s not like we’re judging you or anything, but surely you want to show them that you care, right? So please pay what you think is a fair price if you can!

Here’s a little heads-up of what you’ll find in the bundle:

Cardinal Quest
(normal price £4.99)

Rougelike is an age-old genre that’s managed to get steadily more and more bloated over the past couple of years, but this streamlined top-down RPG cuts that beast down to the basics and runs with it! It might seem a little simple at first glance, but I warn you, it can get dangerously addictive if you let it get ahold of you.

We’ve already given Cardinal Quest pretty extensive coverage here at IGM, so if you want to learn more then check out our interview with lead developer Ido Yehieli or take a gander at our review where it earned a healthy 70% (“good”) on our rating scale.

Black market
(normal price £6.99)

Fight, trade or die in the cold abyss of space with this 2d space sim from BigBlockGames. Chose to either follow a preset storyline of space piracy and corporate conspiracy, or forge your own destiny in the sandbox free-for-all mode. Either way, you’ve got a whole universe in front of you and ton of space-age weapons to blast it to bits with!

While we don’t have any major coverage of this title just yet, there’s a free version available on the official site if you want a little taste of what this space epic has in store.

Kenshi
(normal price £7.49)

With Kenshi, enter a free-roaming RPG world with over 400km2 just waiting to be explored. Command a small army of desert samurai dudes or go it solo with just one core character, it’s all up to you. Kenshi also breaks with established RPG tradition by abandoning crutches like level scaling or giving player characters super high stats compared to their NPC counterparts. So if want your guys to be badass invincible super heroes, then you gotta work for it! Also, it has really big silly anime swords. Always a plus in my book.

Just so you know up front, this game is still very much in the alpha stage of development, thus is by no means a “finished” product. That said, it ranked in our list of Top 10 Most Promising Indie Games in Alpha Stage!

Steel Storm: Burning Retribution
(normal price £3.99)

Hey, do you want to control a giant hover tank and shoot lasers at stuff for no real reason? It’s ok, you don’t have to hide it, you’re only human after all! Steel Storm is old school styled top down shooter full of destruction and mayhem across 25 missions and various multiplayer modes. Think you could make it better? Then hop into the unique real-time mission editor and share your masterpiece with the world!

If this game tickles your fancy then you may also want to take a peek at the early rumblings of Steel Storm 2, which is going to be…… a first person shooter?? Crazy times.

Demise: Ascension
(normal price: ~ £20)

By far the most “harcore” game on this list, Demise: Ascension is the latest iteration of a long lived series of ultra in-depth dungeon-crawling fantasy romps that should be immediately familiar to anyone who’s “experienced” some of the earlier Elder Scrolls games. Be warned my friends, this one ain’t one for the faint of heart!

For more info, take a history lesson with lead developer Decklin (aka the Twisted Dwarf).

Wanderlust
(normal price: £6.43)

And last but by no means least, Wanderlust. Love your RPGs but looking for something a little more accessible than Demise but a little faster paced than Cardinal Quest? Then this is the one for you! Go it on your own or team-up for some 4 player co-op action in a colourful fantasy world that should tickle the nostalgia glands of any longtime JRPG fans.

If that doesn’t quite sell you on it, then perhaps you should take a quick read of our Review where it scored an incredible 80% (“amazing”) on our review scale!