Category Archives: Review

Instead of God, I Chose Strike Suit Zero

*Please note that have been several patches for Strike Suit Zero that attempt to address the game’s major shortcomings. This article was accurate at the time of the game’s launch on January 23rd 2013.*

Short review: If you really like spaceships, then you should go play Strike Suit Zero (SSZ). It has spaceships in it. They fight a lot. Oh, and the one you play as can TURN INTO A GIANT ROBOT. It’s pretty rad like that.

P.S – This game is broken in almost every way imaginable, plus a couple that aren’t. You have been warned.

Unnecessarily long and personal review: When I was a kid, I attended a VERY religious school. Specifically, one that embraced a funky British offshoot of Christianity called “Quakerism” It’s pretty much the same as run-of-the-mill Christianity, only with a gigantic hard-on for silence. Oh man, did they love themselves some good ‘ol silence. In fact, every week the whole school would gather together and enjoy a jolly good communal silence-off, which was about as exciting as you might expect. “What were you meant to do during these moments of silence?”  you might ask. Isn’t it obvious? We were to contemplate our almighty Lord God, of course!

The general idea was that if we sat around long enough thinking about how bloody brilliant God was, one of us would eventually become possessed by the Heavenly Father himself and proceed to deliver some grandiose proclamation to the rest of the group. Sadly, God never saw fit to bless me with his divine influence, possibly because I chose to spend my moments of silence thinking about other, far more important things instead.

Shot0

I chose to think about robots. I chose to think about robots and spaceships. I chose to think about robots, spaceships and lasers. I chose to think about robots (that may have also been spaceships) shooting lasers at spaceships (they were probably robots too) in space. At least a couple of Dragon Ball Z characters may have also been involved, but let’s just put that thought aside for now. Was this Sacrilegious? Probably. But when you’re a kid, you quite frankly don’t give a shit. At that age, robots, spaceships and lasers are literally the best thing EVER, and omnipotent, all-seeing super beings just can’t compare.

I’m told you’re supposed grow outta that kind of mentality when you get older, but that’s a load of bullshit, ‘cos I sure as hell never did! I’m well into my twenties at this point, and I’m still constantly wasting my time thinking about ridiculous space robots/ships fighting in equally ridiculous space robot/ship wars. If anything, I’m probably even more obsessed than I ever was before, something that a casual glance at my shelf full of Gundam action figures will quickly confirm.

What I’m getting at here, is that I think SSZ is a game I’ve been waiting most of my life for. In terms of visuals, it’s EXACTLY what I’ve been picturing in my head all these years. This is the thing my adolescent brain chose over God, the thing I’d STILL choose over God today. And who can blame me for that? Just look at this damn thing; it’s frickin’ gorgeous! “Awe-inspiring” isn’t a phrase I use lightly, but….dude. Consider my awe officially inspired.

Shot2

I really wanted to “wow!” you guys with some screenshots in this article, but it ended up being surprisingly difficult to snap any decent ones. This was likely due to two major factors standing in my way:

1) Taking my hands off the controller and reaching over to the Print Screen button often resulted in my shiny space robot getting blasted into shiny space-dust.

2) A screenshot could never truly convey my childish glee at watching a fleet of totally dope space dreadnaughts (plus swarms of equally dope space fighter planes) unloading a quite frankly irresponsible amount of ordnance against one another, set to some of the most incredible backdrops since Homeworld 2.

Jeez, and then there’s all the sexy vapour trails, explosions, lenses flares, motion blurs, Battlestar Galactica-esque music and…….and……. okay, so, basically, at any one moment in SSZ, there’s a billion things going on at once, and they’re all bloody amazing. It’s everything I’ve ever hoped for in a video game; a ridiculous space war to end all ridiculous space wars. So, screw silence! All I care about now is the beautiful melody of spaceship on spaceship/robot action!

Well, there you go then. Review over. 10/10. Hands down best game ever. This game > everything else. Move along now, nothing more to see here!

……..

Ugh. Wait. Much as I’d love to stop right here and now, I have an incy wincy confession to make first. So..uh…actually playing SSZ……*sigh*…..kinda sucks. A LOT.

Shot1

I honestly don’t know where to begin describing the innovative ways SSZ managed to both disappoint and frustrate me at every turn. Should I start by moaning about the utterly naff storytelling? The dry, soulless voice acting? The limited array of enemies? The scant selection of playable ships? Oh! How about the awful level design? Yeah, that a good’un!

Space shooters aren’t around anymore for one reason above all others: nobody likes crappy escort missions. Nobody. Yeah, I know it seems crazy ‘n all, but it turns out that booting a player to the “game over” screen every time a suicidal, uncontrollable AI snuffs itself out ain’t exactly fun. Shame the devs never got the memo on that one.

At any one moment in SSZ, you can reasonably expect to be escorting AT LEAST ONE pea-brained AI of some form or another, a task the game’s core mechanics feel in no way prepared for. Normally I wouldn’t link to another publication’s article, but I can’t help but mention SSZ’s review over on Eurogamer, in which journo Rich Stanton requests his tombstone be inscribed with the phrase “The Arcadia has been destroyed” in tribute of SSZ‘s all-too-common reason for a game over screen. All I can say is…….I feel you bro. I feel you so hard.

You’d think game would at least notify you when a bunch of armor-shattering torpedoes are making a beeline for your mothership’s sensitive underbelly, but apparently even that’s too much to ask. Instead, your best bet is to just mash the “target nearest priority” button periodically and hope it locks onto any torpedoes in the area (spoiler: sometimes it doesn’t) before you end up chucking your PC out the window in frustration. And God forbid you let even one torpedo spewing corvette get within spitting distance of your carriers, ‘cos apparently they’ve got no qualms about unloading those ballistic suckers at point-blank range!

Shot3

Hey, don’t leave! I ain’t done bitching yet! The above complaints are just a small sample of the many absolutely baffling design faults I encountered during my time with SSZ. Other such gems include, but are not limited to, your shields being utterly decimated should you even so much as lightly tap an enemy ship, no saving during any of the hour+ long missions, ship upgrades being tied to near impossible achievements, no in-mission ammo resupply or repairs, abysmal checkpointing and – my personal favourite – an instant game over if you cross any invisible, constantly moving, totally undocumented boundaries that could be absolutely anywhere in every level!

But you know what? Despite everything, I………I still like this game. I really do. I’d still rather play it than waste a single moments thought on God, Vishnu, Xenu, Richard Dawkins or whatever other deity you care to mention. I guess that probably says a whole lot more about me than it does this game, though.

But come on; it has hyperspace jumps! Flak cannons! Naval tactics! Ion Beams! Firing solutions! Plus, all kinds of other sci-fi bullshit, and it’s all just so damn glorious. Who cares if it ain’t exactly smooth sailing in the gameplay department? Whatever! This game lets you fly a crazy robot spaceship thing headlong into an enemy armada, weave through oncoming laser beams, transform into kick-ass robot, unleash an absurd volley of micro-missiles, and then sit back and bask in the resulting explosion like it’s an end of season finale. I tell ya buddy, that just speaks to me on some deep-ass level.

Would I recommend SSZ to anyone who isn’t an obsessive man-child like me? Eh, probably not. I’m not even sure I’d recommend it to myself! That’s not to say I regret playing SSZ; watching my childhood dreams unfold before me is something that I’ll treasure for a long time to come. No, the thing I regret is trying to convince myself that those dreams could in any way justify all the things SSZ got wrong, that it could somehow bring me to call it a “good game”  It ain’t a good game. It’s a bad game. It’s a VERY bad game.

Instead of God, I chose a very bad game.

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McPixel Review

It’s hypothetical question time! So, you’re on a plane, right, and there’s this live nuke at your feet that’ll detonate in 20 seconds. Plus, there’s a rather hungry lookin’ giant snake that’s eyeing you up for a meal. And no, there aren’t any parachutes in sight. All you’ve got at your disposal is a handy shovel and some lightning-fast reflexes. Quick MacGyver! How do you get outta this one!?!?

What, you got nothing? Really? But the solution is so obvious! First, you kick the nuke into the snake’s gaping mouth, whack it rest of the way down the poor bugger’s digestive system using the shovel, and then hold his mouth closed. That way, the entire explosive force of the nuke will be contained within the snake’s body! And that my friends, is how you protect yourself from a nuclear explosion AND defeat a giant snake at the same time! Oh, wait. I should’ve probably mentioned that this is all happening inside a point ‘n click adventure game, a genre in which just about any problem can be solved, provided the solution makes absolutely zero goddamn sense.

Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration really. As much as a lot of us (e.g. me) like to remember all adventure games as being complete and utter nonsense, many of the puzzle solutions from classics like Loom and Monkey Island did follow at least some semblance of logic (even if they did get a little crazy at times….). But with McPixel, there’s no chance of any hyperbole going on. Indeed, I’d say it’s almost impossible to overstate the madness this game brings to the table anyway. Yes, it’s quite literally balls to the walls insane 110% of the time without fail.

The comically absurd “puzzle” I opened this review with? That’s not even close to the craziest thing this game’s thrown at me so far (although it is perhaps the funniest). It’s almost like the developer somehow collected every single silly adventure game puzzle ever, made them even more ridiculous, and then plonked an arbitrary 20 second time limit on ‘em out of pure malice. To put it simply, this game has all the frustration of a nightmarishly awkward pixel hunter, mixed in with the unrelenting pace of Wario Ware. Also, it’s……. fun? Go figure.

Alright, let’s get this bit over with. Visuals: 8-bit pixel art, yadda yadda yadda harkens back to the day when blah blah blah RETRO herp derp derp. Look, if you’re reading an Indie game blog then you’ve seen this stuff a million times before, so I’ll try and spare you the needless nostalgic reminiscing this time around. All you need to know is that the old-school aesthetics in McPixel are about as spot-on as they could possibly be; no elaboration needed. I would, however, like to give special mention to the kick-ass music. While some of the tracks might loop a little bit too often for my taste, it’s still by far the most impressive attempt at making an authentic adventure game soundtrack that ever I’ve heard! Why, it reminds me of back in the day when I played The Curse of Monkey Island and……BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. Moving on.

The core game mode in McPixel is broken up into rounds, and each round contains 6 wacky scenarios, all of which contain a non-descript bomb of some kind that’ll detonate in exactly 20 seconds. Within that very limited time frame you must partake in the time-honoured tradition of clicking random stuff like a madman in order to find some kind of insane solution to your impending doom. More often than not, however, you’ll instead stumble upon one of the many “easter egg” endings which, while suitably hilarious, will still bring you to an untimely end. Either way, the game’ll chuck you into the next balmy predicament on the list until you’ve found all the non-fatal endings in that round.

The fact the game runs at such a breakneck pace is probably what saves it from being anywhere near as frustrating as the old school puzzles it’s trying to parody. The reason those kinds of mind-bogglers got annoying in “real” adventure games was that they made any kind of smooth progression totally impossible, often leaving you trapped in the same area for hours on end. But if you can’t figure something out in McPixel, then no worries, ‘c0s you’ll be dead in 20 seconds and then thrown into the next puzzle anyway. Even then, it rarely takes more than two or three attempts to learn the ins and outs of each scenario pretty thoroughly (near-incomprehensible bonus levels aside). At the very most, you’re looking about two clicks per solution, none of which require any sense timing or skill.

In fact, almost every solution is so goddamn surreal that there’s no possible way you’d find them other than just brute-forcing every possible combination until you get lucky. The very few solutions that aren’t completely insane are instead laughably straightforward, as if to toy with what little comprehension you thought you had of McPixel‘s warped reality. I guess the lack of real “gameplay” here should make me angry or something, but it really doesn’t. If anything, its sheer absurdity and unpredictability makes McPixel an extremely appealing “turn-off brain” experience. If it wasn’t for the harsh time constraints, constant explosions and chuckle-worthy humour, I’d almost call it relaxing!

Eventually, though, the joke does being to wear a little thin. While the extensive variety of levels in McPixel keeps things interesting for way longer than you might expect, at the end of the day all it’s doing (albeit masterfully) is pulling off the same gag over and over again in little 20 second chunks. For some, I think that’s going to make the price tag of $9.99 a bit of a hard sell. But hey, it made me laugh more than I’ve laughed in a long while; can you really put a price on that?

McPixel will be available 26th of June and can currently be preordered via the official site for $9.99 (~£6.50) with an additional $1/$2.50 discount available if you also submit a piece of fan-art/video content with your order. Preordering will net you a free copy of Super Office Stress and the McPixel OST!

Good
Absurdist humour
Spot-on retro graphics
Unpredictable
Excellent music
Tons of levels

Bad
No real depth
Only has one joke

Reprisal Review

Here’s a bit of ‘inside baseball’ for you guys, this is three step guide to how I play/lose almost any RTS game: Step 1) Build as many of the cheapest units as possible. Step 2) Point them vaguely in the direction of my opponent. Step 3) See what happens. Tactical viability aside, I just find something massively cathartic about seeing waves of troops wash over an enemy’s base like a crashing tide, a tactic that very few games actively encourage. With that in mind, I can’t help but feel Reprisal and I were somehow always meant to be together.

The game has you play as a nearly forgotten shamman, with only a small number of devout followers to your name. Your mission is to spread your influence across the land and reclaim your former godly powers, mainly through violent conquest of any tribes not smart enough to bow down before you. A subtle commentary on organised religion? Hell if I know. I was too busying jamming out to its classy chip tunes and lappin’ up the gorgeous pixel art to care.

In a homage to the classic “Hands-Off” RTS Populous, the game eschews the traditional array of movement and construction commands you’d normally expect from such a game. In fact, Beyond the obligatory “go here” order, there’s only two flavours of edict you can give your worshipers at all; either “Everyone, go build houses wherever the hell you feel like!” or “Everyone, go steal the houses the other tribe’s built!”. That’s right, no collecting wood, constructing sufficient pylons, managing build queues or even reluctantly typing “gg” every time you get your ass handed to you; It really is a binary choice between build stuff or steal stuff en masse. I’ll admit, having all the usual commands taken away made me feel a bit naked at first, but after a while I actually found it quite liberating not having to keep a million variables in my head all the time. Now there was only one thing I had to focus my immeasurable intellect on: landscaping.

Yes, you heard me right: Landscaping. You see, In order to you aid you your people’s genocide of anyone who chose the wrong god, you have an extensive range of mystical abilities, the most important of which allows you to instantly raise and lower sections of land at will. Using this, you can quickly turn rugged inhospitable mountain land or boundless oceans into flat fertile soil that’s easy for your people to colonise. After a while of messing around with this power, I very quickly realised that this game could just as aptly be called ‘Multiply or Die’. It works like this: The more of that all-important flatland your bros have, the bigger their settlements will be, which in turn go on to produce more (and stronger) bros, who then go on to build/steal other houses and produce more bros than before and so on and so on.

It’s a really interesting dynamic that turns traditional RTS logic on its head. For once you don’t really have to worry about what your building or where you build it; you little worshiper dudes take care of that bit for you. Instead, your job is to simply make that stuff happen as fast as possible. Seriously there’s no time to wait; right from the beginning you’ve just gotta throw caution to the wind and get terraforming like crazy! And you better not stop for anything, ‘cus what works for you, works for your enemies too. The more troops they’ve got, the faster they can steal from you, which in turn gives them more units, which lets lets them steal even faster than before etc etc. It’s not so much an AI you’re fighting against in Reprisal; It’s more like pure, brutal mathematics. I guess that might be considered a bit of a faux pas for hardcore strategy fans looking for something a little more advanced, but I for one found it quite relaxing for a change. It’s nice to turn the higher brain functions down a notch and let your reflexes do the talking sometimes, you know?

There is of course a bit more to this game than a simple land grab; alongside your terraforming powers you’ve a full repertoire of all the standard god-like abilities such as tornados, thunderstorms, fireballs, and uh, fireball thunderstorms (?). With a bit of quick thinking there’s all sorts of clever tactics you can pull off with ‘em that’ll either aid your followers in warfare or, even better, stunt the growth of vile blasphemers before they’ve had a chance to build up any forces of their own. I think my personal favourite stratagem was calling in a tsunami and wiping out anything living at sea level, all while my chosen few were chillin’ safely in their mountain-top fortress. It’s hardly Sun Tzu I know, but the charming simplicity of Reprisal’s mechanics still never fail to put a smile on my face even when it all inevitably backfires (sometimes I forget to build the mountain….).

I should mention however that game doesn’t really explain how to do most of the stuff I just described, or how just about anything in the game works at all for that matter! The ‘tutorial’ ends rather abruptly, leaving you to deal with the game’s incredibly steep difficulty curve (mostly thanks to the the AI’s patchett for cheating in later stages) without so much as a tooltip to go on. But at least you’re given plenty of time to learn the ropes though, as the game’s 30 or so levels should –unless you happen to have Korean levels of APM— last you a good two or three hours before you either conquer the known worlds or manage to develop Repetitive Strain Injury from all that frenzied clicking.

Okay so here’s the part where I have to make a little confession: As this game is a free browser based title, I was initially planning to ending this review with something along the lines of “this game is a really cool time sink, but only worth playing ‘cus it’s free”. However, upon the fifth or so time I found myself booting up Reprisal since starting to write this thing, I began to realise that sentiment is complete and utter bull. Sure, it might not be the deepest strategy game out there, and it’s extremely derivative of the games it’s homaging and all, but you know what? It’s also immensely rewarding, it looks great, it sounds great and, dare I say it? It’s bloody good fun! Without a doubt, you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice if you didn’t check this thing out some time, even if all you do with it is chill out at the menu screen’s jaunty tunes.

Reprisal can currently be played for free over on the official site.

Good
High quality music/graphics,
Very satisfying,
Interesting twist on the RTS formula,
Large amount of content (for a free game).

Bad
Short tutorial,
Cheating AI towards the end.

A Virus Named Tom Review

Ah, a good ol’ pipe rearranger puzzle game, everyone knows how these work right? Either that, or I’m getting super old….. Okay, just to be sure, let’s break it down real quick: You’ve got this grid right, and on that grid there’s a ‘Source’ and an ‘Exit’, and your job is to placing (or just rotating in the case of this game) a variety of pipe segments that link the two together, usually to the pace of  some terribly harsh time limit that’ll make you curse up a storm on more than one occasion.

A Virus Named Tom’s neat little twist on this age-old design is twofold: firstly, there’s no ‘Exit’ to link up with, instead you’re expected to connect ‘Source’ to every pipe piece on the grid in one continuous path. And secondly, to make that happen you’ve got to move your little virus dude (the titular Tom) around the grid while dodging the patrolling anti-virus ‘spiders’, each of whom can take a massive chunk out of your limited time upon contact and likely cause the aforementioned cursing.

Your only weapon against this anti-viral onslaught is the Glitch, a trap you can place on the grid that temporarily stuns the spiders, or even destroys them entirely should another spider be unfortunate enough to collide with ’em before the effect wears off. Early on that’s about as complicated as it gets, but over time further gameplay mechanics are introduced, such as hidden grid squares, immovable pipes and multiple ‘Sources’, that’ll force you to develop new approaches for each puzzle.

There is of course the customary whacky narrative holding this puzzler’s premise together: The contractually insane Dr X, creator of the Jetsons-esque sci-fi utopia “The City of Tomorrow”, seeks to use Tom to sabotage several of his greatest inventions, all as an act of vengeance against his former employers: the monolithic Mega-Tech Corporation! In all honesty, the storyline is wafer-thin and bares almost zero relevance to the actual gameplay. But still, l just couldn’t help but give the odd wry smile and occasional chuckle to every little comedy skit or angry email from the Mega-Tech executives. Without a doubt this game oozes with character and charm, a testament to what a small team can really do with limited resources and a bit o’ love.

But even without all that charisma backing it up, the excellent gameplay alone is more than capable of making this title worth talking about. While I would call anything about it particularly original, I simply can’t understate how extraordinarily well crafted each and every puzzle feels. Many are deceptively simple at first, but you’ll quickly discover they each require a hefty amount of logical thought as well as a good dose of dexterity to see them through. More importantly though, none of them ever felt overwhelming as such; the answer never seemed like some sort of impossibly out of reach goal. The solution was always there waiting for me just over the horizon, all I had to do was work/think my ass off to get to it!

I guess I could call it challenging, but I feel like the word “challenge” has become a bit of a dirty word thanks to the rise of (brilliant) hardcore Indies like Super Meat Boy, Dustforce and their many assorted kin. A Virus Named Tom ain’t like that, it isn’t shouting “YO, I BET YOU CAN’T DO THIS TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE THING LOSER!” at your face every five seconds. No, it’s more like a gentle taunt of “Hey, I made this puzzle for you! Think you can beat it?”. I know that’s probably a very strange analogy to make, but it’s a good illustration of how jarring it feels to finally play an Indie game that doesn’t seem like it hates your guts.


Even at a stretch, I can only really find one issue that might present a problem when this thing exits Beta, and it’s an issue that just about every puzzle game ever has had to contend with: Longevity. While the game offers 50 excellent single player levels, bare in mind that the first 20 or so of those can be dusted off in one sitting, and the only replay value this game offers is a chance to redo each puzzle a bit faster than you did last time; not exactly my idea of fun. Although the 2-4 player co-op and competitive modes add another 50 or so levels on top of that (and are great fun to boot!) that lack of online compatibility severely limits how many people will even bother trying it. I mean really? Going ‘outside’ to someone else’s house? Who even does that anymore!

But at this point I feel like I’m just splitting hairs for the sake of it. Even as someone who’s not super keen on traditional puzzle games like this, I still found the Beta version of A Virus Named Tom extremely engaging, almost literally having to pry myself away from it so I could write this preview. For all intents and purposes it appears to be a highly entertaining title wrapped in a loveable aesthetic and executed with a degree of fineness that only in my wildest dreams could be considered a norm in the Indie scene. In short, If the current build I’ve been playing is anything to go by, the future for this game is very bright indeed.

A Virus Named Tom can currently be pre-ordered at a 50% discount ($5) via Steam or Desura, granting you instant access to the rather spiffy Beta build. ETA for the final version is Spring 2012 for the PC version and TBA for PS3/Mac/XBLA/Linux/OnLive.

Orion: Dino Beatdown Reivew

In this world of strife and chaos, where petty differences have locked mankind into an endless cycle of conflict, there is but one constant, one undeniable fact that transcends human ignorance and unites us all as one race. The fact that dinosaurs, are really, really, AWESOME. And hey, you know what else kicks ass? Crazy sci-fi guns. Also awesome? Jetpacks. So with that in mind, imagine my awe when I first laid eyes on ORION: Dino Beatdown; it’s dinosaurs, crazy sci-fi guns *and* jetpacks, together at last! The ultimate tag-team has arrived! Alone they are strong, but when this Holy Trinity of Rad™ is finally united under one banner, they become…… quite naff apparently.

Joking aside, I really can’t fault the concept of Dino Beatdown. 1-5 players, 3 huge maps, 3 ubiquitous classes (recon, assault, support), an HQ full of death-dealing amenities and, of course, wave after wave of angry dinosaurs hungry for some space marine flavoured chow. It doesn’t look half bad either! Lush environments, sharp textures, insane amounts of bloom lighting (I kid you not, the moon looks like a bloody supernova!); based on visuals alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking this game was something other than a miserable train wreck! I mean, just watch the trailer below, then try and tell me you aren’t at least a little bit pumped to go toe to toe with a T-Rex!

Sorry, but the fantasy ends here. Make no mistake; this game isn’t just bad, it’s AWFUL. Mind you, I think that trailer was subtly trying to warn you about that anyway. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my time as a gamer, it’s that when a trailer tries to tell you how ‘dynamic’ and/or ‘advanced’  the game’s A.I is going to be (this one does both!), then you can rest assured that, in reality, dem bots gonna be writ thick. Whether it’s T-Rexs lodging themselves into walls or raptors jumping to their deaths off the side of cliffs, this game leaves you with an alternative theory as to why the dinos went extinct: suicidal levels of stupidity.

So, not much of a challenge then, right? Ha! I wish! From the third wave onwards, the number of pea-brained dinos you’ll be expected to deal with skyrockets into absolutely absurd values. This unrelenting assault means your base’s energy generators will be destroyed mere moments into each wave, thus ensuring the upgrade/resupply stations they power will be functional for perhaps a second or so at a time. But even if you did manage to stock up on ordinance before they went down, those prehistoric critters can soak up an insane amount of bullets, laser beams, speeding jeeps or whatever else you throw at them in mad desperation. In fact, it’s pretty damn hard to tell if you’re doing any damage at all. They don’t so much as flinch, even after taking a rocket squarely to the face!

Players, on the other hand, aren’t quite as fortunate as their scaly opponents. For one thing, fate has somehow led them down a path that involved playing this god awful game, and secondly, they can expect to instantly die should an enemy combatant so much as casually glance in their general direction. Oh, and every time you respawn, you’ll lose any of the fairly useless guns you spent forever trying to afford, and instead revert back to an armoury of exceptionally useless guns, all of which might as well fire weaponized tickles for all the damage they do.

However, many of Dino Beatdown’s problems run a lot deeper than simple balance issues. And this isn’t just me being a nit-picky critic; some of the things in this game are just flat out WRONG. Take for instance, the simple process of buying a gun from one of the game’s shops. What sort of information would you expect the game to give you here? How much money you had available to spend perhaps? HAHA. No. For some reason that handy bit of data is absent from the shop screen.…

Hmmmm. What about a little description for each weapon then? You know, so you actually have some idea of what you’re buying? Pfffft, who needs that! A made-up military designation is more than enough info! Any “real” gamer would surely know that the C-43U THINGY is an assault rifle with a smaller clip size, but far superior recoil to the U5B WHATSIT! Hell, it’s just so damn obvious! Well, whatever. At least when you click the “buy” button, something happens, right? Noooope! You see, every button in Dino Beatdown is a total crapshoot, and the odds are most definitely not in your favour. Will it work? Will it crash the game? Will it do both? The possibilities are endless!

Seriously guys, if I had all the time in the world I’d give you a full list of all the glitches, oversights and other such unadulterated jank this game has to offer, but I suspect you get the idea already.

Normally this is the part of the review where I say something along the lines of “Well, this game mostly sucks, but at least I found [X] part of it to be pretty fun!” which is a sentiment that’s totally applicable here too! Indeed, me and my mates wrung many hours of entertainment out of Dino Beatdown,  mostly by laughing our asses off every time we discovered a new and innovative way it managed to fail at just about everything.

“Disappointed” doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel right now. I mean, come on! Dinosaurs, jetpacks and frickin’ sci-fi guns! This thing should’ve been amazing! But hey, it’s not. It’s broken, it’s flawed, it’s laughable. I’m simply beyond astounded that anyone thought, for even a fraction of a second, that ORION: Dino Beatdown was ready to hit retail.

ORION: Dino Beatdown is currently available for the PC at the price of £6.99 via Steam, which is precisely £20 too much.

Good

Dinosaurs!
Jet packs!
Sci-fi guns!
The graphics are alright
…..Dinosaurs?

Bad

Half-baked gameplay
Numerous glitches and oversights
Lacks even basic functionality
Unbalanced as hell

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.

Cubemen Review

I don’t like tower defence games. There, I said it, now feel free to lynch me! I don’t have a passionate hatred for them or anything, It’s just just I can’t get much satisfaction from simply clicking a few buttons and then sitting back to watch the “game” part happen on its own. I want to be involved somehow, I want to feel like I’m more than just an engineer who pops in every now and then to make sure everything’s still tickety-boo. Also, it doesn’t exactly help that the Indie community churns these things out at a rate that’d make an iPad sweatshop look inefficient. So in that context, Cubemen ended up being a rather pleasant breath of fresh air for me. It’s one of the few games I’ve played that tries to put a nice twist on the genre, or at least one that isn’t just a cosmetic palette swap or a half-assed tacked-on gameplay mechanic.

At its core, this game *is* a fairly generic tower defence title; the things you’re building all fit nicely into the industry approved archetypes: cheap DPS, AOE mortar thingy, “slow the hell down” freeze ray, flamethrower bro, etc etc. The big difference is that the things you’re building ain’t towers, they’re the titular Cubemen; little blocky dudes you can actually give orders to. They’re troops, units, infantry. Treat em’ like permanent structures and you’re doomed! That’s something learnt the hard way after struggling to last even a few rounds on the easiest map in the game.

The little guys aren’t terribly sturdy fellows, and there’s no fancy upgrades to keep em’ in fighting shape, so hoarding up money like you would in a standard tower defence scenario is a surefire way to defeat. Instead you’ve gotta be dynamic and spontaneous. If one of your dudes snuffs it, then you must be prepared to replace em’ A.S.A.P, and if the current formation ain’t working out then you gotta move them into one that does. It’s totally nullifies the “hands-off” approach that I normally find so off-putting; in Cubemen I was always part of the action and there was always something for me to think about.

The game is split into two distinct modes: the first is defence, which is your basic “build a defensive formation around your HQ then shout ‘COME AT ME BRO!’” type thing. And then there’s the 2 player (human or AI) skirmish mode, which is more akin to a cross between tower defence and ARTS. The basic gist of it is that each player defends their HQ from relentless waves of enemy “creeps” all the while trying to escort their own batch of grunts to their rival’s HQ. Skirmish also limits you a lot more on where you can place your Cubemen and how many you can build, so your decisions end up having to be a lot more long term. I personally enjoyed the Defence mode a lot more due to its faster pace of play, but both types have their own separate quirks and strategies that make each of them worthy timesinks in their own right.


If that wasn’t good enough already, the game also looks mighty fine! I’m always a sucker for some snazzy voxel graphics, and Cubemen delivers that in spades; that maps in particular have a beautiful aesthetic to them that makes me crave some kind of editor post-haste. There’s huge variety of them too, each one offering its own individual tactical possibilities that take a fair bit of careful study to divine. It actually got to the point where I’d spend a good minute or two staring at map layouts in the level selection screen, thinking thoughts along the lines of “hmmm yeah I think I’ll open up with 2 of these and put them here and here and… oh! that’ll be a great spot for one of those things, ugh but what if they use THAT?”. It’s the sort of thought process you’d normally expect to come from a hardcore RTS title like Starcraft or Warcraft, and it was kinda exhilarating to experience it in a different context than usual.

So far so good right? Well…….. I was totally stoked when I first sat down to do this review of Cubemen. “Finally” I thought “A game I can give a straight-up positive review! No major flaws I have to dig into, no ‘I like this game except for the bit where’, no little caveats, no nothing!”. But sadly my dream was not to be. In a bout of of curiosity I decided to try something. Something I’m not exactly proud of, but it had to be done. What I did was this:


What you see before you is a good ol’ fashioned Zerg rush, a tactic as old as time itself. Basically I built as many Grills (the cheapest unit in the game) as fast as I possibly could and lined them all up. The result was in an impenetrable barrier of cube dudes that crushed any approaching enemy in a hail of gunfire. Even if one of the poor buggers died, I’d have probably gained enough points by then to build 3 more! With this “strategy” you can totally dominate every defence level across all difficulties (except in 8 Units Only and Rockets Only mode) as well as get pretty close to a bunch of the online highscores. And while it probably won’t win you any skirmish matches against human players, it’s more than enough to best the AI.

Is it fun to play the game like this? Hell no, it’s super boring! So what’s the problem then, can’t you just ignore it and play the game “properly”? Well yeah, for some people that’ll be easy as pie, but for others it presents a bit of a problem. Chances are you’ll want to build some Grill units regardless of what your playstyle happens to be. But where do you draw the line? How many is too many? At what point are you “cheating”? Maybe you should just forbid yourself from using them at all? In essence, you end up having to establish your own personal honour system just to keep the game “fair” which, for me at least, makes Cubemen exceptionally uncomfortable to play.

Don’t get me wrong here, I still wholeheartedly recommend Cubemen for anyone looking for a hefty strategy fix. It’s a fun, clever title that puts a unique spin on an incredibly stale genre, and for that it should be lauded. But for people such as myself, the constant lure of an “easy way out” will be too much to bare and end up ruining the wonderful experience this game has to offer. I guess for £3.99 it’s not something worth pulling your hair out over, but before you take the plunge, I’d recommend you at least have a little think about where you stand on playing games “honestly”.

Cubemen is currently available from Steam for £3.99.

Good

Cool art style.
Large variety of maps.
Great twist on Tower Defence.
Lots of tactical possibilities.

Bad

Nothing to stop a Zerg rush on most modes.

Vessel Review

Physics based 2D puzzle platformer. There, I just described about a billion [citation needed] different titles within the Indie scene. I mean, I can’t be the only one who’s feeling a little burnt-out on these things by now, right? At this point if you’re gonna make a game that so neatly fits such a generic description, it better damn well do something quite special if it wants anyone to even give it a second thought. So thankfully for the people over at Strange Loop Games (and my own sanity), Vessel more than manages to justify its own existence through innovation, visual appeal and some classy audio.

You play genius inventor Arkwright, whose claim to fame is the creation of “Fluros” a series of liquid based machines that now serve as manual labour in various industries across the land. The rest of the “story” is delivered through very short journal entries that, for the most part, have very little relevance on the gameplay. Most of the time the entries just boil down to “Whoa, looks like malfunctioning Fluros are totally messin’ up [industrial location] real good. Perhaps I should mosey on over and sort that shizzle out!”. For a little while it felt like this simple tale was about to get suddenly rather serious out of the blue, but sadly such a u-turn never materialised until (literally) the last minute. It’s no real biggie though, as the core gameplay more than makes up for any perceived lack of narrative.

The puzzles mainly revolve around manipulating the different types of Fluro, whose particular brand of OCD behaviour is determined by what liquid their body is comprised of and what kind of Fluro “Seed” was used in their inception. For example, one type of Fluro might have a thing for obsessively pushing every button it can find, while another type will relentlessly hunt you down to the ends of the earth so it can deliver a body slam to your head. Both of these examples can be adorably harmless when made out of water, or terrifyingly un-harmless when comprised of molten lava.

In most cases you’re tasked with using the Fluro’s predictable behaviour to “trick” them into activating mechanisms that open up a path to the next puzzle or unlock some new puzzle solving equipment. With the exception of a few unnecessarily confusing sections, I’d say the difficulty level of these tasks is fairly average. They’re *just* difficulty enough to make finishing them feel like an accomplishment, but not so much so that you’ll be stuck on the same one for hours on end. Even if you do run into trouble, most of the challenges can be figured out after a bit of whimsical experimentation.

There’s a bit of platforming going on too, but 90% of the time it takes a backseat to puzzle solving. This is largely for the best, as it’s easily Vessel’s weakest and most frustrating aspect by far. Throughout my playthrough the controls often felt very imprecise and awkward, resulting in far more untimely deaths that I would have liked (i.e. any). Now add to that the fact poor little Arkwright can’t take so much as a larva Fluro to the face before booting you back to a loading screen and you’ve got yourself a less than compelling platformer experience.


You’re gonna have to put up with it for a good while though, as Vessel is exceptionally long by Indie standards, clocking in at roughly 7-8 hours for a full completion. Obviously as it’s a puzzle game, that length of time could be significantly longer or shorter depending on where your IQ sits. However even if you’re a puzzle prodigy, Vessel should provide you with a fairly significant amount of content to consume. Admittedly a lot of the environments do recycle the same core elements over and over, but they all get re-arranging in such a way that I never felt like I was solving the same puzzle twice. The only parts that really felt like unnecessary padding where the rather useless upgrades, whose only purpose seems to be acting as carrots-on-a-stick for finding the games ubiquitous hidden collectables (YAY!) that unlock them.

Even if the brain teasers don’t quite click with you, I hope you’ll at least be able able to appreciate the lush visuals that make up Vessel’s steam-punk world. It’s a never ending sea of gorgeous whirring gears and bronze pipes, all presented with a very liberal usage of parallax scrolling that gives the game an almost 3D appearance, yet manages to avoid the usual background/foreground confusion that plagues other games with a similar art direction. The liquid physics that govern the puzzle solving are also rather wondrous to behold in their own right. I honestly had a lot of fun just watching the physics engine get to work while I was messing around with it. That is, doin’ stuff like trying to fill the whole screen up with water or seeing how many Fluros I could make before my PC started throwing a hissy fit (spoilers: a lot!). There is however one little issue with the game’s visuals that sticks out like a sore thumb: Arkwright’s animations are exceptionally crude, especially when he’s interacting with the games many cranks and levers. If anything, it reminds me more of low budget flash games rather than something I’d otherwise want to put alongside Braid or Limbo.


While there’s sadly no voice acting in Vessel, the game does features an absolutely stellar soundtrack by Coldplay collaborator Jon Hopkins (thanks procrastination Wikipedia!) full of smooth yet funky synth jams that dynamically change depending on what’s going on in the game world. I know this gets said way too often in reviews but…. this soundtrack’s probably worth getting even without the game part! There’s also a few sound effects worthy of praise too, like the soft “clunk” when you accidently headbut the ceiling or the strangely soothing sound of Arkwright’s footsteps on a wooden floor echoing down a hallway.

In all, Vessel is a unique, fun puzzle game that has the misfortune to be part of a catastrophically over-crowded scene. I’m not entirely convinced it’ll be something we’re still talking about a few months down the road, but if you’re not totally fatigued by these kinds of games just yet, then it’s more than worth your time to check this one out. I know that £12 might seem a little bit pricey for an indie game these days, but given Vessel’s rather hefty duration and distinctive brand of puzzle solving, I’d say it’s more than earned that price point.

Vessel is currently available for £12 on Steam.

Good

Very long.
Fun liquid physics.
Well-designed puzzles.
Great music and sound effects.

Bad

Messed character animations.
Poor platforming elements.