Monday, June 30, 2014

Indie Preview - Vagante

Vagante

Check it out on IndieDB 

from Nuke Nine


Just a quick update to start off a busy month, but an important one nonetheless. There's a title I've been getting recommended by quite a few trustworthy people lately, and seems to be gaining popularity at an impressive rate. After taking some time to try out the new public alpha of Vagante I could see why everyone was so set on spreading the word.

Vagante is an action platformer with procedurally generated stages and perma-deaths , making this absolutely imperative for any enthusiast of games with roguelike elements. The game is very akin to Spelunky in terms of its random maze-like passages sprinkled with difficult enemies, and its maiden rescuing objectives. The controls and platforming are smooth, combat is simple and fun, and your skills and equipment actually have a noticeable impact on your current run. Your consecutive runs will be incredibly difficult with narrow and claustrophobic corridors trapping you between numbers of varied monsters. As challenging as it is on the surface there is a slew of options available for your survival from leveling up important life-saving skills and abilities to finding or buying very useful equipment from the merchant which keep the game increasingly addictive in its progression, exploration and discovery.

Rescuing prisoners is no easy task, as your hands will be full

The art and character designs in Vagante are stunning while retaining a simple indie game charm and the very well-done character portraits of the two distinctly different heroes in particular are reminiscent to me of the most memorable mid-to-late 90s era JRPG designs, with lovely organic background art in the eye-catching title screen almost akin to the Secret of Mana/Seiken Densetsu games. The music also follows the same attractively unique yet familiar territory into RPG classics, the natural wood and string instruments sounding to me almost like tracks you would expect from something like Yasunori Mitsuda's Chrono Cross soundtrack. Long story short, even in its earliest form Vagante already has the makings of a classic.

Spikes are certain death, you'll have to approach them cautiously.

Vagante is available on Steam Early Access currently, and is already very hard to find any faults with other than the fact that it's early and still has lots more content to come. With nostalgic visuals and music combined with fun, precise and easy to pick up randomized gameplay this is a title I'm certain could become the next 'big' roguelite. I already know it is for me, at least.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Indie Preview - The 7 Towers

The 7 Towers

Check it out on IndieDB

from Mrawolf


 A lot games have been making the rounds lately on IndieDB but one has caught my attention like no other, and if you're a fan of classic gaming the warm and familiar style of this ongoing project will appeal to you in the same way.

The 7 Towers is an upcoming action arcade slash 'em up with a very gritty and dark medieval atmosphere in the same vein as some of my arcade favorites including Rastan and Ghouls 'n Ghosts (even more-so it's SNES spin-off, Demon's Crest). What sets this apart from those classics is the intensely beautiful art direction utilizing some very moody lighting as well as vibrantly rich colors which create an immensely grim yet engrossing setting already shown in screenshots.

Seriously, look at this art. Beautiful.

The 7 Towers creator who goes by Mrawolf states that the game will feature two types of towers out of a total of seven titular towers to hack'n'slash your way through, starting with the standard sidescrolling action levels you would expect from previous arcade classics and ending with towers that will feature more puzzle oriented vertically scrolling levels that will test your wit. With the diverse style of gameplay planned, The 7 Towers is proving to be one of the most unique entries in the genre.

Bathoryn takes the form of a wolf to explore the cruel and grotesque land.

 The metal as hell aesthetics and sidescrolling gothic horror action already have this contending with similar upcoming Castlevania-like titles such as Insanity's Blade or Shadowcrypt for a top spot on my watchlist, and has me salivating for the first taste we'll be able to get of what could be one of the most distinct and unique hack n slash titles around.

The game is  a work in progress and the developer is obviously hard at work, so be sure to watch Indie DB or follow the devlog closely for updates as I'm sure we have way more to look forward to.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Indie Impression - Night Shift

Night Shift

Now Available on Steam Early Access

from Brandon Brizzi


A dark road lit up only by the lights of a lone driver's car in the dead of night, the pulsing beat and warm synth of the 80's era radio, all haunted with the actualization of surreal entities and glowing white butterflies before you. Whether they are real or a figment of your driver's sleep deprived imagination is unknown. The world you've cruised into is the essence of 80's obsession with a technological dystopia and sunless futures, the soundtrack (by Dance With the Dead) the embodiment of cyberpunk, retro-future values recently re-popularized by the likes of Perturbator or the rest of the artists on the ever-popular Hotline Miami soundtrack. Night Shift caught my attention recently with it's appearance on Steam's Early Access, standing out with it's strangely unique concept and almost Knight Rider-like aesthetic.

The white trees glowing in the night give you their energy.

Night Shift is a decidedly confusing game, pitting your solitary and anonymous retro hero against the empty pitch-black depths of the unknown and ruined roads before you. Many questions are presented without any real explanation, what happened to this world, who are these other phantasms and who is our driver, what exactly am I supposed to be doing? You're dropped into the pitch black land without any clue or indication of what to do other than the trail of butterflies leading you back on the road setting you on the right path for exploration. The gameplay is very straightforward and simple in execution but sprawling and secretive in it's discovery, having you explore and steal light from dimming lamp posts with your seemingly magical high beams while watching your energy closely, which can only be recharged by the glowing white trees that stand out in the darkness. You'll be stopped on your journey to gather and restore the light around you by the ghostly apparitions of other cars, perhaps even previous drivers on the same failed quest to find the sun as you?

These spirits of the past  seem to want to give you advice.

 Night Shift already has an attractively old school and fully realized atmosphere, but in it's current form lacks a narrative as to what you're doing or where you are which while effective in it's mysterious and strange nature is exactly why it's in Early Access. The developer, creator of the puzzle-platformer 10000 Amps, apparently has some pretty ambiguous ideas for where the story is headed in the future of Night Shift and is enlisting your help to ensure it's further shaped into something great with the addition of story cinemas and lots of new plot, new levels, as well as full Steam integration for controller support, achievements, cards and the like.


 Overall, Night Shift is an awesome and quirky concept with a really gritty, dark and retro atmosphere that still has even more distance to cover in terms of the overall experience given, and if you're the kind of person who's keen on watching as well as help an uncommon and unique idea develop into something even bigger you can pick it up for a very reasonable $3.99 right now during the Summer Sale ($4.99 normal). I'm personally pretty excited to see where this one goes.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Indie Impressions - Voyage to Farland

Voyage to Farland

Now Available, also on Steam Greenlight

by Peculiar Games


Voyage to Farland is a cute and simple coffee-break roguelike more akin to classic Japanese dungeon-crawlers of the 90s than what most genre enthusiasts today are probably used to, being a big fan of the older entries in the Mystery Dungeon series of games I had to pick it up and give it a shot. I have to admit the simple look had me misled, as I didn't expect to sink as much time into the game as I did on my initial playthrough.

A talking crow rouses me from my sleep, Peculiar indeed.

 We find our wandering hero in the woods deep in sleep, apparently traveling alone in a quest to find his lost sister. A questionably talkative crow harkens to our young hero in his slumber, pushing him to awake and continue his journey in motivation for the scraps of food left behind by our human protagonist. When you start the game you have the choice of either jumping right into the starting town that acts as your hub to the main overworld and it's increasingly harder dungeons or playing a quick tutorial. The tutorial covers all the basics on on how the inventory, combat, and movement of the traditional Mystery Dungeon formula of roguelikes used here works, while managing to be a fun introduction to the game in general and is recommended for the starting loot you'll get from completing it.

Staking my loot claim in the Dark Forest

Voyage to Farland is a roguelike that will feel very familiar with people who have previously enjoyed the classic style of straight-forward turn-based combat and randomized dungeon-delving of the 90's, the controls are basic and the inventory system is fun as well as easy to use and read. This however does not keep the game from being very difficult, as any roguelike should be with the standard of permanent death and loss of items. From the town where your home and warehouse useful for storing goods are located, you travel north past the caves where you start your randomly generated journey into the forests.

Better equipped I delve into the dangerous Twilight Temple

 The enemies while very simple in-game obviously have a lot of ambition in their design based on the concept art in the banner title, and have a uniquely cute yet creepy look I haven't seen the likes of since probably Dungeons of Dredmore. The way many of the monsters interact with you really caught me by surprise being tossed into the air and flung into walls left and right constantly, adding some pretty deep strategy to how you approach each foe. While very basic on aesthetics I still find Farland oddly cute and pleasing to look at, almost as much so as it is to play.


You can buy Voyage of Farland now for a paltry $2.99 and get a lot of content for your value at multiple places as well as vote it on Greenlight to help it get on Steam, purchasing the game also gets you an Android copy which is fantastic since this is the perfect game to pick-up-and-play for quick sessions.

Indie Impression - 1Quest

1Quest

Available Now on Steam (Also from Indie Game Stand, itch.io)

from Ratz 'N' Godz in collaboration with Storybird Games


1Quest is a new retro-styled roguelike with vibrant worlds and a grim story of blood cults and royal sacrifice from independent french developer Ratz 'N' Godz, in collaboration with Storybird Games working on visuals and the immensely melodic and nostalgic soundtrack which pleasantly gives me vibes of Super Castlevania IV's warm string synths and heavy drums.

The game manages to be casual and easy enough for new players to enjoy with ease while still having the depth and appeal hardcore gamers expect from older roguelikes with it's secondary classes and complex magic system. The game has already proven to be highly replayable due to the diverse character choices, spell schools, wide array of dungeon types each with specific loot, as well as it's multiple endings achieved by saving as many royal children from sacrifice as possible. Learning about all of these features was admittedly a little confusing and obtuse at first, but in the end exceedingly rewarding.

The nimble Garuda make great rogues, one of the many starting combinations of race and class.

Getting right into the game you notice from the graphical style, the dark and ominous story, and the heavy synth-driven melodies that this is meant to be a very visceral 16-bit roguelike experience. The visuals have come a long way since their previous incarnations, and in their current state are incredibly eye catching for people who grew up gaming in the 80's and 90's with it's crisp and defined pixel-art and lovingly eerie monster designs. Although 1Quest is mostly light on backstory and explanations, it contributes well to the strange and mysterious feeling of this otherworldly culture the player has happened upon.

Attacked and outnumbered by a group of eclectic monsters, this is still a manageable situation

Creating a character marks the start of your journey, and is an important process as you'll choose both a race and a starting class for yourself. There's a pretty cool selection of races here ranging from brute strength Orcs to the more swift and agile Garuda bird people and all with their own elemental affinities making your class a crucial choice as it will effect each of these races in very different ways.

The classes offer a very broad approach to leveling up with it's advanced class system forcing you to switch between and put points into multiple basic classes in order to access some of the more powerful advanced tiers. There's two difficulties to choose from and although Easy is what anyone new to the game will want to start with, most the already hefty list of achievements will only be unlock-able in Normal.


1Quest features a very distinct world map from which you'll choose your consecutive destinations from and is a very uncommon and welcome addition to roguelikes giving the player much more control over which setting they'll end up in next. You'll have to plan your route carefully on this hexagonal boardgame-like map, as there is a limited supply of hourglasses in the top right of the screen that will tick away with each movement before the next sacrifice is on your conscious. While you get the choose the general biome you'll journey to after conquering your previous dungeon, the layouts themselves are always randomly generated as well as the placement of monsters and items keeping the adventure extensively replayable.

Starting out the world map, a unique take on classic roguelike exploration.

Although 1Quest is turn-based I found the combat here to be incredibly quick in speed and heavy on action in comparison to other more classic roguelikes. You'll be clicking your way through dungeons very fast and combat can happen in the blink of an eye but you'll still need to fight smart and sparingly in order not to empty your entire Energy bar which drains with each action. Refilling your energy bar is as easy as sleeping for a turn, however you'll need to use it wisely as resting near aggro enemies will be a very bad idea.

The game features options for Auto-Leveling skills and class which most fans of roguelikes will more than likely start out avoiding as it takes the fun out of planning the massive list of stats to play around with, although upon trying it out the system here does work very well by giving you stat points accordingly based on class and equipment you happen to be using, making it a great option for those new to the genre or just people looking to have a more relaxing and less old-school experience.

After only the first few dungeons I already have a bounty of sweet loot to manage.

Overall, 1Quest is a very fast-paced and fun roguelike that will fit right in with more casual modern gamers with it's lack of permanent death while managing to strike a balance of deep complexity and retro flavor that will appeal to older or more hardcore fans of the genre. There's lots to see and find in it's many environments each with their own objective and even a few playthroughs won't grant you access to nearly all of the different treasures, classes, or endings there are to unlock throughout the game. The visuals and sound have fantastically appealing retro aesthetics, and I really hope more musical compositions make it into the game because the one awesome fanfare we have throughout just makes you want more and I'm eager to see what additional content is in store for the future.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Indie Preview - FranknJohn

FranknJohn

Back it now on Kickstarter!

from bitSmith Games



FranknJohn is an upcoming action dungeon crawler with roguelike elements from bitSmith games, creators of the dark and beautiful Celtic adventure Ku: Shroud of Morrigan, and has been getting a lot of attention lately with it's new Kickstarter campaign. One look at the B-movie horror themed head swingin' action and our grotesquely mutilated yet cute Frankenstein's monster protaganist makes it obvious why; the game oozes with style.

FranknJohn, an irresistible horror mascot for the new age.

I was instantly drawn to the game based on the different unique head changing abilities that mix up your playstyle which give me vibes of the Treasure classic Dynamite Headdy, and combined with the quirky horror movie tropes strongly reminiscent of the original Castlevania along with the randomized top-down action of games like Binding of Isaac or Full Mojo Rampage checking it out became a top priority. bitSmith has recently released a playable Arena demo to the public that any non-backer can try to see if the gameplay lives up to it's appearance.


As the readme states, the game is best enjoyed with a gamepad to compliment the 360° movement on your chained head attacks which feel very precise but without any upgrades a little slow for properly taking on the swathes on enemies you're instantly surrounded by. Your first few tries will most likely end in your frustrating demise to a giant mob of piranha plants before you find anything of substantial use if you're anything like me, but buckling down and enduring the army of monsters that greets you is incredibly rewarding when you do eventually make it to that first sweet head transforming contraption.

Right out the gate I'm swamped with all sorts of foul creatures.

I found myself fully relying on twitch-based skills to run and jump out of the way of every attack just in time as a single hit would drop my health a great deal, there are hearts to collect but they seemed to have a very random chance of dropping sometimes not even finding a single one on a specific run. The enemies themselves are very effective in their creepy appearance ranging from ghastly carnivorous plants with exposed guts to decrepit corpses who use their own tombstones as a shield, all of which have their own defined attack patterns and weaknesses.

At the far end of the Arena is the most terrifying of creatures you'll face.

The first Skullcap I was granted by the strange and complex transmogrifying machine was the demon head, Cherufe's Rage, and quickly spiced things up giving me the ability to shoot fireballs in more of a classic twin-stick fashion that would incinerate my foes on contact. The huge, arduous mobs of enemies became easier to deal with and I was moving along at a quicker pace showing that these items are an integral part of your survival especially in this demo, as attempting to live without them is a true test in patience. Already in the demo the variety of Skullcaps I've come across and the diversity in their abilities is very wide and makes replaying the Arena to try out different ones fun. There are apparently around 100 different caps planned, and if the current quality of different heads and the creativity shown in their distinctiveness is any sign we're going to have many hours of exploration and discovery to look forward to in FranknJohn just from the sheer number of interchangeable headtypes to play around with.

Skullcaps give you the fighting chance you desperately need.

 The demo is currently just the arena and the only randomized features seem to be the enemies and which Skullcap you acquire from the machine, it's definitely a little difficult and many will probably give up before getting to experience the cooler head modifications which are very fun, but it is a demo and I'm sure we can look forward to some tremendously creative level designs with addictive random elements as well a much more progressive learning curve (but even if not I am more than up to the challenge). The action already feels very tight and the head altering concept shows enormous promise, and with FTL composer Ben Prunty on board producing some seriously spooky and groovy beats this is absolutely one roguelite to keep your eyes on.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Indie Preview - Valzar

I recently had the chance to experience new roguelike platformer, Valzar, and had all of my previous expectations surpassed. The game is in a near complete state and just needs your votes on Steam Greenlight I decided to do an early impression of the game, and although I cover most of the basics the number of small secrets in this is so huge that I only scratch the surface. It's a game I'll be playing for a long time but here's what I think so far;

 A lot of action based roguelike/roguelites of recent memory tend to have a very similar dungeon setting, and while I adore late games like Legend of Dungeon and Rogue Legacy I am much more attracted to the whimsical and surreal style of Valzar. The different mystical gods, the bright, colorful and otherworldly backgrounds all combine for a most genuine fantasy world. I delved into the game right away and fell completely in love with the aesthetics here both in visuals and music, I notice right off the bat that the enemy designs are especially fantastic and creative.


                                        Valzar has one seriously colorful cast of characters.

You start your adventure on what seems to be a mysterious and dangerous sunken land with the title screen showing us the main girl we will be playing the role of sitting alone atop a bounty of treasure in the middle of a body of water enclosed by patrolling sharks, imagery that is actually quite normal compared to the sights you will encounter ahead. You find yourself in a large, rocky area with nothing but the waves around you and a plethora of spells and weapons for you to choose from to start your journey with all encompassed by even more scores of mysteriously unknown and unlockable spells. 

The four weapons you have to choose from offer some very distinct passive abilities that will make your choice a strategic one, as it will be what you're stuck with for the next run. Your starting choices are the dagger which modifies your spells with a poison property, an axe that sends any attacking foes into the air for an easy combo, a wand that enchants spells with a slowing property, and finally a sword which burns attacked foes. Once you're set on your perfect deadly combination of weapon and spells you move into the great ship before you, where your humanoid yet bug-like captain awaits your charting orders.

Only a small portion of the vast amounts of unlockables you'll uncover.
Playing Valzar is an engrossing experience that I have a lot of trouble putting down once I get started. The challenge represented here is incredibly motivating due to the very unique behaviour and dynamic humanlike A.I. of every meticulously designed enemy, which keeps you striving to learn the patterns and abilities of each of your foes and continue surpassing your previous efforts. The ingenious and unique artistic features of your various adversaries is exceeded only by the utterly distinct actions each one will take against you ranging from monsters that evade your every attack, lay frozen mines that slow your movement, or attach to you with grappling hooks to bring you in for the kill. 


While the game is challenging in it's pursuit of following the classic roguelike rule of losing all of your progress on death, the aforemention unlockable spells at the beginning area are a persistent element that can be gained through further explorations into the Island. This means that even though you lose your gold and items on death, any new spells you unlock through defeating bosses will now remain in your starting area on every consecutive playthrough giving you more options to survive the harder you play.

Your foes are intelligent and will respond accordingly to every movement you make.


You navigate your chosen stage using a very open grid-based map of which you have full control, where each tile is hidden and uncovered if you choose to explore in it's direction. Each map you visit is randomly plotted with Treasure rooms, increasingly harder randomized stages, a cryptographer that can unveil everything for you on said map, as well as an array of many other cryptic secrets I still haven't learned of after hours of play. 

One of the more important plots on the map you'll be searching for are Gods (also known as Jinns) who when worshipped bestow a different set of exclusive abilities you can unlock through Favor gained by specific tasks. These tasks can range anywhere from exploring uncharted areas to suffering through curses which impede your gameplay and make gaining Favor for new abilities fun and interesting. In order to complete and exit a particular region you must first defeat it's boss and make your way to the ship, however proceeding without carefully uncovering useful treasures will only ensure your swift death on future areas.

Worshipping the elegant Deer God will grant you special abilities in exchange for Favor.

 Even after really getting into Valzar and exploring the different regions of the overworld I still find myself wondering what purpose many of the anomalies serve as I come across new relics, one of which being the golden pieces of a strange and mysterious Amulet that you collect on your inventory screen. I'm not totally positive what these do yet but there are multiple pieces to collect that form a whole, with each region of the map seeming to have multiple smaller pieces. 

Upon using one of the smaller pieces I was taken to another hidden void on the map and pitted against a dark rival, which gained me extra Favor for my worshipped god as well as a new ability to use on the rest of my trip. This had me really excited to continue exploring even larger surfaces of each map to find new Gods collect as many pieces of this Amulet as I could to discover it's effect when completed, yet one more addition to the growing list of enigmatic mysteries to keep you hooked on uncovering the world. 

There's more than enough to keep track of in the inventory to keep you busy between brawls.

 The game is very fast-paced and seemingly simple at first glance with it's hyper-speed combat and arena styled stages making it feel almost like some kind of a roguelike infused Smash Bros. or Towerfall: Ascension, but as you really start to poke around you're quickly faced with all of the convoluted procedures you would expect from a full fledged roguelike. On your inventory screen is a myriad of things you're going to need to keep close track of in order for your survival which will keep you strong willed in your collecting instincts. T

here's headgear, gold that can be used to buy different Spirit Animals and Auras from vendors you come across, apple juice bottles to collect which act as health items, strange multi-colored gems that seem to power the helpful Aura effects you buy from previously mentioned vendors, and your stock of chickens which will keep you sated while decreasing by one with each square moved as well as be used to predict unidentified potions.

 Last but far from least important is the Class slot, of which give passive benefits that severely favor a particular playstyle. The assassin class will grant you stealth at the beginning of a stage allowing you that tide-turning opening blow whereas the guardian class will deflect a single blow at the start of each stage. Classes are an integral part of your arsenal and will benefit many different weapon and spell combinations with lots of experimenting, giving players of varying skill plenty of room to play around with their preferred method of tackling each progressively harder stage.

With the help of the assassin class I avoid the detection of my enemies.. for now.
As you scour the map for items and events to help you on your way you'll locate other very crucial treasures for use between battles, like the very important fruits and potions. These add another layer of complexity to your stat and item management, as you travel you stock on potions which will remove curses as well as bestow random effects like a boost in attack power or damage resist. Alongside potions are fruit, which can be used for other helpful enchants like increasing random stats or rerolling the loot around you when combined with your identified potions. Ever wanted to ask a chicken to identify your potion, pour the potion on a fruit, then eat it? Well in Valzar you can!

A suspiciously generous whale offers me chicken, fruit, and potions.

 For a one-man independent developer, this is an exceptionally high quality package that is chocked full of features most often ignored by indie game devs such as full controller support with proper button icon switching, lots of resolution plus frame rate options, the ability to turn screen shake on and off, and an abundance of persistent unlockables along with the ability to play with them all on from the start. 

The music is obviously created with a lot of love for the history of this art-form as it induces a lot of feelings of nostalgia in classic gamers, and as mentioned many times the character and enemy designs presented in this artistically magnificent game are completely out of this world. From floating whale gods and deer gods to purple furred foxes that upon being hit are distorted into a dark wraith wearing what was once it's fur as armor, you're bound to discover new entities and surprises with every trip into the lands of Valzar.

The creative and beautiful settings create an uncommonly engrossing atmosphere.

 This grabbed my attention other games in this genre rarely do. It's the kind of game that is easy enough to get into for quick pick-up-and-play romps through the multitude of quick minutes long stages, but has just enough complex concepts to keep the most RPG-hardy gaming vet busy for hours unlocking and searching out the many secrets of these mysterious water-lodged lands.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Indie Impressions - A Wizard's Lizard

A Wizard's Lizard

Now Available on Steam

from Lost Decade Games

 

 

 You awaken in a Wizard's Tower as Raga, the adorable reptilian familiar of a great wizard only to witness your master being taken away by Death himself after concocting the perfect immortality potion. After a brief tutorial, it turns out the little guy wants to take on Death's Crypts and its perils all alone and here your adventure begins. The story is very straight forward, very effective and is perfectly reminiscent of the best titles of the 80s and 90s which is especially apparent as you hear the epic fantasy compositions that successfully invoke the spirit of the 16-bit era. A Wizard's Lizard is a fantastic new top-down ARPG dungeon crawling experience which borrows many light elements from the roguelike genre, making it a more than worthy addition to Steam's growing library of rogue-lites.

Death isn't too keen on your master's quest for immortality.

While beginning A Wizard's Lizard I can see that buried under all of it's simple and elegant charm there is a lot of content to be discovered. The first thing I noticed is that aside from our strong-willed little Lizard mascot, there are 4 more mysteriously blacked out character slots for unlockable types all of varying look and ability. After the short cutscene and tutorial you stumble into the huge halls of a luxurious and massive museum where you learn that the cherished artifacts of this sprawling monument have been stolen by, once again, Death himself. There are at least six different vast rooms in the museum all full of empty podiums for you to fill up with items, enemies and a vast array of other unlockables that you find throughout your journey, just another telling sign of the incredible amount of content and replayability that you'll find with this game.
 

Only a fraction of the unlockables you're going to need to discover in order to survive you journey into Death's embrace.

Your next stop before getting into the chaotic meat of this addictive game is the town which you'll notice at first seems a little empty. You find out that lost in the Cemetery ahead are the people of this once thriving town for you to find who will give different perks such as discounts in shops which are all persistent throughout your plays and once again adds another insane layer of content to this already hefty game. As you find people certain areas of the town will permanently fill out for you to interact with including the Shop and Tavern, creating more and more reason to revisit the starting area as you delve deeper and deeper. The shop itself only starts with a very limited supply of purchasable items and equipment but tucked away deep in the confines of the cemeteries and crypts ahead are Blueprint merchants that will sell you the plans for a particular purchasable item that will appear in the shop on your future starts back at town. This adds a very fun and progressive interaction to the shop element that keeps the player searching much deeper than just the goal of each stage in order to gain that special array of bad ass items to purchase on later runs that will ensure their future victory.
 
Blueprints in combination with rescued villager's gold can score you some seriously sweet loot for your future runs

You have several main abilities to master in your endeavors through the dungeons ahead including your main weapon that's tied to very precise right-stick directions, a dash ability to help our scaly little buddy scurry across danger, Soul Orbs that act as bombs detonating the area around you, and Totem Poles which serve as defensive towers with different forms for you to find or buy and try. There are loads upon loads of different items and artifacts to find of varying abilities such as the skill to see damage numbers in combat or increased attack power and every single one of them alters your gameplay just enough to change up your playstyle on every consecutive run, keeping you on your toes each time.


A new item, I still have a chance!

The game is definitely challenging though you are given a second chance with the very cool and unique life/death system, plunging you into the realm of the dead upon the loss of life and turning you into a ghost for extended play. This isn't as much of a relief as it sounds, however, as you will be joined by the rampaging spirits of foes killed in the past. Being among the realm of the dead isn't just good for a second chance, however, as certain things you could not surpass as a living lizard are now dematerialized your you to pass through in the spirit world, opening previously blocked passages to keys for you to find. In some areas you'll be able to bring yourself back to the material world by locating a ritualistic symbol, but it's a chance you'll have to be careful with as you won't be able to keep doing it.

 
Walking among the souls of the dead.

As you get into the core gameplay things happen very quick instantly throwing you into the hectic rooms of the cemetary all of which are procedurally-generated and randomized in classic roguelite fashion, bustling with hordes of enemies and destructible objects scattered all across the enviroment. The action itself is very tight, precise, fast paced twin-stick fare which require quick reflexes and fast thinking with your arsenal of abilities and there is so much going on in a single room it can sometimes get overwhelming. Luckily with the perks you get from various items, upgrades to your abilities such as Totem Poles, persistent bonuses from rescuing townspeople, and discoverable shortcuts the game becomes more manageable, fun, and addictive with every play.


Battling in the chaos of the sewers

Most will be quick to put this in the same category as other top-down roguelites of recent years, but I'd say A Wizard's Lizard sets itself apart by achieving a much closer feeling to the classics it was inspired by than titles such as Binding of Isaac by having a much stronger and more realized resemblance to the sound, aesthetics, and gameplay of old favorites akin to Zelda or Gauntlet. There is no limit to the replayability of A Wizard's Lizard, and it is a must-buy as well as a very welcome addition to the world of roguelite dungeon crawlers.

Indie Impressions - Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon

Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon

Now Available on Steam

from Giant Box Games 

 

I initially only expected to play Pixel Boy for a little while, but there I was three hours later hopelessly addicted and unable to contain my thoughts on it. The dungeon-crawling genre is one we've all come to know and love, but I can't even remember the last time one felt as fresh and unique as Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon. There are plenty of reasons why this stands out among the rest of the bunch on Steam;

My first moment with Pixel Boy is a relaxing one, with a slightly blurred image of the quaint little pixel town, Resolutia rolling by the title screen as I'm treated to the relaxing melodies of french electro artist Pyramid. I already feel like I'm in a most blissful state. However, this feeling of relaxation quickly ends, as I start the game    and am thrown into the confines of a dark, dusty old dungeon and a glowing trail of blue light as my only guide in this confusion. The game eases you into the mechanics using a humorous narrator that reminded me a lot of Professor Frink from The Simpsons. The lines are delivered infrequently enough to not be a hindrance and can actually be pretty damn funny.

A glowing blue pixel leads me to the town of Resolutia
.
  The almost Minecraft-like graphics are extremely familiar and nostalgic and work exceptionally beautiful in tandem with it's mellow, almost cosmic sounding soundtrack. You're introduced to the armor and pixel power crafting system which are incredibly dynamic and massive in scope when it comes to the number of possibilities and the diversity shown in their execution. Fiddling around with the vast amount of powerups you come across to see which new powerful attacks you can come up with quickly becomes an obsession.

The extremely robust and fun to use power-up crafting system.
After finding the RGB keys and making it out of the first dungeon alive, you're brought back to the pixel-y town from the title-screen which you learn is your base of operations. This base will supply you with a multitude of features including shops for pixel powerups, armor, crafting, a monster museum to keep track of the enemies you've encountered, and doors leading to each of the main campaign dungeons. There is also a mysterious and colorful fountain in the center of the town which seems to be the source of the bliss inducing melody you hear.


Relaxing on a pier in the peaceful town of Resolutia.
Once you're done with your introduction to the the town, you will quickly return back to the depths of new dungeons where the pace really begins to pick up, with the music being kicked up a notch going from mellow ambiance to heavy, pulsating rhythms that pump you up for the oncoming journey. The action itself is fantastically solid and fast paced, with an array of stylish monsters and crazy bullet patterns there is a lot going on on the screen at once and it can become a serious sensory-overload in the best way possible. The top-down action combat here is very reminiscent of classics such as 
Smash T.V. or Pocky and Rocky combined with a weapon combo system similar to Gunstar Heroes and that is a very good thing for old school gamers or fans of the golden age of gaming.

Dodging the arcade-like bullet patterns of one of the four bosses.
 The rogue-lite elements become strongly apparent here and are just right, with heavy randomized factors to the dungeon even involving a slot machine mini-game to help decide the mobs for your current run (A really cool touch to the randomized aspect of these games!) and persistant stats and gold that will carry over between your deaths, making each consecutive and seemingly impossible run that much easier. The dungeons become extremely challenging and you'll be forced to utilize every item you find and every shop you happen to come across, as well as chestrooms which contain useful power-ups for you to use (sometimes negative effects for the unlucky) if you're able to find or buy keys throughout the floor.


Three neon turtles protect some much needed power-up cubes.
Pixel Boy really hits that rogue-lite sweet spot and will feel right at home with fans of games like Full Mojo Rampage or Binding of Isaac who want deep replayability and even faster paced gameplay. This is an absolute must-have for any dungeon-crawler or rogue-lite collection.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Indie Impressions - Heavy Bullets

 Heavy Bullets

 Now Available on Steam Early Access

 from Terri Vellman 

 The moment I start Heavy Bullets I'm assaulted with a minimal bright neon colored title-screen and a trippy melody with hazy vocals blaring over the glitched sounds of the menu like I've stumbled upon some kind of Philip K. Dick-ian Hotline Miami. I instantly think to myself "Yep this feels like something Devolver Digital would pick up and publish." This is of course a very good feeling.

The colorful neon cyber-jungles of Heavy Bullets await.

This exceeds any rogue-like FPS before it in every way, and ups the ante by having very well-thought out and carefully planned gameplay. The action and combat are more than solid, intense and the atmosphere is engaging; with enemies that can pop out of bushes killing you in a heartbeat, the panic of realizing you haven't loaded all those bullets you picked up, all powered by a pulsing electronic soundtrack that creeps up on you as you come closer to dangerous areas. 

Open wide!

The roguelike elements here work *very* well. You are placed into the thralls of a glitched neon world with harsh and bright hallways randomly generated every time, the goal is to reach the end of each floor and eventually make it to the 8th floor where you're tasked with resetting a malfunctioning mainframe. Sounds simple, but equipped with only your 6-shot revolver this will prove to be a true test in frustration as there are monsters, turrets, and worms hiding around every corner to whittle away at your already very limited life. The floors are randomly littered with items to help with this, and you'll find keycards for doors with exceedingly useful equipment and banks where if you're playing smart enough you can buy life insurance or deposit money that carry over into your next playthroughs, making things slightly easier each time.

Facing the 4th floor mid-boss, my death was very swift.

Heavy Bullets continues to receive updates and bugfixes, a lot based on community feedback. It's already incredible and continues to become even more refined, proving to be one of the more promising Early Access titles around. Seriously if you like roguelikes at all buy this game. If you like first person shooters at all, buy this game. If you like crazy artsy games with insanely stylish visuals and trippy sound design, buy this game!