Sunday, November 30, 2014

Indie Impressions - Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions

Now Available on Steam (Also on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)

Developed by Lucid Games

After over five years of inactivity, the series that gave twin-stick shooters the reputation they have today for frenetic arcade action in quick sessions makes its comeback. With some new minds behind this fresh installment, does Geometry Wars 3 live up to the standards set by its elders?

The first thing I notice when starting up Geometry wars 3 for the first time are the stellar production values. The title screen alone with its swirling colored auras and a strange vector grid stretching out infinitely before you, the soothing electronic tones of the background music shimmering in and out like waves. Before even getting into the game I can already tell a tremendous amount of work has gone into the look, the feel, and the sounds of the game and have been focused on much stronger in this iteration of the series.

The progression of adventure mode is much more varied in levels than any of the classic games which will be a welcome addition to new players who craved a more content heavy experience. Across the adventure mode map you'll advance through levels of increasing difficulty and each with an important three star rating based on score. Aside from stars you'll earn points in order to purchase upgrades for your various drones, a newcomer to the Geometry Wars series that offers a number of abilities including back-up fire, mines, or magnetized pickups for the Geoms to keep your score multiplier going and let you focus on the action.

Each new level features a different mode ranging from classic 'Evolved' to new additions like 'Rainbow', with a variation of differently shaped 3D landscapes dotted with rotating pillars, red life stealing walls, and various other obstacles thrown into the mix. Aforementioned stars will be needed to access the various boss stages that break up adventure mode, and they can be quite hard to collect especially if you're not a diehard twin-stick player. Bosses feel like a strange and not very Geometry Wars-like addition, but they are nonetheless very intense and flashy with their chaotic bullet hell-like patterns.

The classic enemies players will remember from the last games are adapted to this new 3D playstyle very well, and their movement patterns flow almost more naturally than before on the spherical landscapes you fight on. The straight-moving arrow enemies wrap around the globe-like levels and criss-cross past each other, while the quick and sporadic square enemies sneak up on you from either side of the rotating stages. In addition to the classic geometrical enemies we've come to love/hate, there are a couple new enemies with unique behavior that spice up your old strategies.

The shapely structure to the stages that changes with each one gives a more strategic and tactical approach to the twin-stick formula forcing you to adapt to the area and its hazards each time, keeping certain players more engaged than before. Old schoolers will likely miss the euphoric rush and focused score attacks missing in this new iteration, but I've more than warmed up to it, come to terms with the differences and have found new excitement in taking my place on the boards for what is a different kind of game.

Geometry Wars 3 has the variation, gamified progression, and massive content that some people felt was missing from the originals but older fans will more than likely miss the pure and calculated arcade action as well as the minimalistic neon visuals that the first two were known for. While Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions may not bring the same-old-same-old that those fans were wanting, it does exactly what it's supposed to by pushing boundaries in the twin-stick medium and setting a new standard just as its predecessors did.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Indie Impressions - Fotonica


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Santa Ragione

 Fotonica is endless runner perfection in a most blissful series of beautifully crafted lightspeed stages, the warm vector lines and hallucinatory neon waves that illuminate from the sides of your vision like some kind of adrenaline induced euphoria. When you finally reach that zen state of focus things begin to speed up even more, the colors and movements are intensified for a wonderful audiovisual overload that sets it apart from the rest.

The music comes from a plethora of incredible artists (including the very talented Baiyon of Pixeljunk Eden fame) and ranges from shimmering, gorgeous soundscapes to heavy pulsing electric rhythms with infectious bass and they compliment the array of different environments and backdrops you'll encounter between each visually shifting level perfectly. The minimalistic yet abstractly complex interconnected series of lines in the classic vector style needs to be seen in motion and lends itself to the very reminiscent feel from the Death Star trench run section of Atari's Star Wars that most endless runners give.

Fotonica moves away from the single boring stretch of hallway players may be used to from other games in the endless runner genre, instead giving us varying heights of platforms. The player character runs at increasingly faster speeds with the holding of a single button, and releasing causes you to bound into the air and leap over gaps in the broken pathways before you.

Aiming and timing your landings is the key to success, and overshooting your jump by even the slightest is enough to ruin a good run. The longer you keep your momentum up the faster you go, and the more complex these breaks and gaps in the trail become as they stretch out to seemingly infinite lengths.

The game features two main singleplayer modes including Arcade and Endless as well as a split screen Versus mode that makes for some great living room multiplayer. Arcade mode features eight stages of increasing difficulty as shorter, more rapid platforms are thrown at you forcing you to think on your feet.

As you fly and leap past these deadly gaps you collect various score increasing orbs tucked in hard to land spots, spicing up how score chasers will approach the leaderboards. Endless mode is just as it sounds, giving players who have already mastered the several Arcade mode stages and want to put their endurance to the ultimate test.

You'll run again and again, jumping from cascading catwalks to other layers of psychedelically colored platforms, only to watch your arms flail uselessly as you plummet to your death. When you get back up again and check your score against your friends, you'll run again with reinvigorated motivation and eventually find that ultimate "Runner's High".

From the incredibly creative minds behind MirrorMoon EP, Fotonica further proves that Santa Ragione has the potential to craft unique and memorable experiences in a multitude of genres and stands as what is most likely my 'Runner of the Year' due to attractive, straightforward and addictive design.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Indie Impressions - Kromaia


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Kraken Empire 


Greeted by the strange embodiment of what seems to be the Mother of an alternate world tinted in neon colors, who has had everything but her thoughts taken by the cruel rulers of this place. You are given a simple task; seek vengeance on the four obscure gods of this alien realm and create chaos in the cosmos.

Kromaia has the fluidity and freedom of a 6DoF shooter like Descent or Terminal Velocity, a beautifully strange and otherworldly setting like Rez, the score-chasing arcade high of a classic rail-shooter like Galaxy Force II, all with incredibly creative and wildly original enemy ship designs unseen since the forgotten PSX gem Omega Boost. It doesn't just use these already perfected mechanics we've come to know and love over the past decades; it pushes them to the limits of modern gaming with dazzlingly bright and bloom-y effects intertwined with extraordinary physics at breakneck speeds.

On your initial run of the core playthrough you'll have each of the four distinctly different ships slowly introduced to you in order of the four base stages. Each stage has the standard goal of collecting 20 Jumpgate Drives before the keeper of the current realm is summoned and an epic boss battle ensues. This formula is spiced up every time thanks to the varying abilities of each the four unique ship

These range from your standard peashooter starting ship, a slower missle-launching ship with lock-on capabilities, a chain-gunning plasma ship with a closer ranged needle laser, and last but definitely not least the insanely fun melee ship with sword swinging capabilities. After completing each of the four ships' respective stages, all levels will be unlocked in order to be played with any specialized ship of choice which is where the real freedom and your journey to the true ending begins.

The heavy and almost tribal beat of the background music drives you as you dash from piece to piece of your Jumpgate Drive, beating back the swarms of geometrical monstrosities that crowd you on every side. odd ancient structures with symbols scrawled across their sides are strewn about each huge world each containing even more secrets to collect. The surreal landscapes bend and twist in to complex patterns in the background and even more strange contraptions and diabolical obstacles are thrown at you the deeper you jet into the heart of this multi-dimensional dreamworld.

All around you is the extraterrestrial, mysterious and alien-like alphabet with cryptic symbols and strange whisperings of the motherly voice guiding your journey. The heavy and ominous electronic dronings of the soundtrack fit the abstract surroundings and hazy retrofuture feel as it builds up towards the climactic final boss encounter of each expansive and open stage. The whole atmosphere is thick with otherworldly wonder and a familiar neon warmth, giving me a feeling of nostalgic bliss not felt since that initial excitement of discovering the world of arcade gaming long ago.

Kromaia pulls off a blissful blend of technical and elegant movements of a modern shooter with intense and chaotic arcade score-chasing flawlessly for what is the most perfect package of abstract action. It feels like some kind of wonderful long lost Dreamcast gem brought back from the dead and given a whole layer of polish and shine, and for people who have fond memories of the era of gaming that I do this is nothing short of a must-buy, must-experience title.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Indie Impressions - The Sun and Moon

The Sun and Moon

Now Available on Steam

Developed by Daniel Linssen

The Sun and Moon begins as what feels like your ordinary indie platformer, a crisp and clean minimalistic aesthetic accompanied by the nostalgic blips of an 8-bit soundtrack set the background for the seemingly straightforward gameplay involving moving and jumping your way to the exit.

This familiar and straightforward platformer feeling quickly and gradually transforms itself into something deeper, more complex and thought provoking as you are given the ability to slingshot yourself through solid walls to reach the previously unreachable orbs needed to exit the stage.

The action and the speed with which you break through each surface leading to your next goal are set to a pace that is addictive and constant, keeping you moving and diving through each obstacle at increasingly speedy times. Even when not rushing at full force for the objectives or trying to collect the little orbs The Sun and Moon is just a blast to relax and experiment with, watching the momentum change as you arc between solid obstacles at different angles.

The name The Sun and Moon itself seems to me like a metaphor for the opposing colors in the back and foreground, and the way your small round character transcends these two different realms as you bounce between jumping in the open air and sliding through the solid material of the ground as you phase into it. The visuals have a very simple and effective yet pleasantly abstract quality to them, the backgrounds in particular starting off looking like continents on some kind of extraterrestrial world map or more-so the dreamlike clusters of clouds amongst a green sky.

The Sun and Moon has a very progressive and rewarding structure to it. It lulls you into a false sense of safety, starting out in the most straightforward of ways with a challenge that is easy and all-too obvious. The music at first bears a strikingly repetitive yet charming 8bit tone and the map seems to be nothing more than a series of boxes connected by a line. This simplicity doesn't last long, however.

As you move on this all changes, the levels become large sprawling towers that you weave in and out of, carefully timing your momentum in order to land on a faraway platform. The music from the always incredible Dubmood grows and evolves as more adventurous compositions are layered into the mix and draw you into the expanding challenge. The map twists and conforms into complex shapes as it progresses, branching off into multiple paths of varying difficulty.

With loads of alternate stages locked behind hidden pathways on a huge almost metroidvania-like map, insane par times to challenge yourself with for each stage, and leaderboards to check your skills against the rest of the world the content here is enormous with 150 stages and plenty of replayability keeping you coming back to each one long after you've completed a basic run.

Rising from its roots as a Ludum Dare 29 gamejam under the fitting theme "Beneath the Surface", The Sun and Moon has come a long way and developer Daniel Linssen has turned what was a fantastic and simple concept with surprisingly deep mechanics into a content-rich package that is much sleeker, shinier, and polished than before. With its unique brand of platforming, progressively intensifying audiovisuals, and addictive map system this is must-buy status for anyone who enjoys the likes of The Floor is Jelly or VVVVVV.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Indie Impressions - Winged Sakura: Mindy's Arc

Winged Sakura: Mindy's Arc

Now Available on Steam

Developed by Winged Sakura Games

When it comes to strategy games I've come to expect a long and arduous process of tutorials and insane difficulty curves that keep me putting them off, but what's so pleasing about Winged Sakura: Mindy's Arc is how quickly I was getting into the pace, drawn into the action driven by attractive artwork and incredibly snappy background music.

The story is colorful to put it simply, and seems to take after the Magical Girl/Transformation tropes often seen in 90s anime. Much like the magical shoujo series I remember seeing in my youth, the quirky and fast moving story is mostly lost on me and I'm just content to relax and take in the pretty artwork and up-beat tunes driving this off-the-wall story.

The plot is strange enough to keep me wondering about some of the more mysterious characters and their situation while offering just the right amount of anime cheesecake to be entertaining without overstaying its welcome, but overall where Winged Sakura really shines is the unique brand of fast-paced defensive tactical combat.

The gameplay at first glance simply resembles a more anime themed Plants vs. Zombies with player units being placed as defense on the left while enemy hordes advance from the right, however the similarities stop here as Winged Sakura takes a more complex and refined departure towards deeper RPG mechanics and unit variety.

Just as you're starting off you already have three distinct units fully displaying the importance of their combined teamwork. Leapies are shielded units and will act as a defense block to gather a row of enemies while Magicats will bombard the cluster with a magical area attack, whereas the Sneaky Cat archers will pick off the stragglers with a simple arrow shot. Units both ally and enemy have their own elemental strengths and weakness, adding another bit of depth to planning your offense.

With the addition of a multitude of spells the user can cast to change the tides of battle, things can become a little overwhelming with how much multitasking goes on. Luckily this is remedied with the insanely useful Strategic Pause command, allowing even the slowest of strategists to carefully plan their next wave of defenses at their own leisure. Of course, once you get to Insane difficulty this option is no longer available forcing you to put your prior practicing to the test.

While the basic formula of the game may be simple and easy to pick up for all skill levels, the difficulty quickly ramps to ridiculous heights often forcing me to drop the setting to Easy until I leveled my Spirits (units) up enough. It's accessibility keeps victory in sight at all times despite this challenge, and the player will always have a good idea of what they did wrong at the end of a soul crushing defeat. With each return to these frantic stages of multitasking and quick wits I was more excited than the last, picking up on new strategies and complex combinations

If you aren't totally adverse to bits of corny albeit fun anime fluff and filler this is nothing short of an incredibly deep strategy title, and one I recommend to any fan of the defense genre or games with heavy RPG mechanics such as crafting, enchanting, and stat building. The artwork is eye-catching and very attractive and the constant stream of interesting character designs keeps your attention, as does the catchy original soundtrack. Don't be fooled by the sugar coating, Winged Sakura is one hardcore game of strategy and tactics.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Indie Impressions - Prophour23


Now Available on Steam

Developed by The Secret Pie 



With a hand drawn art style and setting so out there and different, a soundtrack so maniacally obscure it's hard not to have your curiosity at least a little piqued. Amidst the droves of mundane and same-y indie games exists Prophour23, a chaotic creation from the mind of a single genius madman and the only strategy game capable of effectively making your skin crawl.

Strange, cryptic, surreal, and damn challenging. Aside from the hidden messages and symbolism of the oncoming and unknown forces of nature that lie within this tale of insanity, the concept is simple; protect your still-bleeding heart from the swarming masses of flesh-hungry insects.

A bizarre concoction of deep strategy and biological horror, Prophour23 is an affair of critical thinking that requires more than a little bit of patience. Those looking to hop right in and start crushing bugs will be shocked to find their beating heart swarmed with the creepy little critters and devoured within minutes. Only a complete understanding of your body and the organs which keep you alive will be enough to maintain a healthy heart.

Your goal is simply to survive as many nights as possible throughout the infestation, and employing the use of different organs will be the determining factor. Scream organs and thorns connect to muscles and hands to create thorny barriers, while the boney rib-cages you can sprout create hardened lines of bone to redirect the swarming insects.

Hands act as connectors for the organ to function while muscles give them their power to operate. It all sounds complicated, and it kind of is, but it's exactly the kind of game you have to "feel" out to really understand and that just makes each outcome of your terror filled nights of survival all the more surprising, strange and satisfying.

Placement is as crucial as managing the order you create organs in, not only will you think hard about where to situate your defenses, but whether to spend precious blood on stomachs to pump more blood or lungs to catch the blood and alleviate some of the pressure created by clicking droplets that spill from your pumping heart. The antagonistic insects crowd you from all sides at any given moment and the player is kept on alert at all times, with a warning arrow giving you time to adjust your strategy. As night falls, however, visibility is lost and the arrow is no longer seen.

Bugs begin to sneak in past the darkness and into your heart, the only remedy being the eyeball organs you'll purchase which when powered light up an arc in front of them. These are only a small handful of the organs you'll use at your discretion in this open-ended struggle of tactics and defense, and they offer a near limitless supply of possibilities in your strategy for each attempt. Every body part has a purpose, and thrives off of the existence of another body part. You'll quickly be constructing your meticulously drawn and pulsating ecosystem of bodily defenses with ease once you learn the delicate rules of how your organs react to each other.


Prophour23 explores new territories untouched by the strategy genre that are strange, cold, and maybe even a little uncomfortable. The challenge remains spontaneous and unpredictable with new twists thrown at you each passing night, keeping the suspense and mystery high.

The odd array of body parts fighting in tandem against the grotesque squirming parade of blackened insects that seek only to infest your organs is a sight I never expected to fixate my gaze on while deep in tactical thought, and it's effective in its gruesome distraction.

If you're tired of the usual fantasy and sci-fi tropes of strategy and tower defense titles, and want something that goes above and beyond the current offerings in the genre this is one worth checking out. When it comes to strategy titles with a penchant for detailed hand-drawn art and an intense and brooding soundtrack, nothing really comes to mind before discovering Prophour23 making it, if anything, a totally original idea.

Not only is Prophour23 unique and original in design, but its strange mechanics and frustratingly cryptic difficulty keep you sufficiently puzzled and coming back again and again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Indie Impressions - TRI

TRI: Of Friendship and Madness

Now Available on Steam

Developed by Rat King 


Transported to a world of colorful and almost paper-mâché like surroundings, set to the eerie trip-hop beats of the rhythm and its mysterious sounding eastern strings weaving in and out of your eardrums; TRI is certainly a world of mystique and ancient mystery, and it bleeds with a style that stands out from the rest.

You find yourself in a peaceful garden of zen, a wise robed and masked figure greets and leads you through your relaxing surroundings to the base of a shrine. Here he explains the story of two foxes with a symbolic relationship obviously revered by the people of this temple. As the title suggests, the friendship of these two once playful spirits has been driven to madness and your spiritual guide requests your help in locating and finding out what really drove these two sacred beings apart from each other.

As you step through the portal you've been led to, this is where the game takes a twist from the relaxing to the oddly enchanting and mystic world of the Odd Gods.

Your objective for each ancestral act of the game seems simple enough; collect the three shining fox statues scattered throughout each sprawling temple of dream-like obstacles and bring them to their pedestal to activate the strange portal. As you'll soon discover after only a couple short levels, these fox statues all seem to be out of reach. Luckily, you quickly come across the very free-form and useful triangle creating ability that the game centers around. This allows full creativity and endless possibilities that are downright fun to explore with how you construct your spiraling walkway towards each out-of-reach goal.

Lost in these ancient maze-like structure feeling like some kind of wild animal wandering throughout a huge human contraption. You'll weave your triangles into complex structures to create stairs and bridges, and when you look back you'll marvel at a unique pattern of your own making like a proud spider with its completed web.

As you move through through each esoteric structure that acts as a separate stage you'll come across your spiritual masked guide again who pushes you in the right direction and fills you in on the rich lore and history of the world you've become enshrouded by. Who is this masked entity, though? He obviously feels very compelled to protect the friendship between the two main fox gods, but his motivation and identity remain decidedly unclear throughout the story.

It's easily the most entrancing and thought provoking setting I've seen for this kind of a game, and it's actually enjoyable to play through to the end which was a bit of a surprise considering my rough history with puzzle-oriented games.

I loved the concept of Antichamber and it's ilk of mind-bending brain teasers but just could not get into it. The concept was a mind opening experience but it was soul crushingly challenging, games like that or Portal often times made me feel dumb, I love them to death but I just spent most of the time wishing I could keep going without getting stuck every other room and taking in the beautiful and shifting visuals around me.

TRI challenges you just enough but keeps you moving fluidly through its surreal and colorful world, the pacing is impeccable. Instead of making me feel slow and inadequate like other puzzle games it makes me feel crafty and wise like the ancients who roamed its hallways before me, these seemingly impossible to reach spaces become closer to reach as you craft your serpentine bridges and staircases of colorful triangles with ease and just a touch of contemplation.

Aside from following the trail towards the end of the story, TRI brings the replay-ability in the form of collectible baby fox statues spread throughout each area, and their placement is as cute as the statues themselves always tucked away in tiny little cubbie holes somewhere random looking adorable.

Throughout the entire journey for the wise and playful fox god new powers are being thrown at you, and they do a fine job of shaking things up and keeping the pace exciting. Most notable was the acquisition of the wall walking relic which allowed me to traverse the surface of any connected triangles of my creation, even while sideways or upside down. Within minutes I was constructing interweaving triangle stairs that spiraled up the side of walls and upside down against ceilings giving me a serious feeling of vertigo as I hung high from the tops of the palace.

The levels often times play tricks on your mind, and you can catch a glimpse of a fox sneaking by as you turn around and re-enter a room and notice everything has been completely turned upside down. Is it the elusive and playful fox god we give chase to that plays these tricks on us as we navigate the puzzles of the world of the Odd Gods?

TRI is exactly the kind of memorable and thought-provoking sleeper hit I would expect Rising Star Games to take notice of and pick up, and having another strange, beautiful and otherworldly title in their growing library of modern classics is why they're at the top of my list of favorite publishers right now.