Thursday, January 29, 2015

Indie Impressions - Pix the Cat

Pix the Cat

Now Available on Steam (Also on PS4, Vita)

Developed by Pastagames

Nothing beats the bond between a video game cat and their army of rescued ducklings in this trippy descent into the never ending layers of a television screens circuits - the pixelated blue mascot running, sliding, and kicking its way through each exceedingly flashy and bright stage of navigational chaos.

The game starts you out being greeted by our adorably rotund cat hero and his or her admirable bedroom of awesomely geeky references to the likes of Where the Wild Things Are, Godzilla, King Kong, and Ultraman. This nostalgia inducing bedroom acts your base of operations and where you'll be choosing from the four very different modes, starting with the very important main Arcade mode where you'll ease into your new digital life of aviary rescue.

The rules seem simple enough; navigate a seemingly never ending series of Pacman-like mazes while collecting the carefully placed eggs within its labyrinthine halls of neon twists and turns. For each egg collected an awestruck duckling trails behind in a line, eventually adding up into one long chaotic conga-line. Hitting the tail of trailing ducks ends your combo and loses you the line you've collected which severely reduces your score (this is about where I ragequit every time), so planning your route quickly and on the fly is especially important as you gain momentum with each success.

Once ducks are collected they need to be returned to their rightful targets on the current floor, which with the time limit taken into consideration becomes a mad dash against against the clock forcing you to pinpoint the quickest route to collect each one while avoiding running into your trail or walls. There are plenty of small tricks to toss into your routine once you've got movement down including wall slides and quick dashes around corners when your turns are timed to perfection. In the end what you have is one of the most hyperactive combinations of classic Snake maneuvering combined with the flashy, fast and addictive pathfinding of Pac-Man Championship Edition DX with even more split-second precision required.

Aside from the immense feeling of satisfaction, reaching different landmark scores in each of the three wildly different Arcade levels (from Beginner to the appropriately named Dessert stage) will net you some pretty sweet rewards in the form of new music jams to jam, new announcer voices ranging from rad to hilarious, tons of adorable concept art, and of course the different obtainable modes.  Though score is your main driving force in perfecting your zig-zag routes throughout each stage, this vast amount of awesome and usable unlockable content is sure to keep you going even deeper.

Arcade seems to be the real meat of the game, and all of your endeavors in other modes are just practice for when you come back to it and compete for the highest score on the boards in classic arcade fashion. Laboratory mode gives a sleek and almost even more cartoon-y look to the game and features a much more logic driven play style, facing you with a very limited amount of moves in each puzzle oriented level.

There's the vintage flavored Nostalgia mode, where Pix himself bares an uncanny resemblance to the late, great Felix the Cat and faces a variety of action and puzzle stages in classic black and white. Last and certainly not least is the hectic multiplayer Arena mode, where you and friends can duke it out in an action packed local four player match of cat jousting action.

Pix as a character is just way too damn cute and suave in a creatively simple way, a way that the most iconic and memorable of gaming characters are portrayed. He's one of those video game personalities you don't easily forget, and stands out as a classic and memorable character just as much as the gameplay itself. Even cuter, possibly, than our retro mascot are the lines of saved ducklings and their attitudes matched only by the badass-ness of their savior cat, and in a game with such an overwhelmingly sharp and cool style they're just the icing on the cake.

The varied visual themes of each stage provide some serious eye candy for something of such a simple nature. Subtle changes from complex motherboard patterns to cold steel monochrome textures breathe life into the twisting mazes around you, as the eggs and ducklings you collect change with it. Crazy multicolored squares light up in rhythmic sequence like some kind of insane Disco Dancefloor set to hyperspeed, all the while the heavy and bass-y beats of Xavier Thiry's soundtrack pulsate in your eardrums. Despite its retro nature, Pix the Cat is a real assault on the senses.

Every dumb little mistake you make is for the better in Pix the Cat, because this is all about practice, endurance, and getting better all the time. With each new invigorated and admittedly rage-inducing restart of a level you come back with a clear vision in your head of what caused your downfall the last time and your new found perseverance will carry you to even higher scores, and in turn even crazier and harder modes. With the addition of a Ghost mode to play against your own past runs or runs of the developer, there's a whole plethora of ways to practice and continue bettering your score for what is the most endlessly replayable game around.

If Pix the Cat were an actual arcade cabinet at a pizza parlor I'd be flat broke by now and already exchanging my life savings for fistfuls of quarters. When it comes to modern arcade score-chasing obsessions, Pix is as good as it gets

Friday, January 23, 2015

Indie Impressions - Goscurry


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Demigiant

Goscurry is one hell of a difficult game, a game so difficult you even have to accept a warning at the beginning agreeing to submit yourself to the oncoming challenge.

As hopeless as that may seem the game constantly conveys to you one simple uplifting message; "Don't Panic". This is much easier said than done as panic is your worst enemy in Goscurry, the first sign of hesitation being your instant downfall. Flashing texts across the rooftops of a slick retrofuture city of minimalistic neon buildings bearing distracting, sometimes encouraging messages and what seem to be references to The Beatles ("You Are 'Not' the Walrus") and Pink Floyd ("Crazy Diamond").

Here you'll find the hypnotizing and maze-like pathway following mechanics of a game like Super Hexagon combined with the obstacle dodging action of titles from the likes of Bit.Trip Runner that all require a serious amount of focus and finger gymnastics. A long stretch of winding and unpredictably twisting road that procedurally builds itself before you, infinitely until your inevitable death. Many hazards litter the abstract urban road ahead forcing you to jump, dash, and dodge your way to a badass highscore you can really be proud of.

Reaching certain target scores in any respective mode unlocks new cities of different flourishing colors to discover and rush through, as well as giving you a higher rank in your overall achievement score. Ranking up earns you slick new rides to drive and fly with. The more insane of players may even earn all 20 ranks giving them the legendary and sought-after Psycho ship, which when used will speed up the game and raise your score no matter what the mode.

The modes you'll be working your way through come in five flavors to train and excel in, starting with the relaxing Training mode which involves no obstacles and lets you focus on honing your movement. Once you've got movement down you move right into Hard mode which spices things up with the aforementioned obstacles, and then Pro which fixes the camera position forcing you to consider the ships angle on each turn.

Build enough confidence and it's time to venture into Freak mode, which keeps the speed set to maximum from the get-go. Last but not least is the unlockable Paranoid mode, which ups the ante by tossing in purple obstacles that require smashing through.

As incredibly addictive as Goscurry is, I feel like what really drives your adrenaline here is the catchy as can be electro-beat soundtrack from master musician Isak Martinsson(who is currently working on the wonderfully creepy adventure game, Fran Bow), equally as hypnotizing and entrancing as watching the flow of your stylish little rocket ship through each mind-bending stage of twists and turns. An excellent audiovisual combination assaults your senses and is the driving force in your speed and focus as you reach further and further for that final stretch of road.

Goscurry is a game that gets right to the point, avoiding all of the pre-fun bullshit, all of the fluff and filler of other games and diving right into the fun and mayhem. Just zone out, follow the twisting path of the line ahead, and lose yourself to the beat of the music as it electronically charges your mind and body putting you into that nostalgic state of euphoria needed to find the flow.

Relax. Don't Panic. Be Brave!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Indie Impressions - Tengami


Now Available on Steam (also available for WiiU, iOS)

Developed by Nyamyam

Tucked away within the confines of a treasured pop-up book featuring a vivid far eastern landscape and natural entities of the surrounding wildlife; Tengami is a casual but moving journey with very few, if any, words yet still manages a majestic story told merely through imagery.

The experience is described by the developers as something they envisioned being played "in bed before going to sleep or in the afternoon on the sofa with a hot beverage", and I felt that description was very apt. As I played from my shabby studio apartment on a cold and rainy day with some hot tea completing each relaxing chapter I felt a particular sense of warmth, a certain kind of satisfying radiance. I almost forgot about the cold, grey city surrounding me that I call home.

As you move through each beautifully vibrant page of an old Japanese pop-up book that act as chapters to the story, you are faced with earthly obstacles that stand in your path. Finding the solution to uncovering the brighter path ahead of your wintery beginnings involves puzzle-solving of a very organic kind, puzzles that feel less like interacting with a game and more like interacting with nature itself.

All around you rivers, temples and old wooden bridges pull out from tabs in pop-up book fashion, revealing the beaten path ahead which beckons our unknown hero on his mysterious adventure. In a snowy forest a wild pack of wolves howls in unison to the sound of wind chimes you control in a game of 'Simon Says', a strange and ancient bell changes the seasons at your will altering the land to reveal new key items to collect, and an old broken wooden boat must be reconstructed with fragmented pieces pulled from the ocean waters among swimming fish.

The wonderfully natural atmosphere of the game is complimented by the twanging of Shamisen or Koto and calming sounds of wooden flute, all drawing you into a zen-like state of deep calmness. The usage of colors makes everything incredibly pleasing to look at and each visual theme is very evocative of its respective season.

Spring environments have a lush green with blue flowing rivers, and Fall stands out with its vibrant pinkish-orange hues much like a sunset, with Winter bearing a harsh mixture of white and greys with frozen rivers that no longer flow. The settings all glow with a distinct array of colors that evoke the same shifting of emotions our real-world seasons stir in us.

Tengami exists outside of the boundaries of any particular demographic, being something that is just as enjoyable to the youngest audiences as it is to the oldest. If you aren't too caught up on games needing to be difficult or long, or "hardcore", then this is by far the most memorable and comforting trip into a Far Eastern world of mystique.

Enter and witness nature and the changing of seasons conveyed through a colorful world of picture book pages, flip through the dusty old pages of Tengami.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Early Access Preview - Malebolgia


Now Available on Steam Early Access

Developed by Jochen Mistiaen


Soft sprinklings of piano overwhelmed by the haziness of a roaring snowstorm, a melancholy scene of blurry white as our protagonist sits listening under the dome of an ancient structure. As we enter into this hellish palace however, the player realizes something is different; something ominous and evil.

You awake in a familiar and darkened library of a palace, the demonic statues peering down from before you as the crackling of a fireplace is heard. At first little is known of the surroundings we've become enshrouded by other than the need to explore and escape it. As you scour the dark hallways portraits and statues of former inhuman residents sit proudly on shelves and grotesque, surreal paintings line the walls. One thing is being made clear to the player; this palace is not of any realm within human knowledge.

Venturing deeper into the heart of this ghastly mansion of antique oddities you come across various personalities who seem to be old acquaintances that have anticipated your arrival. They speak to you in cryptic messages bearing skeletal faces with no skin, claiming to wear their "masks of flesh" no longer. According to these dark personalities, this hellish realm is your home and where you belong.

Will you succumb to their wishes and remain a piece of the palace enshrouded by snow and demonic mysteries, or will you escape the overshadowing blizzard with your life and defeat the chaotic souls that rule the pits of this Dante Alighieri's "Inferno" inspired Hell?

For a combat system that seems so simple, it offers a lot of variety in how you strategically approach each foul demon of Hell encountered in this strange palace. Tapping attack gives you quick but weak swings with your metal spear in rapid succession, whereas pressing forward in time with a swing performs a heavy lunge attack. As useful and strong as the lunge attacks are they leave you wide open to counters and should be saved for a final blow. Pressing back in time with a swing creates a quick back-step maneuver that the player will be forced to rely on to time and escape deadly blows and create the perfect opportunity for a counter attack.

While it may not be as deep or flashy as the Dark Souls series, Malebolgia is clearly striving for the same kind of slow and calculated approach to long and brutal encounters with single diabolical creatures ranging from slow, lurching ghouls to terrifying and majestic chimeras. Endurance is the key to your survival as you go toe-to-toe with your enemy blocking, bashing, and taking only the most ample of opportunities to lunge and make your final strike.

Malebolgia has a striking visual style and while many will find the minimalistic, archaic design of the palace to be drab it provides a deliberately moody and heavy atmosphere all around you. The muted and dull colors with black and white checkered floors bring out the distinct red found in various books or curtains, all looking like something out of Twin Peak's dreamlike "Red Room" scenes.

The chilling ambiance of the background music fits the harsh imagery, sounding like something straight out of the torture chambers of a medieval castle. The monsters are brought to life with ghastly grunts and haunting chants from later magical enemies that ring in your ears as you attempt to focus your energy into dodging beams of their evil energy.

Malebolgia is a game that clearly puts an emphasis on atmosphere in the end, and it succeeds in providing a genuinely strange and creepy encounter many times over. The combat provides just enough engagement through your exploration of the surreal surroundings to keep you on your toes and wondering in fear which frightening creature will be around the corner to greet you next.

With an already considerable amount of love and care put into patches and overall polish to the look and feel of the game, this is proving to be another one of the finer examples of exciting Early Access experiences to be a part of. Malebolgia's halls are already a deranged pleasure to explore and clearly hold even more potential for odd secrets and other cryptic strangeness, I'm eagerly anticipating what other surprises Jochen has in store.

Early Access Preview - Onikira: Demon Killer

Onikira: Demon Killer

Now Available on Steam Early Access

Developed by Digital Furnace Games


In the blood-steeped lands of feudal Japan exists a history rich with gruesome folklore of oni and yokai, creatures of our minds creation that lurk in the darkness and haunt mortals from beyond. Onikira: Demon Killer takes a bold step into the darker side of Japanese tradition and mythology, pitting you against the dark energies of hellish realms that threaten to creep into the world of the living and feast upon the souls of the unsuspecting.

The gritty, heavy visual style of the game and its usage of dark demonic imagery and lots of blood red hues gave me strong vibes of the PS2 era Shinobi and evokes that same kind of obscure attraction to the Japanese underworld felt from that series. The gameplay itself takes cues from only the greatest of action games with an addictive grading system strongly resembling Devil May Cry's, insane almost endless aerial combos reminiscent of Bayonetta, and brightly colored red and blue orbs for replenishing your health or energy that fans of the Onimusha series will be familiar with. In the end, this is a developer who wears their influences on their sleeve, and some mighty fine influences these are.

The music is dark, heavy, and fitting. The percussions beat with the strength and power of a taiko drummer, the eerie and almost gothic sounding riffs of the interspersed guitar tearing in and out. When I hear the evil and ominous melodies in Onikira with their Eastern overtones I am instantly reminded of some of the best music from Mortal Kombat, particularly of the 3 and 4 era, and this is a very good thing when it comes to the subject matter dealt with in such a game.

Currently Onikira features two very lengthy, sufficiently challenging (though a hard mode would be nice for the old schoolers!), and detailed levels and one outstanding boss battle. If the boss fight we're shown here is any indication, the game has some huge ambitions when it comes to monster designs and the bosses will hopefully continue in this giant titan-like structure that gives the current encounters such an epic feel.

Aside from hacking and slashing your way through the first story based levels available currently there's a combat arena facing you against waves of increasingly difficult enemies, and is the perfect place to hone and perfect your skills while testing your ability against the rest of the world with the included Leaderboards.

Just like these great hacknslash titles of the past, Onikira: Demon Killer has some of the sharpest and most responsive action around. You can slice your enemies with a barrage of normal attacks, toss them in the air with a heavy attack and continue your onslaught with a follow-up air combo. Freakish oni heads float above shooting lazers at you while you use the dash ability to dodge the beam and keep the combo meter going. Boss battles are already beyond epic in scope and show huge ambition in size, and the weapons you're given to slay these grotesque creatures with are already a serious blast to experiment with.

So far this is an already satisfying action slash 'em up with some incredible influences and only a few non-gamebreaking rough spots, and if you're as optimistic as I am about its future there's no better time to get involved than now. Digital Furnace have nailed the feel of a dark and demonic feudal Japan, and I'm excited to see what content is in store for the future.