Thursday, February 26, 2015

Indie Impressions - Isbarah


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Leikir Studio 

You are the goddess Iria, daughter to the ruler of a realm of otherworldly order and an inheritor of immense power. With their dimension succumbing to the chaos around her, it's up to Iria to strike down evil where it stands and prove herself a rightful successor. Isbarah plunges the player into a hellish world of ruined landscapes and foul gods, a realm once overseen by order now divided by rebellious guardians. It's a plot that may feel familiar to many on its own, but combined with the uniquely painted backgrounds of Heavenly and Hellish qualities, the rocking original score and fiercely fast-paced action Isbarah stands out in a class of Bullet Hell of its own.

Despite the classic platformer and shooter looks players will be surprised to find that Isbarah is a game that relies solely on mouse and keyboard, and while that may be jarring to some at first they will soon discover that this is not your conventional Bullet Hell and that the free-form dodging requires the precision of a mouse. Being more a classic shmup aficionado this threw me off at first, but as soon as I was linking dodges in fancy formations around complex patterns of bullets the fluidity of the controls became clear. This is not meant to be a game where you attack or oppress, but where you defend and persevere by employing quick reflexes and periods of endurance until your opponent deteriorates to a weakened state for the final strike.

Each of the arena-like stages feature a different villainous boss to fight amongst variously themed surroundings of moving platforms and obstacles, of which you hop across and duck beneath while dodging the incoming barrages of bullets. In the first wave of chaotic dodging you'll notice three large cannons floating amidst the battle, and given the fact that you have no bullets to shoot of your own the goal is to power each of the cannons once to fire upon and weaken the boss. A feeling of rewarding danger and a bit of added strategy come from the fact that your access to these important cannons is usually cut off by the gunfire of your enemy, and hastily trying to reach one could mean your life.

Things begin to get slightly more complicated with the addition of the slow motion and barrier power-ups and your fingers become even busier than before. Slow motion does just what you'd imagine, letting you take the time to fine tune your dodges and escape from danger at just the right moments. Barriers provide not only standing space from platforms but hold the ability to block enemy bullets, which becomes crucial when you're dealing with entire walls of almost undodgeable projectiles coming your way. Action in turn becomes more than just a ballet of bullets, but a battle of wits.

The boss designs bring the game to life with a range of stylish personalities ranging from the elegantly gothic to the brutal and grotesque. Designless, a darkened mass of evil eyeballs and gnarled teeth escapes from its foreboding realm whereas Walter, a sly and smooth talking sunglasses wearing skeleton burns a once peaceful forest for his mysterious Lord. The level of personality and flair put into each foe, though marred by some rough translations in their dialogue, are matched only by the intensity of their bullet patterns.

There is no room for mistakes, no room for second guessing or trial and error, Isbarah is pure arcade skill distilled into challenging displays of refined hand-eye coordination. It's likely to cause a bit of rage for those not prepared and even as someone who feels confident in their bullet dodging skills I found myself quickly dropping to the lowest difficulty a short way through. As frustrating as that sounds it plays right into the replayable arcade nature and the player will soon lose themselves in multiple plays, slamming that retry button and shooting for a slightly higher score each time.

Clocking in at eighteen individual battles and more hours than I'd like to admit devoted to retrying the three different difficulties and pushing myself over and over, Isbarah is a content rich game with the kind of replayability you'd expect from an arcade classic. A Bullet Hell with outlandishly wicked artwork and an over-the-top metal soundtrack is a hard concept to pass up on and outside of the masochistic difficulty provided, this is remarkably unique as well as an easily recommendable take on the shooter formula for those who aren't afraid of a serious challenge.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Indie Impressions - Pizzarian


Now Available on Steam (also on

Developed by Alex Jedraszczak

Being the CEO of an up-and-coming intergalactic pizza joint is no easy business, especially when you're up against the likes of conglomerate pizza pioneers like Big Pizza. Pizzarian is the story of one small pizza business and its rise into the glamorous yet dangerous life of intergalactic delivery service.

You'll be faced with managing your pizza stock and ship upgrades, with the perils of the planetary orbit and the traffic of space highways that flow with them, and with making every piping hot order of cheese-y goodness arrive to their destination in an orderly fashion.

The high-speed deliveries you make are broken up into two separate arcade-inspired sections of dodge and shootem'up action, with management of your ships and upgrades inbetween deliveries. Using hard earned money on new ships is crucial to extending your future trips and making sure you hit each delivery target with utmost precisions, and ships themselves come with a variety of badass retro references ranging from ships likened to the Vic Viper from Gradius to weapons humorously taking after the Nintendo Zapper remembered so fondly.

With such rapid forays into bite-sized arcade stages Pizzarian is the kind of game you can pick up for a few minutes at a time, but thanks to the progressive nature of growing your ship and business is also easy to zone out on for much longer.

The claustrophobic and nerve-wracking traffic in Pizzarian is, as you'll soon find out, not much different from the real world. The rage inducing flow of slow moving trucks and various jerks cutting you off shows no end, and the only way to survive is to be a jerk back. Cutting off all four corners of another driver is, while a dick move, the surest way to prove your space superiority and earns you the highest boost to your "Cool" meter. The road rage runs high as you rush to swerve and cut off any unsuspecting opponents of the road while the warm buzzing of nostalgic chiptunes drives your high-octane car dodging.

Once you've survived the quick and heinous traffic section you stop off at your first selected planet in a very Xevious-like top-down vertically scrolling shoot'emup section, where instead of shooting enemies with bullets you try to accurately fire steamy hot pizzas into the homes of your loyal and waiting cosmic customers. The deeper into the galaxy you go to visit these hungry planets the more planets you discover, appearing on your map for future runs to extend your trip and allow for even crazier pay to save up for those super sweet ship upgrades.

The game super charming, and too addictive for how simple it is. The fact that the pizzas you deliver cost you your hard earned money that you could be using on upgrades makes every shot at every customer that much more crucial, and the stunts you pull off for increasing your "Cool" meter and in turn gaining more cash for upgrades so much more rewarding.

With a great retro style featuring multiple color schemes, some seriously groovy 8-bit music (I've had the map system music stuck in my head for a week), and a great sense of humor Pizzarian is a game with tons of variety packed into one nostalgic arcade trip. And even if you aren't a super retro enthusiast, it offers some of the quickest blasts of condensed fun for a ridiculously modest price making it the absolute perfect coffee break game.