Monday, March 20, 2017

Indie Impressions - Danmaku Unlimited 3

Danmaku Unlimited 3

Available Now on Steam

Developed by Doragon Entertainment 


The next part of what is probably the more beloved indie shmup series to grace Steam is here, and it's fiercer than ever. Danmaku Unlimited 3 retains the core premise of being the fastest and flashiest shoot'emup offering around while offering an accessible and easy to manage experience for newcomers. It once again offers the most dazzling array of bullet patterns with the most intuitive and accessible of controls for easy and gratifying swoops between the bursts of colorful shrapnel, while upping the ante with an engaging new mechanic that rewards your most daring and tricky maneuvers. It's been a long wait since 2, but the monumental leap in quality has made it more than worth the wait.

Danmaku Unlimited's visuals have evolved from its very indie predecessors to a point of pure polish and bright, arcade bliss. The designs of ships are much clearer and the animations of their movement much smoother, the backgrounds are layers deep and have an attractive sci-fi complexity that just wasn't present in 2, and all around the whole package just feels much more professional. The screen is constantly alive with flashes of light and bursts of color, and breaking into a well-timed Trance mode has the overwhelming assault on the senses that gives the transformation an impactful satisfaction.

Any fan will be excited to hear Blankfield makes a return for more powerful and heavy themes to your score-chasing destruction. The same fast, pulse-driving, almost math rock-y heavy guitar riffage is here with an extra layer of blissful headbanging melody. Just like the game itself, Blankfield seems to have only grown in talent and musical ambition with a much cleaner and more experienced sound than before. It drives the frenetic pace of the game more than well, but I do miss the lower-quality grit of the older and more appropriately indie sound. Fans of the genre, however, will not be the least bit disappointed.

The newly introduced Graze and Spirit systems in place are fun and easy to grasp, while being incredibly deep in the long-run for seasoned players who play dangerously and want a higher skill ceiling. Your inner daredevil is rewarded as every bullet that comes close to contact with your core sparks against your ship and adds to the powerful Trance meter, bringing you closer to a satisfying power trip. This gives talented pilots even more reason to play recklessly, weaving in and out of the spinning streams of bright bullets to graze closely and collect energy for a satisfying burst of power.

Danmaku Unlimited still excels at what it does best; making you feel like an utter and complete arcade bad-ass even when you might not necessarily be one. The satisfying screen clear of bullets when neutralizing enemies, the flash of your Trance meter filling and the intense overdrive of power thereafter, and the fluid, pinpoint control of your ship as you dance between the mesmerizing patterns of bullets make Danmaku Unlimited 3 the most refreshing shmup offering around and a perfect entry point for newcomers and curious shooters alike. For the longest time Danmaku Unlimited was the one of the best shoot'emup series you could find on Steam, and 3 re-validates that entirely for a new generation.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Indie Impression - Ghost Blade HD

Ghost Blade HD

Now Available on Steam (Also on PS4, XboxOne, and WiiU)

Developed by Hucast Games

From their name alone any keen arcade shoot'emup player should recognize Hucast Games dabbles in the Dreamcast-era of what we call retro. With a clear loyalty and passion for this golden age of shmups they've set out to keep the traditions of Japanese STGs alive with an explosive and intense modern polish in both visuals and gameplay. Ghost Blade HD takes this fierce and energetic take on the shmup genre across 5 mesmerizing extraterrestrial stages, seeking to find its spot in history among the most classic of arcade shooters.

The visuals here set a standard in shmups of their own, and unlike its gameplay are not comparable to anything released in any arcade in the past. The settings range from sand-storm inflicted deserts to lush alien planets with autumn-red trees, and always pack a vibrant punch of color. With extra sharp, crispy high resolution textures and mind-boggling amounts of enemies and items on-screen at a time Ghost Blade HD also manages to capture the visuals of its roots through old school polygonal ship designs and giant-robo bosses that'll make any sci-fi anime geek's mouth water. This is a different kind of shoot'emup that is unparalleled in its visual chaos of bullets and celestial settings.

Ghost Blade HD presents an arcade shmup soundtrack that is nostalgic on levels I cannot articulate properly through words. Somewhere between the surreal and otherworldly compositions of Zuntata's Darius Gaiden soundtrack and the heavy, chaotic and beats of Manabu Namiki's work for Battle Garegga this soundtrack assaults the senses in secret and majestic retro ways that modern game creators and companies have been trying to tap into for a decade. It might not be something someone who didn't grow up with obscure Japanese shmups would get, but the sounds of the warm synth-y and space-y melodies couldn't make me any happier.

The action of Ghost Blade HD as with any shmup is focused on overwhelming blankets of bullets.  It's of a more twitch and reflex based nature, as opposed to the geometrical pattern memorization seen in Cave-styled Bullet Hells, with curtains of bright shrapnel flying in your direction at all times. Instead of sitting inside of small triangular safe-spots like in the aforementioned Bullet Hells, you'll constantly be on the move as to avoid the fire. Luckily, many of these bullets can pre-emptively be cancelled with careful thinking and aiming by neutralizing their source, the baddie firing them. This gives Ghost Blade HD a classic and hyper kind of perspective like Toaplan shmups, and feels to me almost like a much snazzier, modern, and crazier Tatsujin.

Even on the easiest setting the later levels become increasingly insane and unpredictable leading to many deaths, which is great for a shmup. With such an accessible and exhilarating start but such a daunting and seemingly impossible end it means that Ghost Blade HD has a high skill ceiling, and a whole lot of replayability. It's easy to hop into for a few easier levels but will take you dedication and patience to fully complete without embarrassing errors and endless continues.

The game has a relatively simple scoring mechanic that should be familiar to arcade junkies. With each enemy or crate hit and destroyed your combo multiplier rises, and as they are destroyed shiny and attractive medals pour out. The amount that these medals give you is of course raised by the multiplier, so score chasers will be making a mad dash to kill and collect. It's simple but very effective, and incredibly rewarding watching streams of loot pour from your successful strikes as you rise through the Leaderboards.

When it comes to arcade shoot'emups Ghost Blade HD is the ultimate bliss-out. The Zen-ful state of mind needed to dance between the ballet of bullets, the mysteriously obscure and nostalgic soundtrack, and the gorgeously detailed modern visuals with a touch of retro sci-fi design come together for an unworldly and addictive score-chasing package.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Indie Impression - Future Unfolding

Future Unfolding

Now Available on Steam

Developed by Spaces of Play


A passion project over 4 years in the making, Future Unfolding displays a remarkable level of dedication and ambition. With an unmistakable and hypnotic visual presentation and soothing soundtrack of earthly melodies, the game captures perfectly the majestic and unknown deeps of uncharted wildlands and the unknown heart of nature. A top-down adventure with a very broad and open do-anything approach and an addictive act in fantasy world cartography, there's no real right way to play and only the most curious of explorers will be rewarded here.

This is an experience of pure exploration and curiosity. You are dropped into the confusion of Mother Nature with little to no hand-holding, with only your senses and instincts to guide you through landscapes and the hazards of predators. Future Unfolding does not point you in any particular direction and instead leaves you with the determination to feel and chart the world out for yourself. As you set out and dash your way through the secretive and cryptic world your crude hand-drawn map will slowly fill in, pushing to to spread out in different directions and uncover more of the exciting and colorful world.

What's really amazing is how despite this lack of any real hand-holding, guidance, or tutorials the game manages to strike a perfect balance of relaxing and entertaining. There was never a moment that I felt stuck, or like there was something I had to do that I didn't get. Everything flows so perfectly well, and just when you think you've strayed far from whatever you're looking for something appears and sets you right back on track in inexplicable ways. It's mysterious and cryptic, but that certainly doesn't keep Future Unfolding from being accessible, enjoyable and fun as heck.

The animals of the forest that whisk you away for rides and lead you to unexpected destinations, wise and talkative elder spirit creatures who share prophetic bits of speech, as well as other unknown magical forces that light up the world all guide your navigation through this magical and natural trek and eventually to pink triangular nodes that activate to your touch. Finding and activating three of these peculiar floating pyramids completes the trifecta and places a welcoming marker on your growing map, and gives you the ultimately satisfying task of playing cartographer to fill out your self-charting map and reach this ominous new landmark and complete the area. Where it leads you and what else is in store would just be a spoiler, and this is a trip I recommend experiencing yourself.

The expanse of forest thick with autumn red and lush green trees, the winding pathways of meadow and flowers so bright and colorful they make an almost psychedelic effect. Round blue lakes and ponds scatter across the lush landscapes, rippling occasionally with the movement of fish swimming close to the surface. It's a gorgeous and natural setting with earthly colors and a whimsical colorful playfulness, and it all seems very true to life at first. That is until discovering the pyramids of neon light that activate to your touch, or the writhing balls of strange miasma that transport you to different darker realms which interconnect for obscure shortcuts. All in all Future Unfolding has a gorgeous and breathtaking visual style that I can guarantee you haven't seen in a top-down perspective before, and creates a mesmerizing sort of magical realism only found in the darkest heart of the woods.

The vibrancy and lifelike movement of the art and animation are matched only by the elegance and grace of the soundtrack that guides your journey. The very fitting hypnotic and dreamy synth chimes and twinkles atmospherically to your every action, and ambient tones rise and fall with the movement and action. Ominous rumblings set a tense mood as hostile elements inhabit the area, and overall the entire soundtrack works meticulously in the background to set and transition each setting and mood appropriately.

There's a certain unbridled sense of wonder and excitement in the discovery of new anomalies throughout the colorful and living world of nature surrounding you. Pushing through thickets of trees to explore for secrets deep in its cover, and happening upon the many strange and exciting landmarks and happenings doesn't get old. Winding through secret trails to stumble upon large and mystical white beasts who share their humble bits of wisdom with you. Strange symbols in the dirt summon a dark fog that beckons you to follow it to a decrepit glowing tree that transports you to dark underworlds. Many of the woods' lifeforms communicate with you in cryptic and unpredictable ways. This mysterious and dreamlike world of uncharted nature holds many loosely connected secrets to discover, and only the most in-tune with its earthly roots will be keen enough to uncover them.

Future Unfolding is an experience not comparable to any others in the interactive media category. The closest thing that comes to mind is perhaps exploring the mysterious island in Proteus of the earlier hey-days of indie gaming when these sort of artistic game projects were first finding their identity. It's that same idea of abstract and open-ended composition that leaves most of the "gameification" up to the limits of the player and their imagination, a whole dreamed up new world for you to explore and create your own narrative within. Games like Future Unfolding only come once in a blue moon, and when they do it's important to seize the opportunity. Highly recommended to experience at least once.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Indie Impressions - DYE


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Bat Country Games 

The color of the world is draining and with it the creativity and imagination it inspires. Soulless and undead Necrolights sap all of the vibrant terrain-painting sprites known as Pigments of their life giving power and its up to you, Hue, to restore them to their former glory. DYE is a retro platformer with vivid and addictive level design and an incredibly high skill ceiling that appeals to casual and hardcore platformer players alike.

There are four distinctly colored crystal worlds where these Pigments reside, each with a sprawling and initially grey overworld of locked gateways leading to dangerous trials of skill and reflex. Our round and determined little protagonist slides, dashes, and glides through each maze of hazards with Kirby-like grace saving the isolated and trapped Pigments, restoring colors to the level and to the hub-world with each one. These range from difficult to maddening in their fast-paced and classic Super Mario Bros.-like obstacle avoidance, and even give the option of a harder difficulty on completion for true gaming masochists

As it should be with run 'n jumpers as challenging as DYE, the controls are pitch perfect. From the movement to the control you have in mid-air while aiming for that small platform or moving cart, the only factor I could really blame for each repeated loss was my own flimsy and overacting fingers. Reaching a calm and almost Zen-like state while heading into a challenge for the next dozen of tries was a necessity, especially when going for the necessary hard-to-reach Pigments needed to open new parts of the hub.

Your eyes are treated to an incredibly sharp and crispy pixel art style that is reminiscent of many of the forefathers of the masochistic precision platformer genre. With deceptive trickery akin to I Wanna Be The Guy, punishing and fast platform action like La Mulana or Cave Story, and even a little bit of rewarding exploration similar to the classic Knytt Stories this is obviously a labor of love that will visually appeal to anyone with a taste for colorful and lo-fi indie sidescrollers.

DYE is a fantastically creative platformer. The melodies and background music that paint the atmosphere around your adventure are warm and nostalgic, ranging from ambient and soft tones to bright and energetic electronic beats.  The different gradients of color streak across the screen in a satisfying way that rewards players when they finally succeed in a particularly acrobatic feat for an overwhelming vibrancy that eventually fills the worlds of the accomplished like a trophy.

It's a game I can find little to no faults with in its platforming perfection, outside of some challenges being just a little bit too difficult for me to wrap my brain and my fingers around. These few and far situations were entirely my own fault though, as this is created with the intention to give anyone with the right amount of determination and persistence a fighting chance.

Like the legendary indie platformers before it, it sets a new precedent for challenging games with a high-skill ceiling that can push even the most seasoned veterans harder and further than they've ever gamed before. DYE is so incredibly addictive, and no matter how many times I die (dye?) I'll keep coming back to color its world some more.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Indie Impressions - Shadows of Adam

Shadows of Adam

Now Available on Steam

Developed by Something Classic Games 

In the modern world of jRPGs very few titles seem authentic anymore. Heavy marketing tactics and shifts in demographics have caused shock, awe, and commercial appeal to take place of genuine storytelling that is heartfelt and relatable on a universal level. With things like Chrono Trigger and Suikoden II's style of emotional narrative a thing of the past, we now rely and look to the indie market for a more human take on the formula the way we remember and love it. Shadows of Adam offers us a glimpse into the past, back to a time where these creative aspects were priorities and not afterthoughts.

One of the greatest strengths in Shadows of Adam is the gorgeously detailed yet simple and retro pixel-art that fills the screen. The characters are given a certain visual personality that you don't often see in retro styled games through their wonderfully diverse and creative designs. Considering how low-fi the 16-bit designs of the characters are they manage to each have a very distinct style of fashion or armory, which sets them apart and makes the story much easier to follow. The backgrounds of each setting you adventure through are of exceptional quality, with crisp natural settings and ominous, dank caves all giving a genuinely old school and nostalgic jRPG backdrop.

The game also has incredible sound design for an indie pixel game, and really evokes the same sense of chaotic intensity I got from the epic battles with Lavos years ago. The loud crackling of lightning, the whoosh and roar of a burst of flames, and even the nostalgic Squaresoft-esque crystalline tinkling of a savepoint are all meticulously engineered for a classic yet dramatic effect. Warm and melodic chiptune tones make up the retro throwback soundtrack and set a mood that is dreamlike as well as memorable, calling back to a style of soundtrack composition that was progressive and appropriate to it's setting and pacing.

The writing is done in a provocative way that leaves many early details out, creating an initially mysterious and sometimes confusing atmosphere. Our heroes scour the thick and twisted Tangle, but it isn't until the revealing of it's monstrous and grotesque boss that we are introduced to why they were sent from their village and exactly what the strange source of dark energy they hunt for really is. With many twists and unexpected turns Shadows of Adam is a lengthy 10ish hours of fantasy narrative that as any good jRPG should has lots of humorous and lighthearted side-quests that introduce very strong and unique character building.

Shadows of Adam is the spark to reignite that flame in every classic jRPG enthusiasts heart. For every kid who spent their weekends renting and obsessing over beating those sprawling, complex adventures in everything from Final Fantasy to Dragon Quest and grew up wanting more of the classic adventuring. If you're the kind of person who feels that something is clearly missing from today's modern offerings of mostly cheesecake rpgs, Shadows of Adam is a genuine and authentic glimpse back into a time where imagination and creativity took priority in the form of great storytelling, engaging character development and a one-of-a-kind crafting of fictional worlds.

Indie Impressions - Vaccine


Now Available on Steam (Also on PS4, XboxOne and WiiU)

Developed by Rainy Night Creations 



The dimly lit old hallways of a broken and rustic mansion-like home set the stage for an experiment gone wrong. A strange virus turns regular human beings into twisted creatures, thirsty for the flesh of their once friendly counterparts and only one vaccine exists among the hordes of turned zombies. It's a story we've heard before many times and a genre we've seen perfected already, and Vaccine seeks to shake the scene up a bit with the procedurally generated levels and items made popular by the roguelike genre. 

What were once long and involved journeys of narrative filler are now quick and adrenaline pumping runs through a 30 minute or less roguelike horror adventure. It might not be the same engaging story or refined gameplay we know from Resident Evil, but Vaccine creates a frightening DIY vibe of its own that is worth the trip.

It also has the difficulty of a genuinely old school and retro survival horror game. Everything you loved and loathed about the classics is here, from the clunky and cumbersome tank controls to the hard to manage limited item space that required planning. Every challenging and confusing imperfection in the game's design is almost definitely deliberate in order to keep in fashion with the originators it pays its homage to. Rainy Night Creations has the aesthetics and atmosphere of a 90's era survival horror down pat, and gives us an authentic trip down memory lane in both visuals and frustrating challenge.

Later enemies become seriously deranged and grotesque, and much harder to take down and dangerous. Anything you come across that isn't a zombie or a rat basically will require some serious firepower and a decent amount of ammo. The knife isn't really good at much other than conserving ammo, and even when confronting zombies I had to continually back up to avoid early and embarrassing deaths. From rats and bats, to zombies and.. freaky crawling flesh dudes, Vaccine has plenty of grotesque oddities to die to.

When it comes down to it luck is your greatest ally in Vaccine as the trick to having a truly excellent run is having good enough chances to find the randomly places items as early as possible, because honestly if you run into one of those flesh-y crawly creatures without ammo or a gun you can kiss your ass goodbye. This isn't uncommon with games of a procedural 'roguelite' style, and it isn't to say that Vaccine doesn't still require some skillful gunplay and careful consideration with stat distribution.

An addictively quick "coffee-break" take on the survival horrors of old. The rogue-lite twist of having a whole mansion that is procedurally generated along with the location of important key items and equipment keeps each quick playthrough exciting and unpredictable. Many of your runs for the life-saving vaccine will end quickly and humiliating as you die to stupid mistakes and oversights, but when you make it further and finally reach that destination it couldn't feel more rewarding. Vaccine is a clever execution of a very ambitious idea, and it deserves a play from veterans of the survival horror genre.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Indie Impressions - Loot Rascals

Loot Rascals

Now Available on Steam (Also on PlayStation 4)

Developed by Hollow Ponds


When I'm looking to play a new game or engaging in almost any form of electronic entertainment, I'm looking to momentarily escape reality to explore new worlds. A lot of the time I'm trying to tap into the same strange and indescribable creative energy held as a child. Naturally, the colorful Saturday morning cartoon look and presentation of Loot Rascals drew my eyes in a way most games of today don't really. Not anymore, anyway.

And wouldn't you know it, my fascination with Loot Rascals' roots in childhood and animation proved appropriate upon discovering that the game enlists the skills of animators and artists who had worked with everything from the dreamlike Hohokum to the adventurous fantasy Road Not Taken, and even for channels including Cartoon Network and BBC Scotland. A humorous intergalactic story of survival and a daring rescue of the coveted 'Big Barry' from the clutches of a cosmic entity is brought to life by the talented hands of this impressive collaboration of artists, and I couldn't have been more intrigued by the prospect.

The random layouts of colorful alien worlds, the sci-fi setting and marooned spaceship survival plot, the colorful sense of humor and the psychedelic extraterrestrial residents of this dangerous planet brought me back to times of creative and imaginative animations and obscure videogames I grew up with. While all incredibly original in its designs I couldn't help but see the zany top-down style and think of the out-of-this-world hip-hop space adventures of Toe-Jam and Earl, and though some of the talent behind Loot Rascals did animation work for Cartoon Network and even Adventure Time the almost grotesque nature of some of the anomalies encountered made it feel more like Ren and Stimpy's chaotic Space Madness episodes, which of course is a very good thing.

Loot Rascals' action takes place on a hex-based grid map, but it isn't slow and plodding like you'd expect a turn-based combat system to be. In fact it's actually quite fast paced as you dash around bumping into various enemies to get into brawls for their important equipment cards. Touching the same space as one of the many strange lifeforms of the planet will initiate an auto-battle, but the gimmick here is the day and night system which changes every few moves and alters their aggressive state. Aggressive enemies attack first, defensive enemies are attacked first and the determining factor of damage done is overall attack value against defense value, so planning and organizing your Loot Cards right is the difference between life and death.

How could I forget those cards. Perhaps the more addictive, ingenious gameplay mechanic of Loot Rascals and what sets it apart from the droves of similarly composed roguelikes. Doing away with a typical dungeon-crawling equipment slots is a 2 by 5 grid of slots for 'Loot Cards' foraged from the corpses of alien foes. These cards add a base value to either your attack or defense but also come with unique bonuses that pertain to specific set-ups and locations on the card grid, rewarding strategic and thoughtful placements.

More importantly than attempting to explain these mechanics with needlessly complicated sentences, I'd like to stress that the gameplay in Loot Rascals is accessible and easy to jump into for even the most casual of roguelike and roguelite players. Despite its rich and original strategic card elements it is most certainly a game the player will feel their way through, as opposed to needing to painstakingly learn.  Its mechanics become simple and clear through the sheer enjoyment of exploration and just a bit of trial-and-error, and the ultimate reward of discovery is always more than worth it.

Playing new roguelikes I generally stop and move on to the next whenever I get stuck or hit a roadblock, which is pretty dang often. With so many in the genre and so many that mostly feel the same, it's easy to get bored and want to see the next offering. This was not at all the case with Loot Rascals, its otherworldly designs had me hooked and the detailed Saturday morning cartoon style cutscenes between levels had me pressing to see more of the world and story. Everything is so humorously and wonderfully animated, the pacing of the game is perfectly fast and fluid, and the music is like some cosmic clash of Jean-Jacques Perrey retro electronics and Super Bomberman 5 Pop-y cartoon synth complete with spooky sci-fi Moog and Theremin.

After 6 solid hours of playtime I've still only just barely made it to the entrance of the the third floor. I keep piling more hours onto the game, however, and every run is still so radically different and wild that I never feel disappointed or like I'm restarting to make up for anything like in other roguelikes. I'm simply playing because it's fun, because it inspires my creativity and makes me feel good and that's a rare feeling with these games in recent years.

Loot Rascals is an incredible joy to play not because it's fun and the systems within are addictive, but because it's just so lighthearted and feel-good. It manages that perfect balance of weird and cute that could make even the most die-hard Nintendo fans blush while telling a story that is so awesomely surreal, so hilariously over-the-top in ways the most old school cartoon and sci-fi comic geek could appreciate.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Indie Impressions - Fumiko!


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Fumiko Game Studio 

Fumiko! starts with a scene and music that is melancholy and soft, serene in its ambient and cybernetic way. It's a setting that leaves the player ill-prepared for the chaos within. A mainframe of order within some kind of unknown computer world that is slowly decayed by its own overbearing authority. A simple, minimalist representation of a lady A.I. stands surrounded by bits of floating data, with only one unknown and demanding voice guiding her.

This is a game and an experience that is hard to describe. It takes place in an abstract mainframe of some cybernetic security program, and you play the role of a lone A.I. who has forgotten who she is, what her purpose is, or why she was created. Much like the classic computer-animated series ReBoot, the setting is a fantastically creative imagining of the living world inside of a computer program. The different communities which serve to power the mainframe in different ways, the multiple entities and their roles, and the unknown masters who create and control the very fates and destinies of those within its system.

The core gameplay of Fumiko! is platform-driven exploration across strange and abstract constructs. Each area of low-poly retrofuture platforming tells a piece of the cryptic narrative, driving you towards the designated exit node for each stage and into the next wildly different neon playground. Stacks of bright glowing cubes stretch into the data strewn sky as you slowly earn the ability to jump multiple times in mid-air to vertically scale them for secret collectables placed on-top.

Exploration in Fumiko! is just plain fun, it's captivating and engaging in the weirdest of ways. Each area has more than enough side-areas and structures to play on and poke around for pieces of story, and every time they manage to be a psychedelic pleasure to behold. From bright and happy colored explosions of low-poly cubes to navigate to twisted and corrupted pathways of darkness tainted by viruses, each progression through the program keeps things exciting, creative and new.

The game has no problem throwing difficult situations at every curve. With already pinpoint platforming and frantic timing from timed power-ups, the addition of obstacles like invisible drones that chase you and throw you off course just seemed cruel. Hardcore platformer and diehards of the genre will have no problems here, but those coming for the more casual story-telling experience may be caught off-guard by the involved series of acrobatic jumps and dashes.

Fumiko! has an outstanding ear for music, with a soundtrack that's ambient-ly cybernetic in it's electronic tones while soft and symphonic with its piano and electronic orchestrations. Combined with the abstract and sprawling "Technopolis" kind of setting, the wonderfully thought out cinematography and sound creates a world of its own. Panning city shots and slow, character introducing zoom-ins from above the world are emphasized through this imaginative soundtrack for a surprisingly cinematic effect for something of such an "indie" nature.

The voice from above is not the kind creator Fumiko believed it to be, but a manipulator of power and control to be escaped. It's up to you to help her break from her captor's control and see the network for the diverse series of communities that it is. With a truly hypnotizing and trippy low-poly visual style, a mysteriously intriguing story of system corruption from the point-of-view of the programs within, and an entrancingly cosmic soundtrack Fumiko! is an addictive and abstract adventure for anyone who has a taste for a little bit of weird variety in their gaming routines.

Indie Impressions - Induction


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Bryan Gale  


Induction is a serious mind-bender of a time-altering puzzle game. The brainchild of a single developer, I couldn't even begin to wrap my head around how to solve some of these later time-bending conundrums let alone how one person could dream up such an inventive and complex series of logic puzzles. It's a minimalist affair with a relaxing series of warm, neon colors enveloping abstract cubic structures of progressively twisting and complex architecture. Don't let it's attractive and simplistic coating fool you though, Induction is logic solving for only the most sharp-minded of puzzle game players.

The player starts off on their winding path of individual puzzles as a single cube. A small glowing white cube is visible in the distance, and the goal is simply to reach it and step into its light. Of course, all manner of tricks, traps and obstacles will block the path to this objective. The trick, as you soon learn is careful manipulation of a self-placed clone as it mimics every one of its creator's last movements. Solving solutions requires utilizing this with careful consideration to co-operate with your past self in operating a series of timed switches and movable barrels.

It doesn't take long before the stages evolve into complex M.C. Escher style constructs of intertwining walkways. Your clones begin to hauntingly outsmart you, blocking you off at the pass when least expected. With enough dedication and concentration you'll soon learn to outsmart you clones back, learning to hide behind their starting points or manipulate them into moving pieces of the complex puzzles into place for a satisfying solve.

The visuals feature an abstract, colorful and cubic style with a wonderfully hypnotizing and relaxing ambiance supplied by its soundtrack. As you progress through each vibrant construct the color palettes occasionally change to different welcoming hues. The further you spiral into the rotating selection of levels the more beats and rhythm are added to the meditative soundtrack.

Every action has a reaction, and every impossible situation solvable with only a little bit of exploration and trial-and-error. No matter how hard each progressively complex situation became I was always able to work it out through careful deliberation with my cloned reflection. Despite my general adversity and ineptitude towards puzzle games, especially of this difficulty, Induction had the perfect balance of experimentation and discovery that keeps me curiously coming back to the genre for more punishment.

Indie Impressions - We Are Chicago

We Are Chicago

Now Available on Steam

Developed by Culture Shock Games  


Growing up in a low-income, predominantly African-American, Asian and Latino community in West Oakland is what made me who I am today. Everyone knew each other and said hello on the street, we all respected each other and everyone watched out for each other, no one cared what race you were or where you came from in the end, or especially how much money you made or how wealthy you were.

With the amazing submersion in culture and a more raw, more real side of American history and community came its own territory and set of downsides, of course. Poverty and constant unnecessary death from gang violence were an unfortunate reality that everyone strove to break free from. For me Oakland is a mecca for culture, music, art and education that I lovingly call home, but also a hotbed for hatred and violence caused by misunderstanding, frustration and greed.

It doesn't matter where you're from who you are or what you look like, We Are Chicago is relatable to anyone who's ever felt like they were outside of their element in their own town. To anyone who remembers the awkward years of school, or felt like they didn't fit in with the routines of others. Where the influences that drove you become bad ones, and negative elements start to move in. The life of living in a city.

We Are Chicago has a very Do-It-Yourself feel, a kind of approach collaborated on by community members and leaders as opposed to long-time game developer vets. It doesn't have the fanciest graphics and can even feel slightly stiff in the animations department but what We Are Chicago lacks in technical modernization or polish it more than makes up for in genuine heart for its subject matter and its outright addictive storytelling through dialogue trees with multiple moral choices.

I have to admit I was slightly thrown off by Aaron's role as a silent protagonist. With voiced dialogue for all of the cast it was hard to figure at first that I was my own silent character, and not one of the friends we're first introduced to. It had a positive effect in the end, however, giving me more room for creativity in imagining just what this character is like and how he speaks or even better, putting myself in his shoes and his position. You really feel immersed in the role of a youth struggling to beat the bad elements closing in around him.

It takes a look at a part of America with a serious eye that's hardly, if ever, looked at in the gaming demographic. Something this demographic shamefully laughs or brushes off when presented with a picture of reality, and something these developers have done a great job of accurately portraying without the hype or the flashy and violent packaging other games with an urban city setting have. This is something anyone with an open-mind should be able to seriously appreciate.

That doesn't mean We Are Chicago has no violence, it's actually centered around gun violence but not in the same positive or attractive light that we're used to thanks to years of desensitization from the media. Instead of embracing or promoting it as we're used to videogames doing the developers have shed some light on the very real consequences of income disparity and in turn, the violence and strife it causes all the way down to the youth of our communities. It's all incredibly eye-opening and sobering, and it has a very positive end-message and goal.

As the creators state; "In addition, Culture Shock Games is incorporating content into the game to benefit two Chicago non-profits and donating a portion of proceeds to support All Stars Project of Chicago, and Reclaim Our Kids, who are empowering at-risk youth in underprivileged communities of Chicago." This is an experience that's good entertainment for the mind, and has a positive effect on our communities, and overall for our currently sick country.

In the unfortunate period of American history we're currently in where close-minded intentions are emboldened, We Are Chicago couldn't have come at a better time to put real topics in the spotlight. I sincerely hope to see this become a successful trend in the gaming media in the days to come.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Indie Impressions - Bleed 2

Bleed 2

Now Available on Steam

Developed by Ian Campbell (Bootdisk Revolution)

The pink-haired hero is back, the world renown bad-ass and beloved hero now going for a promotion to Greatest Hero of the World. Wryn returns with her slick, stylish acrobatics and her rapidfire dispensers of justice, and brings some flashy new reflecting abilities to the table in the sequel to Bleed. The surprise sleeper-hit Xbox indie title has come a seriously long way since its debut five years ago with even tighter and more refined dash controls, a way sharper visual style with much more fluid animations but the same great retro feel, and an even wilder journey into the very cosmos itself.

What was once energetic and fast-paced gameplay is now full-on hyperactive chaos due to the addition of the bullet-reflecting mechanic. The same satisfying three-stage air dodging is here but the addition of a quick-slicing sword that attacks at the quick tap of an attack adds an entirely new layer of depth to the already face-melting combat of Bleed. The adorably and diabolically designed enemies populate your screen with each transition and unleash a hail of bullet-hell patterns

The bosses are what really seal the deal in Bleed 2. Like some kind of Treasure inspired Alien Soldier boss battle onslaught they seem to come endlessly between frenetic sections of platforming that whip by you in a flash. Each ridiculously imaginative boss and their intuitive attack pattern tops the last in terms of sheer genius. Intense chases on the tops of missile-launching trucks, careful parkour through the skies across streaming rockets, and careening mechs that are gargantuan in size and chase you through crumbling city streets are only some of the backdrops for these incredible showdowns.

Beautiful bright and poppy compositions from the fantastic and legendary Jukio Kallio grace each stage, with a bit of seriously ferocious energy when needed. Some serious guitar riffage for the hectic chases through city scenes and some serenely kosmiche synth sounds for the more introspective ventures into otherworldly scenery. Songs that sound like they'd be fitting in some kind of a bad-ass 90's anime epic, there couldn't be a more fitting soundtrack for the cartoonish yet tough and stylish world of Bleed 2.

I'm blown away by what has been accomplished with Bleed 2 since its predecessor. My expectations have been more than surpassed, I've already spent a good 10hrs replaying the different modes and I'm still not totally confident with my parrying and dodging skills. It's also incredible what a world of difference Jukio Kallio's soundtrack makes, I'm completely infatuated with it as I have been his past soundtracks (particularly with doseone for Gun Godz). This easily ranks in my top sidescrolling action games of all time, holding a spot right between various Treasure classics. (I definitely get a Dynamite Headdy vibe from some of the almost theatrical set-ups for boss fights)

Bleed 2 comes packed with some great extras and unlockables. There's multiple extra modes to tackle before or after the story, including an Arcade mode with multiple playstyles to chase you score through the whole campaign in one go and an insane Challenge mode that pits you against multiple bosses at a time. With a whole arsenal of new and unique weapons to tear through stages with and some familiar faces that appear as playable characters to unlock and even bring with you into some co-ordinated co-op.

With so many new ways to play, such a fresh and sharp new look, and an incredible soundtrack that brings the series even more to life than ever before Bleed 2 beats out its already sleeper-hit-status predecessor ten-fold.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Indie Impressions - A House of Many Doors

A House of Many Doors

Available Now on Steam

Developed by Pixel Trickery 


The negative thoughts we have build up in our minds. They weigh heavily on our conscious and given enough time alter your personality, and your memories. In the dark underworld of A House of Many Doors, these negative thoughts come in the form of a physical disturbance. In the form of  a frightening parasitic world where your very memories can be stolen, destroying what makes you, you.

Your journey starts as one of these unfortunate plundered minds. A leader to a group of scavengers and keeper of one of the coveted keys to the doors of The House, you learn your memory has been stolen by one of the many groups of mind thieves who scour the wastelands. In order to act as an effective leader, you'll need your memories back and so you take off in search of the bandits. Finding this box of memories and reclaiming it is only the beginning, however, as it turns out to be only a small part of a much larger and ominous plot that sends you off into the world in search of answers.

The world is constantly living and moving around you through the tales told in every interaction. Talking to crew members while on the map opens many personal quests and stories for your crew members, from cynical skeptics who think they've seen everything of worth to a booze-hound surgeon with rumors of occultist organ harvesting. Each member has their own set of dialogue trees, their own varied personalities, and own ways of effecting the story based on the answers and reactions you give them. The inhabitants of the towns you visit also carry unique stories to either ignore or become a part of, and for the more dastardly of wanderers can even be taken prisoner for your future endeavors and profits.

As you whisk yourself from each sprawling and crumbling monument or town, you and your crew navigate the darkness of the overworld in your mechanical centipede-like locomotive. Your creaking mass of Steampunk looking steel crawls between each section of the map as various debris and relics litter each field, and sometimes memory-hunters or grotesque creatures appear to search you out. And in some cases depending on the quests you are given, you will search these foes out for answers or rewards. Coming into contact with one of these aggressive elements on the map sends you into a tactical battle, turn-based and addictive not unlike FTL. You'll go head-to-head with other kinetopedes utilizing the skills of your crew members, protecting vulnerable and important sections, and facing off with your accumulated and equipped arsenal.

The stories are decided through Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style branching choices in dialogue and events. Each choice provides your adventure with specific outcomes tailored to the personality and decisions you've given and made for yourself. Every outcome has its own consequences and even your sanity can take it's toll on your perception of the world, or sometimes if you're lucky or witty enough rewards are to be earned. Within a single sitting I had lost crew members to dark possessions that drove them to their suicides, taken human passengers as captives for profits from slave traders, and had romantic relations with questionable entities such as a shark dude and even an oil-rig. I could go on and on about the many strange, sometimes humorous and always creative adventures I had been a part of but it would only spoil the beautiful tale-crafting that makes up the core of A House of Many Doors.

I was up all night, sleeplessly weaving and being a part of extraordinary tales. By the end of my trek, which is still churning on somewhere in the game's world for when I return, I had ferried so many strange and colorful passengers with such odd and extraordinary pasts and personalities. I had accumulated a mass of the oddest items from occultist tools to otherworldly relics. Even better, I had a museum built in my name to keep all of my obscure and otherworldly findings in, encouraging me to search the most mysterious places possible. I had seen and learned so much, yet the inner-working of this dark underworld where parasites feed from the energy of other dimensions mostly remained a mystery still to someday be discovered.

Such limitless imagination, and from the mind of one sole developer. The world has its own dreamed up calendar system, its own social hierarchies, and a world map filled with incredibly diverse and awe-inspiring regions that change location with any playthrough. The art is outstanding, music is melodic and memorable, the tactical combat is addictive, and most of all the stories crafted by your adventure will worm their way through your mind when not even playing as infectiously as the parasites within. It's a game every lover of tales will come back to, remember and think about for a long time.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Indie Impressions - Alwa's Awakening

Alwa's Awakening

Now Available on Steam

Developed by Elden Pixels

The land of Alwa needs a hero. It's power is fading and its towns are broken and disjointed. Our hooded protagonist awakens with not much memory of herself, and an elder resident of Alwa informs you of the lands' impending doom. With no power, no abilities, and no recollection of your whereabouts, it's up to you to scour the wide and open map for sources of power and the terrifying guardians who protect them.

A Metroidvania with a huge, beautiful world holding many secrets and shortcuts. Everything you would expect from an excellent 8-bit sidescroller of this nature is present from the exploration, the tight combat, and the challenging platforming. Alwa's Awakening sets itself apart from the 8-bit platforming of old by mixing it up with the addition of block-pushing puzzles that feel akin to some kind of a sidescrolling Adventures of Lolo. The obstacles are difficult and eventually require the usage of combined abilities, and the platforming ranges from relaxing to rage-inducing. Luckily Alwa's Awakening's controls are responsive and smooth allowing for pitch perfect mid-air control during jumps that make the rather difficult platforming fun and engaging, as opposed to stiff and repetitive.

Just like any good Metroidvania or more recently, the "SoulsBorne" games, the game takes place in one large interconnected world. Exploring is mandatory, and lots of backtracking will be done of the satisfying variety. With each earned ability your exploration into previously conquered areas is rewarded through the discovery of newly accessible secrets and more of the power-granting blue orbs. New shortcuts from desolate areas are discovered giving that awe-inspiring and rewarding metroidvania and Dark Souls feel of grand discovery, and making long and complicated treks much easier in the future.

For anyone with a keen ear for 8-bit chiptunes and sounds Alwa is a nostalgic ear-gasm. Not just from the crisp and upbeat Famicom-era soundtrack, but the warm and crunchy retro-game sound effects that evoke total nostalgia. The tunes might not be Journey to Silius levels of energetic, but their hyper and bright retro mood comes very close. Everything about Alwa's Awakening is authentic, the visuals and the sounds giving flashbacks of everything from Faxanadu to Ufouria.

As incredibly rewarding and addictive as it is to explore the depths of ruins and the crumbling towers of Alwa's world, the payoff for your adventuring here are the bosses and the power-bearing gems they hold. With each defeated guardian of an area comes the epiphany that areas previously unreachable are now reachable. Discovered shortcuts now have an exciting purpose, and beckon the player back to what was once out of reach to discover new secrets and routes.

Alwa's Awakening is an excellent addition to the Metroidvania genre. It stays authentic to its roots while mixing things up with a variety of puzzle elements through the usage of clever abilities.The pixel artwork is beautiful and some of the most detailed of its kind, and the music is infectious enough to have to humming along for the entirety of your journey. A must have for retro enthusiasts and an easily accessible treat for the more modern of players to enjoy, as well.

Playthrough Part One:

 Playthrough Part Two:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Indie Impressions - Ellipsis


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Salmi Games 


The most addictive games come in the most simple seeming of packages. And simple is only what Ellipsis appears to be on the surface. A geometrical avoid 'em up of abstract neon vectors. Mazes of lazer-light obstacle courses and seas of deadly shapes unfold through stages on a flourishing map of abstract trails for you to blaze. No shooting and no attacking, this is an absolute test of reflex and accuracy as you wind through the neon corridors and avoid the complex contraptions in your path.

People who remember the Iraira Bou (Irritating Maze) style of games from Japan will see similarities in the addictive and punishingly pinpoint obstacle navigating gameplay. The movement of your small blue orb through these psychedelic fields of aggressive obstacles and enemies is incredibly precise. It's so precise it made me realize I need a better mouse, as every sudden motion and flinch of your wrist is responded to with such accurate sensitivity. The game is also playable with a gamepad but I found the needed precision to be best with a mouse as many of the later stages require such accuracy and speed that a stick just won't cut it.

The stages are quick, incredibly fast paced and to the point. Each one contains five orbs to collect, and each orb appears in progressively precarious positions. Collecting each orb isn't as easy as it seems, as the points they contain spill out once touched. Collecting four consecutively appearing orbs creates a gate, and the fifth orb that appears is optional and usually incredibly hard to reach in comparison.

A seriously sweet slice of bright and beautiful arcade chaos. The simple and minimal but enticingly colorful visual style starts with a retro elegance then quickly spirals into a chaotic neon ballet along with the growing complexity of each level. Glowing red triangles that group like a psychedelic school of fish chase you down, rotating orange turrets track your movements down with a hail of bullets, and spike-y blue bombs explode in a large radius when you get close enough. The variety of obstacles and colorful geometrical enemies is incredibly broad, I was blown away by the amount of new and inventive threats I was being killed by even far into the chaotically large and vibrant stage map.

As you complete each lightning quick stage the map expands. As it expands a living world of retro lighting and visuals opens up. Alternate paths branch and turn through a busy overworld and bright lights travel across lines like the circuits of some colorful motherboard. The completion of stages and the building of this impressive overworld map is a accompanied by an ambient droning, soft enough to lull into into a false sense of comfort before your assured demise.

Ellipsis is a formula of purely distilled arcade mechanics, the best of the best that have stood the test of time. The core of what makes shoot'emups and action games so fun to begin with, the dodging and avoiding of walls of bullets that lets the player feel like a badass. It's something I keep coming back to over and over again, because it scratches a purely reflex based itch that most games these days can't scratch. The sounds and visuals draw you into Ellipsis's addictive world, and top off an already complete package for something that is a treat to all of your senses.

Indie Impressions : Akihabara - Feel the Rhythm

Akihabara - Feel the Rhythm

Now Available on Steam

Developed by  JMJ Interactive

The electric town of Akihabara. The lights, the colors, sounds and the music that fill the city and give it the reputation of being on the fringe of modern popular culture. The arcades with their flashing screens undecipherable wall of noise, and UFO catchers packed with cute and colorful goods. The music stores blaring the latest in pop music to entice passerby's. The energy of the streets, and the mentality of a fast moving generation, wanting more but never quite having enough. Akihabara is a town meant to indulge.

And like the town, Akihabara - Feel the Rhythm knows just how to indulge. It tackles quite a hefty number of puzzle game tropes combining the toe-tapping rhythm keeping of Lumines, the logical shape matching of games like Bejeweled and Zoo Keeper, with the line-breaking color combining of games like Puyo Puyo or Tetris. Symbols are matched in pairs of four, as you would expect, but the changing of blocks is done precisely on the beat in order to keep the score multiplier going. Just like Lumines this rewards players who have a keen ear for music and a memorization of the songs being played with a much higher score and a more prestigious spot on the world leaderboards.

Classic electronic music sounds with just a touch of synth-y Japanese New Wave of the 80's, which is what drew my ears. The warm tone of the keyboard, the bright and poppy bits of piano, led by a simple Karaoke kind of metronome beat. It fits the setting more than well and shows a keen knowledge of this aspect and region of popular culture from this developer. I definitely felt an authentic, albeit older generational feel from what Akihabara was trying to convey about the atmosphere of a bustling Japanese city.

I was surprised how much music there was, and of very genuine quality. Even more surprising was finding out that these were composed by the developer himself, which given the wide range and variety heard while playing was impressive to me. Considering it's indie status and incredibly low and fair price-point I was only really expecting a handful of songs, but was pleased to see the campaign continue on for a total of ten.

It's a bit busy at first, and the fact that the game is tackling so many styles in puzzling creates an atmosphere of madness at first. But as you become familiar with the shapes provided in the blocks of each distinct song, it becomes second nature, and very rewarding. Fans of Lumines who are okay with a bit more of an involved thinking process and less of a Zen-ful approach should definitely take note, because there really hasn't been anything since it to keep the style of rhythm-based puzzle solving going.

Akihabara - Feel the Rhythm delivers a worthy entry in the genre and adds more than enough of its own personality and flavor to keep those within its demographic coming back for more of its great music and authentic atmosphere.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Indie Impressions - imprint-X


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Morgondag 

In a cold and oppressive futuristic world ruled by material and technology. Intellectuality, individualism, and expression are outlawed in favor of physical gain, and strange mechanical overlords exert control over the minds of humans who dare to think on their own terms. From the two-person development team behind RymdResa, Morgondag have perfected their beautiful simplicity into a fine art;

imprint-X is a puzzle game with an incredibly unique premise.  Like the traditional metal puzzles of Japan, mechanical simplicity is utilized to create a formula of exploration with endless possibilities. Various mechanically sealed cubes must be activated through a series of cryptic buttons and eventually with well placed timing. Through a bit of hand-eye coordination, muscle memory, and sometimes sheer trial-and-error it's up to the player to discover the trick to activating and opening each progressively intricate contraption.

Opening these mysterious and alien cubes is an act of peculiar curiosity. Seeing button shapes, lights, and indentations that beckon your touch but give no indication of their purpose. Not until that curiosity takes over, and every possibility poked and prodded at that things become clear, and in turn very satisfying to execute.

As this sense of personal exploration goes on the boxes slowly unfold with each series of correct presses. With each flap unfolded and each tab extended more and more strange and unexplained contraptions appear, and fold back into themselves as the final correct combinations are attempted for a satisfying completion.

The surreal and celestial setting around you pulses with cosmic color and sound. The ambient soundtrack builds in complexity alongside the puzzle-boxes you unravel, and the inter-galactic light show dances in tandem with the beat. Hard puzzles that soon require precise timing are now even more pulse-driving and difficult to focus on as this chaotic ballet of sound and visuals assault  your senses.

imprint-X is one head trip of a game. It's more of an experience than a game, I suppose, like some kind of cosmic Christmas morning gift unwrapping ceremony with freaky extra-terrestrial relatives. Each box is stranger and more perplexing than the last, and each beckoning button more satisfying to push with each success. Superbly trippy, ultra addictive, and a serious pleasure to look at and listen to.