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: