Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Indie Impressions - Mugsters


Developed by Reinkout Games/Team17

Now Available on Steam

An abstract and colorful physics playground of vehicular chaos and acrobatic rescue missions, a single featureless human against alien odds must put his driving skills to the test and break his humanoid brethren free from their extraterrestrial captives. It won't be easy with all sorts of deadly traps and puzzles blocking your path, but through imagination the player will find no end to crazy and interesting ways to break through and commandeer that final beckoning escape airplane at the end of each island.

Mugsters a little bit GTA 2 and a little bit Blast Corps., but mostly it's all destructive fun. This is all about creating the most outlandish and entertaining methods to solving a variety of problems, and then doing it all over again with the learned secrets and shortcuts for the hair-raising Time Trials and a shot at the world records.


Every level of Mugsters is a bright and creative little self-contained island of obstacles and various objectives, and the beautiful thing about it all is that there's no real right way to tackle any of it. This is a game that relies very much on the creativity of the player to manipulate the crazy physics, deform terrain, and utilize a range of crazy and fragile automobiles in unique ways to achieve the plethora of interesting and diverse goals.

These different goals and objectives range anywhere from something as simple as collecting different hard to reach crystals hidden on the map, to more intensive acts of vandalism and destruction on important structures. Each island and mission will also feature any number of human hostages to scout out and rescue from the clutches of their alien captors in increasingly difficult to solve situations, and when found these fleshy meat-bags will follow you around dangerously putting themselves into harms way so keen awareness and utmost driver safety is important here when transporting these civilian liabilities.

Presented in an isometric view and with a whole lot of very smooth and addictive top-down sandbox driving, there's no doubt that this feels like some kind of cosmic homage to the early days of GTA 2. There's plenty of that exciting automotive destruction abound as you swerve your way around obstacles and slam through deform-able terrain, or even leap out at the right moment out of your vehicle while driving at high speeds into a flammable object for stylish action movie looking take-downs on important objectives.

This is a weird comparison I'm about to make because the games are really nothing alike, but perhaps people who have played what I'm referencing will understand what I mean; the free-form approach to solving each mission and rescuing the easy-to-kill hostages that follow you feels a lot to me like the cult-classic PS2 sandbox military romp, Mercenaries. No matter how many times you screw up it just never gets old trying the same problem from a thousand different often explosive and insane angles. Just like with Mercenaries, Mugsters is something I could lose countless hours in just plain messing around.


Mugsters stands out with its refreshing low-poly tropical look, an odd and alien selection of soothing pastel colored tree-tops and red rocky crags. Everything is completely interactive in destructible ways, deforming and breaking-down with every shunt of your car or toss of an expendable and explosive barrel. It's always satisfying to smash through a wall and watch the pieces shatter around you, only to hop out and watch your vehicle explode gloriously into a giant power generator.

The only real soundtrack to speak of I've heard is the upbeat and suspenseful title theme, appropriately pumping you up for the playground of destruction. Unfortunately the gameplay itself was more-or-less pretty quiet, focusing on the ambiance of the island and the lapping of surrounding waves, all broken by the intermittent scraping of metal and explosions of vehicles.

Final Thought

Mugsters in a ludicrously fun little sandbox of playful mayhem and colorful chaos, its like the McDonald's Playland equivalent of an early classic PSOne GTA (Do they still have Playlands? If not that's one for the 90's kids). So much variety both in things to do and ways to do them, so many weird little objectives and so many clever ways to keep you from them making for some downright hilarious and unpredictable situations.

Indie Impressions - Planet Alpha

Planet Alpha

Developed by Planet Alpha/Team 17

Now Available on Steam, PS4, and Nintendo Switch 

Team17 mark their impressive and remarkable 100th release with a fantastic trip into the cosmic unknown. From a development team dubbed themselves as Planet Alpha, what they've set out to create is ambitious beyond belief. What feels like a simple narrative driven platformer quickly draws the player deeper and deeper into an amazing planet of natural and otherwordly oddities.

The Game

Remember the famous and iconic concept trailer for No Man's Sky, the one full of planetary lore, lush celestial nature, moving set-pieces, and majestic alien creatures? The one that promised to much rich and diverse extraterrestrial flora, fauna, and wildlife but never really delivered on its grand vision?

Planet Alpha feels very much like a team of determined developers saw that vision and asked, "How can we make this a reality? How can we narrow down the unrealistic ambitions set by No Man's Sky and deliver that same visual concept masterpiece of otherworldly creativity in a medium that makes it work?". Their answer was to apply that same vision to a genre that would be much easier to tackle, but to at the same time really push the boundaries of what we expect the limits of a game's vision to be.

The gameplay itself features the core mechanics of a parkour-heavy platformer, from the variation of platformers that are narrative heavy such as Limbo or Inside. Satisfying navigation of rich and vibrant alien landscapes through the core of acrobatic and death-defying jumps across crumbling pillars.

Ducking to crawl into narrow caverns or grappling to scale the rocky cliffs cutting off your path and other engaging traversal tools that mostly lend themselves to the purely cinematic and atmospheric nature of the game, rather than offering any sort of steep platforming challenge. This is one you can easily relax to and switch your brain into Zen bliss-out mode, focusing on the majestic beauty of this extraterrestrial world and the strange wildlife within.

On top of such a beautifully executed core platforming mechanic is the awe-inspiring manipulation of the planet and its axis, changing the very environment around you in a number of ways.A very non-intrusive and seamless puzzle-mechanic like this that isn't demanding, mostly aesthetic, and doesn't break the flow of the action whatsoever is perfect for more action-oriented fans such as myself who aren't too keen on stopping for logic and thinking.


A visual masterpiece of a sci-fi platformer, more of a jaw-dropping cinematic experience than it is an interactive gaming epic though it succeeds there as well.

Planet Alpha is like a collection of the most madcap and stylish retro sci-fi novel covers from the 60's and 70's, a mouthwatering assemblage of fantastical made-up alien creatures and kitschy little Robbie the Robot droids. Each scene is even more breathtaking than the last, and I was left wondering with each climactic set-piece if it would be able to top itself. Until the end, it repeatedly amazed me and never ceased to exceed each expectation it set, then consecutively shattered.

Final Thought

There isn't anything in existence quite like the experience offered by Planet Alpha, and its a purely visionary experience full of breathtaking and hard to believe moments. It's been envisioned before but never executed with quite the right level of refinement. Of course the platforming itself is very solid and dashing across the crumbling stones of a collapsing pillar feels just right, but its mostly there to guide you along the progressively standard-shattering visuals presented throughout the course of your exploration.

It's barely longer than your average cinematic epic, but it's much more effecting in a way that will keep your thoughts in its directions for a long time after you've completed its journey. Absolutely recommended, a must-play for all.

Indie Impressions - Ritual: Sorcerer Angel

Ritual: Sorcerer Angel

Developed by Hexage

Now Available on Steam

You are born into this world with the innocence of an Angel, trapped into the weak body of a mortal by a counsel of villainous robed characters. Just as quickly as you came into it the forces of evil tried to suffocate you out of it. Now as a trained Sorcerer Angel its your chance to learn new and powerful magic and earn your revenge. Through floors of increasingly powerful creatures you must slay your way to these dark entities, this ominous counsel of robed cultists, and enact your revenge.

Ritual is a weirdly unique little single-screen roguelite that plays more like a series of intricately woven fantasy pinball tables, carried by a dark story of sacrifice and grotesquely beautiful art.

  • Gameplay

There isn't much control here, many looking at this as a standard roguelike may go in feeling a bit disappointed as there is basically no feeling of exploration. However, Ritual is an instant gratification sort of a game, much like a series of rounds in pinball, or pachinko/peggle where your fate comes down to your dexterous decisions.

You start off by selecting a direction to send your mischievous little warrior off towards, but you better make it count. Scattered across each scene of grim fantasy visuals are not only the roaming hordes of monsters but all manner of obstacles to bounce off of. Plan your trajectory accordingly.

As you kill more, more and stronger creatures start to pop out some even out of your level boundaries, forcing the player to carefully consider and plan their attacks so as not to bump into a higher leveled enemy and take damage. Wiping out the smaller ones will level you up accordingly, but there are plenty of skills to negate the damage or protect you from the over-leveled baddies. As soon as you've killed your quota for appearing monsters, a dimensional warp appears and whisks you away to the next area as soon as you collide with it.

There are certainly moments where the game seems to play itself, and it almost becomes like a dark-fantasy ARPG screensaver at points. These moments only really ever come when the player is careless with their Mana and find themselves expending it often, as there isn't much to do when you can't cast a spell other than watch. Luckily the game is gorgeous and there's a lot of creature design variety to ogle at between areas, and also luckily there's a fast-forward function for moments like these when you want to get to the meat of the action and resupply your mana.

There's something seriously magical and addictive about smashing into a group of frozen monsters that you previously locked down with your freezing spells. Every monster you bump into on your trajectory is a slash dealt, but there's an entire bestiary's worth of stats and attributes to each one so they won't go down that easy. Each monster has its own level, and its own unique attributes that make things quite a bit harder than just watching it all go down.

Higher leveled monsters won't just take a strike from you, and running into one before beefing up first is going to cost you a point of health. As you venture further into the world map the stages you enter will have higher and higher leveled baddies, to the point where you won't be able to break their defenses. Ritual contains a small bit of grinding, as you'll sometimes hit a brick wall in terms of enemy levels and in order to not have a tedious, long round you'll want to level up and grab some more of those skills.

  • Skill Progression/Mana

The real draw behind Ritual is the extensive selection of skills you eventually unlock through experience and levels to wield at your discretion. It's a small grind to get there, and if you like a steady but rewarding progression to get to a position of unrelenting power then this is the weird RPG/Pinball hybrid for you.

There's elemental homing shots with poisoning acid or slowing curses, elemental rays with ice-y attributes that lock roaming enemies into place for easier combos, and all manner of healing or shielding support skills. Of course, this task of bouncing around various dark forests and crypts and dispatching your hideous foes would be far too easy if the player were allowed to fire all of their skills willy-nilly, which is why its kept in check with a tight mana resource system.

Obviously there's going to be some spell builds here that don't really work as well as others, and end up in more tedious rounds. Of course equipping two support type spells, such as a heal and a shield, is going to send your defensive little warriors bouncing uselessly into the level only occasionally slashing and not really delivering any real attack power. This is why a careful consideration needs to be put into how you customize and edit your skill tree before heading into the next much harder area.

This is kept fresh each play-through, because as far as I can tell each time that I started a new game the base skills that I began with were completely different. This gave me a whole new perspective on how to approach each of the early stages, and kept me wanting to experiment in true roguelite fashion.

  • Visuals/Sound

Ritual's high point is more than likely it's beautiful presentation. With a dark-fantasy style of artwork, mouth-watering picture book worth-y cut-scenes, and painstakingly crafted areas littered with all manner of outstanding set-pieces and stage design, from wriggling grotesque worms to poisonous spores and other natural obstacles that create an overall dark and goth-y audiovisual experience.

Though the game may be light on the mechanics it consistently puts on the appearance to any outside eyes of being an intense and hardcore ARPG by every means. Spells are flying, heals are dispensed accordingly, and roaming hordes of monsters are swiftly dispatched in large satisfying numbers. It's very busy, it's very action-packed, the visual effects carry a lot of weight, and to anyone watching it essentially would look like you're involved in some high-level Diablo-like.

The soundtrack is very befitting of its darker fantasy overtones. Heavy, ominous, and with a bit of devious darkness to its atmosphere just as its story and visuals contain, the soundtrack in Ritual has an almost machine-like industrial feel to its music. Like an oncoming death-march with just a tinge of indie gaming nostalgia and electronics added to its mix

  • Controls
Given the incredibly simple nature of the game's mechanics, the controls can be played any number of ways without a hitch. There is of course controller support, but with only two buttons really needed to cast your spells it isn't really necessary other than for convenient couch play. In fact, the two button nature of the game means you can even play the whole thing with just the left and right clicks of your mouse. Nice and easy!

  • Final Thought

Ritual is not the top-down action roguelike it may appear to be at first glance. This is a game for people who like unique new metas, and who like the addictive progression of a good fantasy management through the upgrading and usage of a powerful skill tree.

While the lack of game play mechanics at first did leave a lot to be desired, ultimately Ritual's knack for an interesting and diverse progressive skill tree made the experience addictive and kept me pushing on to max out my full potential and see the monster bodies fly. I would absolutely love to see these developers take what they know, and their clear artistic talent, and create a beefier and more interactive roguelike or RPG experience someday. What they've created so far is definitely pleasing to look at, to say the least.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Indie Impressions - Lucah: Born of a Dream

Lucah: Born of a Dream

Developed by melessthanthree

Now available on Steam 


"I felt like I was watching a dream I'd never wake up from. Before I knew it, the dream was all over."

-Spike Spiegal

Sifting through the uncertainty of his own subconscious Lucah, The Marked One is chosen to go face-to-face with the darkest depths of his own mind. Horrific machinations from his very dreams materialize in this distorted world of twisting corridors and secret pathways, and with the help of some colorful Familiar buddies Lucah must slice and dice his way through this nightmare realm.


While the presentation here carries an obscure and experimental touch to it the gameplay is anything but unconventional with the most proven top-down hack'n'slash action formula, feeling like some sort of hidden 90's import gem cranked up to turbo speed. Lucah features some of the rawest arcade hack'n'slash combat since the Sega Saturn days of Treasure titles, and retro enthusiasts will feel right at home with the fluid combos and reflex testing rolls or parries.

Along with the flurry of weak slash combos and strong attack finishers comes the varying strengths and skills of your Familiars, who you meet and acquire along the way. These colorful beacons of hope will join you throughout the trip and bear different properties; different shot ranges, different power and rate of fires, and different elements.

A third attack button will trigger these powerful extra attacks and can even be worked into your combos, taking a totally separate energy source than your own stamina. Different Familiars obviously take advantage of each enemy or boss's weaknesses better than others, so deciding which ones to use adds another level of tactics to the action packed mix.

For a game with combat as frenetic and brutal as Lucah the story here can be a powerhouse of emotional and dramatic psychological, dealing with sifting through the most painful memories to get a hold of one's self-consciousness again. Segments of Lucah's memory come back in the form of jarring flashbacks or cut-scenes and carry the pacing of this gratifyingly length-y action-RPG very well. When it's all done you can even carry over your upgraded stats and earned skills for a new game+, you might even learn a thing or two about yourself with all of that soul-searching.


The hazy and distorted prismatic sketchbook visual style give the entire game an unhinged and otherworldly look, it really does all feel like part of a dream. Or maybe more like a nightmare. Electric neon lights flicker, flash and dance with hypnotic power around the abstract and scratch-y forms of strange apparitions and level designs are loosely held together with immaterial constructs of constantly skittering animations sort of like some kind of old underground Japanese comic or early 90's MTV animated mindfuck.

The sound design is just as otherwordly and mesmerizing as the appearance of the game, with ominous soundscapes that pulse and whirl dissonantly along with the fragmented visuals. Each area has its own theme and it's really interesting how every song starts off with a simple beat as more layers of rhythm and melody are slowly layered onto the disharmonic noise with each significant development, all before exploding into a full track by the climax of its boss battle.

Final Thoughts

Lucah: Born of a Dream delivers a story that hits hard and action that strikes fast, with a wealth of progressive RPG features that keep you growing in speed and skill throughout the journey. The content value here is incredibly high with a 15+ hour epic story set to some phenomenal atmospherics by way of eerie, provocative sound design.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Indie Impressions - Rym 9000

Rym 9000

Developed by Sonoshee

Now Available on Steam and itch.io


Rym 9000 states that it draws its inspiration from the likes of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, but with little story and bits of cryptic lore to speak of how exactly does this arcade shooter live up to those gritty sci-fi and post-apocalyptic anime epics? Through its sound and visuals, of course. It's a heavy audio/visual shmup affair with dystopic, eccentric and smooth art and animations amidst some serious retro/future and cyberpunk atmosphere in its presentation.

The warm and droning, pulsing electric synths you'd expect from something like Möbius and Roedelius's Cluster or Harmonia with the heavy and bass-y oldschool shmup beats akin to Manabu Namiki's Battle Garegga soundtrack make Roex's audio backdrop an instant arcade soundtrack classic, and in terms of electronic music in general. It fits more than perfectly with the hazy and glitchy glow of pixels that dance entrancingly around each erratic and frenetic sprite and bullet. Rym 9000, as any noteworthy and memorable shmup should be, is a pure assault on the senses that keeps you on the edge and in the game even when your deaths are frequent and frustrating.

Rym 9000 is a very straight-forward yet incredibly fast-paced and frantic shoot'em up. Your enemies explode in bright, loud and especially satisfying bursts of debris and supply you with a tidy sum of those sweet score-chasing points. It has a simple but effective scoring-system with no complex multipliers or systems to learn like you'd expect from a Cave title, and no bombs to save you leaving you at the mercy of raw firepower and dodging skill. Without all of the fluff and filler, this is a STG that just plain feels damn good to hop in and play at a moments notice.

The players' ship slows down while shooting, allowing for pinpoint accuracy but also meaning button-mashing is the quickest route to an early demise. You'll need to know when to let up on the lazers in order to properly weave in and out of the chaotic ballet of bullets. Different power-ups yield different firing patterns which replace the single pea-shooter you get at full health, and make clearing the screen of baddies much quicker so long as you possess them. The single button mechanics are a familiar and accessible formula, but it doesn't take away from the chaos and overwhelming pace of your surroundings which make the game so hard and satisfying to master.

Rym 9000 is a must play for shoot'emup fans, and a definite "check-out" for anyone else who likes their games fast, heavy, loud, and unique.

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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.