Elemental Focus

March 4, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations: Part 4
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 6:33 pm

I don’t want to sound like Homer Simpson, food critic, where everything is amazing, but the latest lot of games just happened to be a good lot for the most part.

Monster RPG 2
Price: £1.19/$1.99
I suppose its no surprise that with a name like Monster RPG 2, this is one of the most generic games I’ve ever played. Not tongue-in-cheek satire of the genre, straight up everything by the book RPG.

Monster RPG 2 rolls the RPG story dice and goes with “best friend possessed by mysterious artifact”, you start a journey following his trail of destruction and start picking up other group members (which seem to have little to no backstory or personality) and you basically need to make progress across the land in spite of the random battles. The biggest problems are a lack of autosave and dying sends you back to the last save point (First time through I hadn’t saved yet by the first time I died which happened surprisingly suddenly) and a lack of explanation for many of the items in the game, although they’re all so generic, you can probably work it out yourself anyway.

It’s not a horribly bad game and if you’re an RPG fan and want something new to play (or at least is technically new) there might be something for you here, but in general you can probably play something else more interesting

3 stars

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KrissX
Price: £3.49/$4.99

KrissX is a puzzle game based around swapping letters in a crossword to make full words again. I really don’t know what else I can say about it, its really not that complicated.

It’s surprisingly fun and there’s little to criticse. The game’s main failing is that it’s really rather easy. The hints system means on most occasions you could guess the word with even having the letters in front of you, but if you switch it off, on a few occasions you have no way of knowing which anagram the game is actually looking for. This means the challenge is based more around speed and not making unnecessary swaps. Still, it’s worth a look, if only for the somewhat sneaky trial-only level.

4 stars

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Neon Prime
Price: £0.60/$1.00

Neon Prime is a vertical spaceship shoot em up, enemies come from the top of the screen and fire down at you and you shoot back up. The whole game uses vector graphics and bold colours, so looks very crisp. It also has its own (non-IndieCity) leaderboard system which keeps track of recent scores as well as all time scores. It also allows you to use an Xbox controller, which I decided against (although I had to unplug it shortly after making this decision as it rumbles heavily every time you die).

The game is very active with plenty of enemies on screen and lots of things being fired at you. You need to be moving your own ship constantly and have to take enemies down in bursts of shots. There are also boss/bonus levels at the end of each round with a slightly different style of gameplay. The first one is space invaders style game (which also strips you of all of your upgrades) and the second puts you in a rotating box of enemies which you need to slowly whittle down.

My main problem with Neon Prime is the lack of enemy movement in the levels I encountered. Aside from the boss/bonus levels, only some enemies will occasionally move and even then its not very quickly. As a result, the only challenge in shooting them is avoiding their fire while getting beneath them You only ever really need to use the ships ability to go up and down the screen if you’ve let an enemy get by and its in the way of moving left and right. With this fairly bare bones approach, while reasonably entertaining, it doesn’t achieve much more than other similar games.

4 stars

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Didgery
Price: £3.00/$4.80

I’m not normally compelled by card games in quite the same way as some people do, undeniably so given the stats you can rake up about the amount of hours people play solitaire for, but Didgery was different for me. In Didgery, you’re given a grid of cards and have to build up a chain. For a card to follow in a chain, it must be adjacent (including diagonals) to the last in the chain and either be of the same suit but lower than the previous card, or the same number in a different suit. Finishing a chain removes the cards from the board (and with large chains can cause explosions removing other two, but scoring lots of points). Obviously removing cards means you can’t use them in future chains, so tactical play is required throughout. There are also special cards which mix things up just a tiny bit and you’re against a clock as over time energy drains from each suit. If it gets too low, it starts bleeping at you and you need to remove cards of that suit from the board with a chain quickly.

So as such you have the combination of trying to calculate what your best current chain is, balanced with setting up bigger chain in the future, balanced with the time pressure. In addition to such a compulsive mechanic, the game is very highly polished and has very soothing and appropriate accompanying music. I found myself playing Didgery for quite a while, constantly saying “one more round, one more round”, which is the sign of a very good game.

5 stars


February 14, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations: Part 3
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 6:52 pm

After being inundated with a single request, here’s another round of my IndieCity demo reviews, letting you cut through the growing crowd of games on the platform and know what’s worth giving a go.

Punish the Birds
Price: £0.60/ $0.90

“All the fun of Duck Hunt, without the annoying dog.” – is a quote used the description of Punish the Birds and pretty much says it all about the game. Duck hunt was fun for one reason: the NES zapper, bringing light gun gaming to homes everyone. Even with the zapper, it probably would’ve been entirely forgotten about if it wasn’t for that dog. That dog added character to the game. If you mention duck hunt, most people will remember the dog before they remember the ducks.

But back to this game. You shoot birds with your mouse, like a bazillion other little flash games. Most of the bazillion other flash games also do it much better. It’s not painful to play, its just not great and by no means the best of its kind.

The artwork is obviously from mspaint and the whole thing has a very much ‘my first game’ stink to it. There are only 6 levels although as far as I can tell, you can get most of the content from just the demo, which eases the concept of charging for it. I’d also like to think that the aiming is a little off, but I’m probably wrong about that.

Rating: 2 Stars

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Your Doodles are Bugged
Price: £3.49/ $4.99

In doodles, your aim is to guide little hoppy bugs through levels to a little honey pot at the end. The game starts with drawing along dotted lines to give the bugs a path to their goal, later leaving you to work it out yourself and then limiting the amount of ink you can use. The graphics are nice and bouncy, but that’s a given where this ‘drawing’ style of gameplay is involved.

The problem with doodles is that you have to rely on the bug things and thus you have the problem that occurs with almost every single escort mission ever created has. Unlike the efficient predictability of lemmings, the bugs move slowly along the ground and jump at random intervals. This means the game swings wildly between being unchallenging and boring and difficult and frustrating. Also, I could never tell whether they pile on top of one another or not. They don’t appear to, but once I put a large amount in a hole, a greater proportion would get away.

While you can have some silly fun with the early unlimited ink levels, elaborating on your pathways by drawing snake and the like, once it stops being easy, the game quickly dissolves into a repetitive action of a short amount of progress followed by trapping the bugs in a hole.

Rating: 3 Stars

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Influence
Price: £6.00/ $9.00

In influence, you start of with an orb that follows the mouse. The concept is simple, you need to influence neutral and competing orbs, which you can only do so in groups smaller than your current group. Competing orbs can also convert you if they have a large group so you need to be careful to avoid these.

The gameplay is actually quite rich as both sides will often be going for the same neutral orbs leading to potentially risky manoeuvres and you need to balance going after small groups or trying to split orbs off of big groups. There is a music creation element where each colour orb has its own ‘voice’ and as each team grows they become a greater part of the game’s symphony, but this didn’t resonate with me as anything more than a neat effect.
The whole game is just iterations of this competition with various user chosen settings though, so the gameplay quickly becomes ho-hum. While there is an on-line mode, the game doesn’t hold much of a user-base and I was unable to find any games.

My experience with Influence was also somewhat adversely affected by its incompatibility with my computer, despite the specs indicating I should be ok. Even with the graphics settings turned down, the game often became slow and jittery. Given what’s going on on screen, this is a bit of a surprise as while the graphics are somewhat fancy, they shouldn’t be destroying my graphics card.

I’ve also got to take issue with the price on this one, while the demo is somewhat entertaining and a pleasant experience, the full game is definitely not worth the cost.

Rating: 3 Stars

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Fluttabyes
Price: £3.00/ $4.40

The first thing you notice with flutterbyes is that it’s stunningly pretty, the game is just rich with colour, although perhaps this is to be expected for a game themed around butterflies. Aside from the graphics, it’s really rather simple, you add different coloured butterflies to the board to match lines of 4 or more and the above butterflies will fall down to fill their place. There’s all the normal combo stuff of matching larger lines, multiple lines at once, creating combos and quickly matching multiple lines with subsequent butterflies, so you need to have some tactical play to reach the higher scores.

You’ll gradually learn how to set up the best combos the more than you play, so the game takes a little persistance. As far as I could tell the whole thing remains fairly basic, ladybirds appear in the demo which don’t appear to match with anything, so I don’t know whether other things like this are thrown in once you’re playing for a little while. As the butterflies can be placed anywhere, there’s also not the same sense of progression you get with games like bejeweled where it starts to get difficult to clear blocks from the bottom. The game consists of a regular mode, which you lose if you go too long without making more than basic matches and an endless mode, which removes this restriction. There’s really not much more to the game other than just playing the basic mode over and over again. Luckily, the game makes use of the IndieCity leaderboards, so it’s not all for nought and its a game that encourages healthy competition. I spent a little while on the leaderboard in the demo and I now hold the top spot 😀

Rating: 4 Stars

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Swift*Stitch (Full game)
Price: £4.20/ $6.00

Swift-Stitch can be controlled with only a single button. There are a couple of small caveats to this if you want to make things easier, but you can do everything with only one button. It’s a very simple idea where and hitting certain coloured gates will reverse you direction. There are a couple of additions in the form of teleporters and arcs, but the jist is that you will travel in a different direction when you’re holding down the button and when you’re not.
It’s a concept that works really well and you’ll find yourself crashing yourself into walls and knowing precisely why every-time, even if you brain told you something else the split-second before it happened.

From a developer perspective, swift-stitch is very frustrating to review. The game is basically to the book of good game design, with neat effects, fast resets, a host of options for the user to customize and lots of guides to where your arrow will go next. The amount of content and opportunity for re-playability even justifies the higher price-point than a lot of other games on the service. However, it’s just lacking a bit in the fun department and certain levels just don’t give me that compulsion to keep trying to finish them. From a personal perspective, I despised any of the levels which use arcs as they movement is harder to judge than the straight lines and it still seems difficult to know where you’re going to end up even with the guides. Heck, I had more fun replaying the earlier levels on impossible speeds than retrying arc-based levels. I can understand the need for variation, but it feels like the wonderful simplicity of the game is removed by it.

Rating: 4 Stars

Over the coming days, I will be adding a leaderboard to the site of all of the IndieCity games that I have demoed. Once that’s up, I’ll actually remember to add links to go directly to the games. So be on the lookout for that!


February 10, 2012

Progress report: 2012/02/10
Filed under: Diamond Digger,IndieCity,Skies of Fire — Chris @ 6:18 pm

Firstly, in case anyone was still wondering, my current main project is now Skies of Fire, the firework-em-up game that I announced when proposing my Game Season idea. You can find the first footage here.
That footage is now a little old, the interface is now slicker, the scoring isn’t so ugly (and probably clearer) and the fireworks themselves are a bit brighter. The game is coming together quite well and I’m looking forward to getting to see how the base system plays once the scoring system is completed.
I’ll go into more detail about how that’s going next week (if we’re we’re lucky then there may be a new trailer).

Secondly, IndieCity is now becoming my main distribution platform, I’m now putting my weight fully behind this growing site. This means that I’ll be building new games ground up for the PC (which will stop the difficulty I have in porting controls). My hope is that as IndieCity grows, the achievements and particularly the leaderboards become active and very competitive. Even as it is at the moment, it’s very easy for players to communicate with me about the games, with any issues or tweaks they may have, and I’m happy to oblige for the people who’ve spent time and money on my game. This is helped to no end by the extremely easy updating process, meaning that I don’t need to wait two weeks and put in a ton of effort to make a small fix. If there’s a bug report, there’s normally a fix before the end of the day.

On that note, both of my games will continue to receive updates as and when. The Cannon is unlikely to have anything major added to it as I launched it pretty much fully formed. On the other hand, Diamond Digger has the potential to grow a bit. While at the moment the sales incentive doesn’t look as though it’ll come to much, if I have the time I may add a couple more puzzles anyway. There are a couple of other little updates that may also be added depending on time and popularity.


January 17, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations Pt. 2
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 7:44 pm

Continuing where last week left off, here are my opinions on five more IndieCity games, giving you reasons to get involved.
All impressions are either based on the demo or the full game if its available for free. That means that you can have all the same experiences without paying a dime and you might find something you really like.

Walking Bobby and Tommy
Price: £1.80/ $3.00
At some point last week after playing Hyperspace Invaders (which I now realise I never did a snippet on), I came up with a list of the most recycled game ideas. It went something like:

    Pong
    Snake
    BMX tilty games
    Pac-man
    Space Invaders

Shortly after coming up with the list, I had second thoughts about pac-man being on there, but here we are, round-up number two and already there’s a pac-man clone. I say pac-man clone based entirely on what its trying to be though, not what it is. The gameplay is slow, the graphics are bad and unclear and the game is just dull. Even the 2 player mode and different maps don’t redeem it. It’s no fun, the graphics are bad and its a shameless rip-off.
Rating: 1 Star

Lag
Price: Free!
Lag is pretty much the reason that I don’t like those little events where people go off and make games in 24-48 hours. Sure, the idea of the event itself is neat, sometimes the games have interesting ideas and its an impressive show of ability, but the practice is fundamentally flawed. People claim that these events give people total freedom to try new ideas, but the big restriction is any idea has to be implementable and playable within that period. This means that most of the time, while a playable games is output, they’re just not much fun to play.
Which brings me to lag, which was created at such an event and is available for free. You control a slowly growing green blob, around which rotates a little blue blob. You have to dodge bad guys and pick up crates, both of which move across the screen. You get more points for picking up crates with the blue blob, as its harder to so. However, every bad guy you hit increases the lag at which the blue guy follows you. It’s a neat idea, but once the lag is above 30 or so, you will just keep running into things making matters worse and once you ignoring the blue guy, its just a dodge game with fairly sluggish controls. In addition, even though the game is score based, there also aren’t any global leaderboards, so you’re only ever competing against yourself.
Rating: 2 Stars

Astro Taxi 2
Price: £1.79/ $3.00
I’ll be honest when I say I didn’t want to like Astro Taxi 2. It’s a flash game style simple concept with even worse art. It’s basically a 2d crazy taxi in space (ok, that does sound quite cool, but I’ve definitely seen a few of these types of game before). You also expect a certain quality from a sequel (or at least something with a 2 in the name), I’d hate to see what Astro Taxi 1 was like. But despite all of that, it’s actually quite fun to play. The controls are tight enough so you have complete control to zip around the map, the landing gear mechanic hits the balance between making landing challenging and not making it tedious and while the levels don’t offer a humongous amount of variation, there are 30 different ones in the full game. However, based on the original points, £1.79 is really overcharging.
Rating: 3 Stars

Vortexball
Price: £1.60/ $2.60
Vortex ball is another simple concept, but its very cleanly presented with vectors. You control a ball around a maze and have control over accelerating it left and right, while gravity takes care or down. Bouncing off angled walls help you gain height. In general, its pretty fun, but suffers from a couple of small design floors. Given how easy it is to lose control of the ball, the levels are just slightly too long so as to be frustrating and often you’ll bounce off a ceiling straight down into a hole. It can also be quite tedious and frustrating trying to bounce up onto a ledge when you lose momentum. It even loses its seamlessness at times, as the seams of the walls of the levels themselves provide a large source of bugs. The concept seems as though it could get very tired throughout the course of the game, but there are only 23 levels, so its unlikely to last very long based on the four given to you in the trial.
Rating: 3 Stars

Hyperspace invaders
Price: £2.80/ $2.60
Here’s the aforementioned Hyperspace invaders. It’s not fair to call it a space invaders clone, it just happens to have space invaders as one of its modes. The main mode, called soul grinder, gives you a ship at the bottom of the screen constantly firing and spawns lots of things you have to take down at the top, like some other old arcade classics. The game is pretty, eye-melting pretty and the variation in enemies keeps things interesting. There’s so much going on on the screen though, it can be a little tricky to keep track of and you can get taken out by a rogue enemy that you didn’t notice behind all of your shooting and the numerous pick-ups and having only one life aggrevates this a bit. (although it can’t be that bad, I was definitely getting better at the game).
As with a lot of the games this week, it still seems a little overpriced, but its probably the best value for this week and the full game includes a remake of paratrooper as well, which is one of my old favourites.
Rating: 4 Stars

And that wraps up this week. When I have some more money to spend, I might buy the games I’ve given 4 and 5 stars and give updated impressions at a later date.


January 10, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 2:15 pm

At the moment, IndieCity has something of an entry barrier to new players. It doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t need a high powered computer, but even just the request to download a client seems to put a lot of people off. If they’ve come to visit for only one game, it suddenly seems far too much effort to go through.

So I’ve been playing through a bunch of IndieCity demos, to find out what gems there are in the growing library and today I bring to you my first set of recommendations, every one of which you can try for free. Of course, I’m not going to recommend my own two games, that would be silly (and goes without saying). I feel kind of cheap not buying the full games to review, but being a games reviewer isn’t exactly my job and I’m skint, so meh.

Firstly, the games/demos that didn’t seem to work for me. These seem to be specific to me and I haven’t heard anyone else complain about them, but all of them either crashed on start-up or were entirely unplayable.

  • Didgery
  • Blazin Aces (the whole game is free and I’ve heard good things about it, so don’t let this put you off)
  • Dysnomia

The next lot are in order of bad to good and are accompanied by the star rating I gave them.

Monkey Labour
I can see the appeal to monkey labour. It’s all set in an old-style LCD game, complete with the classic surround and large squishy-looking buttons. Previously an iPhone game, it would turn your whole iPhone into the LCD game, complete with those dancing colours you get when you press the screen. As an experience on the iPhone, it’s actually pretty clever. But as a game, played on a pc, its just not there. You move left and right dodging bricks, that’s about it. Sure, when these LCD games was all that we had, this would probably would class as one of the better ones, but these days you may as well pick up the real thing in a car boot sale for pennies…
Rating: 2 stars

MotorHeat
I like racing games and motorheat looked as though it would appeal to me. Wrong again, Powell. It’s a simple concept, you drive down a long windy road dodging other cars like a souped up version of some arcade classic. However, it also seems to be badly implemented. While the rest of the game runs smoothly, the car seems to stutter across the track and the control lag matched with the high speed of the game makes the game unplayable at times. Getting out the way of other cars isn’t an option because if you see a car ahead of you in the same lane, that’s it, you’ve already had it. Even if you’re lucky enough to survive a while, the game quickly becomes quite boring.
Rating: 2 stars

Laser mazes
Contrary to MotorHeat, I opened up lazer mazes to horrendous hand-drawn menus and Kevin Macleod music. Not the best of starts. In addition, you start playing the game and movement is slow and jumping is all floaty. However, I actually found myself enjoying it. You play a little robot with a laser gun and have to progress through levels composed of lots of lines. There are various things shooting you and the laser shots bounce off certain types of walls, so you have to be quite agile to dodge all of the bolts bouncing around (hindered by the aforementioned movement trouble)There’s good user of colour coded buttons and walls, which you need to keep hitting to balance your own safety with the ability to progress through the level. I still don’t know what I feel about having to use somewhat broken physics to help progress through the level though…
Rating: 3 stars

Novavon
Another simple idea, but this time well implemented. In Novavon you have pairs of portals, one red and one blue (at least to as far as the demo goes). You have to catch orbs of light (sometimes colour coded) in one portal and these are then fired back out from the other portal. As all portals of the same colour are rotated by the same key, things can get a bit frantic. The game itself is also very pretty although sometimes the graphics of the game obscure some of the orbs, making it impossible to catch them before its too late near the end of the end.
Rating: 4 stars

Mobiloid
Mobiloid is a gem. Go and download the demo for it now! In addition, the full game is on sale and is a steal for only £3.
If you’re still here, you play a small robot in a facility where you have to find new pieces for the robot in order to progress. However, each new piece isn’t automatically added, it goes into your library of pieces that you can use at a later time. You are free to edit the robot at any point in order to add pieces to get past a certain obstacle or take pieces away to reduce weight and increase speed. The nature of the game means that even early on, there is normally more than one way to solve a problem and the solutions always make you feel clever. Controls and the physics of your robot are all based on how you set it up, so gameplay also remains particularly varied.
Rating: 5 stars

And lastly, I’m not going to give Buccaneer a rating because its relatively expensive and I was so bad at the demo I couldn’t even get past any of the first levels. It’s pretty though.

I might do a couple more of these in the future, there’s quite a lot of potential.


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