First gerbils and now squirrels: The Xbox Indie rodent movement is now in full swing. All we need is a Rodent Royale fighting game and a capybara training simulator and we’re set.
Urban Space Squirrels is about squirrels. In a city. In space. I think. Well, at least I’m certain about the squirrel part, but the other aspects are somewhat nebulous, though rather unimportant. It is sort of a difficult game to review because in many ways it was a tail of two games. For about an hour or so, I was cruising through the levels, dying occasionally, but really enjoying the rodent-themed puzzle platforming until I encountered a wall of difficulty that even my agile furry space friend could not scale.
A few years ago, some friends and I attended a Phillies game during dollar dog night. Despite my rather svelte build, I still wagered that I would be able to pack away ten hot dogs over the course of the evening. I put it in perspective by rationalizing that it was merely about a dog an inning, which should have been easy money. Needless to say, I failed in my endeavor to consume an entire pig, or cow, or whatever hybrid creature is mechanically separated to create a hot dog these days and have been salivating for another shot at competitive-eating immortality.
My failure did not dismay me to the finer qualities of the processed delights. Hot dogs are an important – dare I say, integral – part of the American spirit. We devour huge quantities of them at ballgames, bar-b-ques and beaches. And once a year, on the greatest day of the year, we gather around our televisions and tune into ESPN 42 to stare in bewilderment as a bunch of tubbos gorge themselves on processed meat and water-soaked rolls only to be inevitably defeated by a Japanese fellow with an expandable stomach and an extra set of teeth. Yes, it’s that time again: it’s the Fourth of July.
Avatar Ninja. Just take a minute to soak in that thought and relish the possibilities. Avatars are inherently endearing due their customizable nature and even the most jaded nerd still has a soft spot for ninjas. Now, I’m a bit of a sucker for games that are both competent and involve avatars – not that the Venn Diagram for those two attributes has much overlap – so I was excited for the prospect of Avatar Ninja. Would my avatar don a ninja outfit and surreptitiously sneak up on other unsuspecting avatars? Would my monocled man-child get to cut up some fools, or at least some fruit with a razor-sharp katana? Would he leap from rooftop to rooftop, effortlessly scale walls and disappear into a cloud of smoke leaving his enemies in a stupor? Well, not quite.
With great expectations frequently comes great disappointment, but, hey, at least there is one area in which Avatar Ninja excels. Instead of any of the aforementioned tasks that actual ninjas might be caught doing, assuming they actually wanted to be caught, Avatar Ninja is really a game about running willy-nilly across rivers, leaping over logs and sliding under spikes. It could be renamed Avatar Water Dash or Avatar Jesus Racing Simulator, but I guess Milkstone Studios had the urge to capitalize on the ninja fever that swept nerdom about a decade ago. Haven’t they heard? We love zombies now!
Throughout the annals of shoot ‘em up history, enemies have been limited to a select group of time-tested targets; aliens, aircraft and disgusting amalgamations of pulsating organs and technology comprise the vast majority of objects soaking up destructive blasts from tiny player-piloted spaceships. Prismatic Solid forgoes the classic, overused enemies of yesterday’s shooters in favor of a new evil that is plaguing the galaxy: shapes.
Okay, so geometric patterns aren’t exactly intimidating or terrifying – unless you are haunted by Geometry Wars’ swarming hordes – but they sure do make for a potentially visually stunning game when designed with care and style, and the developer, Heloli, has certainly done so. In all fairness, the shapes are frequently fashioned into something recognizable such as an enormous space worm, but nevertheless, everything has a certain blocky look about it. Despite the somewhat primitive style, Prismatic Solid has been glazed over with some kind of sweet and sugary syrup that makes every single level uniquely flavored and delicious.
I know what you’re expecting, a playful jab at the title of the game, one that brilliantly captures the condensed essence in a single beautifully constructed sentence. I’ll artfully dodge that one this time. No, Nasty will get some other elegant words from me instead.
You’re presented with a meager story that knows exactly what it is: something that you’ll forget after you beat the first level. As my recollection serves, you’re on an alien spaceship and you want to kill everything, but only 100 levels of things. In order to get through every level, though, you have to first eliminate all enemies present on the stage. It’s a formula that’s been used and worked before, which is a recurring theme with Nasty. Every bit of Nasty has been seen before.
Set in enclosed block worlds with bipedal pandas and roaming washing machines, the United Kingdom never looked so strange. Playing as a fellow with an apple for a head, this is the world of Apple Jack, an Xbox Indie Game that will take you back to the roots of two-dimensional platforming for better and for worse. From the visuals and audio alone, this hardly feels like a retro game. All of the characters, sets and locations are very cartoony, perhaps even hand-drawn. Every level is named after a British town, the chapters are divided intro British counties, and the music is something you’d expect from the Juno soundtrack.
As you venture through this weird, claustrophobic land, you’ll meet many strange creatures and things including moon-bouncing astronauts, pigs in tutus, and laser-shooting owls. With the strumming of the acoustic guitar and tip-tap of the glockenspiel, the game has a very cuddly feel, but as the game progresses, it gets far from it.
While my initial thoughts of Murky Horizon weren’t very good, it quickly won me over. It is a hybrid of a twin-stick shooter and tower defense game, but with a bit of a twist. Your enemies don’t have a set path, instead you start off in the center of the screen as a Master Chief-like character defending a bunker containing families, set in a post-apocalyptic world. While the visuals aren’t stunning, the cool night-time effect does add a bit of ambiance to the title.
While I always thought the enemies looked like robot-wolves, apparently they are giant lizards; regardless, they come en mass and from all sides. You can either kill them by firing with your character, or funneling them toward the bunker by placing missile turrets and slowing towers in their path, along with boxes to create a set path. Each tower/turret has a range at which they can attack from as well. To further complicate things, night slowly draws and you are required to drop 5 flares between rounds. Fortunately your rifle offers a flashlight as well. The catch however is that your turrets can only attack what they can see by the light. Your character can collect pick-ups as well, similar to Contra. You begin with a single-shot rifle, but can also collect a tri-burst and homing missile. Between rounds you use the money you’ve earned from killing the lizards to buy more boxes or turrets.
Imagine the cutest, most cuddliest object your mind could possibly fathom. Maybe a basket full of playful puppies with their scrunched-up little faces? A bunch of adorable kittens rolling around, stretching and meowing ever so preciously? They’re all a bunch of liver-devouring creatures from the dark recesses of hell compared to Kaleidoscope. Everything about this game oozes with charm and style to the point where even robots would be won over by its sugar-coated personality. My once acrimonious heart has been altered into a sweet, squishy marshmallow.
Who turned out the lights? Where are my friends? That’s what Tint, a mousy charcoal-colored creature, is wondering when he finds himself oddly deserted. The once-vibrant world was drained of its color and it’s up to Tint to unravel the mystery and restore order by exploring the magical world of Kaleidoscope and collecting the colored orbs. Each level of this 2D platformer begins in black and white with simple, yet catchy beats providing the audial backdrop. As Tint collects the orbs that are scattered throughout the levels, color is restored and the music becomes more complex and layered.