X S.E.E.D

Remember that scene in the movie “Big”? No, not the one with the giant keyboard. Nor the one where a 12-year-old-in-Tom-Hanks’-body knocks boots with a businesswoman and makes me wonder if the “I swear he was 30 last week” excuse would hold up in court for her. No, I’m talking about the scene where he’s sitting at a meeting with a bunch of suits, discussing a Transformers line, and just blurts out what the 12 year-old in him is thinking in that innocent kid sort of way. The “I don’t get it” line stuck with me more than anything else in that movie because it reminds me that, hey, kids have some awesome ideas, and many of those aren’t held back by the restrictions or reasoning that many of us adults place on what we think.  Which brings us to this short conversation about one of the more innovative takes on the side-scrolling shooter I’ve seen, X S.E.E.D.:

PUT THIS KID ON THE PAYROLL.

PUT THIS KID ON THE PAYROLL.

So, just in case that didn’t sink in. The only reason we got an original idea on XBLIG among the sea of sub-par voxel miners, first-person zombie shooters, one-button platformers, and puzzle games used as vehicles for displaying morally-bankrupt pictures of undressed anime teens is because someone listened to their kid. It’s the sort of “hey you got peanut butter on my chocolate” genius that keeps gamers digging through the XBLIG marketplace for innovation like this regardless of how much fly-infested sewage they have to wade through in the process.

And what is this original idea, you ask? Well, X S.E.E.D. is an old-school run-and-gun platformer, like Contra, but instead of using the normal arsenal of machine guns and grenade launchers you summon crazy-ass mutant plants that do things like shoot fire in various directions, act as a force-field, or spring up a platform for you to stand on. Summoning these plants is your character’s only defense, as he cannot harm anything himself and will die in only one hit. So essentially you’re constantly putting out temporary turrets and shields in an effort to both mount a forward-moving offense and put up a defense that will keep your goofy-looking scientist hero from dying. There’s a plot about plants taking over the island and you being the only scientist that can save everyone and blah blah blah. If you’ve ever played a game like Contra for the plot, I’m sure there’s a support group somewhere for that. What you expect out of a game like X S.E.E.D. is running and gunning (of sorts), and that’s what you’ll get.

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“This is not what I wanted you to feed me, Seymour.”

On the downside, when you innovate, you usually don’t get everything right the first time. And this is no exception. For just about everything X S.E.E.D. gets right, it misses on something else. For example, the pixel art is vibrant and well-animated in the most retro of ways, but the music and effects are forgettable at best. I went through entire stages without even noticing the music. Another miss is on the weapon selection. You’re given a large amount of plant types over the course of the game, which is nice, but with no way to rearrange them and with some of them being completely useless inventory padding there’s a bit of difficulty getting to the right one quickly via cycling through with LB and RB. And while the old school difficulty, unforgiving with only three lives and no continues, is necessary for such a short game and forces a nice balance between the risk of dying and the reward of more points and the better of two endings, there’s no reason for a death to stick you all the way back at the beginning of the stage. This last one didn’t really make me too angry until the later stages of the game where dying at a boss battle resulted in a solid 30 seconds of little more than holding right. The worst flaw of X S.E.E.D., however, is how slow the pace gets near the end when you try to play it safe with the shield vines. You’ll find yourself inching forward and tossing out barrier after barrier out of fear, and it’s made even worse with the knowledge that the enemy plants really don’t have much they can do about it. Even the bosses only have one attack that will ignore these, and those attacks always have the same pattern throughout that boss battle. It sucks a bit of the “run” out of the “run and gun” genre in which I’d throw this game.

But even with all the little quirks and flaws, X S.E.E.D. ended up being exactly the type of game I wanted right at that moment. It’s straight old-school, it’s speed run friendly with an in-game clock, it’s short enough that the limited lives and lack of continues don’t make me feel too frustrated and helpless, it controls well, and most importantly it’s fun and innovative. The only thing I’d ask for on the XBLIG version, a high score board, is present on the free-with-option-to-donate Ouya version, but without it I’d still say that X S.E.E.D. is worth both your time and the paltry dollar that it costs.

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X S.E.E.D. was developed by Wide Pixel Games.

$1 wants to believe that Little Shop of Horrors is the prequel to this game in the making of this review.

X S.E.E.D. has earned has been awarded the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval by Shin Hogosha. Leaderboards for Indie Game Team are coming soon.

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Deep Dungeons of Doom

Stripping a genre down to its core has become a bit of a thing over the recent years. Half-Minute Hero, Divekick, and One Finger Death Punch all took their respective genres (RPG, fighter, brawler) and threw out the vast majority of the fluff in an effort to give you a streamlined experience containing all the fun of the large budget AAA games with fewer calories. Sometimes we end up with an experience we didn’t think possible with such a simple representation of what we’ve come to know and expect. Other times the developer’s diet version of its bigger brethren discards too much of the formula, leaving us with something that not only removes itself from its genre, it also removes itself from being able to be called “fun”. Deep Dungeons of Doom, though still somewhat fun, is not without its flaws in its effort to deliver a more focused dungeon-crawler.

Deep Dungeons of Doom (called DDD from here on out because I’m lazy) is a dungeon-crawler that has one focus and one focus only: combat. Exploration? Nope? Movement? Nada. Hoarding mountains of treasure? Not today, kid. You pick one of your three characters, go into a dungeon, kill some monsters, earn some gold along the way, kill a boss, and get the hell out. Combat is a timing and reaction affair, as your options only consist of attacking, defending, and using your one item you’re allowed to carry. Each monster has its own patterns and gorgeous pixel-art animations, which you react to with either the attack button or the defend button at the proper time. There are a few other things to combat, such as holding your attack button for a character-specific action or launching an attack right as the monster is performing an action so that you do extra damage, but that’s what you’ll be doing from the first dungeon to the last boss.

Everything in this game is beautifully animated. I'd say "on the level of Symphony of the Night", but I think I'd get fired.

All the pixel art in this game is beautifully animated. I’d say “on the level of Symphony of the Night” but I think I’d get fired.

As far as leveling, well, you get stronger as you go deeper into each dungeon, but it’s not permanent; your stats reset the moment you step back out into the world. You can purchase skills for each character, but don’t expect to grind out an overpowered character within a few hours as gold is somewhat time consuming to build up. You can also hit up one of the two shops in the game and buy equipment or find some along the way, of which you can only have one equipped at a time. Unfortunately, if you want to keep any equipment you find along the way, you have to ditch whatever you’re wearing, meaning that you can’t actually GAIN any equipment if you already have something on. Oh, and you lose your equipment if you die (and all but 10% of your gold that you’ve gained in the dungeon), which makes bringing anything with you into a dungeon a high risk situation if said equipment is expensive or rare. Your only way of keeping your equipment upon death is, one, a roll of the dice that may or may not help you out or, two, using purchasable revive tokens and continuing your march through the doom-filled dungeon.

So, in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been throwing out a few hints that the game is somewhat unforgiving. In truth, it needs to be. DDD is one of the rare games with RPG-like elements that can be beaten without upgrading your character at all. You could purchase no skills, equip no items, and still run through the entire game, willing that you know the patterns and animations for each monster and have solid execution and reactions. I stress that last part because, as someone who plays fighters competitively and has solid reflexes, even I had a bit of trouble with a few of the quicker enemies. Which usually resulted in me spending revive tokens in the hopes I’d finish the dungeon this time or losing my equipment I’d grown attached to and leaving with more lost than gained.

And I think that’s one of the two biggest things this game has going against it. Failing in DDD not only causes you to lose nearly everything you gained in that dungeon, but also anything you brought with you. Heck, there’s even room for losing more than that if you purchase any items during your crawl using gold you’d built up from other areas in the game. What I’d said before about DDD being beatable with zero character progression also works the other way: you could hypothetically keep spending money, losing your equipment along the way, and gain little to nothing from all your time and resources spent. There’s a bit more sting to this knowing that you can spend real money on in-game gold with the same results as, yes, DDD has an in-game shop where you can drop your 9-to-5 earnings on fake money. That you can use to buy items. That you can lose by dying. Harsh even by my masochistic gaming standards.

The other aspect of DDD that may turn players off is that, as it’s a crawler stripped down to timing-based button-pressing combat and nothing else, there’s a good chance that people will find it too repetitive. Especially since failure is so punishing. It also doesn’t help that the only instructions come in the form of in-game tutorials and occasional rooms where you’re given the option of learning something that would’ve come in handy about two dungeons earlier. For example, I went through a full three dungeons before coming across a room teaching me about character-specific charge attacks (one of the things that turns DDD into less of a drawn-out mini-game and more of a full gaming experience). The Witch will regain magic with hers, which is the only way she can deal proper damage and is otherwise strictly worse than the other two characters. Giving me the option of finding this out via selectable instructions would’ve been a kind gesture. Hoping I get far enough in the game that I could learn a vital technique? That’s just mean, guys. That’s just mean.

In fact, the more I think about this game, the more I’m afraid to play it. I finished the game, minus secrets and a post-ending dungeon, but I don’t want to lose the only two powerful items I have left. Or spend my hard-earned gold on other items only to lose them. I can’t think of any other game I’ve been afraid to play outside of, you know, games specifically designed to make me crap my pants. Deep Dungeons of Doom is not designed to make me crap my pants. It’s designed to steal them. And considering how much I value my pants, it makes it difficult to recommend this crawl.

I have a giant soft spot for gorgeous pixel art, and this game is packed with it.

Deep Dungeons of Doom was developed by Bossa Studios and Miniboss.

$4.99 was in my wallet when my pants were stolen during the making of this review.

Here Comes A New Writer – IGC-Michael

Over the last year or so, you may have seen a certain geek by the gaming handle of Shin Hogosha trade words on Twitter and in the comment section with this site’s wonderful host. He’s argued with her, he’s questioned parts of reviews and, well, he’s just been a confrontational little son of a gun.

And, guess what? Now he writes for her.

I’ll be on here under the name IGC-Michael, sending out indie reviews from the flat-yet-charming Midwest. A bit about myself: I’ve played a bit of everything over the last three decades. My first memories involve an Atari 2600, and the extended family that raised me is solely to blame for how much of a gaming nerd I’ve become over the years. Uncles, aunts, cousins, even my grandmother had a horrible addiction to Breakout, causing her to go to the chiropractor twice for playing marathon sessions with bad posture. I remember River City Ransom when it was released, rented Final Fantasy IV enough times to pay for the game, bought a Virtual Boy at launch (and still have excellent vision), and ran grown men out of tokens at the arcade via Soul Edge and Tekken 2 while in my early teens.

Over the 31 years of my life, something that made a gigantic impression on me in gaming was the start of what’s now known as XBox Live Indie Games. So much so that I’d started a short-lived review blog and wrote articles and interviews for other sites just to get the word out about such an amazing, interesting group of games and their developers. Since then, two-thirds of my 360 purchase have consisted of XBLIG titles, including my favorite 360 game, Soulcaster.

The love and respect for independent games eventually brought me here, though Cathy and I differ on quite a few things. For example, I enjoy punishing platformers, bullet-hell shmups, complex fighters, and rhythm games, which I’m pretty sure is what Cathy would qualify as her own personal gaming hell. I speed run games both retro and current, I look up frame data for fighters, and to me “channel surfing” is “watching random gaming streams on Twitch.” In other words, I’m a giant nerd, and it comes out in my writing as well as my interests.

What kind of reviews can you expect from me? Well, I have a PS3, a 360, and an Ouya, and I’ll gladly try anything that doesn’t play dirty tricks with my motion sickness. So most first- and third- person games are out the window. I don’t shy from requests, even if it’s a genre I normally don’t enjoy such as simulations or tower defense. I intend on delivering the kind of honest writing you both expect and respect when you visit IGC, ideally for years to come, and I enjoy the civil conversations that spawn from such writing.

So, with all that said, I’d just like to say I’m happy to be a part of the team, and I hope you all enjoy what I bring to the table.

Peace,
Michael
@Shin_Hogosha

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