Magicians & Looters (Second Chance with the Chick)

Imagine any game you played and didn’t enjoy. It doesn’t matter which game. Just try it.

Now, imagine if you could change one thing about that game. It could be the jumping mechanics. It could be the difficulty level. Are you picturing it? Good.

Is that game now, with that one change, one of the best games you’ve played?

That’s a legitimate question I pose to you. Because I just had such an experience. I played Magicians & Looters back in September, 2013. It’s a game I probably should have liked. It’s a Metroidvania, which is probably my favorite genre. It was highly ambitious, featuring three unique characters that you would alternate between, each with their own skills. It featured a large map with well-executed level design and unique platforming challenges. The humor-based writing was really sharp, with an emphasis on actual comedy as opposed to just quoting old video games and movies. I mean, doesn’t this game sound pretty fucking sweet?

I said sweet, not swine.

I said sweet, not swine.

But then there was the combat. That God damned combat. The guys at Morgopolis Studios wanted a more sophisticated, realistic combat system. Thus, they created an elaborate dodge/counter/block/attack setup that hypothetically should have made their title stand out. Instead, it crippled the game’s pace and made combat such a lethargic chore that it ruined the whole title. At least for me.

Thank God someone was listening. Now, the combat is more in line with traditional 2D games. And that one change alone completely alters how enjoyable Magicians & Looters is. When you’re not worrying about the game grinding to a screeching halt every time you encounter an enemy, you can really enjoy what the developers accomplished here. This is their first game mind you. I’ve long been a proponent of Theurer’s Law, which states that nobody should get their first game published. Well, actually I’m for a variation on it: keep your first project simple. I guess it’s a good thing Morgopolis Studios didn’t subscribe to that theory. What they came up with here is something very special.

Yes, you collect something called a "Red Skull" in this game. Which is actually significantly less half-assed than Hugo Weaving's performance in Captain America.

Yes, you collect something called a “Red Skull” in this game. Which is actually significantly less half-assed than Hugo Weaving’s performance in Captain America.

The map really stands out. You know, when you’re not taken back by how awful the combat is. A lot of indie Metroidvanias either overly simplify the map design, or they bite off more than they can chew and end up with a dull, sprawling mess. Magicians & Looters has a damn near perfect map. The design is so logical, and that’s a rarity in indie gaming. I’m still not sold on the leveling up system, but because the combat mechanics are fixed, it doesn’t feel like I’m underpowered anymore. It helps that the controls are more responsive thanks to the patchwork. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if this is the single-greatest use of a patch in gaming history. Thank God this wasn’t XBLA, or that patch would have been unaffordable and turned the development team into jaded douchebags.

M&L isn’t perfect by any means. Some of the dialog is too smart-assed for its own good. The longer you play, the longer you realize that these characters are damn-near unlikable. If you knew people who talked like this, you would hate them. You would go out of your way to avoid attending parties with them. Or, if stuck at a party with them, you would master the art of choking on appetizers just to avoid conversing with them. By the way, the secret to that is not faking it. Otherwise, you’ll fail to properly turn blue and thus they’ll want to keep talking with you. Nope, just suck it up, literally, and lodge that fucker in your throat. Though I suggest you make sure someone with a ten foot distance knows the Heimlich maneuver before trying this. Actually, don’t try this at all. Or at least don’t tell people you got the idea from me.

Where was I?

Mom?? Oh wait, I made that joke last time. Um, gimmie a second. Um, something about vaginal VDs or something.

Mom?? Oh wait, I made that joke last time. Um, gimmie a second. Um, something about vaginal VDs or something.

Oh, and the boss battles are still a bit tedious. A lot of people complained about the final boss. I actually can’t comment on it. Despite the accolades I’m bestowing upon the game, I had to walk away during the final battle because of epilepsy concerns. But, I tracked down the ending on YouTube and it’s worth a look. Is it disappointing I couldn’t finish it? Sure. But I can’t deny that every single part of the game before it had me shaking my head in disbelief. THIS from a game that originally didn’t even win my seal of approval? Are you kidding me?

I started Indie Gamer Chick three years ago today, and my focus was on Xbox Live Indie Games. It didn’t take me long to realize I had found a treasure trove of underrated, overlooked gems. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that, three years later, I’m still finding games that can blow my mind. There are precious few games out there that have scared me with the potential their developers display. This is one of them. What really amazes me is, even after reviewing over four-hundred games on the platform, I’m still able to say this about a new game: Magicians & Looters is the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made. I have no doubt about it. Curly was right: just one thing. Figure that out, and everything else will work itself out.

xboxboxartMagicians & Looters was developed by Morgopolis Studios
Also on Steam

IGC_Approved$2.99 has been holding off on this review for over a month now, because Cathy thought announcing a new best XBLIG ever on her site’s birthday would be more festive. Though we’ve heard the guys at Morgopolis have aged horribly waiting for the announcement in the making of this review.

Magicians & Looters is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Please note, she said “best Xbox Live Indie Game of all time.” Not best Indie of all time.


Vintage Hero

I should preface this review by noting that Mega Man’s classic NES games have no nostalgic value for me, and the franchise as a whole I consider to be of little relevance to modern gaming.  I thought Mega Man 9 was alright.  I thought Mega Man 10 was alright, albeit slightly less so.  I tried and failed to get into the Battle Network series as a kid.  And if the amount of shit that I gave when Mega Man was announced for Smash Bros was any smaller, it would only be able to be studied at the Hadron Collider.  I’m not saying the series is a bad or that the games aren’t worth playing.  I’m saying Mega Man probably means a lot more to you (assuming you’re my average reader) than it does for me.

With that being said, Vintage Hero does Mega Man very well.  Mimicry can’t be as easy as people think.  If it were, there wouldn’t be so many classic gaming tributes on XBLIG or other platforms that completely miss the point of what the originals were about.  With platformers, it gets especially difficult.  Typically, even a game that comes really close to the original still has something off about it.  And once you latch onto what that one not-quite-right thing is, it’s all you notice.  Vintage Hero doesn’t have that.  It is so close to Mega Man in terms of gameplay and physics that it’s almost creepy.  Like one of those stories you hear where a famous actress meets an adoring fan who has built a life-sized statue of her made out of mayonnaise and caulking, and she has to smile through her teeth while waving to her agent to start filing for the restraining order.

Lloyd is a janitor. Mega Man was a lab assistant. Lab assistant. I'm not sure who wins on points there.

Lloyd is a janitor. Mega Man was a lab assistant. I’m not sure who wins on points there.

Vintage Hero’s controls are perfect Mega Man mimicry, and it makes this title a joy to play.  Of course, the spooky doppelgänger stuff comes in other forms.  The hero (with decidedly unheroic sounding name Floyd) has an arm cannon, just like Mega Man.  It fires bullets that look just like Mega Man’s bullets.  His running, jumping, and climbing animations look just like Mega Man’s.  When he dies, he explodes into smaller dots of energy, just like Mega Man.  Seriously, King Louie wants to know his secret.  If Vintage Hero had left it there, doing a very convincing Mega Man impersonation, that would have been enough to satisfy gamers.

But developer Frog the Door Games didn’t stop there.  Instead of phoning in the level design, he took it in original directions not seen in Mega Man titles.  Instead of leaving the basic gameplay mechanics intact, he added in a modern RPG-like upgrade system.  As a result, Vintage Hero stays fresh through-out.  Of course,  it’s about half the length of a Mega Man title.  There are four standard bosses (and yes, you acquire a new weapon after killing them), then two finale stages, one of which includes a boss-rush.  Is it too short?  Perhaps.  It’s sort of hard to complain when everything before the end credits is about as perfectly handled as any game designed like this could be.  If the developer ran out of time or money or patience, at least he had the good sense to stop before the game started to stagnate.  Me?  I always prefer ninety minutes where I can’t stop smiling to three hours where my mind occasionally wanders, if not outright gets bored.

Vintage Hero isn’t flawless.  I think the biggest issue it has (besides length if that matters to you), is that the game does the copy-cat thing so well that it fails to have a personality of its own.  I guess I’m in the minority on this, but I didn’t enjoy the characters, the enemy design, or especially the bosses.  It all felt a bit generic.  The story told between missions I found to be predictable, especially the big twist reveal.  It was so poorly handled that I questioned whether it was just dead-panning parody.  Then the bleak ending made it clear that this was all meant to be serious, and I just sort of shrugged.  Of course, they couldn’t just rip off the charm of Mega Man’s absurd enemy design.  Vintage Hero already straddles the line between loving tribute and lawsuit waiting to happen.  But you simply can’t replace the lunacy of “why did Wily make such impractical things like Robo-rabbits that shoot robo-carrots to kill Mega Man?” with doodles of red tentacles growing out of the ground, or things that look like hastily-drawn fetuses.

You can see what I mean about the enemy design. This yellow fellow here looks like a reject from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.

You can see what I mean about the enemy design. This yellow fellow here looks like a reject from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.

Because of that, Vintage Hero would need to have exceptionally sharp and rewarding gameplay to really stand out.  And it does.  It’s been over a year since I’ve had the privilege of saying this about a new game, but Vintage Hero is the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made.  Here’s a game so married to an established franchise that it by all rights ought to have been saddled with the label of a well-meaning tribute, and nothing more.  Instead, it serves as an honorable homage, and a game that can fully stand on its own.  Its gameplay is fine-tuned.  Its levels inspired.  It actually pays tribute to vintage Mega Man better than Mega Man 9 or 10 did.  But most important, it’s a game that anyone can enjoy.  By the time I was on the gaming scene, Mega Man’s time as an icon had pretty much passed.  Nostalgia didn’t factor into this review.  Pure, unbridled love of gaming did.  And from that point of view, no XBLIG has ever been as well made as Vintage Hero.

(spits out Vintage Hero spunk, pops a breath mint)

xboxboxartVintage Hero was developed by Frog The Door Games

Seal of Approval Large80 Microsoft Points actively wonder why Lloyd doesn’t change colors when he equips a new item in the making of this review.  Well I take it all back, this is a shitty Mega Man ripoff.  It was all about the color swapping.

Vintage Hero is Chick-Approved and is the new #1 game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  You should probably still click the link to bask in its #1ness anyway. 

Blocks & Tanks and Chompy Chomp Chomp (Second Chance with the Chick)

Do you know what the very toughest thing I have to do as Indie Gamer Chick is? Find people to play XBLIGs with or against. It’s my fault. My friends.. well Brian’s friends actually.. have had to deal with nearly two years of complaining. They have bad timing. They never bump into me when I’m playing really awesome games. Oh no, they run into me when I’m playing stuff that would better be used during enhanced interrogation. So when the time comes to say “hey guys, I have a shiny new XBLIG party game” they all seem to have better stuff to do. Wash the car. Run a marathon. Return over-due library books. It’s total bullshit of course.  None of my friends read books.

But, sometimes I can wrangle them together. The results aren’t always pretty, but every once in a while a game provides us with a level of entertainment that we can’t get from a movie or, quite frankly, some mainstream games. Take Chompy Chomp Chomp. It was a smash hit last year during a Memorial Day party, and since then, has been on the top ten in my leaderboard. But it wasn’t without issue. The game could spawn players unfairly, and some of the maps were poorly conceived. It’s been a year since I last sat down with it. I know the game got patched, but I never got around to trying it again. Well, on Sunday I had the chance. And guess what? Chompy Chomp Chomp is better than ever. It is, unquestionably, the best party game on Xbox 360, indie or otherwise.

Pictured: absolute multiplayer bliss.

Pictured: absolute multiplayer bliss.

First off, go check out my original review. Nothing has changed with the core gameplay. What’s different is nearly every complaint has been fixed. For starters, spawns are significantly more fair. Before, it wasn’t rare for you to spawn too close to someone that’s designated to eat you. In a couple hours of playtime, that never once happened. Nor did the game ever spawn me or anyone else playing into a live trap. That alone makes Chompy Chomp Chomp so much more fun to play. In our previous play sessions, fits of laughter and general happy chatter would occasionally be interrupted by the random scream of “that’s bullshit!” when the game would screw you with a shitty spawn. Now, it’s all happiness all the time. The only other way that could have been accomplished was with laughing gas, but that wouldn’t have been cost efficient. Fixing it was much easier.

Chompy Chomp Chomp was developed by Utopian World of Sandwiches (80 Microsoft Points admit that the Xbox 360 hasn't exactly been the best platform for party games, but regardless, this is still the best on it in the making of this review.)

Chompy Chomp Chomp was developed by Utopian World of Sandwiches (80 Microsoft Points admit that the Xbox 360 hasn’t exactly been the best platform for party games, but regardless, this is still the best on it in the making of this review.)

Yea, there’s still some really horrible levels where you can get cornered with no hope of escape. The guys at Utopian World of Sandwiches insist that there are people who swear those are the best stages. They’re not. They’re unfair and stupid. Thankfully, they made up for their continued existence by throwing in more stages. These new levels, based on classic gaming themes, are fricking awesome. Finally, some of the dumber traps, such as gaseous time bombs that drain your score away, can outright be turned off. Previously, turning off items was an all or nothing type of deal. Now, you can select which ones you want to use. That’s perfect. The online play was totally hiccup-free as well. I can’t stress how amazing this game is. You simply have to play it, whether you do it locally or online. Make sure you’re playing with real players though. The AI goes from being too easy to too hard. When I was playing with my buddies, it was probably the single best multiplayer experience I’ve had since I’ve known them all. Chompy Chomp Chomp is Fuckity Fuck Fuck excellent.

But, if the whole “no shooting, cutesy characters” stuff is an affront to your heterosexuality (seriously, at least one moron on Twitter said of Chompy Chomp Chomp that it “looked like gay children’s shit”. How this guy is an expert in gay children’s shit is beyond me), you can try Blocks and Tanks instead. In a way, it’s getting a bad shake here, because I’m comparing it directly to Chompy Chomp Chomp. Both are simple party games for XBLIG with online play.  But while Chompy’s gameplay reminds me of old school arcade games, Blocks is more like a Nintendo 64 era arena-shooter. Not a whole lot to it.  Aim and shoot, one shot kills (with the cannon), most kills wins. The fact that it revels in its simplicity is part of the charm. It’s a shooter stripped down to its purest, most refined fun.

Of course, Blocks and Tanks is also a voxel game. When I announced that this game was on deck and next to be reviewed, people immediately dismissed it as yet another Minecraft clone. It’s not. But, the voxel angle is a neat one, as the environments are destructible and it opens some pretty neat strategies. In addition to the tank shells and machine gun, you can shoot blocks from your turret, which immediately cling to the environment and change colors to fit that. In a way, this crippled one versus one multiplayer, as whoever was able to get the first kill could immediately burrow a hole and fill it in to remain hidden until time ran out. Of course, only a total coward would do that.

Don’t shake your head at me, Brian. You’re only mad because you didn’t think of it first.

Pictured: the developers of games I was less than kind to waiting for my car to get within range.  It's a Honda Fit! Do your worst!

Pictured: the developers of games I was less than kind to waiting for my car to get within range. It’s a Honda Fit! Do your worst!

Blocks and Tanks is a lot of fun and does a lot right. The controls are very responsive. There is a bit of a learning curve to aiming, but once you get over it, it does the trick. It also has some very well designed arenas, many of which take after famous locations. It handles eight players online. I was never once able to get into an eight player game, but when I had six players going, it was super fast-paced and very enjoyable. But, the game has more problems than an algebra book.

We’ll start with the spawns. They’re among the most unfair I’ve ever seen. Sometimes the game will respawn you right in front of someone else. You’ll literally die immediately upon respawning. More often than not, you’ll be put back to life in the thick of a battle. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. The game needs to place you away from the action. Movement speed is decent, and maps are not that big, so there’s no reason to have to drop people in the middle of a firefight. It gives the game an unpolished feel.

But the biggest problem, as of this writing, is online stability. The developer is aware of the issues and asked me to go forward with this review, as long as I note that he will continue to improve the game. Duly noted. Over the course of seven play sessions and about three hours of total play, I experienced a magnitude of connectivity problems. Players would be dumped at random. Brian got a rare “code 3” error on his Xbox, while mine simply froze solid. Again, the developers are on top of it, and the current build is easily the most stable yet. The first time I played, we had problems with synchronization, where shots would register as a hit and a kill on my end, but on my opponent’s side of things, they would still be alive and actively fighting. This is no longer a problem. Actually, the weirdest problem is totally out of the hands of the developer. It’s the type of people playing. I kept finding myself in sessions where players were not trying to kill each other, but instead building stuff. When I would go in to attack, they would boot me out. Huh.  I mean, sure. It’s not like there are different, more appropriate voxel-based games on XBLIG that cater to that type of gameplay.

We had a ton of fun on stages that had cliffs, trying to blow the ground out from underneath each-other.  What would have been really neat is if the game had to rely on structrual integrity and you could cause massive cave-ins.  Hint hint Maximinus Games.

We had a ton of fun on stages that had cliffs, trying to blow the ground out from underneath each-other. What would have been really neat is if the game had to rely on structural integrity and you could cause massive cave-ins. Hint hint Maximinus Games.

Blocks and Tanks was developed by Maximinus Games (80 Microsoft Points wish the build-gun worked better on water in the making of this review.)

Blocks and Tanks was developed by Maximinus Games(*NOW DELISTED* 80 Microsoft Points wish the build-gun worked better on water in the making of this review.  Yea, that’s not a joke, but I had to squeeze that in somewhere.)

Having said that, if you look around enough, you should be able to find a real game where people have the courtesy to kill each other like civilized people. It’s not as supported as, say, Shark Attack Deathmatch, but Blocks and Tanks does seem to have a growing community. There’s a reason for that. It’s quite good. I feel bad for the guys behind it, that it’s going to be ignored by a lot of people who feel it’s just another generic Minecraft clone. It’s almost unbelievable that such an art style can now be considered a handicap on XBLIG, but that’s what it is now. If Blocks and Tanks had come out three years ago, it would probably be one of the biggest sellers on the platform. Talk about bad timing. It’s a genuinely good game that is worth your time and money. Unless you want to use it to build stuff. It’s not made for that you block heads. Tanks for nothing.

Blocks and Tanks is Chick Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Chompy Chomp Chomp already was, but hey, it moved up five spots! 

IGC_ApprovedReview copies were provided for both games by the developers. The copies played by Cathy were paid for by her with her own money. The review copies were given to a friend to test online play. That person had no feedback in this review. For more on this policy, consult the Indie Gamer Chick FAQ.

DLC Quest: Live Freemium or Die

DLC Quest was one of those rare games that exists strictly to parody the industry, did everything right, and ended before the joke stopped being funny.  It did real well, even taking home the Official Xbox Magazine’s XBLIG of the year award. I really liked it too, to the point that I wrote my single most boring review ever because I was dead afraid of spoiling the game.  I wanted people to play it.

I also did not want there to be a sequel.  I just figured that there was no way the joke could be stretched any further.  DLC Quest is pretty much a game without flaws, in the sense that it gives you just enough gameplay to not get too bored while waiting for the next gag to hit.  It gave players one hour worth of genuinely funny jokes, and ended before they started going flat.  It really felt like the joke had gone as far as it could.

Zombie sheeps.  Also known as Sega's fanbase.

Zombie sheep. Also known as Nintendo’s fanbase.

Still, everyone clamored for a sequel.  Not me.  I did everything I could to discourage it.  I asked creator Ben Kane nicely to not do it.  Then I asked not so nicely.  Then I made threats.  Then I blackmailed.  Then I  held his parents hostage.  Then I left a horse’s head in his bed.  Then I burned his house down.  Then I found out I was talking to the wrong Ben Kane.  Then I had to explain to the cops that I hadn’t grossly over-reacted to an ultimately trivial situation.  Then I had to make with the bribes.  By time I had tracked down the real Ben Kane, it was this morning and the sequel was already out.  Grumble.

Guess what?  My fears were for not.  DLC Quest: Live Freemium or Die is still quite funny, briskly paced, and offers genuine laughs.  Having said that, the best jokes clearly came in the original, where you had to get “DLC” just to be able to pause the game, or walk to the left.  It took absurdity to a new extreme.  The punchlines in Live Freemium feel more like run-of-the-mill gaming humor.  Well done, mind you, but still the type of jokes that can be done in any type of game.  Stuff like making guys speak with Canadian accents, or having a token NPC character that adds fuck-all to the game.  If the writing wasn’t so damn good, it would have really been a letdown, because this shit has been done before.

As a game, DLC Quest 2, like its predecessor, is as basic as buttered bread.  Jump around, collect coins, find the occasional secret room that contains more coins, and that’s pretty much it.  I’ve reviewed dozens of games at Indie Gamer Chick that have minimal gameplay and focus on the writing, but platforming is much more preferable to scrolling through menus, or pointing and clicking.  And I have to stress, the writing is sublime.  As an example, there’s a section of the game that focuses on fetch quests.  Such events in any game are guaranteed to induce cringes, and this was no different.  Then, just as tedium was about to settle in and make of mess of things, a brilliant punch-line to the whole sequence instantly defused me.  It was the biggest laugh of the whole game.  I actually shook my head in disbelief.  I can’t believe he made that part work the way he did.  He got me.

Add an extra thirty minutes to the playtime to find everything if you so wish.

Add an extra thirty minutes to the playtime to find everything if you so wish.

Like the original, Live Freemium takes about an hour to finish.  Unlike the original, it doesn’t stay fresh to the end.  It doesn’t really get annoying or boring.  In fact, I didn’t think the game had run out of steam until right before the finale.  But, yes, the joke has officially ran its course.  It’s nothing short of remarkable that Ben Kane stretched it for over two hours before it grew stale.  His talent as a game designer is remarkable.  At the time of this writing, he has three games on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard, ranked #19, #20, and #31.  That’s pretty damn impressive.  Thus, I officially proclaim Ben Kane and his Going Loud Studios the first recipient of the Indie Gamer Chick Certified Developer Who Doesn’t Suck Award.


Congratulations Ben.  But for God’s sake, don’t make another one.  I don’t care if this earns you enough money to buy a small nation.  Don’t make me put a horse’s head in your bed.  This time I’ll get it right.  How many Ben Kanes can there be?

xboxboxartDLC Quest: Live Freemium or Die was developed by Going Loud Studios

Seal of Approval Large80 Microsoft Points said “no seriously, I know I doubted you before, but there is no possible way you can stretch out this joke for another episode.  Think of Naked Gun 3.  That shit was unwatchable” in the making of this review.

DLC Quest: Live Freemium or Die is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard


Hey, there’s this game on XBLIG and it looks kind of neat and the demo was okay but I’m not sure if its worth the money. Would you review it?

Sure! Anything for my fans. What game is it?

It’s called Bleed.

Just Bleed?

Just Bleed.

Huh. No funny accents on the letters?

What do you mean?

Well, I mean they could call it BleƐd with a Latin style E. You know, to add a touch of class? Or perhaps Bl€€D with two Euro signs. You know, just to change things up?

Um, no. It’s just Bleed.

Oh. Okay. Seems like a generic name that’s about as memorable as a cup of instant soup, but whatever. I’m duty bound to review games when fans request them and OH SWEET JESUS it cost 400 Microsoft Points?



Hey, why do you think we want you to review it?

And that’s where the conversation was left off at. I can see why so many of my readers were requesting a review of this one. The opening level, which I’m sure is as far as the demo goes, is a bit on the generic side. And although the game seems like it could be pretty good, there’s enough unanswered questions that Bleed really is a bit of a high-risk investment, at least as far as XBLIGs go. I mean, for the price of it you could get all five of the top games on my Leaderboard. Survey any number of people and ask them if they’re willing to buy a new product one-for-the-price-of-five with the five being the top five competing products in whatever field. People would look at you like your eyeballs just grew their own noses. They would bill you for the seven seconds of their life you just wasted. And if they’re going to do that, those seven seconds ought to be spent coming up with a better name for your fucking game, especially since you didn’t take seven whole seconds to think it through.

In short, the name sucks and the price sucks harder.  Are we clear on that?  Good.

Bleed is fucking awesome.

Update, November 20, 2018: Remember, context is everything. In 2012, Bleed was on Xbox Live Indie Games, where 90% of games were 80 Microsoft Points, or $1 each. Games that cost more, unless they were Minecraft clones, didn’t do well. I advocated for a universal $1 price for XBLIGs so as to complete with Xbox Live Arcade games and drive attention to the platform. My position on this has greatly evolved since 2012.

I almost didn't get to play it. The lightning effects in the opening stage nearly put the kibosh on this review. Thankfully they weren't as bad as Fez.

I almost didn’t get to play it. The lightning effects in the opening stage nearly put the kibosh on this review. Thankfully they weren’t as bad as Fez.

Seriously, this is one of the best Xbox Live Indie Games of the year. I didn’t get that vibe out of it at first. The opening stage is, maybe not exactly dull, but it’s not awe-inspiring either. The corny (but delightfully well-written) story centers around Wryn, a spunky pink-haired chick with dreams of being the biggest hero in gaming history. She decides the best way to go about becoming this is to go around killing all the previous top heroes. It’s funny, but it’s not as cool as it sounds. Obviously the guys at Bootdisk Revolution couldn’t use all the real biggest stars in gaming, nor did they even try to make close facsimiles. So you won’t see Wryn bust a cap in a fat Italian plumber named Angelo, or an elfish adventurer named Lenk. The actual bosses seem more like run-of-the-mill bosses that you would expect to encounter in a 2D platformer. It’s a bit disappointing, like hearing about an epic sounding movie and getting all excited only to find out it’s being broadcast on Syfy and starring Billy Zane or Tim Curry.

The first thing you notice about Bleed is movement is smooth and responsive, and that the jumping is going to be a bitch. It’s mapped to the right trigger, because shooting is done TwickS-style and thus having A jump would be impossible. Still, I kind of wish it had been mapped to the less bulky, more analog right-bumper. But what really is awkward about it is how double jumping works. Instead of just flinging yourself in the air a little higher, the character launches like a jet. You can do this twice before landing.  It reminded me of Pikachu’s return-attack in Smash Bros. I could never do that fucking thing right either. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, as evidenced by the blow-job I’m about to bestow upon Bleed, but it never felt quite right at any point during the 90 minute main quest.


The jumping physics really are my only complaint. Everything else about Bleed is really astonishing. Levels are fast-paced, well designed, and full of twists and surprises. Retro-nerds will get their jollies from elements borrowed liberally from such games as Mega Man 2. The shooting really is so well done. You have unlimited ammo and no range-limits, giving your character full 360 degree control over firing upon enemies. The starting weapons, a pistol and a rocket launcher, are probably enough to finish the game with. However, you earn points in every level that you can spend in a shop to unlock alternative guns. For some reason, only two can be equipped at a time, which is lame. Also lame is the flame-thrower, which was the first weapon I bought.  Go figure.  It’s the only weapon of the lot that I found to be ineffectual. Everything else not only works, but experimenting with how to best use them is entertaining and rewarding. And there are just enough guns to unlock to stretch the play time without overly padding things out.

Ultimately, Bleed is a worthy purchase because it’s focused on generating fun. Levels never feel too long. Bosses never feel too spongy. Design never feels unfair. And there’s so many clever ideas at play here that it’s amazing they could keep them all so balanced. Even the writing is sharp, and the big plot twist towards the end was hilarious and awesome. Once you beat the game, extra play modes open that might squeeze more value for your 400MSP. I still think the price is a bit insane, but Bleed is unquestionably a cut above most XBLIGs. But seriously, what the fuck is up with that name? I could find no connection at all with the name and the game. Would it have been better if it had been called Adventures of Pink-Frizzy Haired Homicidal Crazy Chick? Yes, actually it would have. It’s sad that the awful name and prohibitive price will turn off most potential gamers who spot it on the marketplace. It’s enough to make you cry tears of blood.

Ohhhhhhhhhh. So that’s where the name comes from.

IGC_ApprovedxboxboxartBleed was developed by Bootdisk Revolution

400 Microsoft Points said “shave 160 MSP off the price and it might have had a chance” in the making of this review.

Bleed is very much Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Null Battles

In sports, Knicks beat the Warriors 103 to 95.  Or possibly 99 to 93.  In fact, we’re not even sure if the Knicks won.  Carmelo Anthony had 31 points off 27 for 27 shooting from the field.  That statistic is actually impossible, but we can only report on the numbers as they are given to us.

Thankfully, real life sports statistics tend to be fairly accurate, unlike the post-game stats that Null Battles spits out.  Talking about the type of game it is (arena shooter), how it plays (kind of fun, kind of sloppy), and what makes it unique (strange gravity effects) is, quite frankly, irrelevant. I find that knowing who wins or loses arena shooters is a pretty big deal to most gamers.  I’m the type of person who meticulously studies my post-game stats when I play Halo or Gears of War or Call of Duty.   If those games reported different scores and stats to each player, who would want to play them?  I wouldn’t.

I tried reviewing Null Battles back in early September and this problem came up.  When I took on my amigo Bryce online, this is the score that showed on their screen.

And this is what showed up on mine.

Same game, vastly different stats.  My policy with online games is to give developers a chance to fix the problems before I post the proper review.  I got notice that the game was finally ready a few weeks ago, but I got caught up in the latest batch of new releases and forgot to go back to Null Battles.  As it turns out, there was no reason to rush.  Again, here are the results from Bryce’s side of things.

And here are the results from mine.

Again, same game.  We’re in agreement of the following things: #1, Bryce did NOT have 100% headshot percentage, and I didn’t have anywhere close to 70%.  #2, none of the scores seemed to lineup with what was happening in the game, except the fact that I lost.  #3, not knowing does negate the amount of fun you have leading up to it.  Sorry, it just plain does.  Maybe not for some (Brian for example) as much as it did so for me.  But this is my blog and I have to say this problem renders Null Battles appeal null and void.

Null Battles was developed by Techno Hermit Games

80 Microsoft Points have absolutely no interest in playing split-screen multiplayer in this day and age in the making of this review.

A review copy was provided by Techno Hermit Games for this review.  The copy played by Indie Gamer Chick was purchased by her with her own Microsoft Points.  The opinions of this review are her’s alone. 

They still have a Second Chance with the Chick.  If the scores were accurate, this game would have made the Leaderboard.

Yea, this was a waste of my 300th XBLIG review. 

Little Racers STREET

Once I checked Miner Dig Deep off my “things to do” list, my most requested review became Little Racers STREET by Milkstone Studios.  I got at least one email a week and a tweet or two telling me how good it was.  I wasn’t convinced, because we’re talking about Milkstone here.  They’re probably the most productive XBLIG studio that doesn’t release text-based adventures or games about swatting a cat away from your food.   Their games typically play well and have high production values.  And yet, they haven’t been without their fair share of controversy.  Their recent title Sushi Castle received a, ahem, lukewarm response from Binding of Isaac fans (check the comments).  I personally don’t give a shit about that.  Good games get cloned.  That’s how the industry has always worked, and that’s how it will continue to work long after we’re all rotting in the ground.  So what if their games aren’t original?  I like to think of them as being like one of those really cool guys with a weird quirk.  In this case, it’s like having a moderately amusing friend who has a problem with Kleptomania.

Not included: Paul Walker or Vin Diesel.

What irks me about Milkstone is their games are always just sort of there.  Despite the occasional hiccup, like AvatAAAH!!! or Raventhrone, most Milkstone games seem to strive for little more than being decent.  I’ve rated three previous titles by them on my leaderboard, but as of this writing they sat at #83 (Sushi Castle), #95 (MotorHEAT), and #100 (Avatar Panic).  It’s frustrating for me as a fan of XBLIGs, because I fucking KNOW they’re capable of better.  I just needed proof of that.  People assured me that Little Racers STREET was that proof.  I put off playing it for months, because I’m not a huge racing fan, nor did I believe the hype.

Believe it.  Little Street RACERS is very good.

Depending on which camera angle you use, RACERS is a Sprint-like top-down racer, or a 3D one if you use the neat (but significantly more difficult to play) chase camera.  Brian actually stumbled upon that while we were playing it, and I have to say, damn.  Smooth animation, impressive use of 3D for an XBLIG, and it controls relatively well.  I still preferred the top-down view, because you can see the turns coming sooner and you need every edge you can get.  Whether playing online or off, you earn money from races which you use to buy and upgrade cars.  You then use those to race to earn more money to buy more cars to upgrade.  You then use those to race to earn more money to buy more EGAD!!  I do believe this game might be a time sink.

You really can’t appreciate how good Racers plays until you put about fifteen minutes worth of grinding a car’s stats into it.  The controls?  Silky smooth.  The course layouts?  Very well done.  The difficulty is adjustable, progress is continuously made so the grind never feels like a grind, and buying the cars and upgrades feels surprisingly rewarding.  By time I was finished with Little Racers STREET, my only complaint was that your car doesn’t stay highlighted throughout a race.  Even with custom paint jobs, if you’re playing an online game with a lot of different racers that tend to bunch up, it’s easy to lose track of which car is yours.  However, there’s a good chance that by time you read this, that might not be the case.  Milkstone immediately agreed that I was right and promised to fix it during the next update.  And then they stole my wallet.

The highlight of my play session was an online match that included my boyfriend Brian, my best XBLIG buddy Alan, and grammar-deficient XBLIG critic Jimmy Page.  Brian kicked ass, winning a few races.  I didn’t do so hot, probably because I had “the cornering ability of an arthritic bison.”  Well, I never.  Actually, the truth is I was trying to cause Brian to wreck.  Kind of hard to do considering that he was typically way ahead of me, but every time I had an opening, I tried smashing into him.  It never worked, and I kept hitting the walls while he repeatedly asked me if I was drunk.  No, I wasn’t.  Just stupid.  And then I had to play it cool and act like I sucked (yes.. act), because I didn’t want to get the look.  Like that look.  The one I’m getting now.  Oh crap, I think he’s reading over my shoulder.  Woogity Boogity Boo!  Yep, he’s reading over my shoulder.  Well, in closing, Little Racers STREET is awesome and now I have to go try to claim that I was merely practicing “defensive driving.”  I think he’ll buy it.

Crap, I think he’s still reading over my shoulder.


I love you.

I was just driving defensively!


Little Racers STREET was developed by Milkstone Studios

80 Microsoft Points said a good defense is a strong offense in the making of this review.


Little Racers STREET is Chick Approved!  Find out where it landed on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Smooth Operators

Smooth Operators is a time sink, and I mean that in a good way.  I started playing yesterday around 11:30AM, and emerged around 8:00PM wondering exactly where the day went.  Titles like this are the alien abductions of the game world.  When you try to explain to people that you just lost eight hours of your life playing a game where you operate a call center, people look at you with rapidly blinking eyes as if you just took that last step off the deep-end.  And then you try to explain your side of the story, saying “no, no!  You don’t understand!  You have to staff out buildings and hire janitors and there’s incoming calls and outgoing calls and it’s really, really fun!”  And they just nod politely while thumbing through their phone, looking for your family’s number and wondering how they’re going to break the news.

As Brian pointed out to me back in July when this very site ran a contest to give Smooth Operators its name, the idea of a Sim Call Center is not original.  A free-to-play game called Corporation Inc has been around since at least November of 2010.  Smooth Operators is perhaps uncomfortably similar to it, but hey, some companies make billions doing this.  At least the XBLIG is both a faithful tribute and a full evolution of the concept.  Just make sure you keep an eye on your wallet in its presence.  It’s a crafty bastard.

Funny how some of the most addictive games sound like weaponized boredom on paper.

Dante, in his infinite wealth.. of knowledge, couldn’t conceive what circle of Hell has sinners forced to work a call center.  But managing a virtual one is undeniably addictive.  First you have to build an operations center.  Then you have to staff it.  There’s three kinds of duties that need to be done: answer incoming calls, make outbound calls, and back office grunt work.  A helpful meter in the upper right hand corner of the screen tells you the work load and how far each occupation has to go to complete that day’s allotment.  You also have to hire janitors, IT guys, managers, and cheerleaders.  Sudden thought: wouldn’t cheerleaders be counter productive for a call center?  All that shouting and pompom waving is bound to be distracting, especially for a job that involves talking on the telephone.  “Okay, well why don’t you tell me the nature of your computer proGIMMIE AN B! GIMMIE AN E!  GIMMIE AN C!  GIMMIE AN C!  GIMMIE AN A!  WHAT’S THAT SPELL?  BECCA!”  I wouldn’t be too happy about that, even if the people in Smooth Operators seem to like it.

There’s no real goal in Smooth Operators per se.  You just build and staff buildings to earn money to build more buildings to staff to earn more money.  So yea, time sink.  But it works, and it plays relatively well.  Shockingly, I enjoyed playing it more with an Xbox controller than I enjoyed playing the PC game it was, ahem, inspired by.  BUT, I’m not totally in love with the interface.  I don’t think it gives the player enough.  One niggling little thing that bugged me was having to click on an employee’s desk and hope they were somewhere in the building to be able to upgrade them.  The process is slow and cumbersome.  Why can’t there be a drop-down menu that has a list of every employee, so that I can attend to them that way?  Smooth Operators practically demands that you micro-manage all the dudes you hire, but as your staff increases, this becomes more tiresome.

There’s no “increase all wages” or really any helpful shortcuts at all.  I figured hiring Human Resources Managers would take care of issues like schedules and vacation time for me, but it doesn’t.  In fact, all they do is make employees work longer without them becoming less happy.  In a roundabout way, this actually made my employees less happy, as they were now clogging all the facilities and elevators in my building.  I wanted to upgrade things, but even after hiring several spendy “Project Managers” that serve to unlock goodies, unlockables just take too God damn long to get, and most of the early things they get for you are as useless as a fireproof surfboard.  What the FUCK is a potted plant going to do to increase morale when people have to wait two hours to get down one story on an elevator?  If this game were made in the United States, that potted plant would be used to bludgeon the nearest authority figure.

I guess people in Kyrksten like the increased workload and have more patience. Sigh. These are getting harder to work in.

Because of the slowness of the upgrades, and the indifference of my employees to water coolers, my moral dipped to record lows and my employees started resigning on me faster than I could appease them.  Now, if this was Sim City, I would have responded in a perfectly calm and rational manner.  Meaning I would have sent Godzilla in to kill and eat all my employees and knock the building over.  Unfortunately, there’s no Godzilla, or earthquakes, or tornado, or alien invaders, or guys named Gustafsson who prefer to live on the 40th floor.  Sigh, God damn Andreas.  You couldn’t have used words like snickerdoodle or farfanoogin?  Those would have been easier to work in.

So after I lost over half my employees, including most of my janitors and IT guys, I surveyed the remains of my once beautiful office building.  Trash scattered everywhere.  Computers smoking.  Employees swearing at the slowness of the elevators.  Mangers swearing at the employees.  Cheerleaders cheering the one IT guy left who didn’t quit.  Money drying up.  Tasks being unfulfilled.  I thought to myself “really?  I spent the last eight hours of my life doing this and this is all I have to show for it?”  After a brief period of reflection, I did the only thing that seemed rational at the time.  I turned my Xbox back on and spent another eight hours doing the same thing.

Fuck you, Smooth Operators.  Fuck.  You.

Smooth Operators was developed by Andreas Heydeck

80 Microsoft points have no idea what a Bengan is or why it would help upgrade things in the making of this review.

Smooth Operators is Chick Approved!  Find out where it landed on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Other Smooth Operators reviews: Clearance Bin Review,, and more to come.

Looking for cheat codes for Smooth Operators?  Look more carefully 😉


Update: Gateways now includes an easier mode that will still eat your ass for lunch.

Halfway through Gateways, I had it pegged as the new #1 game on my site, and that Escape Goat had been slain. No joke. It has the most awesome hook of any XBLIG to date (2D Portal, enough said), a developer with big time credentials (a game on XBLA and a game already on my leaderboard), amazing retro-graphics, and some of the most clever puzzles I’ve ever seen in any game. #1? It’s a lock.

Actually, describing Gateways as essentially being a 2D Portal is way over-simplifying things. Portal was never this smart, nor did it give you this many things to do. You had two portals and maybe a cube to drag along with you. Even Portal 2, with its tractor beams, gels, and variations of the companion cubes, can’t touch Gateways for literally mind-numbing complexity. Strange as this sounds, Gateways is actually too smart, to the point of turning off some of my Uprising comrades.

See, this is why I wouldn’t make a good time traveler. I would take a razor to my old self’s throat, just to see what happens.

Once again, a puzzle game on XBLIG made me question what I thought I knew about gaming. As a kid, I always figured puzzlers were the product of a publisher pulling an Arliss Loveless, kidnapping top eggheads from around the world and forcing them to create puzzles, for profit! But no, it turns out you don’t need shackles, chloroform, or threats of bodily harm to create puzzles, meaning those things can stay in the bedroom where they belong. One dude came up with all the puzzles in Gateways. One fucking dude, presumably with a brain that outweighs a Volkswagen Beetle.

Playing as a kooky scientist who is trying to return to his lab’s command center (why doesn’t he just have Zordon teleport him?), you have to search around for new portal guns and abilities. Gateways is laid out like a Metroidvania, meaning you’ll end up doing a lot of backtracking, retracking, and teleporting around the map. This could have been hugely risky, but Smudged Cat put a big “go here” arrow on the map that appears as soon as you clear the latest puzzle. Smart. However, I still found the design somewhat problematic. Although there are special shortcuts that open up as you make progress, I feel some kid of magical “return to the starting spot” item would have cut down on some of the tedium involved. That, or include the ability to warp at your will from save point to save point, like LaserCat did.

Which brings me to the puzzles. They’re genius, and this is commendable. But the difficulty of finishing them, ahem, scales. My biggest complaint with Escape Goat was that there was no difficulty curve. Because you could pick levels in any order, Mega Man-style, that game couldn’t escalate the puzzles and make them tougher as you went along.  Gateways has no such limitations. However, the curve of it was allowed to grow out of control. As a result, Gateways is possibly the most difficult platformer-puzzler in gaming history.

Things start out smoothly with the simple portal gun. It plays more or less exactly like a 2D Portal game. The first twist comes with the size portal thing, which allows you jump through one portal and come out the other end either larger or smaller. Sort of like Alice and Wonderland without having anything tell you “Eat me!” At this point, things are still pretty straight forward. And then comes the Time Travel gun. The idea behind it is you place one portal and then wait for some time to pass. Then, you place the second portal and hop through it. When you come out the other side, you travel back to that point, with your former self doing whatever it was you were doing while waiting for the time meter to fill. At this point, any sense of wonderment in the puzzles is replaced by conundrums designed to blow your cerebral cortex.

See this picture? You will be expected to recreate it at some point. If this doesn’t sound like something you think you are capable of doing, go try your hand at Diehard Dungeon. I’m not kidding. I can’t stress this enough: this game is fucking hard.  I showed this picture to Brian, Bryce, and Cameron, and the results weren’t pretty.  Brian walked out of the room, complaining of a headache.  Cameron buried his head in his lap and began to cry.  And poor Bryce keeled over dead.

Doc Brown would be thrilled with Gateways, which requires you to think 4th dimensionally. Once you’ve made “clones” of yourself, you have to use them to stand on switches and line up mirrors to deflect lasers, all within a small amount of time. Although you can get items that extend how long the time portal works, it never really eases up on the tension of getting everything absolutely fucking perfect, with no room for error. This is harder than it sounds, because moving from portal to portal is disorienting. Solving puzzles requires concentration, coordination, and cognitive thinking on a level no game in history has. That’s not hyperbole.

The first time I encountered a puzzle that used the time gun and required you to make clones of yourself that reflect a laser, I literally froze in my chair and processed the turn the game just made. Gateways wasn’t fucking around anymore. But the game wasn’t done. It added more abilities and guns. By the end of the game, puzzles require you to use multiple guns, time windows, and abilities. It’s so much to juggle that I sincerely doubt 99% of all people who play Gateways will ever actually finish it. Don’t believe me? Here’s a video of the solution to the final puzzle. Mind you, even with this video, people are having trouble finishing it. Don’t worry about spoilers either. There’s no possible way more than 5% of this will stick anyway.

I get a headache just from watching it. Now imagine trying to solve it yourself. Not just knowing the solution, but selecting the right guns, the angles of the mirror, lining them up correctly, paying attention to the orientation of the room, remembering where the already created clones will be standing, the locations of the switches and the lasers, what portals do what and lead where, and what order you’re supposed to do everything in. Hell, most people can’t stand on one foot and with their eyes closed.

Earlier puzzles offer a “help” system which really is just a “we’ll solve it for you” system. Throughout the game, you collect orbs. Every puzzle is marked with a “help” station that works in two parts. First, you have to pay five orbs just to see if you have the equipment necessary to finish it, even if you already know the answer. Then, if you get truly stuck, you can pay 40 orbs to have the game take over the control and finish the puzzle for you. I wasn’t a big fan of this set-up. I almost wish there had been some middle-ground option that steers you in the direction without outright playing the game for you. To solve some puzzles (including the final one), I cheated by putting numbered masking tape on my TV so that I would know where exactly to stand. Maybe something like that for 10 orbs would be preferable to having the game solve itself for you. Oh, and you can’t buy the solution to the final puzzle.

Needless to say, this difficulty spike makes Gateways a title that won’t be enjoyed by everyone. Or most people actually. I really, really enjoyed it, but I didn’t forget what it was. Or the many annoyances I experienced playing it. Not just the brain freezes, but little things. I found switching between the flashlight, mirror, and guns to be somewhat unintuitive, and that really makes the final few puzzles more annoying than they have to be. I found the flashlight stages aggravating. I don’t think the game really needed enemies at all, or dying, and these things could have probably been comfortably edited out. And I wish the game had a bit more personality. That’s really the difference between this and Portal: I wanted to solve the puzzles in Portal so that I could hear the next bit of hilarious dialog from GLaDOS or Cave Johnson. Gateways is played completely straight, and that’s really disappointing.

Brian wanted me to note that he did not find it difficult to cycle through the various items. Noted. Now I would like to note that he made it about 25% through the game before stopping and he never had to deal with the ultra complex stuff.

Right before publication, my buddy Tristan of Clearance Bin Review became the latest of many players I follow on Twitter that threw in the towel at some point on Gateways. I stuck it out, and I’m happy I did, but overall I believe Escape Goat is still the better game. It controls better, is more accessible to everyone, and has more personality. Gateways is hyper-intelligent, but that actually works against. It’s still, as of this writing, the second best game time I’ve ever had with an XBLIG, but such experiences will not be typical, so purchase at your own caution. You can’t possibly get a feel for how much grey matter this requires just from the demo. It catches you by surprise.

Let’s put it this way: imagine if every XBLIG had a human counterpart at a bar. Gateways would be the genius of the room who traps you in a corner, forgets who he’s talking to, and starts to practically speak in tongues. At first you feel like you’re privileged to be in the presence of such intelligence, but after an hour, with no end in sight, you start to look for any excuse to break up the conversation. By the way, Cute Things Dying Violently would be the frat boy making inappropriate dead-baby jokes, Don’t Die Dateless Dummy would be the slow, awkward kid who trips over his own tongue every time a cute girl walked into the room, and Sententia would be the guy who gets drunk, passes out, falls off the bar stool, and lands face-first into a puddle of his own vomit.

Gateways! was developed by Smudged Cat Games

240 Microsoft Points heard Raventhorne has been doing the Dance of Joy ever since Sententia came out, as it’s no longer the defacto “disappointing game in an XBLIG showcase promotion” poster child in the making of this review.

Gateways! is ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Click here to see where it landed.

Gateways Reviews from the rest of the Uprising Crew: and Clearance Bin Review

The Top 25 Xbox Live Indie Games of All-Time: Part 5

And finally we wrap things up with the top five titles you can get on Xbox Live Indie Games.  Of course, you could buy the other twenty to go along with these.  Check out the previous parts, starting with part one.  Remember to click the name of each game to read my review.

#5: Antipole

Developed by Saturnine Games

Sort of like: Bionic Commando, only with better controls and God-like powers over gravity.

Why I liked it: Antipole takes a passé genre, the platform-shooter, and invigorates it with a clever hook: the ability to reverse gravitational pull.  The result is a game that is steeped in tradition, but feels fresh and original.  You’ll even encounter some homages to gaming’s past, like a boss fight that will be familiar to fans of Super Metroid.  Antipole has some of the most clever platforming-level design on XBLIG.

How it could have been better: I don’t think Antipole ever reaches its fullest potential.  For the most part, the gravity features never extend outside the most obvious uses.  I don’t know if you could do more with it, but what is here is very basic (and very spectacular).

Who will like it: Manufacturers of red trench coats, would-be superheroes, Michael Jackson.

Who won’t like it: Galileo, Sir Issac Newton, the guys who have to clean ceilings.

#4: Chester

Developed by Brilliant Blue-G

Concept: Take a basic platform-shooter and include the ability to alter the presentation in ways that affect the gameplay.

Sort of like: Mega Man mixed with Nicktoons.

Why I liked it: Chester had the potential to be one of those annoying collect-a-thons that grew old for me around the time Donkey Kong 64 came out.  But Chester avoids that by providing one of the most original gameplay hooks I’ve seen in a while.  The idea is that you collect various backgrounds as you make your way through the game.  Using the bumpers, you can change the entire art style of a level on the fly.  Doing so might also change the strength of your character, or the enemies, or the frequency of which special items are dropped.  You also collect new forms for your character, all of which have different modes of attacks and special abilities.  Combine all that with what is probably the most stylized and breathtaking art of any XBLIG, and the end result is Chester is a winner.

How it could have been better: The conditions for unlocking some of the cool stuff really requires too much time and effort.  I’ve never looked at Xbox Live Indie Games as a source for games that can (or should) take ten or more hours to complete.  With all the crap to find or buy that Chester has packed in it, it will probably take several multiples of that.

Who will like it: Schizophrenics, Ralph Bakshi, Stalwarts.

Who won’t like it: Unemployed Cheetos mascots, grammar teachers, Green Lantern.

#3: Dead Pixels

Developed by CSR Studios

Concept: Zombie apocalypse gone old-school.

Sort of like: River City Ransom (NES) with guns.  And zombies.

Why I liked it: Having never been a huge fan of zombie games, I have to admit that I was pretty leery of Dead Pixels.  Shooting zombies?  Whoopee!  8-bit graphics?  Wow, you don’t ever see that on XBLIG!  But actually my snotty sarcasm was unjustified.  Dead Pixels is amazing.  It’s one of the few zombie survival games I’ve played that actually puts an emphasis on the whole “survival” part.  Yea, you have guns, but they’re limited in ammunition, and you can only buy so much from stores.  Sure, there is a huge variety of items and weapons, but the more you carry, the slower you get.  Yes, you can engage a mob of the undead, but maybe sometimes it’s best to just leg it.  These all combine to make a zombie game that doesn’t feel like a glorified gallery shooter, which has always been one of those things that bug me about zombie games.  They’re more about the body count.  Dead Pixels, on the other hand, is simply about making it out alive.

How it could have been better: A wider variety of settings and enemies would have been nice.  It does have a tendency to feel a little samey after a while.

Who will like it: People unaware that The Zombie Survival Guide is not an actual zombie survival guide, that one stock character that has his shit together in every single fucking piece of zombie fiction ever created, barterers.

Who won’t like it: Hoarders, the Commerce Department, zombies.

#2: We Are Cubes

Developed by 1BK

Concept: You’re a cube and you shoot spheres, because fuck spheres, am I right?

Sort of like: Tempest crossed with Pang.

Why I liked it: I was born in 1989, so the Golden Age of Arcade Gaming was pushing up daisies long before I came around.  I need games like this to make me ponder what I missed out on.  Featuring absolutely lightning-fast gameplay with remarkable wire-frame style vector graphics, We Are Cubes is a neo-retro game that does it right, taking traditional mechanics and using them in original ways that retain a familiarity about them.  It strips gaming down to its core: twitchy, reflexive, fast-paced fun in its purest form.  If this had come out in 1982, it would be remembered as one of the all-time classics.

How it could have been better: The multiplayer modes are pretty weak.

Who will like it: L-7s, neon enthusiasts, teachers trying to find fun ways to explain cell division to students.

Who won’t like it:  People who use the circle when they play Tic-Tac-Toe, things that don’t have corners, Kevin Flynn.

#1: Escape Goat

Developed by Magical Time Bean

Concept: Help a wrongly-convicted (or least I hope so) goat bust out of the clink.

Sort of like: Solomon’s Key.

Why I liked it: I’ve been playing XBLIGs for a year now.  After 240 games, nothing has remotely touched Escape Goat for overall quality.  The two most important factors to me in games are always play control and level design.  Escape Goat is the best in both of those areas.  Play control?  Escape Goat is without peer on the platform.  Level design?  The puzzles are clever, whether they’re logic based or dexterity based, they are so smart and so intuitively constructed that you never feel lost.  And they’re accessible to everyone, not just brainiacs.  It never made it to #1 on my site, because sometimes you don’t know a good thing when it’s staring you right in the face.  I realized that tonight.  While Dead Pixels changed my perceptions on how conventional gameplay mechanics can be retooled for the modern era, and We Are Cubes made me regret that I didn’t grow up in an era where a quarter bought you a chance at glory on a high score table, the one game that will stick with me long after the Xbox 360 is put out to the pasture is Escape Goat.  It is the greatest Xbox Live Indie Game ever made.

How it could have been better: Escape Goat features the Mega Man-ish ability to choose the levels in any order.  Although this works fine, it means that the difficulty can never truly ramp up, and thus there really is never any true head-scratching stages.

Who will like it: Satyrs, Thor, the Sorting Hat.

Who won’t like it: The guy in this video, Steve Bartman, actually the Sorting Hat now that I think about it.  Fucking thing doesn’t even have hands.

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