The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle

Last week, Indie Royale offered a video game bundle that was named after (and hand-picked by) our very own Cathy Vice, the Indie Gamer Chick. The bundle sold very, very well.  I know that fact pleased Cathy a great deal and it definitely put a broad smile on my face as well.  We both deeply appreciate the immense support we get from the indie gaming community as a whole. What more can I say than: YOU GUYS ROCK!

So, now it is my turn to play/review the games that are in the bundle. I wanted to have these reviews up while the bundle was “live” but, unfortunately, real life concerns got in the way of that. And since there are 11 games here total (including the bonus titles as well), I’m going to keep my opinions as concise as I possibly can.

So without further ado, here are my uncensored thoughts on the games offered in the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle:

DEAD PIXELS (CSR STUDIOS)

Fire BAAAAD!

Fire BAAAAD!

I think I’ve mentioned this previously, but I’ve kind of had it with the whole zombie thing. I mean, really…isn’t this fucking over yet? I just don’t get the gaming community’s fascination with these undead mounds of shambling flesh.

But, I digress…

The game itself is a good deal of fun, if a bit repetitive and you can get past the played-out zombie motif. Basically, what you do in Dead Pixels is run-and-gun in a 2D, pixelated environment and shoot the everlovin’ shit out of wave after wave (well, street after street here) of increasingly difficult zombie bastards. There’s a good deal to collect and a good many weapons to choose from to aid you in your zombie killing ways. My favorite parts though were all the sly references to other games (most notably the Resident Evil series) and films. Good times.

ANTIPOLE (SATURNINE GAMES)

Is that Lionel Ritchie? When did they make a Lionel Ritchie game??

Is that Lionel Ritchie? When did they make a Lionel Ritchie game??

Antipole is a relatively clever platformer with a cool gravity-manipulating mechanic. You play as a lone mercenary who has to infiltrate a robot mothership and take it down to end the mechanized tyranny of the machines.

Although it was fun for a time, I must say that I bored of this title rather quickly, and once I played through four or five levels I had no desire to pick it up again. As I said, the gravity manipulating mechanic is sweet; I just would’ve liked to see it applied in some different and/or more creative ways as the game progressed.

LITTLE RACERS STREET (MILKSTONE STUDIOS)

It's race day, bitches!

It’s race day, bitches!

I’m not big on racing games on the whole, but I enjoyed Little Racers Street because it reminded me a great deal of one of my favorite racing games of all time, RC Pro Am. LRS doesn’t have any of the weaponry and gadgets that Pro Am had but it does offer a metric fuckton of upgrades, options and customizability for your mini-cars. It is also a blast to play and offers a pretty damn good challenge, as Pro Am did, as well.

One bad thing I came across in LRS though was that I couldn’t run the game in full-screen mode on my PC. It would crash and burn every time I tried to run it that way, so keep in mind that you may need to run it in “windowed” mode to play. Not that big a deal, but it may piss some people off…like me.

ORBITRON: REVOLUTION (FIREBASE INDUSTRIES)

Shoot all the spinny things...or else!

Shoot all the spinny things…or else!

This game is a straight-up Defender clone with current gen visuals slapped on top of it. Now, if you are going to clone an old-school arcade game, you could do much worse than the 1980 Williams Electronics classic, I suppose. Orbitron is pretty fun to play and does offer a few twists (time trials and the like) on the traditional, shmup-styled game.

The player can choose from two ships at the outset, one red and blue, and one piloted by man and the other by a woman. There’s really no difference between the two, so, why? Essentially, what you have to do here is defend (See what I did there? You know you guys missed my scintillating wit…) an orbiting, circuitous space station from nasty alien types who are trying to blow up said space station. And if they succeed, BOOM goes the dynamite and your game is over.

Orbitron has 2D/3D graphics which are well done, but I found it hard to see some enemies at times. Also, the controls are a bit “floaty,” whereas Defender’s were spot on, which they need to be in any twitchy shmup.

Again, this an experience that I had some fun with for a time…but once I put it down that was it.

CHESTER (BRILLIANT BLUE-G GAMES)

Chester, I hate to tell you this, but your ass is fire...

Chester, I hate to tell you this, but your ass is on fire…

An enjoyable and breezy romp through platformer-land that obviously takes inspiration from the Rayman series and Super Mario Brothers 3, and that is in no way a knock or disparagement.

There’s tons of stuff to collect, discover and unlock in Chester and it’s all tied together with jaunty, humorous tone that’s rather infectious. It also has a cool, elemental based (water, fire and grass) power system that’s well implemented, but it also has some of the “punisher’s” failings in later levels.

And, oh yeah, the soundtrack in Chester is surprisingly rockin’ as well.

LASERCAT (MONSTER JAIL)

To quote Towelie, "I have no idea what's goin' on..."

To quote Towelie, “I have no idea what’s goin’ on…”

I own three cats and none of them have laser based powers, I’m sad to say, and neither does the cat in this game…but it does glow/pulse in a pretty badass, lasery way.

I think I consciously avoided this game on XBLIG because it reminded me of the SNL Digital Shorts of (almost) the same name, which were funny, but one can only take so much Andy Samberg. The same goes for LaserCat, I’m afraid. I could only take so much of it. It feels like an art project/experiment more than a full-fledged game. But, to its credit, it does have an addicting quality where you want to play until you find just one more key and answer one more trivia question. At the end of the day though, LaserCat is just another platformer…with a super tight, quasi-techno soundtrack.

SPYLEAKS (HEARTBIT INTERACTIVE)

Evil guy wants you to take his money.

Evil guy wants you to take his money.

This is a different experience in that it is an odd hybrid of an espionage/puzzle game and a shmup. 80% of the time you’re a spy (with the overly original name of “Spy”) who is wandering around high security buildings doing spy-type things in a 2D, top-down view. The other 20% of the time, you’re uploading your spy-pal, Julian, into various computer terminals where he does his thing, which is shooting space invadery, computer-virus-things from a vertical (up and down rather than left to right) shmup perspective. Strangely enough, it works in this context and is quite entertaining. I actually laughed out loud when the game switched to this mode for the first time and not because it’s bad or anything; it was more out of total astonishment that the game actually went to shmup-land.

But, be sure to bring your thinking caps when playing SpyLeaks, kiddos, because you’ll really have to use your wits to conquer each area. This game is a challenge from the word go…and that’s a good thing. I’m of the mind that too many of today’s games spoon feed their players, but not SpyLeaks, so check it out when you have a moment; I found it surprisingly engaging.

SMOOTH OPERATORS (HEYDECK GAMES)

This must be one of the circles of Hell.

This must be one of the circles of Hell.

I saved this game for last because I truthfully have zero interest in a game like this. I’m not a businessman, nor will I ever be a businessman. And on the slight chance I was to ever to become a businessman, I certainly wouldn’t open and operate a fucking call center. I mean, what is fun about owning and operating a fucking call center?  Nothing. Nothing is fun about owning and operating a fucking call center. I can’t even imagine a scenario where someone would say, “Hey, you know what I want to play? A game where I open a call center and handle the day-to-day operations. You know, the minutia and all that related shit. That would be sooooo awesome!”

Only out of completeness’ sake did I give Smooth Operators a whirl…and it’s not too bad, actually. It’s clearly well designed and great deal of TLC went into the making of it. I had my business, Assclown Telephony, up and running in no time. I was adding floors to my building, hiring call center stooges and making money like a motherfuckin’ BOSS, yo.  And that’s where it’s at.

So, if an easy-breezy business sim is what gets your rocks off, honey, then Smooth Operators is the game for you.

But I’ll never play it again. Fuck call centers and everything about them, man.

EVIL QUEST (CHAOSOFT GAMES)

Sing it with me now: "I fell in to a burnin' Ring of Fire..."

Sing it with me now: “I fell in to a burnin’ Ring of Fire…”

Hey, did someone clonk me on the head and switch out my bad ass PC for a Super Nintendo? No? Are you sure? Because I’m pretty sure that’s what happened when I was playing Evil Quest. Beyond the fact that it turns traditional, good vs. evil conventions on their heads, this is a boilerplate action role playing game. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but it does have a “been there, done that” vibe to it overall.

One other thing that stuck out to me with this game was just how awful the cutscene art is. Je-SUS, it is bad. This really doesn’t take away from the solid, if uninspired, gameplay at all, but it is rather jarring and amateurish.

48 CHAMBERS (DISCORD GAMES)

Well, this looks simple enough, right?

Well, this looks simple enough, right?

This is a game my wife would love and excel at…and I think it’s well done too. She digs Zuma, Bejeweled, Candy Crush and most “casual” games of that ilk, and 48 Chambers fits right into that addictive mold. It’s an interesting, little puzzle game where speed and precision are paramount. All you have to do is collect the orbs and keys then exit the chamber in the time allotted, which is easier said than done, of course.

My only real complaint here is that this title would be better suited on mobile and/or touchscreen platform and not a PC or console. If there isn’t a mobile version of 48 Chambers in the works, Discord, then you should get on that shit, pronto!

SUPER NINJA WARRIOR EXTREME (HO-HUM GAMES)

Blood and random saw blades...just what every game needs.

Blood and random saw blades…just what every game needs.

This game was an interesting hack-and-slash platformer with an Asian motif up until you hit the sixth or seventh level when it falls into the asinine tropes of the punisher, so that’s where I said, “FUCK YOU” and put the controller down.

Also, it has no full screen mode, so that’s a double FUCK YOU.

So, there you have it. My wrap up on the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle – 11 games all told. Six you should definitely check out, and the five I’m not so sure about.

Regardless of my thoughts on each game individually, the main reason I love these bundles, and today’s indie games in general,  is that they remind me of swapping freshly copied  5 ¼ inch floppy disks with my buddy in high school homeroom. Once I got home, slapped that bad boy in my C64’s 1541 floppy drive and typed in LOAD “$”, 8, I almost never knew what I was going to get and that excited me. Imagine that: being excited by a listing of game titles on a disk directory.

Now, I get inundated with press releases and review requests for all kinds of dazzling, interactive entertainment experiences on a daily basis and my pulse barely flickers. The problem with the majority of today’s “triple A” video games is that they lack true inspiration; they lack soul. When I pop the latest and greatest game from EA, 2K, Activision or Ubisoft into my Xbox, I pretty much know what I’m going to get. It’ll be big and loud and technically impressive…but what is it beyond that?  That’s not the case with the majority of today’s indie games and I dig that. Fuck, I’ll go as far as to say that I need that. I need that sense of awe, surprise and giddy enjoyment in my life and indie games (typically) provide that. Indie games have soul in spades.

So, to all you indie devs out there: you keep on doing the interesting things you do and I’ll be here, waiting for you to blow my mind…

The Perils and Pitfalls of Putting Together a Bundle

Back in April, as the gaming landscape was preparing for a next-gen level shakeup, I was only thinking about one thing: XBLIG is almost done.  I mean, there would be indies on Xbox One of course, but the community that I’ve come to know and love would change.  It might be better.  It might be worse.  But it would certainly not be the same.    I’ve thought about how my previous reviews would lose their relevance once those games were no longer available.  I’ve thought about the types of games the hundreds of developers I’ve come to know and befriend will create in the future.  Change is scary.  I’ve spent two years trying to be the best (if not, the loudest) advocate for Xbox Live Indie Games.

Tough Sell

Has my blog actually done anything?  Maybe, but not as much as I would have liked.  Some developers have credited positive reviews from me for causing a brief sales spike, but nothing significant.  On the flip side, I’ve had developers of games I absolutely cremated credit me with a bump in demo downloads.

LaserCat

LaserCat

But then I get down to the sad truth of the matter.  There are games on my Leaderboard that have sold under 1,000 copies.  Hell, there are games on it that have sold under 500 copies.  There are games on XBLIG where I am literally the only person that bought it.  I’ve played amazing games that sold so poorly that the developers became demoralized and quit.  Being Indie Gamer Chick has been the privilege of my life, but sometimes the tales of woe from developers can be downright heartbreaking.

With the sun setting on this generation, I wanted to try to make one last big push for Xbox Live Indie Games.  The community has come together in the past and done their best to promote the platform.  There has been three promotions called the Indie Games Uprising that tried to showcase the best new XBLIGs.  Unfortunately, the quality of those games was a mixed bag of some genuine gems to go with some unpolished, unfinished turds.  The last Uprising was particularly devastating.  Microsoft didn’t promote it until long after it had already ended, and when they finally did, the main game featured was Sententia.  A well-meaning title that was almost universally recognized as being one of the most abysmal games the platform had seen.  To have a game of its quality be the focus of an event designed to promote the best of XBLIGs only served to cement the unfair reputation XBLIG has of being nothing but low quality games that aren’t worth the average one dollar price tag.

I believed the reputation myself before I stated my blog.  From the time XBLIG launched until the time that I started Indie Gamer Chick, I bought two games for it.  Breath of Death VII was the first.  I Made a Game with Zombies in It was the second.  I enjoyed both, but attempts at finding more titles of their quality didn’t seem worth the effort.  Mostly, I found a lot of demos of stuff that felt like they were developed over the course of a week, devoid of passion, and aimed at entertaining nobody.  When I finally started my blog, it didn’t take me too long to find out that there are some really good games on the platform.  But the sheer number of awful games drowns out the good.

Beyond that, XBLIG also got a reputation of being nothing but clones of popular games, particularly Minecraft.  I’ve played the two most famous of those, Castleminer Z and FortressCraft.  I didn’t like them, but I wasn’t really interested in Minecraft either.  After playing them, I will say that they are quality games, if you’re into that sort of thing.  But there are also a lot of similar games on the platform that weren’t as well produced as those two.  At the same time, people would say things like “the top two Minecraft clones weren’t as good as Minecraft was.”  Well, of course not (though I’ve heard from some Minecraft fans that actually prefer the XBLIG clones).  But their popularity was directly tied to the fact that Minecraft wasn’t available on Xbox.  Unfortunately, having clones top the sales charts unfairly painted the platform to look like it was only good for clones.  Or if not clones, games featuring Avatars.  Regardless of the quality of those games (admittedly, most games centered around Avatars are horrid, but not all of them), most regular gamers don’t like Avatars to begin with, and that turned them off the platform.  Then you have non-gaming apps such as Rumble Massage, which is actually the #29 best-selling XBLIG of all-time as of this writing.  When there are thousands of titles on the platform and an app that turns your controller into a vibrating dildo has sold better than 99.999% of them, people are just not going to associate that platform with quality video games.

Screen 2

Smooth Operators

So that is the handicap that myself, along with dozens of other advocates of XBLIG, have dealt with.  I certainly wasn’t the first critic to focus on XBLIG.  I’m just the most successful.  But that success is only in comparison to other sites with an XBLIG focus.  Your average moderately popular indie gaming site does multiples of what I do on my best day.  It’s just plain hard to get gamers excited about good titles on Xbox Live Indie Games.  It carries too much baggage.  It’s also hard to get someone to take another look at something they’ve long since dismissed.  That’s just human nature.  In the case of XBLIG, most of what was wrong with it before is still problematic today, so anyone glancing would be likely to assume that nothing has changed.  And they’re right, because nothing really has changed.  That’s because there were very good games on the service all along.  You just had to look closely to find them.

I had two ideas for trying to get a new audience exposed to XBLIG before the new consoles launched.  The first was to do a bundle of PC ports for XBLIG.  The problem with that was the odds on being able to get one off the ground were probably slim.  Even good XBLIGs are a tough sell because of the stigma the brand carries.  The other option was to do a massive giveaway of the best XBLIGs over the course of a single day.  Well, you know how it played out.

Surprise!  We Like Your Idea!

I sent an email off to the guys at Indie Royale sheepishly explaining my idea for a bundle centered around Xbox Live Indie Games.  I couldn’t pitch them on the merits of sales potential, because there is no denying that the whole idea was a long shot at best.  Thus, I did exactly what I advise people not to do when seeking investments from venture capitalists, or crowd funding, or angel investors: I pitched to them from the heart.  I explained to them how the XBLIG/XNA community “adopted” me and what they’ve meant to my life.  I was frank about why XBLIG’s reputation was fair, but the fogging effect it created caused the majority of gamers to miss out on some of the best indies of this generation.  Finally, I basically said that these developers deserve a break, and that exposure on Indie Royale would not just benefit those with games in the bundle, but could open up the doors for greater recognition for the hundreds of talented developers whose games have sat unloved on XBLIG.

Little Racers STREET

Little Racers STREET

Graeme, one of the main guys at Indie Royale, did respond to me.  Which is awesome considering that I’m ultimately small potatoes on the indie scene.  Not only did he respond, but I had caught his interest.  We discussed the types of games I would include, and how we could set this apart from other bundles.  Then, things went quiet for a while.  So quiet that I was sure I got the blow off.  So, I turned my attention to my alternative plan: a huge giveaway of the best PC ports for XBLIG.  The idea was, the developers would have their games free for one day only: July 1, for Indie Gamer Chick’s Second Anniversary.  After lining up over a dozen top-notch games, many of which I had planned to include in the bundle (plus other games that would be discounted), I thought I had organized a pretty good little event.

Then I heard back from Graeme.  The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle was officially on.  I just had to round up the games.

I changed my underwear and started contacting developers.

Rounding up Games

Your typical bundle usually has five games.  The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle has eight.  The reason for that is simple: I wanted gamers to get the best value for their money as possible.  Many of these games sell for between $1 to $3 on Xbox Live right now, not to mention that some would have been featured on previous bundles.  But most importantly, I wanted people to see that there is a huge variety of very good games on the platform that they had been missing out on.

If I could have, I would have included every single developer who wanted in.  But that wasn’t an option.  I’ve made tons of friends who develop XBLIGs since starting my site.  I wish I could have included those I was closest with.  But the concept of the bundle was that it was supposed to represent the tippy-top of XBLIG quality.  After coming up with several variations, I ultimately decided to go off my leaderboard and pick the first eight games that were available in sequential order.

For those new to Indie Gamer Chick, the Leaderboard is a concept I adapted from BBC’s automotive show Top Gear.  The idea I had was I would rank every game that I enjoyed in the exact order I would prefer to play them.  The method is actually very simple.  Whenever a new game receives my Seal of Approval, I start at the bottom of my list and ask myself if I would rather play the new game or the old one.  If it’s the new one I prefer, I go up to the next game on the list.  I do this until I reach an old game that I prefer over the new one.  The new game is then placed below that title on the board.  It’s been a fun idea that works really well.  It’s interactive.  My readers get to debate placement.  It also gives developers something to aim for.  Just having it made the selection process for this bundle pretty easy.  Or so I thought.

Screen 4

Right off the bat, the #3 game on my site, We Are Cubes, was eliminated.  It has no PC port, and there wasn’t enough time to get one up and running.  The #2 ranked game, Gateways, was not available because the developer already had plans to be in an upcoming bundle.  #9, Bleed, was only recently listed on Steam and the timing wasn’t right, but I have no doubt they’ll be in a future bundle.  Games like Miner Dig Deep (#11) and Star Ninja (#13) also have no PC ports, while Cthulhu Saves the World (#12) has been in more bundles than I can count.  That was cool, because everything in my Top-25 I would proudly stand by as the cream of the XBLIG crop.

But this was a bundle that was about the XBLIGs.  So I considered putting some games that were well received by everyone but me in the bundle, with Apple Jack being the game that I felt would probably be the most well received.  The problem there was Apple Jack isn’t out on PC yet.  It will be soon, and for fans of punishers, you’ll probably like it a hell of a lot more than I did.  I thought about including the most popular game on XBLIG that I’m incapable of playing due to my epilepsy: Score Rush by Xona Games.  That wasn’t an option because they already had a bundle planned out.  Finally, I almost went completely nepotism corrupt and including Aeternum by Brooks Bishop, who is one of my better friends I’ve made through Indie Gamer Chick, not to mention the man who designed my mascot.  But that just plain wouldn’t have been right.  His game was well received by fans of Bullet Hells, but I absolutely hated it.  I get along with bullet hells about as well as I imagine Michael Vick will get along with Cerberus.

So my lineup was set.  And then I lost Escape Goat.  Unfortunately, the timing was wrong.  He wanted in, but he had already committed to other bundles and deals and had to pull out.  This was pretty devastating, because Escape Goat is the #1 ranked game on the Leaderboard.  I consider it to be the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made, and I’ve reviewed nearly 400 of them.  I also lost Chompy Chomp Chomp, the #5 game on my board, which I consider to be the best party game of this entire gaming generation, indie or otherwise.  I was counting on its inclusion because pure party games are quite rare in these kind of bundles, and I wanted it to set this bundle apart from the rest.  The developers at Utopian World of Sandwiches were besides themselves when they had to drop out.   They wanted in, but a miscommunication forced them out.  That sucks.  I still get a knot in my stomach thinking about it.  Chompy Chomp Chomp is a game that didn’t sell extremely well on XBLIG, but it’s worth your time.  Gather up your friends, because you’ll never have a better party for $1, I promise you.

So I went back to the list.  Again, many games were just not options based on being too recently featured in other bundles.  Penny Arcade Part 3 was out.  DLC Quest was out.  A couple of my favorite puzzlers, Pixel Blocked! and Aesop’s Garden had no PC ports.  Thankfully, the vastly overlooked SpyLeaks was available.  Finally, I went to Orbitron, one of my personal favorite games on XBLIG that, I admit, got a mixed-reception elsewhere.  Though to be frank, I’m disappointed that ArcadeCraft, which was created by Orbitron developers Firebase Industries, had no PC port.  This is thanks to its use of avatars as characters.  Yea, ArcadeCraft ranks two spots below Orbitron on the Leaderboard, but there’s no questioning that is has a larger appeal.  Seriously guys, get cracking on that PC port.  No XBLIG screams “this would be a PC megahit” quite like ArcadeCraft does.  (Note: according to the guys at Firebase, it likely will never come to PC.  I need to go have myself a cry now)

Orbitron: Revolution

Orbitron: Revolution

The eight games confirmed for real, I had one last thing to do.  I really did want to include as many developers as I could, but the problem was, the more games, the smaller the piece of the pie each would get.  Indie Royale had never had a bundle with eight separate developers.  The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle isn’t the largest in terms of total games, but it is the largest in terms of total developers.  It also complicates things more from legal and logistical points of view.  But I really wanted everyone who had earned my Seal of Approval and genuinely wanted in to have a shot at being in.  The only way to do that was to ask if they wanted to simply donate their games to the bundle.  A shit deal for them perhaps, but it was all I could do.

Guess what?  As always, the XBLIG community stepped up, and I had volunteers.  That mystery game?  I’m not even sure what it is, but it will come from one of those games, and it will be a game off my Leaderboard.  Incredible.  Those who did step up are artists.  They also have future projects that are coming very soon to both XBLIG and to PC, and they wanted to show that they’re here, they have talent, and you can trust that they can make good games.

Naming Your Bundle of Joy

When I started Indie Gamer Chick, it was totally on a whim.  My boyfriend (along with my parents, coworkers, and the ghost of Jacob Marley) all said I needed a hobby.  We were going through my Xbox hard drive and stumbled upon Breath of Death VII and I Made a Game With Zombies, the two XBLIGs I owned before starting my blog.  Brian, like many gamers, had honestly never heard of XBLIGs.  I had previously considered doing a movie related blog, but Brian suggested that I should do XBLIG reviews instead, since gaming was basically all I did with my free time.  The name came about after just a couple of minutes of brain storming.  I’m a fan of online movie reviews from sources like Red Letter Media and That Guy with the Glasses.  TGWTG included the Nostalgia Chick, whose reviews I had come to enjoy quite a bit.  So I thought, hey, Indie Gamer Chick.  Done and done.

The name is good and catchy, but I didn’t stop to think about the negative aspects of it.  Namely, the whole GURL GAMER thing.  Besides the very rare joke, I’ve never played up the girl card here.  It takes about five minutes worth of reading my blog to see that I’m not playing the “I’m quirky because I’m a girl and I play games” tit-shaking stereotype.  So while the name might land curiosity seekers, I would hope my writing and coverage of games that don’t typically get a lot of attention would be the draw of my site.  And for the most part, it is.  In two years, the amount of times someone ripped me for having “Chick” in my site’s name was minimum.  It was a non-factor, and I’m proud of that.

Chester

Chester

And then I attached a teaser to the bundle at the end of my review for Penny Arcade 4, and the response was overwhelmingly negative, but in silly ways.  Maybe a bit mean-spirited, but mostly the jokes you would expect.  Menstruation jokes.  Boob jokes.  Jokes about casual games that girls play, or games starring girls.  That didn’t bother me so much.  I mean, if I can’t take that shit (and obviously some people can’t, hence some recent controversies) I should crawl under my bed and never come out because that’s just how people talk.  It’s dumb.  It’s juvenile.  But I’m a critic who liberally uses dick and fart jokes, so I can’t say anything against low brow humor.

The problem is, for the name of a gaming blog, Indie Gamer Chick is perfect.  For the name of a bundle?  I’ll admit, it’s not so perfect.  First off, people unfamiliar with my site (which includes the whole world, give or take a couple thousand people) have no point of reference to why the bundle was called that.  None of the games feature girls as the protagonist.  Thus, the bundle might seem like Indie Royale was marketing directly to girls in a way that could be considered sexist.  This at a time when gender-related tensions in gaming are at an all time high.  Granted, their site and their press release make it clear who Indie Gamer Chick is (raises hand) and that I hand-selected the games.  Which is fine, if everyone reads it.  They didn’t.  The name “Indie Gamer Chick Bundle” appeared on Twitter and across message boards and people lost their shit over it.  For most of those people, their anger/outrage was defused when they found out the context of the name.  Others moved on to being pissed that my blog had the name “Chick” in it.  The rule I guess being that girls that play games are not allowed to say they are girls.  I’m not sure if the rule applies to other forms of entertainment.  I’ll ask Lady Gaga is she gets shit for her stage name.

The second part is the whole girl gamer thing carries with it the jokes that are such layups that even Kwame Brown couldn’t blow it.  “It’s Indie Gamer Chick so of course Bleed will be in the bundle.”  Not only does that not bother me, but I laughed.  I mean, they’re easy jokes for a reason.  Because more than one person thinks of it.  Not clever, but hey, funny.  And there was no actual malice behind them.  Yea, there were a few douchey comments, but the internet has a few douchey people.  You know what?  The internet is not made up mostly of assholes and misogynists.  I know this because I spent two years working with the XBLIG community, which is made up almost entirely of men and they treated me amazing.  By the way: making a random girl gamer joke doesn’t make a guy a misogynist or an asshole.  Not every joke has malice behind it.

Should the bundle have been called something else?  Maybe.  My friend Matt played the devil’s advocate role as we tossed around the merits and detriments of having the bundle carry my name.  He floated the idea that calling it the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle would take the attention away from the XBLIG concept.  He wasn’t totally wrong about that.  Of course, there was no name available that could hammer home that this was an XBLIG themed bundle.  Legally, we couldn’t even call it the Xbox Live Indie Game Bundle.  The alternative name considered was the XNA Showcase Bundle.  XNA is the free gaming development tool set provided by Microsoft upon which all XBLIGs (and some spectacular Xbox Live Arcade games such as Bastion) were built with.  XNA was recently discontinued by Microsoft, so having that name for the bundle as a final tribute made sense.  Better sense than my friend George Clingerman, who got XNA tattooed on his arm.  Though I believe he was merely pining to be Peter Moore’s heir at Microsoft when he did that.  Probably while drunk.

Of course, XNA doesn’t mean a whole lot to people outside the development community.  And, unlike indies, which will have some future on Xbox as a platform, XNA is done.  People will still continue to use it to create PC games, and tools such as MonoGame could potentially lead to some games for next-gen platforms being started on XNA.  But it won’t ever again be a major factor in indie development.

The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle was the name to go with.  I know it works at catching attention.  If I had to go back to July of 2011, the day I started the site, would I have called it something else?  Perhaps CathyPlaysIndies.com or something like that?  Again, maybe.  If I had known I would eventually end up doing one of these bundles, I probably would have come up with something less controversial.  I mean, who knew?  I figured nobody would read me.  But, I’m not ashamed of the name.  I’m proud that Indie Gamer Chick has caught on.  I’m proud that I am Indie Gamer Chick.  I never thought I would catch on enough to be the recipient of backlash.

And it’s not just me, but the guys at Indie Royale who are getting it.  Again, they’ve done everything they could to make it clear that the bundle was handpicked by me, but the name is all most people see, and they find the name sexist.  I’m getting a small minority of gamers upset by being yet another female gamer who has to call attention to her gender.  That was never my intention.  I just thought the name sounded cool.  It had a ring to it.  Now the name is getting me labeled as an anti-feminist.  It’s true that I don’t give a flying fuck about feminism.  It’s 2013, and despite the best efforts of some politicians, I don’t feel like a second class citizen, nor have I ever.  And yet, based purely on gender, I’m supposed to automatically side with people like Anita Sarkeesian.  Isn’t the whole idea that I must give a shit about it because I’m a girl in and of itself sexist?  So yea, I do regret that the name in the sense that it brings the gender debate (and all accompanying jokes) onto the table.  It’s totally fair, because it’s the name I chose.

SpyLeaks

SpyLeaks

I’ve always thought what most set me apart from other bloggers and critics was my age and inexperience.  I was about two weeks away from turning 22 when I started Indie Gamer Chick.  I didn’t grow up with an Atari 2600 or an NES or even the 16-bit platforms.  My first console was the original PlayStation.  My average reader tends to be about ten years older than me.  It’s having that totally different perspective that sets me apart.  This is the first time I’ve really talked about the gender issue, but I sort of have to.  Would I have gotten it regardless if I had named my blog Random Game Crap, which was seriously what I almost called it?  Probably a little, but not as much.  Thankfully, some of the people who were like “what the fuck is an Indie Gamer Chick” took the time to read my blog and realize that I’m not a stereotype.

And, of course, my review style sets me apart.  I’m certainly not the only critic who is known for being harsh.  It’s just that indies are typically spared from scorn.  I admit. I knew almost nothing about the indie scene before starting Indie Gamer Chick.  I had played indie games, mostly through promotions like Xbox’s Summer of Arcade, or various random PSN releases.  But, when I went to check on reviews for Xbox Live Indie Games, there were slim pickings.  And what little reviews I could find seemed like they were written by cheerleaders.  Absolutely nothing negative discussed about the game.  Just praise and positivity, as if the developer were a delicate flower who would wilt and die if anything resembling constructive feedback was spoken.  Yea, fuck that.  If I was going to do this thing, I would just say exactly what I thought.  And that’s what I did.

It’s exactly what developers want.  I mean, they want to get positive reviews, but they want to earn them.  They’re meaningless if they’re handed out like candy to trick-or-treaters.  Indie developers desire to improve, and the only way they can do that is through honest feedback.  And honest feedback is something they  couldn’t count on from friends or family or fellow developers.  They should have been able to count on it from critics, but the critics failed to actually criticize anything.  When the XBLIG community finally discovered my blog, they were briefly mortified by my review style.  But community leaders embraced me and my style.  Now, developers use my reviews to help them improve.  They aspire to be better.  To be what they use as a guidepost for improvement is pretty much the greatest thing I’ve ever accomplished.  It’s especially touching because they’re the ones with the real talent.  I’m just someone who plays games.  But they treat me special, and that feels amazing.

Let’s Do Launch

The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle launched yesterday.  The response across message boards was generally negative, I admit.  But, aside from a handful of people who just plain loath the idea of my name, most of the feedback is centered around game selection.  It’s not that the games are bad.  The consensus seems to be that these are good games.  It’s that there’s too many repeats from previous bundles, or that only one of the games (Dead Pixels) has Steam keys as an option.  These criticisms are absolutely fair and anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong.

Centering a bundle around XBLIGs doesn’t exactly give one the widest range of game selection.  There are a lot of solid titles, but stuff I felt worked as a proper showcase for the platform that was available and not completely over-bundled limited my choices.  Do I regret not getting Escape Goat?  Sure.  Am I ashamed that my bundle instead has SpyLeaks?  Absolutely not.  It’s a wonderful game.  I wouldn’t have settled for a selection that wasn’t representative of the best of what XBLIG has to offer.  I’m proud that I got to present these eight games to a community that might have overlooked them.

I do admit, not having Steam be an option for seven out of the eight games does suck.  Not having Mac as an option for any of the games sucks too.  Part of that is that games developed on XNA are tougher to transition to Mac, not to mention costly.  You have to remember, with the exception of Dead Pixels (which would qualify as a modest hit), none of these titles were best sellers, and getting the games on Mac could very well have been cost prohibitive.  As far as Steam, it again comes down to these games not having the biggest following, and the Greenlight process being slow.  Four of the games are going through Greenlight now, and if you enjoyed playing them, give them your vote please.  They’ve earned it.

Antipole

Antipole

So who was this bundle aimed at?  I really wanted this to reach gamers who ignored XBLIG, or long since dismissed it.  I wanted to show that this is what XBLIG was capable of.  One gentlemen offered the following feedback: “I haven’t heard of any of these games.”  He meant that as a negative.  I was thinking “wait, if you’ve never heard of them, isn’t this exactly the kind of bundle you should be looking at Indie Royale for?”  Most XBLIGs have no name recognition.  That doesn’t mean they have no value to you as a gamer.  If ever there was a platform that should have thrived on sleeper hits, it would be Xbox Live Indie Games.

I think the bundle is probably being better received in terms of sales than people expected from an XBLIG-themed bundle selected by a nobody critic.  Is it going to break sales records?  Probably not.  But is it succeeding at exposing a new group of gamers to XBLIG?  Thankfully, the answer to that is yes.  People are using my Leaderboard to discover some great games that flew under the radar.  That a wonderful market full of hidden gems was right there on their Xbox all along.  Even if it only creates a handful of new XBLIG fans, it’s still totally worth it.

It’s ironic that Microsoft announced their plans for self-publishing on Xbox One the same day that my bundle launched.  The same bundle I wanted to use to create new fans for my beloved XBLIG.  The term “better late than never” comes to mind.  That applies to new customers for XBLIG as well.  And even for those who think the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle stinks, I hope you will at least tip your hat to this development community, because they will factor into your future in gaming.  With their amount of talent, crossing paths with them will be unavoidable.  If you have an Xbox and you haven’t checked out the indie channel in quite some time, if not ever, I truly hope you fire it up.  You have no idea what you’ve been missing.  It’s not perfect, and many of its games downright suck.  But the good stuff?  The really good stuff?  It’s there, and when you find it, it will make your day.

The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle is available now at Indie Royale

The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle is Live on Indie Royale

Hey, you!  The indie game connoisseur reading this.  You’ve been missing out, and you don’t even know it.  I was missing out too, until I became Indie Gamer Chick.  You see, there’s a platform on the Xbox Live Marketplace called Xbox Live Indie Games.  XBLIG should be cherished as a landmark in gaming history, because it represents the first self-publishing platform on a major game console.  Instead, XBLIG has a reputation of being full of less-than-quality games.  It’s not an entirely unearned reputation.  But XBLIG isn’t just about avatar games and Minecraft clones and text-adventures featuring anime boobs so impractically large that the Surgeon General would declare them cancerous.  Since November of 2008, XBLIG has played host to some of the most creative and innovative game developers on the indie scene.  In fact, if you’re a regular patron of Indie Royale, you’ve already encountered many developers and games that got their start on XBLIG.

And that’s why I’m here today, to present you with eight PC ports of the best Xbox Live Indie Games ever made.  Two years ago, I started reviewing XBLIGs at my blog, Indie Gamer Chick.  This community has been amazing to me, and I owe them a debt that I can never pay back.  I’m not always nice to their games, but this community has shown a commitment to creativity and a desire to improve.  They are indie gaming’s future superstars.  As the sun sets on this current generation, and the community goes their separate ways, this is one last chance to show that they were here and they were important to the indie scene.  This is what you’ve been missing out on.  These are my boys.  I’m Indie Gamer Chick, and this is my bundle.

Inide Gamer Chick icon 2

And for those of you who are curious why (insert name of well-known XBLIG) isn’t part of this bundle, it probably comes down to two words that I’ve come to hate: scheduling conflict.  I’m now more fearful of those words than I am of my doctor telling me I have 24 hours to live.  He would have to work in scheduling conflict for it to register with me.  “Cathy, I know you have plans tomorrow, but they’re causing a scheduling conflict.  With the coroner.”

What are you waiting for?  Go get it.  Like, right now.  It’s live at IndieRoyale.com!

Dead Pixels

Dead PixelsLet’s get something straight here: you’re not going to survive an actual zombie apocalypse.  You will die.  Quickly.  It will be embarrassing, quite frankly.  And no, playing Dead Rising or Dead Island or Walking Dead or any other game with “Dead” in the title hasn’t given you a leg up on the rest of humanity.  Dead Pixels won’t help you, either.  But at least when the zombies are chowing down on your spine, you can remember the good times you had playing one of the most clever survival-oriented zombie shooters to hit the indie scene in a long while.  You have to properly manage equipment, take advantage of a robust shopping system, and conserve ammunition as you take on thousands of brainless, slobbering ghouls.  I’m talking about zombies, not Justin Bieber fans.

Chester

ChesterTake an old-school 2D platformer, dress it up in John Kricfalusi-like visuals, and then stick so much stuff to collect in it that your family will hold an intervention if you attempt to get it all.  That’s Chester, and it’s one of the best pure-platformers of the decade.  As you play, you’ll gather different characters and graphic skins that alter the way the game is played.  You’ll have to mix and match backgrounds with characters that Chester is a game with style that creates substance, like a guy in a meth lab wearing an Armani suit.  Although this is preferable and much more legal.

Antipole

AntipoleThere are a lot of games out there that let you walk on the ceiling and do all kinds of wacky gravity effects, but Antipole stuck out to me.  A clever, twitchy platformer starring, and let’s be frank about this, a guy who looks like Michael Jackson wearing Carmen Sandiego’s trench-coat.  With well designed levels and the aforementioned gravity mechanic that you can use to clear gaps or drop enemies into a pool of spikes, I think you’ll really enjoy Antipole’s fast-paced breed of platforming.

LaserCat

LaserCatImagine a Metroidvania starring a radioactive feline with no method of attack that must save his girlfriend by retrieving keys obtained by answering trivia questions.  Did you imagine it?  LIAR!  You did not!  Nobody in their right mind would envision such a silly concept.  Well, the guys at MonsterJail games are not in a right state of mind, and thank God for that.  LaserCat isn’t particularly challenging, but it’s just a fun, enjoyable little old-school romp.  Besides, radioactive cats are cool.  Anyone who disagrees with that is provably wrong.  Especially dogs.

Smooth Operators

Smooth OperatorsSmooth Operators is a call-center simulation game.  NO, STOP!  Do not bail on this bundle and head over to Humble or Indie Gala.  It doesn’t sound like a winning concept, but Smooth Operators can and will take over your life, and you’ll love every moment of it.  You have to secure clients, staff a building, get the right equipment.. and everyone has already closed the description and gone off to check out what other games are in this bundle.  Well, joke’s on them.  They won’t be able to resist the temptation of trying Smooth Operators.  Once they do, there’s no escape.  It’s a time sink of the most potently fun variety.  Protip: if you want to unlock all the items, type IndieGamerChick in the cheat menu.  That’s right, I’m a cheat code.  Highlight of my life.

Little Racers STREET

Little Racers STREETLittle Racers STREET (which  you will accidentally call Little Street Racers, it’s unavoidable) combines RPG-style upgrading with online twelve-player action.  You don’t have to be deeply into racers to enjoy what STREET has to offer.  I’m certainly not.  But the wide variety of tracks, cars, upgrades, and camera options kept me playing and experimenting for days.  The mix of old-school arcade racing with modern design sensibilities works.  Also, if you have a loved one and you want to see how far you can push them before they stop talking to you, there’s no better way to find out where that line is by intentionally crashing into them when you’re losing a race.  In the case of my boyfriend, it was four times.  After the fifth time, he didn’t speak to me for a week.  And it was totally worth it.

SpyLeaks

SpyLeaksSpyLeaks has a lot in common with the NES puzzle series Adventure of Lolo.  But, like the best tributes to classic gaming franchises, SpyLeaks improves upon the original concept and comes up with ideas of its own.  Here, an element of stealth is added to the Lolo formula, along with timed gauntlets that are among the most inventive puzzles I’ve come across in my gaming lifetime.  There’s also a little bit of space-shooter mixed in, if for no other reason, to assure the minimum quota of aloofness a true indie requires.  But the puzzles take center stage, and the puzzles in SpyLeaks are so smart that they’re getting an honorary doctorate from MIT.  It’s also a lot of fun too, and fun is all that matters.

Orbitron: Revolution

OrbitronImagine the arcade classic Defender if they remade it the same way Namco did for Pac-Man with Pac-Man Championship Edition.  That’s basically what Orbitron does, and it does it very well.  A fast paced shooter based around achieving high scores within a tight time limit.  Developer Firebase Industries seems to have classic gaming on the mind.  They went on to create XBLIG sleeper hit ArcadeCraft, either proving there’s still a market for golden age of gaming nostalgia, or that you can shoehorn “Craft” into any game and make it sell ten times as much as it would otherwise.  Maybe Indie Royale should consider calling this the BundleCraft Bundle.. of Craft.

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