The Indie Ego

The Wrong Image

Since starting Indie Gamer Chick on July 1, 2011, I’ve met literally thousands of people involved in indie game development. Typically, they are the coolest men and women on the planet. The type of people I would want to be friends with. Humble and grateful, eager to please and excited by the prospect of improvement. They strive to be better. They relish the thought of being the underdog. They wow me with their intelligence and awe me with their creativity. They inspire me to be better at what I do. And I’m not talking about two or three standouts. I’m talking the overwhelming majority of the community.

So, why does a perception that indies are aloof, pompous, self-indulgent, out-of-touch, thin-skinned, egotistical fart-sniffers exist?

Well, because a small handful of indie game developers are aloof, pompous, self-indulgent, out-of-touch, thin-skinned, egotistical fart sniffers. From my experience, they’re not at all representative of your typical indie dev. They represent a stereotype that I find damaging to the community I love, so I figure I should try to eliminate this mindset.

The first developer who contacted me was the developer of this, A Hard Game Without Zombies. My review was not a positive one. Developer MasterGroke took it with grace and humility. It was a sign of things to come. After 500 reviews, only five developers ever showed a lack of grace in handling it. Read the types of reviews I write and then ask yourself if the indie perception is accurate.

The first developer who contacted me was the creator of this, A Hard Game Without Zombies. My review was not a positive one. Developer MasterGroke took it with grace and humility. It was a sign of things to come. After 500 reviews, only five developers ever showed a lack of grace in handling it. Read the types of reviews I write and then ask yourself if the indie perception is accurate.

You Don’t Get Me

Any creative medium will attract personalities that have no concept of humility. It’s the nature of artistic expression. You see it in movies, television, stage, music, and modern art. Indies have been around since the dawn of games, but it’s only recently that mainstream attention and ease of distribution have become prevalent. So now, you see a lot more people with that artsy, pretentious, “nobody gets me” personality. Thanks to Indie Game: The Movie, many people believe the scene is dominated by this type of character.  It’s not. Most indie game developers are humble and friendly. I wish more people watching that had come away saying “man, those Super Meat Boy guys were awesome!” instead of focusing on the developers who were, for a lack of a better term, unlikable.

The indie scene has grown a few prominent stars. Some of them are, by most accounts, really cool guys. I’ve heard a lot of people tell me Minecraft creator Notch is a good dude. I’m pretty good friends with Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell. He’s one of the nicest guys I know. As for Notch, while he might have eccentricities, he certainly doesn’t carry himself like he’s better than anyone or that people don’t fundamentally “get him” or his artistic vision.

There was some scuttlebutt over Braid when it was released. It was a hugely critically acclaimed game. It was probably my favorite indie that I had played before I was Indie Gamer Chick. But developer Jonathan Blow wasn’t happy with the feedback, because he felt reviewers and critics didn’t get what he was aiming for, either reading too much into it or not enough. Jonathan Blow does a lot of great things for indie developers and is a wonderful advocate for the community. Unfortunately, the way he handled the reception of Braid made him come across as incredibly pretentious. Because of his visibility, that’s done a lot of damage to the image of indie game developers.

People are going to have different interpretations of your work, reading into it all kinds of things you never imagined while you were developing it. Lord of the Rings creator J. R. R. Tolkien spent most of his twilight years shooting down any and all theories on what Lord of the Rings might be a social commentary on. Nuclear weapons? Class warfare? Race relations? He had none of that in mind. “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence” he often said.

Sooooooo...... you're telling me Braid isn't an allegory for the East-Asian industrial revolution?

Sooooooo…… you’re telling me Braid isn’t an allegory for the East-Asian industrial revolution?

So when you put your work out there, be ready for people to not experience it exactly how you envisioned. When this happens, have a laugh over it. If their misinterpretation has had a positive effect on their life or outlook, why would you want to shoot that down? Most developers understand this. The few that don’t, that get very possessive of their vision, they’re the ones that bring the whole community down. I roll my eyes at a lot of attempts at gaming as art, but I’m just one person. I know people who were genuinely moved by Datura, which I hated. Many of my fans read a lot more into Limbo than I did, to the point that I went back to play it, actively searching for a way to see it the way they did. The thing is, they’re not wrong, and neither am I. Art interpretation is always in the eye of the beholder. As a developer, once your game is out on the market, you’re not the beholder anymore, and you have to accept that.

The Indie Bubble

Many of the more image-damaging indie developers live in what I call the “Indie Bubble.” It’s a bubble almost completely removed from the world you and I live in.  Where developers can image a world where their insecurities can be addressed without having to incorporate things like “reality” or “facts” into it. Unfortunately, the Indie Bubble still has access to Twitter or blogs, meaning their delusions get exposed to a group of people who live in what is known as the “real world.” And the people living in the real world are so not ready to play along with their fantasies.

Earlier this week, while discussing the economic problems of the Wii U (as I did two weeks ago in this editorial), a developer from within the Indie Bubble told me that indies could, no, WOULD, save the Wii U. I responded by saying that indies can’t move consoles. Indie Bubble developer responded by saying he knew people who had bought a Vita just for the indies on it. I responded by pointing out that the Vita isn’t exactly the most successful game machine out there. In fact, it’s doing quite poorly. More over, if indies could significantly move consoles, the Ouya would be a runaway success right now, instead of being, well, the Ouya.

Remind me: how is indie-centric console Ouya doing?

Remind me: how is indie-centric console Ouya doing?

The developer responded by saying I was coming across as anti-indie. Not because I said I hate indies, or that indies are crap, or that most indie games suck. No, I had committed the sin of being realistic. Also, it’s hard to convey exactly what I meant in 140 characters. Yes, there are people out there who will buy game machines just to play the indies. Most of these people stick to PCs, where the majority of high-quality indie games are at. On the console side of things, those who are primarily looking for indies will simply not be statistically significant. Anecdotal evidence of “I know people who bought a Vita just to play indies” doesn’t mean that’s how most of the world works. Especially when you and the people you hang out with are in the bubble.

Journey was probably the most critically acclaimed game of 2012. It’s my all-time favorite PlayStation 3 game. The most common response to my review of it was “man, I wish I had a PS3!” Not “I’m going to run out and buy a PS3.” Journey simply didn’t move consoles. It didn’t when it was bundled with Flower and Flow and released on disc. Indies just plain aren’t good at that. Blockbusters move consoles. Indies are a wonderful side dish. They serve to provide content that is not on-trend, so that gamers of all stripes have something for them on a gaming device. The indies that get promotional effort from the manufactures often tend to be released outside of peak-seasons, assuring top-quality content year-round. So indies serve a function. I would dare say, indies are essential to the modern console business model. There’s no need to boost your egos and placate your insecurities by making absurd claims like “indies move consoles.” That makes you sound like a lunatic.

Absurd claims are a running theme with the fringe Indie Bubble crowd. Another one I got this week was “all games come from indies.” I responded simply with “Madden?” The developer’s response: “Never heard of it.” That’s the Indie Bubble. And the Indie Bubble is the most dangerous thing the community’s image faces. “Never heard of it.” Oh please. See, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of being in the indie community. But when you’re not grounded in reality, it makes you tough to root for.

Just to quickly clear up the “all games come from indies thing”, the first video game console was developed and funded by a defense contractor. Video games evolved from people within the military industrial complex. The man behind it, Ralph Baer, was meticulous in his methods, making sure every little detail was profitable and patentable. When Atari came out with Pong, his company successfully sued Atari, who ended up a licensee. By signing the license, Atari assured that the military contractor would stomp their competition with great zeal, protecting their patent. Does this sound indie to you? Because it doesn’t to me. I bring this all up because, when I called out the theory that all games are inspired or come from indies for the bullshit that it is, they typically reach back to the origins of gaming, when a model railroad club designed the first PC game during recreational lab hours. If you have to reach that far back to make your point, you have a weak argument.

"I thought Braid was talkin' about me!"

“I thought Braid was talkin’ about me!”

The ultimate asinine statement is “Indies are the only REAL artists in gaming.” It’s a shitty attitude to have, and it completely undermines your own contributions to gaming, because it makes you guys look like beret-wearing. art-house assholes. The kind of people nobody likes, that nobody wants to see succeed. Chances are, if you work in the game industry, you’re a creative person. Even the most design-by-committee titles like Call of Duty or Gears of War are built by people who do their best to put their personal touch on their work. Indies have built an “us versus them” mentality that shouldn’t exist. You’re all artists. Don’t allow the freedom you have as an indie developer turn you into an elitist.

With Fans Like You..

Criticism is subjective, and not all my reviews are popular. A recent trend I’ve had to deal with is, when someone disagrees with one of my reviews, I’m called a “Call of Duty player.” For fans that have entered the Indie Bubble, this has become the ultimate insult. It’s like “Yo Momma” for people who love the scent of their own flatulence. This idea that people who play indies shouldn’t play mainstream games is so damaging to the community. Gaming is a big tent. Indie games should tackle issues that mainstream games can’t possibly do, but the community at large should be welcoming to gamers of all stripes. When the hardcore, indies-only crowd starts using games like Call of Duty or Gear of War or Halo as pejorative insults, they’re telling people “you’re not welcome at our party.” That’s bad for developers, because the hardcore fans are making their work less accessible. Would you want to be part of a community populated by people who regard the games that inspired you to buy your console with contempt? Of course, like developers, the majority of hardcore indie game fans are not assholes. They don’t consider the act of playing a game like Madden to be an affront to the scene. But for those in the bubble, they would rather see games sell less than have people like me, who enjoy all aspects of gaming, from being part of their community. When I reviewed NES Remix, someone outright called me an enemy of indie gaming. When I said that review brought all kinds of attention to my blog from non-indie fans, who then were exposed to an entire different crop of games as a result, the person responded with “I don’t care.”

Back in 2012, when Halo 4 was released, I spent a few weeks inviting my fans to play with me and my friends online. Those living in the Indie Bubble, especially non-developer indie fans, were hugely insulted that someone called “Indie Gamer Chick” would play such a game while actively promoting the scene. I have done similar events with indie games, and a big problem with those is getting participants. Indie games typically fill specific niches. When myself, my fellow XBLIG critics, and the developers at Milkstone Games had a little impromptu Little Racers STREET event, we had trouble filling all the spots. Even though we were actively giving away free copies of the game to get enough players in. When Brian and I were looking for fans of Terraria to trade items with, finding interested parties was shockingly difficult. For Halo, the moment I said “anyone want to play?” I had a queue that lasted for days. I was able to expose more people to indies just from the ease of access Halo offered than I would have literally handing out free copies of an indie game.

Little Racers STREET supports up to twelve players online. Even bribing people to play, we only had seven or eight at most at any given time.

Little Racers STREET supports up to twelve players online. Even bribing people to play, we only had seven or eight at most at any given time.

But, because I was preaching the gospel of indies from a Halo pulpit, I was the enemy. People were calling me things like “fraud” or “poser” simply because I was playing Halo. If there’s one thing I hope people take away from this piece, it’s that those inside the Indie Bubble don’t speak for the community. The majority of indie fans and developers are amazing people who welcome newcomers to the scene with open arms. It’s one of the few online communities where newcomers are so readily accepted. Those fans who want us filthy mainstream game players to stand clear? They’re not part of the indie community. They’re in their own world. The difference between their side and the side I’m on? My side wants them, and everyone, to be a part of our community. The more, the merrier. Indie fans who say things like “go play Call of Duty” are essentially telling the millions of Call of Duty players that them and their money are something indie developers can do without. On behalf of the indie developers who you did not consult when saying that, kindly shut the fuck up, please.

In Conclusion

There is no such thing as the “Indie Ego.” The majority of indie developers are down to Earth and humble, while indie fans are normal gamers just looking for ideas off the beaten path. I wish the perception of the scene was more in line with reality. Yes, some developers are egotists who insult fans, throw tantrums, and sniff their own farts. Yes, some indie fans are obnoxious, elitist, uptight dorks. But they are not the standard bearers for indies, and gamers need to know that.

Indie gaming doesn’t breed these kind of personalities. Some people are just born to be douchebags. While I was catching shit from those in the Indie Bubble, an indie music critic fan of mine told me “welcome to my world.” An independent film-maker friend of mine said “you could change “console” to “studio” and publish this as critique on the indie movie scene.”

A friend of mine took a look at an early draft of this editorial and hypothesized that success is a factor in “the Indie Ego” perception. It’s been known to change people. You’ll notice that a lot of the guys I would label as being type-A personality developers, IE the kind that are most in need of a good slap across the face, are the ones that are typically the most successful. It’s been suggested to me that my positive experience with the community is in large part because most of my developer friends haven’t had a large level of fame or recognition.

I don’t think its true. When you see a developer meltdown over a bad review or people talking shit on his game in the Steam forums, success has nothing to do with that. I’ve had developers who have never caught a whiff of success threaten me with lawsuits or try to organize a Reddit mob to “get me.” Some people are just not capable of handling the type of feedback you receive when you’re a creative person. That’s why some developers laugh and tell disarming jokes when they’re accused of being a hipster, while others declare that they’re cancelling their next game, like a bratty eight-year-old taking their ball and going home. It’s very unfortunate that, in such situations, the response from those outside the community is “well, that’s indies for you.”

No. The correct term is “that’s assholes for you.”

I heard someone say this week "I wish more developers were like (Thomas Was Alone creator) Mike Bithell." Um, dude. Most developers are. He's an amazing human being, like most indie devs. If most indies were more like Phil Fish, I wouldn't be doing this.

I heard someone say this week “I wish more developers were like (Thomas Was Alone creator) Mike Bithell.” Um, dude. Most developers are. He’s an amazing human being, like most indie devs. If most indies were more like Phil Fish, I wouldn’t be doing this. Hell, there wouldn’t be an indie scene.

So, if you’re a true fan of indies, make sure you set the record straight whenever you get the chance. Indies are not about elitism or self-glorification. They’re about freedom of creative expression. They’re about childhood dreams realized. Indies are community-oriented, helpful to a fault, and anxious to excite fans of all shapes and sizes. That is the real indie community, where you’ll find most fans and developers. Those other guys? They’re in the Indie Bubble. They might tell you they speak for the community, but they don’t. They claim to love indies, but their behavior does not show that. They insult those they perceive as “not indie enough.” They have no tolerance for anyone who doesn’t interpret their world view. And they willfully drive away new people from the scene. Guys, you’re not helping. I know you’re not capable of realizing that, but I figure I should try. Indies need a thriving, growing community to succeed. You guys are essentially advocating indie obsolesce. If you’re in the bubble, you need to quietly reflect on if that’s the community you want to be a part of. And while you reflect, crack a window or something, because the lack of oxygen in the bubble seems to be affecting your brains.

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…

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.

Crap.

I love you.

I was just driving defensively!

Crap.

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.

Crap.

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

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