Aqua Kitty

It’s strange how Defender, one of gaming’s iconic titles of the Golden Age of arcades, hasn’t been cloned to death by modern indie developers. I’m cool with that. Having played an endless supply of uninspired-inspired neo-retro games, I’m not keen on seeing Defender done wrong. Still, how did Defender fall through the cracks? Here’s a game that was predicted to be a huge bust, but went on to become the seventh-best selling coin-operated game ever. Maybe it’s because it was eclipsed by Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Or maybe because Defender’s track record since its original release has been mediocre at best. It got one of the laziest sequels of all time (which was called “Stargate” because of some legal posturing by Williams. James Spader was unavailable for comment). There was an unofficial sequel by Midway that nobody I’ve spoken with has ever played. There was an all-but-forgotten update to the format on Atari Jaguar of all systems, which means it probably sold like six copies. And finally, there was a 2002 3D remake for sixth-generation consoles that quickly found its way into clearance bins. Your average child actor has a more graceful flame-out than Defender has had as a franchise.

You know, for a spry young whippersnapper with a reputation for hating classic games, I sure do seem to have a love for Defender. I even have a Defender homage in my top 25. Then again, Orbitron: Revolution only mimics the flight and shooting mechanics of the arcade classic. You’re actually not defending anything  So I guess it’s not really Defender  More like Aggressor. Was there a game called Aggressor? No? Well, there ought to have been.

Aqua Kitty on Xbox Live Indie Games.  AKA the really good version.

Aqua Kitty on Xbox Live Indie Games. AKA the really good version.

If you’re looking for a modern Defender-based indie, Aqua Kitty is probably a closer knock-off. I still prefer Orbitron’s faster pace and modern graphics.  But let it be said, Aqua Kitty is a damn fine game. You’re a cat in a submarine that must defend little aquanauts while shooting wave after wave of enemy. And the cat smokes a pipe, which means he’s one cultured pussy. But, other than the setting and a couple of power-ups, this really is Defender.

Despite being a bit on the bare-bones side, Aqua Kitty is really well produced. I played both the XBLIG and PlayStation Mobile versions. I prefer the XBLIG port, which plays faster. The Vita version has the advantage of being mobile, but it seems clunkier in both framerate and controls. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still a pretty good game. But I would go with the XBLIG port.

It’s not perfect by any stretch. What really bugs me about Aqua Kitty is the total lack of ambition. Defender is an old formula in need of renovation.  Aqua Kitty does some things to smooth that over, but it’s just not enough. Turbo shots? Good idea. But only have one type of turbo shot? Not so ambitious. Power-ups? Good idea. But having only three power-ups, one of which is a bomb, one of which is a health-up, and one of which adds flankers to your ship? Not so ambitious. Plus, the flankers are time-limited. This was presumably done to preserve the difficulty. Given that the screen gets utterly spammed with enemies and projectiles in later levels, this was unnecessary, as those guys really aren’t that effective at combating it. So where’s the wild, more modern weapons and items? Nowhere to be found, and that’s a shame.

The PlayStation Mobile version.  Which, as it turns out, I could have got for free a few weeks ago but I mistook it for another, less epilepsy-friendly title.  Instead, I ended up paying more for this version than I did for the superior XBLIG port.  Smooth, Cathy.

The PlayStation Mobile version. Which, as it turns out, I could have got for free a few weeks ago but I mistook it for another, less epilepsy-friendly title. Instead, I ended up paying more for this version than I did for the superior XBLIG port. Smooth, Cathy.

Don’t let that all discourage you. Aqua Kitty is probably the best pure Defender clone in years and a genuinely good game. Near-perfect difficulty curve. Distinctive enemies. Cutesy themes. Solid play-control. What’s not to love here?  I’m not sure why the inferior PlayStation Mobile is priced $0.50 higher than the XBLIG version. Some kind of temporary insanity brought on by the awesomeness of a pipe-smoking kitten perhaps. Happens to the best of us. I saw the pipe-smoking kitten and totally blacked out. The next thing I know, I’ve got a tattoo and I attempted to marry my Wii U.

xboxboxartAqua Kitty was developed by Tikipod

IGC_Approved240 Microsoft Points (XBLIG) and $3.49 (PlayStation Mobile) were unaware of the existence of a Defender song until some bastard sent it to me. It shall never leave my head now in the making of this review.

Both versions of Aqua Kitty are Chick-Approved, and the XBLIG version is ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Even the developers admitted to me that they prefer the XBLIG port. Go with that one.


Super Brain Eat 3

PlayStation Mobile is to the Vita what Xbox Live Indie Games is to the Xbox 360.  Whether that’s a good thing or not is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.  I wasn’t around for the early stages of XBLIG, but based on what I hear from my buddies Ryan, George, and Justin, the early days were nowhere near the desolate wasteland that PSM is turning into.  Looking at the slate of recent releases, nothing really has caught my fancy for it.  But then again, nothing really caught my eye on iPhone either.  My Vita has been getting a bit dusty though.  Nothing like my Wii U, which currently wears the same amount of dust as your average mummy.

Again, nothing looked like an attractive purchase, so I just sort of had to guess what might surprise me.  So I bet on Super Brain Eat 3.  Probably because it was only 49¢ and I’m like one of those people on their first trip to Vegas who eases into the experience by playing on the wussy tables.  You know, the ones typically occupied by silver-haired old ladies who try and fail to mask the stench of looming decomposition by coating their bodies in musk oil?  Yea, it was like that.  The game was developed by a dude named Thomas Hopper.  He’s the most prolific PSM developer, with six titles on the platform.  I already reviewed one of his, Super Skull Smash GO!  It was a decent little retro platzzle (I got “punisher” into the lexicon, and by gum, I’m going to get “platzzle” in it too), but it had a few problems.  I felt perhaps the game was too married to the retro concept, to the detriment of the controls and physics.

Saying Super Brain Eat 3 is a bit ugly is like saying water is a bit wet.

Saying Super Brain Eat 3 is a bit ugly is like saying water is a bit wet.

I hadn’t played any of Thomas’ other games.  Skull Smash was easily his best looking title, in that it seemed like it would be fun from screen shots, which is really all you have to go off of on the PSM marketplace.  But what gave me cause to worry is that he was perhaps too prolific.  Like maybe he rushes through development too quickly on titles.   Thus, I set my expectations low for Super Brain Eat 3.  And who knows, maybe I set them too low, because I really did have a good time with it.  It’s a Pac-Man style maze game.  Eat brains, avoid ghosts.  You can get special potions that allow you to fire at enemies, or grant you the ability to destroy ghosts by coming in contact with them.  It also features spikes and various other traps on the floor, plus you have to return to the starting door once you eat all the brains on the stage.  Oh, and SBE3 is needlessly gory, with lots of blood splatters as you pick up the brains.  I’m guessing the aim of the developer was to invoke a Doom-like atmosphere into a Pac-Man style maze title.  Personally, I wish he had gone with a different theme and had a more Namco-like 80s skin on this one.  I believe gaming has evolved past the era where gore sells.  Retro is in, and on a platform where developers are struggling to sell on the same level that XBLIGs are, developers really need to do everything in their power to make a game stand out.  Going off screen-shots (which is all you can do on PSM.  No trailers, no demos), Super Brain Eat 3 looks like it would be boring and awful.  A potentially devastating first-impression, like beginning a first date by spelling out your name in Morse Code using armpit farts.

Having missed the era where 4/5ths of games attempted to be like Pac-Man, I’m not as burned out on these type of games as some of my readers seem to be.  Super Brain Eat 3 is genuinely fun and mostly a well-designed title with lots of great ideas at work here.  Sure, the AI is completely brain-dead.  Fitting I suppose, since they are ghosts, which means they’re dead-dead.  They’re so dumb that it should hurt the game, but because they’re vulnerable to the spikes on the floor, you can manipulate them into killing themselves.  I love it.  It takes a potentially negative aspect and makes it beneficial, rewarding, and hilarious.  Enemies that are somewhere off-screen are marked with indicators on the screen’s edge, and you’ll often see them just randomly die.  It never stops being funny.  It also explains how they ended up as ghosts in the first place.

You get a pretty decent amount of levels in Super Brain Eat 3, plus there’s actually two free level packs coming soon.  I would still give the “best game on PSM” nod to OMG-Zombies! or Cubixx, but I think the best value on the platform firmly belongs to Super Brain Eat 3.  It’s only 49 cents.  Nobody would have faulted the developer for releasing those level packs as spinoffs, but he’s giving them away!  Super Brain Eat 3 is not perfect by any means.  The control is a bit on the loose side, which sometimes led to me going a step further than I meant to.  My biggest gripe, and it’s so rare for me to harp on this, is the graphics.  The game looks bad in screen-shots, and only slightly better in motion.  The environments are sterile and there isn’t any variety in the settings.  The level packs look like they will ease that a bit, but not by much.  There are lots of greys, stark reds, and pale greens.  The game itself isn’t boring, but the graphics almost make it feel like it is.  The graphic style does occasionally get in the way too.  The retractable spikes on the floor, for example, are the same color as the floor is.  In a way, it’s heart breaking.  It would be like having an amazing script for a movie and then finding out they’ve cast Ashton Kutcher in the lead and all the monster effects will be done using Play-Doh.

It's ironic that the spikes don't stick out.

It’s ironic that the spikes don’t stick out.

I alternated between thinking the game was rushed or thinking the developer was lazy.  Do you know why that sucks?  Because it drowned out the thoughts of how talented the developer was.  Super Brain Eat 3 is a good game, but it doesn’t look like it will be.  I had six friends who own Vitas (I think this represents 8% of all Vita owners world-wide) look at this title in the store.  They all agreed it would be a bad game.  The trailer did nothing to diminish that thought.  It looks sloppy.  It looks ugly.  It seems to yell “I will be a terrible!”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I promise you, Super Brain Eat 3 is worth at least a buck.  It’s unquestionably worth $0.49.  Which I believe is about double the game’s art budget.

Seal of Approval LargeSuper Brain Eat 3 was developed by TACS Games

$0.49 also couldn’t stand the out-of-place, generic metal sound track in the making of this review.  Developers, you really need to select better music for your games.  Cheap plug: we had an interview on this very site with award-winning composer James Hannigan that discussed that.  Give it a read.

Super Brain Eat 3 is Chick Approved.  And no, apparently there is no Super Brain Eat 1 or 2.  That’s another bone-headed development decision.  I’m guessing it was done to be funny.  Instead, it makes it seem like there’s a whole series of games that got no attention, possibly because they were no good.  How could a game that is so good not get one thing right artistically?  Horrible name.  Ugly graphics.  Very enjoyable game.  You should get it. 

Castle Invasion, Life of Pixel (Second Chance with the Chick), and Super Skull Smash GO!

I figured it’s time for another kick at the PlayStation Mobile can.  While my previous efforts to didn’t turn up any original games that I could point to and say “see, PlayStation Mobile is off to a decent start”, I figure it’s worth a second look.  At least it would be, if games weren’t priced like this.

PSM Store 2

Or like this.

PSM Store 3

Or this.

PSM Store 1

Okay.  Just to be clear, you guys want people to actually buy your games, right?  And you also realize that you’re on PlayStation Vita, where a PlayStation Plus subscription can net you AAA games for free?  Or where standard discounts can get you some really great games for around that price?  Hell, you’re also competing directly with Android phones, where you can get some of the best games of this generation for $0.99 or less.  You should make some effort to be competitive.  You already have no demos, making your games high-risk to consumers.  Why make them so out-of-bounds high risk that nobody in their right mind would take a chance on them?  I would gladly fork over $3 for what looks like an FMV fishing game, because that sort of quirky weird shit is right up my ally.  $5?  That would be a tough sell for actual fans of FMV fishing games, which is a large and robust fanbase to alienate.

So instead, I grabbed Castle Invasion for a measly 49 cents.  And I definitely got what I paid for.  Simple concept: shoot dudes before they reach the castle wall.  Gallery shooters like this are a bit relicy (that’s a word as of right now), but I figure there’s all kinds of neat twists developers can slap on them.  Not here.  Dudes run at you, and you shoot them.  Stronger dudes run at you.  You shoot them.  Faster dudes run at you.  You shoot them.  Sometimes you use arrows, sometimes you use spears that can penetrate multiple enemies, but otherwise it’s the same shit over and over again and it’s boring.  Not only that, but it had a tendency to crash.  Spring for the extra penny and sink your money in a gumball.  The flavor will last about 90 seconds, which makes that a longer-term investment than Castle Invasion.

Castle Invasion. The most excited thing since buttered toast.  Which I don't find to be particularly exciting.

Castle Invasion. The most excited thing since buttered toast. Which I don’t find to be particularly exciting.

Up next was Life of Pixel ($1.99), which has been patched.  I played it last month, and found the graphics to be authentic, but the control was sketchy and the level design focused a little too much on leap-of-faith gameplay.  That’s mostly fixed now.  Controls are silky smooth, double jumping never failed, the frame-rate never dropped, and some of those leaps-of-faith are now a thing of memory.  Some.  There were a few sections of the game where you simply have to leap blindly and hope for the best.  Some call this “trial and error.”  Bullshit.  The “trial” part suggests you have a fighting chance.  Blind luck is not a fighting chance.  It’s fucking blind luck, and there’s still a lot of it in Life of Pixel.  I call this “gotcha gameplay.”  And I’m sick of it.  It pops up too much on the indie scene.  Yea, I know games used to be like this, but that doesn’t mean they still have to be.  And I’ve got a solution.

I’ve arranged for every indie development kit, across all platforms, to come bundled with a man named Roberto.  Now, Roberto will pretty much stay out of your way.  Just leave some bread and something to drink out for him, but otherwise you shouldn’t notice him.  Unless you start to put “GOTCHA!” moments into your game.  Unavoidable deaths, blind leaps, hidden traps that are impossible to see or avoid, etc.  When you attempt this, Roberto will come out of hiding, place a pot on your head, and bang the pot sixteen times with a five-pound, stainless-steel soup ladle.  After this, he’ll remove the pot, look you in your now vacant, concussed eyes, and scream “GOTCHA!”  Then he’ll slink back into the shadows and allow you to undo the mess you just made of your game.  I think this idea is a good one.

I fucking HATED HATED HATED this level of Life of Pixel, which featured more blind jumps than Lighthouse International's annual hurdles race.

I fucking HATED HATED HATED this level of Life of Pixel, which featured more blind jumps than LensCrafter’s annual hurdles race.

Despite Life of Pixel being my inspiration for the Roberto Policy, I have to say that the game is vastly improved.  By that, I mean it’s playable, and hey, even a little fun.  They even included a soundtrack that, gasp, somewhat matches the classic gaming eras that were the inspiration in the first place.  I mean, it was downright boneheaded to not include such soundtracks in the first place, but I’ll let it slide.  I did just give the team at Super Icon  multiple instances of brain damage by testing the Roberto Policy on them.  They deserve a break.  They also deserve an Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval.  They took a shitty, broken game and made it fun.  That’s a sign of a developer with true talent, and I salute them for it.

Roberto, pot their head one last time.  Just out of principle for making me eat my words.

Finally, Super Skull Smash GO!  It’s a retro-style puzzle-platformer that was priced at $3.29 last week, but it’s down to $2.79 this week.  Is that a good price for it?  Hmmmmm not really.  I can get better games on my iPhone or on XBLIG that offer more play value at half the price.  Is it a bad game?  Not at all.  You play as a dude who has to hop on skeletons, grab their skulls, and smash them against a giant, golden cross.  Glad to see Yale’s fraternal initiation turn into a full-fledged video game.

Super Skull Smash GO

I would call the graphics fossilized, but considering Super Skull Smash GO! stars a bunch of skeletons, I’m guessing that was the point.

Despite the primitive graphics, Super Skull Smash GO! is a fairly clever puzzler that keeps throwing new twists in until the end.  Having said that, the collision detection is too sensitive, and the jumping physics are a little heavy.  By far the biggest thing I had to struggle with was jumping through narrow corridors and repeatedly fucking up because the spot you can jump from or to is so small and unforgiving.  Plus, lining up a skull to throw at just the right height can also be troublesome.  The game seems to have issues with following parameters.  I’m not going to be too hard on it for that.  I can relate.  I have the ankle monitor to prove it.

I still recommend it, because it’s a fun little game with puzzle design unlike anything I’ve ever played.  And hey, I’ve now found two original PlayStation Mobile games that are priced to afford and worth your time to play.  It’s a step in the right direction.  I do wish developers would be smarter about how they market their games.  That overhead airplane fighter game thing above, Blue Skies.  For all I know, it might be a good game.  It looks like it’s based on some classic games that a lot of people would be interested in.  You know, the type of games you can routinely buy on platforms like PSN, XBLA, and Virtual Console for under $7?  This is one of those “what were they thinking?” moments.  Without the benefit of demos (and hell, most PSM games don’t even bother with trailers on YouTube), all PSM games are a risk to consumers.  How many people will take a $7 for one game risk when the same $7 can net them multiple games, some of which they’re bound to like.  I got two pretty decent games in Super Skull Smash GO! and Life of Pixel for $5.28.  That’s $1.71 less than the risk of buying Blue Skies and hating it.  Fuck that.  That kind of money buys a lot of gumballs.

Super Skull Smash GO! and Life of Pixel are Chick Approved


Gun Commando, Samurai Beatdown, Cubixx, and OMG-Zombies!

Today we’re playing the Lightning Round of game reviews.  I played four PlayStation Mobile games this week in a quest to find something fun and original that justifies the existence of the platform.

First up was Gun Commando, a neo-retro Doom clone.  I have no idea why such games fascinate me, considering that Doom was well before my time.  I don’t know.  It just seems to me like the classic formula should be able to lend itself well to hit neo-retro indie titles in 2013.  However, Gun Commando is not that game.  It feels like Doom, what with brain-dead enemy AI, retro graphics, and labyrinthine levels.  Where it falls apart is the God awful controls.  Adjusting the sensitivity settings doesn’t seem to fix button-based controls, and thus lining up enemies to shoot is damn near impossible.  You’re forced to do everything on the touch screen, and this would work except any slight twitch of your finger forces you to fire your gun.  This is combined with enemy fire that is nearly impossible to avoid, dull weapons, and an absurd difficulty spike about halfway through.  It looks the part, but in truth, Gun Commando was doomed from the start.

Yea, that was lame.  I’ll move on.

Gun Commando was developed by Green Hill Games ($2.79)

If Doom was set in a trucking scrapyard and demons were replaced with angry football players.

If Doom was set in a trucking scrapyard and demons were replaced with angry football players.

Up next was Samurai Beatdown, which was free last week, normally priced at $0.99.  It’s alleged to be a rhythm game, but I found the actions on screen rarely seemed to synch up to the generic beat.  The concept is operating-a-light-switch-simple: enemies run at you from both sides.  Tap the left side of the screen to kill enemies running at you from the left, and the right side to kill enemies running at you from the right.  Again, even when you’re perfect, the enemies don’t seem to match up to the beat of the music.  I’m not musically inclined, so that was fine with me, but even on the hardest difficulty setting, Samurai Beatdown is so easy that it’s insulting, and it gets boring quite fast.  Not really worth the bandwidth when offered for free, I can’t even fathom paying money for it.

Samurai Beatdown was developed by Beatnik Games ($0.99)

You can enter an indestructible mode if you're running out of health.  This will never happen.

You can enter an indestructible mode if you’re running out of health. This will never happen.

As it turns out, the best PlayStation Mobile games are actually ports of existing PlayStation Mini titles.  Cubixx is free this week on Mobile.  It’s basically the exact same game as the PlayStation Mini title from a few years back, only the graphics are ever so slightly improved and it weighs less (22MB) than the original Mini version (29MB).  If you don’t already own it somewhere, shame on you.  It’s a fantastic take on the classic Qix formula.  I would actually recommend Cubixx HD on PlayStation 3 first and foremost, but Cubixx on Vita for free isn’t a bad alternative.  Draw lines on a cube, avoid enemies, fill in as much area as possible, move on to the next level.  It sounds dull, but if you’re gutsy, it can be an intense, extremely rewarding experience.  However, I can’t really get too excited over it, because I’ve played Cubixx to death over the last four years and it has nothing new to offer me.  If you haven’t already played it, it’s one of the best neo-retro games of the last generation.  If you have, there’s absolutely nothing new here.

Cubixx was developed by Laughing Jackal ($2.99, free right now)

Probably the most unenthusiastic I've ever wrote about a game I loved. Sorry, but after four years it's tough for me to get excited about the same game.

Probably the most unenthusiastic I’ve ever wrote about a game I loved. Sorry, but after four years it’s tough for me to get excited about the same game.

Finally, OMG Zombies, by the same guys that made Cubixx.  It’s also a PSP Mini port, but I somehow never played it despite apparently owning it.  The only explanation I can think of is I must have gotten it for free with PlayStation Plus and never touched it because I avoided zombie games like the plague before I started Indie Gamer Chick.  My loss really, because OMG Zombies is fucking awesome in a time-sink kind of way.  The idea is a field of zombies shamble around aimlessly, and you have a limited number of shots to pick them off.  Shooting a zombie causes them to explode, and if another zombie is close by, it detonates them too.  You have to set off a chain reaction that clears as many of them as possible.  There’s five classes of zombie.  Normal ones explode, fat ones explode bigger, cop zombies shoot bullets in a straight line when they die, commando zombies fire off a round of Uzi bullets when they die, and acid zombies turn into a pool of acid.  As you beat levels, you accumulate money that you can spend to upgrade the strength of your gun, or the potency of the damage zombies do to each other.

Where's Waldo has gotten pretty dark lately.

Where’s Waldo has gotten pretty dark lately.

OMG Zombies is so smart, because you can’t abuse the upgrade system with random grinding.  You can only earn each stage’s  four monetary rewards once.  It makes the gameplay so very engaging and rewarding that I almost forgot that OMG Zombies is much more based on luck than skill.  I would often restart levels multiple times because the exploding barrels were randomly placed together instead of spread apart.  Or there are stages where every enemy is one of the cop zombies, where no amount of skill is going to help you make sure that when the bullets start flying, they fly in the correct directions.  It can be frustrating for sure, but I never grew bored with it.  Everything you need to know about OMG Zombies can be summed up with the following two statements.  #1: I ran out my Vita’s battery twice playing it.  #2: I can’t even remember the last time I felt compelled to achieve 100% completion of a game, but I simply had to here.  I would say that qualifies OMG Zombies as a worthy use of your time.  My boyfriend might disagree.  He says with the amount of time I spent with it, it qualifies more as a hostage situation.

IGC_ApprovedOMG-Zombies! was developed by Laughing Jackal ($2.99)

Cubixx and OMG-Zombies! are Chick Approved.

The Future of Indie Gamer Chick

It’s been 580 days since I started Indie Gamer Chick.  In that time, I’ve reviewed 352 games, 327 of which are for Xbox Live Indie Games.  My participation in the XBLIG community has been nothing short of life changing for me.  Sometimes my reviews aren’t exactly nice, so being embraced by developers was not something that I expected.  I feel like I’ve been adopted by a loving, nurturing family.  Yea, Xbox Live Indie Games don’t always produce the highest quality of titles, but that’s the price you pay for having an open platform.  For all the bitching people (including myself) do about some truly abysmal games that were intended to be bad from the get-go, it’s all worth it.  It created a place where talented, enthusiastic dreamers could create and market their very own video games.

Proof that XBLIG isn't dead: there's some very exciting looking titles still on the horizon.  This is Ring Runner, coming this Summer.  Click the picture for a trailer.

Proof that XBLIG isn’t dead: there’s some very exciting looking titles still on the horizon. This is Ring Runner, coming this Summer. Check out their YouTube channel by clicking the picture.

Unfortunately, word from Microsoft leaked this week that XNA, which is the sole development language of Xbox Live Indie Games, has begun to be phased out.  While not discontinued, XNA is now classified as “no longer under development.”  Along with this, all current XNA MVPs will be relieved of their duties on April 1, 2014.  This has caused widespread mourning among the XBLIG community.  Mind you, we’re over a year away from the date that MVPs are being let go.  Still, the future of Xbox Live Indie Games, which was always shaky at best, now seems downright bleak.

To clear-up some misconceptions for those non-hardcore XBLIG fans that read me, Xbox Live Indie Games are, to the best of my knowledge, not being removed from the Xbox 360 Marketplace at this time.  In fact, it’s a safe bet that they’ll be around for at least another year.  If the time comes where membership to the App Hub is stopped, then you can feel free to panic.  However, there’s no question that XBLIGs as we know them today will cease to exist sometime in the future.  Hopefully some questions will be answered with the next generation Xbox is unveiled in the coming months.

Another reason to stay excited about Xbox Live Indie Games: DLC Quest has a sequel on the way.  It's called Live Freemium or Die and it's coming "very soon" says creator Ben Kane.  Click

Another reason to stay excited about Xbox Live Indie Games: DLC Quest has a sequel on the way. It’s called Live Freemium or Die and it’s coming “very soon” says creator Ben Kane. Okay, so I’m the one and only person who begged him to NOT do a sequel, but if anyone can prove me wrong, it’s him.  Click the picture for the trailer.

The end of XNA is not the end of Xbox Live Indie Games.  Indies will factor into the next generation Xbox.  Not because Xbox Live Indie Games was a rousing success, because it wasn’t.  It’s because the game industry is trending this way.  iPhone has become one of the most successful gaming consoles in history.  Sony has created its own open-to-anyone platform.  This is the direction the industry is heading.  Microsoft won’t keep indies around because they’re trendy or because they’re artists.  They’ll do so because it’s sound business sense.

In the meantime, my fans on Twitter want to know what this means for Indie Gamer Chick.  Well, since Xbox Live Indie Games aren’t going anywhere in the immediate future, I’m not going anywhere either.  Yea, I suffered from a bit of burnout earlier this month, but then a couple of games came along that reminded me why I’ve stuck by this platform for the last eighteen months.  Of course, I can’t say what the future holds once XBLIGs begin to roll out on the next generation platform.   Whether they remain the focus of my site will depend on how open the platform is and the volume of games released on it.  If it sees the same amount of games as PlayStation Mobile, I obviously wouldn’t be able to center my site around it.  Thankfully, my name is Indie Gamer Chick, and thus I’m not tied down to anything.

Heh, sorry Tim.

Escape Goat 2 might not come to Xbox Live Indie Games, which is exactly why I need to start paying more attention to other avenues of indie gaming.

Escape Goat 2 might not come to Xbox Live Indie Games, which is exactly why I need to start paying more attention to other avenues of indie gaming.  You can head to the developer’s website by clicking the picture and threaten bodily harm if he doesn’t release on XBLIG.  Or, you know, ask politely.

I am announcing that I’m going to include more coverage of non-XBLIG platforms.  Until recently, reviews of games on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, iOS, and Wii U eShop were rare here.  That’s going to change.  Xbox Live Indie Games will remain the primary focus of my site until Xbox Live Indie Games cease to be.  But I’ll also make a good effort to have one non-XBLIG review weekly.  Along with this, you can also expect features like Indies in Due Time (returning soon) and Tales from the Dev Side to look outside of Xbox Live Indie Games.  In fact, the MonoGame Team will be doing an editorial sometime in the near future.  There might also be changes in the Leaderboard in July in time for my second year anniversary, so that it includes iOS and PlayStation Mobile titles.  I’ll keep those elitist PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade games off it.  Snooty bastards.  And don’t even get me started on Wii U’s eShop.  It seems to have suffered some kind of gaming version of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Life of Pixel

Update: Life of Pixel received a Second Chance with the Chick and is now Chick ApprovedClick here for the updated review

Indie gaming fans keep asking me to look outside of Xbox Live Indie Games for material to do my reviews on.  However, my loyalty remains with XBLIG, so I only hit up other platforms when I’m suffering from complete and total burnout of XBLIG due to the endless mountain of shit that populates the platform.  That’s the only time I look elsewhere.

So um..

Let’s see what’s on PlayStation Mobile this week, shall we?  What have we here?  A Super Meat Boy-esq punisher with the hook being you’re a pixel who journeys through gaming history?  Interesting.  Of course, I’ve already played a game where you journey through game history, and if that one had been any bigger a disaster they would have to scrub the Titanic from history books just to make room for it.  However, as a concept, a stroll through gaming history is not only sound, but enticing.  That’s why I chose to pick up Life of Pixel, even though it’s one of those godforsaken punishers.

Life of Pixel

Looks Atarishi, I guess.

I want to start by saying that artistically, Life of Pixel is mostly a triumph.  The eight worlds presented authentically capture the look of each era they pay tribute to.  I’m guessing at least.  Some of the platforms covered are vintage UK-only PCs such as the Spectrum or the 2X81, along with such American relics as the Commodore 64.  As an American born in 1989, I have never touched those platforms, nor do I plan on it.  But, comparing screenshots to games from those devices, they look spot-on.  However, no effort at all was made for the games to sound like their respective platforms.  There’s a single awful chip-tune that plays no matter which era you’re in, and all stages make the same bleeps and bloops.  Why go so far to look authentic but not sound authentic?  It makes no sense at all.  It would be like having the most accurate-looking Elvis impersonator on the planet performing hip-hop.

Where the game falls apart completely is level design.  There is cheap design, and then there is Life of Pixel.  Every bad possible design choice is given center-stage here.  Leap of faith platforming, blind jumps, no checkpoints in slow-paced large levels, erratic enemy movement, and an overall sense that the game really wants you to not have a good time playing it.  It ultimately comes across like a poor Super Meat Boy clone.  The main character even looks like Super Meat Boy.  But this is yet another case of a developer not grasping why that game was so popular.  Nothing in Super Meat Boy was unfair.  It required little to no guess-work from the player.  And dying wasn’t so bad because levels were fast paced and respawning was quick.  Plus, death was sort of rewarded by the fact that you got to see a replay of all your failures play out simultaneously at the end of each stage.  The only reward in Life of Pixel is seeing a new graphics style when you open a new world.  A novelty that wears off on average in about 11.3 seconds each time you get a new world.

Actually, this looks slightly different from the Spectrum ports I've seen on XBLIG, so I'm not sure how close this is to the real thing.

Actually, this looks slightly different from the Spectrum ports I’ve seen on XBLIG, so I’m not sure how close this is to the real thing.

I can’t even complain about the controls really.  They’re mostly accurate, and offer non-slippery controls and decent jumping physics.  100% of Life of Pixel’s problems are level-design related.  The game is cheaper than a dime store whore and seems to revel in that fact.  There are one or two other design flaws.  Early stages are single-screen affairs, and during these the game is quite fun.  But once you get to the Spectrum era, the game does that thing where you have to walk to the edge of the screen to scroll the level over, and it scrolls a full screen at a time.  The game doesn’t pause while it does that scroll thing, and so if you have to jump to a platform, it’s a forced blind jump that often will result in your death.  It’s something that is horrible and cheap for the sake of being horrible and cheap.  Later stages avoid the “scroll a full screen at a time” design in favor of smoother scrolling, but the level design never strays away from “be as cheap as possible.”

There’s also spikes that retract into the walls only to pop out again.  These are weird because you can walk over them as long as they are like 75% buried in the ground.  It makes getting the timing down of when you can make a run for it nearly impossible.  I’m not sure why they didn’t just have the spikes retract and pop up faster than they did, except again, because it’s aggravation just for the sake of being aggravating.  Finally, sometimes dying is a slow process.  In the best punishers, death and respawning happen quickly.  Here, if you land in water (or quicksand), you slowly sink down and have to wait for your character to reach the bottom, linger for a bit, and then blink out of existence.  It’s absolutely amazing that a game that so clearly wants to be Super Meat Boy could end up getting wrong every single thing that made Super Meat Boy the beloved cult hit that it is.  Bad level design, lack of rewarding gameplay, blind jumps, slow deaths, and boring, sprawling levels.

Don't worry. Nothing about Life of Pixel gets me wet.

Don’t worry. Nothing about Life of Pixel gets me wet.

Yea, maybe trial-and-error platforming was a big deal thirty years ago, but we’re in 2013 now.  100% authenticity was obviously not a priority for Life of Pixel, as evidenced by the half-assed sound, so why make the game so cheaply frustrating?  I’m so pissed off because these guys obviously had talent.  There’s no way they could make a game that looks this good and controls this acceptably just by sheer fucking luck.  So what happened guys?  Why did you choose to make your game so unfair and unlikable that it’s almost certain to never catch on by word of mouth?  The amount of potential squandered here makes me want to cry.  And by the way, my friends are disappointed that there’s no Life of Pi reference here, but I disagree, because this game proves there is no God.

logoLife of Pixel was developed by Super Icon Ltd

$1.99 searched for a Life of Pixel trailer on YouTube and instead found a video series about a little girl named Pixel in the making of this review.  Who the hell would name their daughter Pixel?  I look forward to meeting her siblings, Polygon and Bit-Mapping. 

In all seriousness, I couldn’t find any gameplay footage of this on YouTube.  If someone finds some, give me a heads up.

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