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…

Spyleaks

Spyleaks is part Loloish puzzler, part space shooter.  Notice I didn’t say “a cross between” or “a mix of” because it’s not.  In each of the five worlds in the game, you play five puzzle stages, then a space shooter, and then finally a timed “run the gauntlet” puzzle.  It’s weird.  I like weird, but this is a different kind of weird.  Like someone making a peanut butter and cloves sandwich, where you wonder who in their right mind would see the potential in that combination.

I’ll ignore the storyline about the exploits of the greatest spy ever known.  Spies typically being people who can blend in.  The dude in this game has buck teeth that would draw the attention of Stevie Wonder, but he makes up for it with the ability to push safes as tall as he is with minimal effort.  Not only that, but he’s so stealthy about it that he can push a safe right in front of a guy who has his eyes wide open and go completely undetected.  Dude, you’re good.  James Bond bows at your feet.  Sigh.  Obviously I did anything but ignore the story.

Of course there are zombies.  If your game doesn’t include them, you have to pay the zombie tax.  Yep, there’s a zombie tax.

As far as gameplay, Spyleaks is very similar to the Adventures of Lolo, which is as of yet the only Virtual Console game I’ve reviewed here.  And the only reason I did so was because I played two XBLIG titles that were tributes to the series: Aesop’s Garden and Crystal Hunters.  For an obscure franchise that’s gotten pretty much no love from its developer in two decades, Lolo sure has spawned some amazing games on Xbox Live Indie Games.  Aesop’s Hunters and Crystal Gardens both made my big one-year anniversary Top 25 feature.  With credentials like that, there’s no way Spyleaks could be better than Aesop’s Crystal or Garden Hunters, right?

Wrong.  Spyleaks is the best of the bunch.  I’ll get to the incredibly out-of-place shooter sections later and focus on the 25 standard puzzles presented here.  Although the game closely reminded me of the three titles I spoke of above, Spyleaks changes the formula a lot.  Sure, you still shove crates, stun-lock enemies to use as crates, and ultimately try to open up an exit.  Where Spyleaks changes things up is with its button and gate system.  Levels typically have one or more different colored switches or buttons that you have to activate to proceed.  Those switches will activate corresponding gates.  It’s not an original feature by any means, but it adds to the complexity of the puzzles in the game.  If Aesop’s Garden was too hard for you, don’t even bother trying Spyleaks unless you want your head to explode.

Oh, and if your head is in danger of exploding but you think you ought to try the game anyway, be a chum and make sure you live stream it.  What can I say?  I’m a fan of spectacles.

Stealth also factors in.  Some of the enemies are situated like guards who only give chase if you cross in front of them.  Whoever you’re spying on must be the most charitable mother fucker alive because he only seems to hire guards with severe visual impairments.  That’s mighty noble of him, and yet I would think a donation to the Schepens Eye Research Institute would probably be smarter, what with the fact that I can walk directly next to a guard and he won’t see me.  Now if you walk right in front of them, they start to give chase.  This mechanic is the basis for several of the timed “finale” puzzles that close each of the five game worlds.  I really enjoyed all of Spyleaks’ mind benders, but I really liked these ones.  They could have been the basis of an entire game on their own.

I’m not sure if the “!” symbol here indicates you’ve been spotted or if the guard broke wind.

Before this review turns into too much of a love-letter, I have some bones to pick with Spyleaks.  Stun-locking enemies is done by picking up tranquilizer darts (or anti-robot-shock-things if you’re shooting machines).  All movement in the game is done one full square at a time.  If you shoot an enemy while he’s moving into the square next to you, even if you shoot before he touches you, you die.  That’s bullshit.  Isn’t the time-honored tradition in these situations “tie goes to the runner”?  Thankfully, death here is treated with the dignity that typically befalls it, meaning your character does cartwheels in place and then shakes his head before flat-lining.  Same thing happened to my great-great-great-great grandfather right before he died of old age.  Cart-wheeled right on his death-bed did he.

Thankfully, that’s the only complaint I have about Spyleaks. . . . . is what I would be saying if not for the space shooter stuff.  Allow me to brow-beat the developer for a few seconds: WHAT THE FUCK, DUDE?  It’s not that these sections play poorly.  They control fine, they’re handled well enough.  They’re not particularly exciting though, and if I want something to give me a break from the puzzles, I’ll take a break from the fucking game!  

I get it.  Puzzle games are a particularly tough sell on XBLIG, and not everyone wants them.  Let’s talk about a fictional, hypothetical XBLIG customer so as to not single anyone in particular out.  I’ll call him, oh, Dave Voyles.  Now let’s say Dave has rotted his brain out with too many rounds of Mega Man, coupled with all the head trauma he received as a young man banging his head into a wall when he had online games of NBA 2K1 all sewn up only to have the pathetic little shit he was playing against rage quit the game with 0:03 remaining on the clock, destroying is 35 point lead.  Remember, purely hypothetical.  So Dave’s fragile brain is no longer capable of doing puzzle games.  Yet, he’s fine with shooters.

Perhaps this was put in to prevent anyone from gaining intelligence through Spyleaks. Well, don’t worry. Any IQ points accumulated will quickly be vaporized by this shit.

Dave is NOT going to buy this puzzle game on the basis that it occasionally takes a break to play a two-minute long shooter.  He’s just not.  It’s a novel attempt at luring him in, but it’s not going to sell him.  Especially when there is no way he can experience the shooting sections in the eight minutes that is allotted for demos on XBLIG.

I’m not busting the developer’s chops for this, nor am I down-ranking his game in any way.  Spyleaks is amazing.  It’s one of 2012’s best Xbox Live Indie Games.  So intelligent, so beautifully crafted, and so infectious.  It’s also the perfect length (25 single-screen puzzles, 5 “beat the clock” puzzles, 5 brief shooting sections, and a finale) and doesn’t overstay its welcome.  Will it be accessible to people who hate the genre?  Probably not.  And no, the space stuff isn’t worth playing the puzzles to get to.  Sorry, I can’t get over it.  How is it possible that the first game to crack the Top 25 on my brand new leaderboard since its inception could have such a weird design choice in it?  I don’t get it.  Breaking up an original, highly intelligent puzzler with random bits of a shooter is like breaking up the monotony of life on the International Space Station by occasionally opening up the cabin doors.

Spyleaks was developed by HeartBit Interactive

80 Microsoft Points didn’t realize until just this very moment that this game was by the guys who did Doom & Destiny in the making of this review.  Not sure why they don’t have their own dedicated website though.

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

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