Thursday, October 31, 2013

PC Spotlight #41: How To Survive

Title: How To Survive
Developer: Eko Software
Platforms: PC
Price: $14.99
I know, I know, yet another zombie game. However, How To Survive stands out thanks to its mix of satisfying zombie action and RPG elements.
After choosing one of three characters, you find yourself on the corpse littered shores of a remote archipelago. The world of How To Survive is set across four islands, each larger than the last. The islands aren't massive but they're diverse, from the woods of the first one to fellow survivor (and your guide) Kovac's compound and the swampy marshes and jungles of the other two. You'll unlock each island as you progress through the story, as well earn weapons and tools to unlock new areas. For example the machete can chop away path-blocking bushes and you'll learn how to ignite campfires. The atmosphere is wonderful: daylight fades, night descends on the landscape, campfires flicker, the tide rolls in and out, birds fly off and when you approach, deer and tapir roam the underbrush.
Fire and illumination is important, because when night falls, creatures besides zombies roam the islands, and your precious torches, campfires, and flashlight can keep them at bay. The zombies themselves are varied as well, from simple shamblers to helmet-wearing armored undead. Thankfully your character is more than able to hold his own, thanks to a large assortment of melee weapons, projectiles, equipable armor (visible on your character), stat boosting items, and skills that allow you to craft distractions or incidenary arrows. Combat isn't the most complex mechanic but it's certainly fun. Blades lop off heads and limbs, heavy weapons explode heads, guns blow zombies apart, and melee finishers on staggered enemies are always satisfying. A crafting system allows you to swap out weapon parts to add attributes like rapid fire or make special weapons like a bone boomerang.
And that's not all! You need to watch your hunger, thirst, and exhaustion; hunting deer, fishing, filling water bottles, and sleeping in designated safehouses will keep you at peak levels. I did feel that too many missions just fell into fetch quest territory and bosses were more frustrating than anything else. The survival elements seem tacked on, just more meters to worry about rather than an deep organic feature. There's also a huge amount of ammo lying around; it was rare that I didn't have 500 rounds or more for my weapons.
Besides a single player campaign (which features co-operative play as well), there's a challenge mode to test you zombie killing skills as well as an iron man difficulty that severely limits your supplies and health. How To Survive doesn't reinvent the genre and nothing really blew me away, but its mix of satisfying zombie killing and RPG elements create a fun solid experience that's worth playing. You can purchase How To Survive from the official site or from Steam.

PC Spotlight #40: Shelter

Title: Shelter
Developer: Might and Delight
Platforms: PC, Mac
Price: $9.99
We've been protectors, guardians, escorts in myriad games. But a mother, watching over and guiding here young? Shelter casts you as a mother badger leading her young cubs through the dangers of a artistically stylized forest.
You begin in the dank dirt and root of your burrow, five young cubs to lead. The controls are simple: WASD to move, shift to run, control to sneak, left mouse to interact. Beyond the safety of your burrow is a world where a hawk can snatch your precious young with its talons. You'll traverse narrow mountain paths, a rushing river, and more. Throughout your journey, you'll need to catch food for your cubs to eat, either by collecting vegetation or catching small animals such as frogs. The game isn't open world, rather a series of slightly open paths through a new scenario. You may have to guide your cubs through the dead of night or hide from the watchful gaze of a hawk, but the journey is always the same. However, you can finish the game with all your cubs, or even none; it's up to you to keep them safe
Shelter's strongest feature is its art style. The world just pops with color and movement and the angular art style even makes a raging forest fire a thing of beauty. The moments of seeing the forest extend to the horizon, or finding a waterfall, or witnessing the orange hues of newly risen sun are greatly enhanced thanks to the game's unique visuals. However, the unique premise and graphics can only carry the game so far. In my opinion, I felt the game had so much potential to explore the notion of leading and guiding your cubs in this dangerous world and yet the greatest extent of this is digging up food to nourish them or leading them to safety from that persistent hawk. The gameplay never attains any depth or evolves as you progress. I completed the game in under two hours and felt that Shelter could have achieved so much more in its portrayal of a mother's guidance and protection in a cruel and savage world.
Shelter is a visual treat, a world brought to life with its wonderful art style, but also a short experience that lacks depth. You can purchase Shelter from the developer's site or Steam.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

IOS Spotlight #27: The Honeycomb

Title: The Honeycomb
Developer: Diego Cathalifaud
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $0.99
I think the number of IOS games I've discussed here has proven that beneath the well-known and best selling games on the App Store lies an expansive treasure trove of hidden gems and overlooked games. The Honeycomb is yet another fun experience that deserves your time and attention.

You play a brave fluff, trying to save his friends from the bees who have taken them. Your quest will take you through 60 levels of puzzle platforming, from the meadows to the forests and swamps and beyond. The emphasis is on puzzles; while you will be timing jumps and maneuvering through levels, you'll need to think to reach the end. Across each level, you'll find a number of different power-ups, ranging from different boosts to one that lets you break through certain barriers. You can carry three power-ups at a time and it's up to you to figure out the best ways to use them and in what order. The solution may not always be obvious; in the first world alone, there were moments when I was stumped. You may have to backtrack or use your abilities in unusual orders and it's this puzzle element that makes The Honeycomb such a rewarding experience.
The touch controls are tight and responsive, never obtrusive, and the art style has a cute drawn aesthetic that makes every world a joy to explore. Besides the 60 level campaign (not counting the hard-to-reach relics and the secret areas), the game also features an editor that allows you to create and share your own levels. You can purchase The Honeycomb for $0.99

The Watchlist: The Girl & The Robot

Title: The Girl & The Robot
Developer: Flying Carpets Games
Platforms: PC
Releasing 2014, alpha available now ($9)
On Kickstarter
A girl trapped in a lifeless castle built upon ancient arcane technology, and ruled by an evil queen. One fateful day, she escapes her prison cell and encounters a malfunctioning robot knight that she decides to free. They must work together to unravel the mystery of the castle in time to escape with their lives.

When I first saw The Girl & The Robot, the first thing that came to mind was Ico. A mysterious castle, a young woman (well, here, a girl), a sword-wielding protector, puzzles...but the similarities end there. Flying Castle's upcoming game stands out thanks its wonderful art style, mix of steampunk and fantasy aesthetics, and combat.
You control a young girl, imprisoned in a sprawling castle. During your escape, you came across a defect robot warrior, a machine that will become your guardian and ally. Together, you'll traverse the caste from its windswept exterior to the royal quarters within. The developers have describe the castle setting as "a giant Zelda dungeon", in which you'll travel through new areas, backtrack to old ones, and find new paths and enemies upon your return. The gameplay promises a mix of co-operative puzzles and combat; between the two characters under your command, you can crawl through tight spaces and reach certain areas, set switches, push heavy objects, and more. The combat has a Dark Souls vibe, in that defense and timing is critical to defeating your foes. But the girl isn't exactly defensive; she'll be able to evade enemies and use the environment to trap and defeat them. 
Playing the alpha, I found the art design and atmosphere the most exciting feature. The visuals give the game a soft, almost painted look and the soundtrack, combined with the art style, and new areas to discover, just fosters a drive to explore. You can purchase the alpha (and all future updates) from Desura. You can also support The Girl & The Robot on Kickstarter, and rate the game on its Greenlight Concepts page.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

PC Spotlight #39: Running With Rifles

Title: Running With Rifles
Developer: Modulattio Games
Platforms: PC, Linux
Price: $9.99
Can an indie title portray the chaos of war better than AAA shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield? Running With Rifles drops the player onto the frontlines and delivers intense tactical action.
In Running With Rifles, you are not special. You are not the super soldier who's going to defeat the enemy single-handedly. You're a no one, just another soldier who can get killed in an instant by a stray bullet or mortar fire. Life is short and when you die, you quickly respawn as another soldier. Set on a sprawling map across forests and towns and beaches, in bases and streets, you wage war on a living battlefield. Frontlines can shift, be reclaimed, then taken a day later.
The battles in RWR are hectic and ruthless. Charge in with your fellow soldiers, find cover, watch your flanks, call in air strikes and reinforcements. Each conflict is a street by street, corner by corner affair and the balance of power can change in an instant, maybe by your well-timed mortar or an enemy tank rolling around the corner. Men die quickly and easily, bullets fly in every direction, and cover is your greatest ally. There's an expansive amount of available tactics and variables to consider: attack at night to remain stealthy, crouch and go prone for improved accuracy, climb to a rooftop for a better vantage point, hijack vehicles for transportation, attack by sea using an inflatable raft, increase your rank to command a squad and plan out your assault, take out enemy communications to slow their efforts. The enemy AI won't rest either, understanding how to flank, take cover, and use higher ground to their advantage.
Running With Rifles is a challenging intense game when playing solo, but you can also work with or against other in online multiplayer, opening up even more strategies and co-operative tactics. RWR is still in development, with more weapons, equipment, and maps planned. You can purchase the game on Desura; it was also Greenlit over the summer.

PC Spotlight #38: 3089

Title: 3089
Developer: phr00t
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $14.99 (on sale for $9.89)
When one utters "first person shooter", perhaps the first thought is that of Call of Duty or maybe Bioshock or Half Life. 3089 takes the shooting genre and infuses it with an expansive worlds, a wide range of player choice, RPG elements, and an interesting style to create a fun experience.
3089 may not wow you with photo-realistic graphics, but its angular polygonal look allows for an open procedurally-generated world with a style all its own. That's not to say that the world feels dead; day comes and goes, clouds move across the sky, rain pours, lightning flashes. The same style is applied to the enemies as well, offering the play a wide range of robotic foes from simple bipedal enemies to towering walkers. You fight these enemies across sunlit fields, craggy mountain ranges, sprawling deserts, and more/
What I found most enjoyable about 3089 is the depth of customization and tactics available to the player. Build your weapons part by part to create the guns you want. Apply various armor pieces that augment and compliment your stats. Be a stealthy warrior who freezes time to evade enemies. Traverse rooftops and trees with your trusty grappling hook. Teleport around the battlefield and use a gravity gun to destroy your foes with explosives and debris. Weave between enemies on your hoverboard or take to the air and blow robots away from above. You can even build your own base, installing defenses and turrets to protect it.
3089 allows you to progress and improve your skills across RPG-style quests, or alongside your friends in co-op modes. The game is still in development, and features such as new mission types, weapons, and abilities are planned. You can purchase 3089 from the developer's site, Desura, and other stores and vote for the game on Steam Greenlight.

PC Spotlight #37: Fotonica

Title: Fotonica
Developer: Santa Ragione
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $4.99
If there's anything you can expect from a Santa Ragione game, it's style. His games may not be the deepest or most graphically advanced, but they're the type of games that lend credence to the "games as art" debate. You play these games for the visual design and atmosphere and Fotonica does not disappoint on those fronts.
Like its more recent cousin Mirrormoon EP, Fotonica is a simple game. Actually you only need one button to play. Hold to run and build momentum, release to jump, hold again for an accelerated landing. The gameplay is as simple as that. However the immense sense of speed as you rush forward, so fast that the world itself erupts into shining light and golden hues as if you've tore through some dimensional barrier, and the sense of immersion as the screen shakes with every landing and leap, makes the game feel that much more intense and thrilling.
But the highlight is the visuals. As you tear through each of the six multi-tiered lanes (four unlocked, one secret, and endless mode), you'll encounter an abstract world of shapes and wire-frame structures, unfolding before you from the darkness. Even more than the running and jumping, it's the longing to see what you'll discover next and what each world holds that will drive the player to continue playing.
Fotonica is not a long game or even a particularly difficult game, but that doesn't really matter. It's the experience and unique art style that makes the game feel special. You can purchase Fotonica from the developer's site or from Desura and other stores. The game was also recently Greenlit and will be coming to Steam soon.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Watchlist: Kromaia

Title: Kromaia
Developer: Kraken Empire
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Releasing 2014
KROMAIA is a six degrees of freedom adventure shooter which takes action, speed, agility and immersion to a new level. Insane enemy patterns and swarms, giant god-like guardians, ancient temples, contraptions and treasures, visual ecstasy... All in a vast and unexplored universe only ruled by physic laws. What if the coin-op machines golden age started today, adding complex maneuverability abilities, encouraging spatial awareness, as well as an A.I. adapting to the way you play? Here is the chance to know.
Take your common dual stick shooter, take the hectic gameplay and hordes of enemies, place it in expansive worlds filled with intriguing abstract architect, and you'd have Kromaia.
Developed by Kraken Empire and currently seeking support on Indiegogo, Kromaia is a stylish arcade shooter that delivers both challenging frenetic gameplay and a visually exciting experience. Screenshots don't do this game justice. I recently had the opportunity to try a gameplay demo and while I had no idea what to expect going in, I finished the demo extremely satisfying and excited to see how the game will progress. You have a number of ships to choose from, with their own style and weapons. From the standard laser/shotgun blasting ship to the melee-focused/shuriken-throwing variety, each vessel plays differently and is animated with moving parts and other cool details.
The core of the gameplay is the frenetic shooting. Your ship is extremely maneuverable, able to roll and strafe with ease, and you need such agility to evade the moving hazards and dozens of enemies across each world. The battles shift from tight trench runs through tunnels and past rotating spikes to open shootouts with enemy ships while avoiding asteroids in an instant and you have to be adapt in an instant. The levels are huge and filled with an abstract mix of pillars, mechanical constructs, and other weird structures.
The full game will feature a deep customization mechanic, allowing you to alter everything from the shape and style of thrusters to the behavior and damage of your projectiles or even design and share your own enemies and bosses, as well as adaptive enemy AI that changes to counter your behavior. You can support Kromaia on Indiegogo and vote for the game on Steam Greenlight.

PC Spotlight #36: Valdis Story Abyssal City

Title: Valdis Story: Abyssal City
Developer: Endless Fluff Games
Platforms: PC
Price: $14.99
Valdis Story Abyssal City takes an intriguing story, interesting world to explore, and multiple characters with a complex combat system that offers players myriad ways to develop their own play style.
Playing as the sword-wielding Wyatt, you're thrust into the midst of a conflict between angels, demons, humans, and a new threat know as Ferals. Each faction has its own enemies and bosses and will test you skills across a sprawling world. You'll travel from towering cities to snow covered fortresses and ruins and unlock new abilities such as wall jumping and dashing that allows to access new areas. But the highlight of the game is the combat. Primary attacks, secondary attacks, blocking, counters, evasive movements, a huge range of offensive, defensive, and support spells, outfits and clothing that boost stats, and more are at your disposal. The controls are smooth and responsive with either a gamepad or keyboard/mouse, and if I died, it was because I made a mistake, never because of poor controls.
Valdis Story: Abyssal City is a sprawling game that will challenge and thrill with its deep highly-customizable combat and multiple characters, each with their own movesets to learn and master, offers replay value. You can purchase Valdis Story from the developer's site or Desura; the game may come to Steam on October 30th.

IOS Spotlight #26: Steampunk Tower

Title: Steampunk Tower
Developer: Dreamgate
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $0.99
The tower defense genre has a huge prescense on IOS, thanks to games such as FieldRunners, Sentinel, and Plants vs Zombies. Steampunk Tower may not be the most innovative TD game but it's fun and has its own style that makes it a game worthy of your device.
The key difference is that you only have one tower under your command; you choose which turrets to deploy and which tier and side to place them. I felt that this difference gave the game a more intimate feel compared to other TD games; you're not watching the battle from above, it's you and your tower against a multitude of enemy forces. Turrets range from saw blade cannons to machine guns to rocket launchers and each can be upgraded. For example you can research incendiary ammo for your machine guns or double barrels for double the firepower. The simple silhouetted enemies come in various shapes and sizes, from the common troopers who are easily decapitated by your blades to armored trucks and weaponized walkers. Strategy lies in chooses which side and tier to place the best turret and when to draw the turret back to reload. Waiting too long can leave one side severely unprotected while a critical turret reloads so choose wisely and plan ahead. Special abilities like an enemy-obliterating laser and EMP pulse round out your options.
Steampunk Tower is set across 15 levels and 5 challenge maps and the chaos onscreen only increases with each battle. The steampunk aesthetic gives the game a cool stylish look and the gameplay is fun and challenging. You can purchase Steampunk Tower for $0.99.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Quick Fix: Check out indie gaming's best in IGF 2014

658 games. That's how many entries await your opinions and soon your vote in the 16th Annual Independent Game Festival. I've discussed some of the entries here, from Rain World to Against The Wall to Cloudbuilt, but there are hundreds of promising games to see, such as the sleek and beautiful Source and the minimalist monochrome White Night. All are worthy of your attention and be sure to vote for your favorites.

IOS Spotlight #25: Deadly Bullet

Title: Deadly Bullet
Developer: Monobrow Games
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: Free
More often than not, a free game on IOS means trudging through timers, paywalls, ads and other elements that have come to define "freemium." Such games have been a huge success in terms of profit, but it's a practice frowned upon by many players. Yet Deadly Bullet has neither of those aspects. Made by Tommi Saalasti, the one man team behind Monobrow Games, this is a game made as a hobby and for the joy of making games and it shows. Deadly Bullets is just a stylish, polished, and fun experience.
Framed as a rebellion against a powerful dystopian society, you control a single bullet, navigating the projectile through a variety of randomized environments and reducing enemies to blood splatters. The controls are tight - tap left to turn left, right to turn right - and responsive, allowing you to weave down alleys, between buildings, and around corners with ease. By killing enemies and destroying objects, you gain XP that allows you to enter the next zone and level up. You earn a point every time you level up, used to unlock power-up upgrades, new areas, an XP doubler, and more. It's a simple game but all those elements combine to make something fun and satisfying. Threading your way between mines, stringing together an enemy-splattering combo, and narrowly avoiding a wall just feels exciting and the Hotline Miami-inspired aesthetic gives the Deadly Bullet a stylish look and great music.
The developer plans to expand the game with new enemies (next is rocket launcher-wielding goons), bosses, secondary objectives, and more in future updates. You can download Deadly Bullets for free.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

PC Spotlight #35: Tri

Title: Tri
Developer: Rat King Entertainment
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $10
We've seen a lot of games where squares, rectangles, spheres, even hexagons have been given the spotlight. But the poor triangle is usually forgotten. Thankfully Tri gives the shape its day with a challenging puzzle platformer set in abstract environments and mechanics that offer a wide range of cool brain teasers.
Guided a ghostly monk, you set out to complete tasks in an attempt to defeat the mysterious Fox. Set in a surreal world of floating islands and Oriental-style temples, you search for special fox statues each level that unlock the exit. The game's key mechanic is the ability to create triangles. Using a simple three click system (one for each vertex), you draw triangles in the world. These shapes have a variety of uses from simple bridges to laser-reflecting surfaces to platforms that allow you to walk up walls and ceilings. It's up to you to explore the uses of your triangles across these open environments and the puzzles grow more complex and difficult throughout the campaign.
The world of Tri is interesting and intriguing to explore, with its twisting platforms, stylized architecture, and then dozens of your triangles across the land like some abstract art project. The colorful visuals and weird environments really add to the surreal atmosphere. Tri is still in beta, but is mostly finished (75% according to the developers); in fact it recently received an update that added 12 new levels. You can purchase Tri from the developer's site, Desura and other stores, and vote for the game on Steam Greenlight.

PC Spotlight #34: Blackvoxel

Title: Blackvoxel
Developer: Blackvoxel
Platforms: PC, Linux
Price: ~$20
Minecraft took the world by storm when it released in 2009. Since then the voxel graphics, exploration genre has erupted, with everything from no-budget clones and ripoffs to unique takes such as Terraria and Cube World. Blackvoxel adds its own spin on the genre, with an abstract style and a focus on robotics.
When you start a new world in Blackvoxel, you find yourself in an expansive black cubed plain. The world spreads out in every direction, leading to towering trees, canyons, lava pits, and more. The game's minimalist style allows a sharp contrast between the world's different elements such as lava and water and the stark clean environment. However the focus of Blackvoxel isn't on survival or lasting the night; it's on building and programming. Through a wide range of robotic devices and blocks, you can create elaborate autonomous machines such as conveyor belts and traps. You're not only in the world of Blackvoxel; although it's still sparsely populated, you'll encounter at least one enemy, who has the ability to spread lava across the world and melt entire areas to nothingness.
While some of these elements were fun and the robotic/creation mechanics certainly seemed promising, I felt the game seemed quite barren and empty. The game is still in beta so new content and features are being added and tweaked, but in my opinion Blackvoxel still needs to progress more before becoming a well-rounded experience. You can purchase the beta from the developer's site and vote for the game on Greenlight.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

PC Spotlight #33: NEO Scavenger

Title: NEO Scavenger
Developer: Blue Bottle Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Browser
Price: $9.99
The raiders left you with nothing, nothing but the ragged clothes on your back and a glass shard. It had been foolish to rest in such an exposed location but the desperate search for shelter from the freezing rain had trumped your nagging exhaustion. And now your mistake had cost you dearly. Another night, another restless sleep in the rain. Hypothermia is a given now. Have to find shelter, real shelter, and supplies...or else death would be coming for you sooner rather than later. 
Movement. A lone bandit in the distance. You hurriedly cover your tracks and hide. From your vantage point, you can see the rusted crowbar, the patchwork hide clothing, the backpack. Supplies, warm attire, weapons. The opportunity is too good to pass up.
That's just one moment from a typical NEO Scavenger playthrough. It's a bleak gritty post apocalyptic roguelike with a focus on realistic survival and it's one of the most intense and immersive experiences I've played in a while.
NEO Scavenger is a turn-based roguelike, set across a hex-based map, action menus, and text vignettes. That may not seem all that exciting, but it's the underlying gameplay mechanics that make the game stand out. Set in a world ravaged by supernatural occurrences and warfare, you awaken in an abandoned cryotube facility. Choose your traits and skills wisely, as different specializations open up new choices and options. (i.e. an Atheletic person can easily outrun enemies, but a person proficient in Hiding could more easily find cover and sneak away). Once you leave the facility, an expansive map is open to explore. How long you'll survive is another matter.
Sleep in the rain without a sleeping bag? Prepare to come down with severe hypothermia overnight or maybe you'll just freeze to death. Run away from bandits over treacherous terrain? Maybe you'll trip and break a rib. Forgo sleep and stay on the move? You'll pass out from exhaustion. Get cut in a fight? You'd better have painkillers and bandages to prevent the wound from getting infected. Forget to hide your tracks before sleeping? The raiders will have found you by morning. The wealth of options and variables to consider are astounding. Life is short and cheap, death is always lurking on the horizon. The combat is ruthless and brutal, akin to the quick violent encounters seen in The Road or No Country, and while the encounters are experienced through menus and text, you always have a wide array of tactics at your disposal, ranging from simply fleeing to trying to break line of sight and hide to forcing enemies to surrender or just surrendering yourself. Raiders and bandits are numerous and merciless, but the otherworldly creatures and mutants that roam the map are even more dangerous.
Despite being quite playable, NEO Scavenger is still in beta, with more areas, weapons, items, enemies, story vignettes to come. The developer regularly provides updates on what he's working on and adding, and the full game is set to release early 2014. You can purchase the beta here or on Desura. A demo is also available.

The Watchlist: Don't Shoot Yourself!

Title: Don't Shoot Yourself!
Developer: Ayopa Games
Platforms: IOS Universal
Releasing November 13th
Your bullets are your worst enemy in Don’t Shoot Yourself!, the addictive and unique new puzzle shoot-’em-up for iOS devices. Use one finger to move the hero around the screen while constantly firing bullets, avoiding your deadly ammunition to stay alive! Sounds easy right? Thing again – you’ll need quick reflexes and some creative strategy to reach the next fiendishly designed level.

Bullet hell shooters have seen many iterations on IOS, from Phoenix HD to the music-generated Beat Hazard. Don't Shoot Yourself! plans to stand out by mixing puzzle elements and minmalist visuals with the usual bullet dodging gameplay. In this game, you don't have to worry about enemy ships attacking; the levels themselves are your enemies. You fire bullets continuously as you move and must avoid your own ammunition across a variety of levels. While some walls simply richochet your bullets around, others have more devious functions, such as following your ship or turning your bullets into homing seekers. Beside a campaign, Don't Shoot Yourself! will feature an endless mode, leaderboards, and video recording/sharing.
You can play Don't Shoot Yourself! when it releases mid-November.

The Watchlist: SCALE

Title: SCALE
Developer: CubeHeart
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Releasing 2014
You wield a device that can make any item any size. A tree, a wall, an enemy, a passing cloud, even the levels themselves are all "SCALEable". Space is relative in the game so progress is as much conceptual as it is physical. The unique mechanic of SCALEing is inspired by games like Portal and The Swapper. Progression through the game is freeform and open like Mario 64 or early Zelda overworlds. It’s all about exploring and discovering secrets!
One might say that we've seen a resurgence (or maybe the birth) of the first person puzzle game since Portal graced the industry in 2007. Portal 2, Inverto, Magrunners, and many more have added their own style and twist on the genre. SCALE from Steve Swink and his team CubeHeart is set to join the genre pantheon with unique and innovative style and mechanics.
You play as Penny Price, a young physicist/inventor imprisoned for accidentally wiping out the east coast. Determined to escape her prison and save for cat, Price builds a homemade version of the powerful scaling device to break out. The wonderfully absurd story - penned by Dale Beran (author of acclaimed webcomic A Lesson is Learned but the Damage is Irreversible) and featuring the voices of Ashly Burch and Sarah Elmaleh - will have you traversing a world where prisons nestle inside other prison like nesting dolls and your therapist lives in your brain.
But the star of the game is its titular scaling mechanic. Using your device, you can grow and shrink nearly any object in the game, from a distant tree to that advancing spider to houses and chests. As you progress through the story and new worlds, your device will grow more powerful and offer new opportunities; where in one level you can scale objects, in another, you're able to manipulate the level itself.
However the focus of the game isn't on brain-wracking puzzles but exploration and discovery. Each world is an open playground to test your abilities, to explore and uncover secrets. While the scaling mechanic does allow for inventive uses such as boosting you into high jumps or creating weights for switches, the primary use will be to serve the exploratory aspects and create interesting landscapes to experience.
SCALE is planned for release in late 2014. You can support the game on Kickstarter.

Monday, October 21, 2013

PC Spotlight #32: Ethan: Meteor Hunter

Title: Ethan: Meteor Hunter
Developer: Seaven Studios
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, PS3
Price: $9.90
Braid, SuperHOT, Prince of Persia....time manipulation remains a fascinating and stylish game mechanic that adds another dimension to any genre. Ethan: Meteor Hunter takes the precision platforming of games like Electronic Super Joy and Super Meat Boy and uses the ability to stop time to provide gamers with a mix of challenging gameplay and puzzles.

The story is simple: our hero, a mouse named Ethan, embarks on a treacherous quest to retrieve meteorite pieces. The story isn't the focus here; the gameplay is and in that aspect, Ethan is a resounding success. Even without the ability to control time, the game would be a brutal platformer, where progress is more easily measured in deaths than victory. A varied and expansive gauntlet of traps and obstacles stand between Ethan and the level exit: crushers, incinerating jets, acid, grinders, explosives, collapsing platforms, electricity, dozens of saw blades, and more. Quick reflexes and precise timing is a must to navigate these hazard-ridden worlds and collect the meteorite chunks that litter each level.
The game is brutal enough without the time-based puzzles, but the Pause ability allows for even more inventive and varied challenges. By collecting tokens, you gain the power to stop time and manipulate objects in the world. From simply moving blocks to make a staircase to moving platforms mid-jump while avoiding other hazards, this ability opens the door for scenarios and challenges just not possible in other platformers and Seaven Studios crafts a wonderfully varied range of devious and inventive time-based platforming puzzles. It's one thing to avoid saw blades; it's another to avoid saw blades while strategically pausing time to block flame jets and create a safe platform to land on.
For all its fantastic puzzle platforming, Ethan Meteor Hunter is not without its flaws. For the most part, the controls worked fine but there were times where the jumping and movement feel clunky and imprecise; luckily these moments seemed pretty rare. Furthermore, I could have done without the levels that abandoned the time-controlling platforming to mix up the gameplay, such a Doodle Jump-esque level where you hopped up platforms and over hazards on a pogo stick. Any times these levels came around, I just wanted to get back to the time controlling and white-knuckle platforming. Lastly, I felt the environments grew repetitive over time but thankfully the gameplay itself made up for the lack of variety.
Flaws aside, Ethan Meteor Hunter will challenge you throughout its entire campaign, thanks to its brutal precision platforming and inventive time-stopping puzzles. Prepare to be sliced, crushed, melted, fried, and just die a lot and you'll enjoy your time with Ethan Meteor Hunter. You can purchase the game from the developer's site and vote for it on Steam Greenlight.

IOS Spotlight #24: Indigo Lake

Title: Indigo Lake
Developer: Three Cubes
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $1.99
Between the endless Slender clones, horror on IOS can sometimes seem to be lacking. Games like The Nightjar, Year Walk, and Home are shining examples of horror done right on the platform and now we can add Indigo Lake to the upper echelon of IOS horror titles.
From its opening moments, Indigo Lake drops the player into an atmospheric eerie landscape. You begin on a swaying boat under a cloud-choked sky pierced by lightning. Before long, you've reached land, an forested island where the trees rock ominously in the wind and disembodied sounds echo across the landscape. The island is surprisingly open, to the point that you're given a Jeep to traverse the world, and the abandoned cabins, the dolls hanging from trees, the odd structures found deep in the woods, all add to the atmosphere and tone. You never feel comfortable or safe.
Nor should you, because the island may be abandoned but it's not uninhabited. Ghostly beings stalk you through the woods and watch you from the shadows, wait for you in the cabins and houses across the island. Your trusty handgun can keep them at bay, but Indigo Lake's focus is more on puzzles and exploration than combat. The slower pacing really suits the game and allows you to appreciate the environments.
Perhaps the most striking feature besides the superb horror gameplay are the visuals. Even on less powerful devices such as iPod 4, the game runs extremely well and sports detailed textures, atmospheric lighting, and wonderful little subtleties such as leaves fluttering in the wind. The visuals never cease to impress across the game's seven to eight hour story. 

You can purchase Indigo Lake for $1.99.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

PC Spotlight #31: The Stanley Parable

Title: The Stanley Parable
Developer: Galactic Cafe
Platforms: PC
Price: $14.99 (on sale for $11.99)
The Stanley Parable is a game of contradictions. It's about a man named Stanley, but it's also your story. It's a game about choice, but also the lack of choice. It's funny and humorous, but also surprisingly existential. The Stanley Parable is many things, but one fact remains consistent: it's something you need to experience.
Yes, experience. The Stanley Parable could be defined as a game - you walk, look around, interact with objects - but it's more of an virtual Choose-Your-Own-Adventure narrative than what some might consider a game. That doesn't make the Stanley Parable any less worthy of your time and attention. You control a man named Stanley, employee 427, instructed to press buttons ad naueseam and nothing more. Or so he thinks, until one day, the instructions cease and you take the fateful steps into the abandoned office building outside your room and the world beyond.
Or not. You never have to leave your office. Make that choice and the Narrator - masterfully voiced by Kevan Brighting - will surely have some comment, some retort, some insight on your decision. Go left instead of right, got downstairs instead of upstairs, press the button, don't press the button, press a different button, and the Narrator will always be there with a snappy comeback. He's your guide, your benefactor, your nemesis, your teacher, and half the time, he seems just as lost and confused by the sudden turn of events as you are. He's the foundation of the game and never ceases to amuse and entertain.
To discuss those "turn of events" would do a disservice to the wonderfully crafted narrative. The Stanley Parable may last only four or five hours but it's a one of a kind experience that will have you smiling, chuckling, laughing, confused, reeling from momentary shock and surprise in response to the myriad paths your choices will take you. It's a game tailor made for discussions and excited recollections of your favorite moments and discoveries. More than any other experience this year, it's a game for gamers, in the way it plays with, subverts, comments on the expectations and tropes of the medium. You need to play The Stanley Parable.

You can purchase the game on Steam.

IOS Spotlight #23: Mimpi

Title: Mimpi
Developer: Silicon Jelly
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $1.99
Mimpi takes a simple story of a dog in search of his owner and turns it into a platforming journey through surreal landscapes and puzzles.
Mimpi follows the titular dog on a journey to find his owner, taking you across a number of unusual fantastical worlds from space to the mysterious facility. The platforming itself will be familiar to fans of the genre and the controls can feel kind of clunky but the highlights are the wonderful art style and smart integration of the touchscreen into the game's puzzles. The weird and surreal levels you try through are all interesting to explore, each with their own obstacles and motifs and populated by unusual creatures that help and hinder. The puzzles themselves all make intelligent and varied use of the touch controls, allowing you to perform such feats as dragging clouds through the sky, reeling in entire continents, and other interesting uses.
Mimpi is a fun puzzle platformer that makes up for its familiar running and jumping with a colorful vibrant visuals and inventive puzzles that take advantage of the touchscreen. You can purchase Mimpi for $1.99.

No Money, No Problem: Transmover

Title: Transmover/Transmover: New Generation
Developer: Polygon Gmen
Platforms: Browser
Price: Free
Released in 2009 and 2011 respectively, the Transmover games are not the most visually impressive or exciting flash games, but they take a simple puzzle mechanic and wring out dozens of inventive ways to test your spatial puzzle solving skills.
While the intructions are in Japanese, the menu options are in English and you can change the language settings to English in the Options. Either way the controls are very simple: arrow keys to move, WASD to shoot your raygun in one of those directions. You can only jump the height of one block and can shoot while climbing ladders, hanging from poles, and jumping. Your raygun isn't used to kill enemies or blow away obstacles; instead shooting special green blocks allow you to swap places with the block. Throughout your quest to collect keys and unlock the level exit, this mechanics opens the door for a huge variety of challenges across the main levels and hundreds of user levels across both games: from walls that only allow you or your laser to pass through, blocks that can only be shoot from a certain angle, blocks that can only be swapped once, blocks that change orientation when swapped, and more.
The Transmover games offer a wide range of puzzles that will keep you entertained for hours. You can play Transmover here and Transmover: New Generation here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Watchlist: Scraps

Title: Scraps
Developer: Moment Studio
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Release N/A, in development
Scraps is a vehicle combat game where you build a vehicle from parts, and where success lies just as much in designing a well-crafted vehicle as in your combat skills. It’s about competitive creativity, and having fun while making horrible design decisions.
Developer Moment Studios describes Scraps in short as "Kerbal Space Program except the spaceships are vehicles and they fight." Like the after-mentioned title, the core mechanic is vehicle construction, and factors such as weight, center of gravity, aerodynamics, and physics all affect handling and performance. Except here you mount an insane amount of weapons, armor, generators, and more onto your vehicle and then take your creation onto the online battlefields.
The game is nowhere near complete but after playing the vehicle builder demo, it's apparent that the level of freedom and creativity is already astounding. Want to make an agile hit-and-run vehicle with a few machines guns? What about an armored behemoth with tank cannons? Or a monstrosity brimming with too many guns and turrets to count, so top heavy with guns and armor that turning is impossible? You can make all those and more. While only a few chassis and weapon types are currently available, the list of planned of features promise parts ranging from tank treads and thrusts to energy shields and melee attachments to even the possibility of flying vehicles, radar jammers, headlights for night missions, and more.
Scraps will focus on competitive multiplayer, with possible modes ranging from deathmatches to races, as well as single player combat against bots. The game still has a long way to go, but you can build, test, and share your own vehicles in the free builder demo here. You can learn more about Scraps at its official site, follow the game's development on the TIGForum Devlog, and rate the game on its Steam Greenlight Concepts page.

PC Spotlight #30: Koya Rift

Title: Koya Rift
Developer: SunnyKatt
Platforms: PC
Price: $3.99
Sometimes games slip through the cracks, due to a lack of exposure and attention. Koya Rift was released in 2011 and has been on Steam Greenlight since its inception in 2012. It's yet another game that seems to have been overlooked, overshadowed, which is a shame because Koya Rift is stylish, frenetic fun.
Humanity searches for new planets to colonize. On one such suitable planet, a hostile race of "phantoms" guard the word with ruthless attacks and powerful weaponry. These foes are too dangerous for a human to face so they send remotely controlled drone suits known as Lancers to combat this threat. Piloting one of these Lancer, your goal is to descend into the subterranean maze of caverns and tunnels and destroy the crystals that give the phantoms life.
Before going into Koya Rift, it should be noted that the game is inherently repetitive. The underground maps can feel much too similar after a while and the game as a whole is best played in short bursts to get the optimal experience. That said, those short bursts of play are always fast paced and exciting. You embark from your surface base, maybe setting down turrets or purchasing drones to defend it from nighttime attacks, and then descend underground. Your Lancer telekinetically wields a number of different weapons, each with randomly generated functions: spread shot, phasing rounds, shots that slow down enemies or give your drones and yourself stat boosts, homing rounds, and more. Power-ups found below grant you shields, reinforcements, the ability to phase through walls, extra health and energy.
You'll need all these advantages, as the phantoms will attack ruthlessly from all directions. From phasing "gnats" to massive dual-headed Behemoths, the ghostly, dinosaur skull-esque phantoms sport a unique design and don't hesitate to strafe you with dozens of bullets. Battles become a hectic light show of laser fire as you, your army of droid helpers, and myriad phantoms exchange rounds in the tight passages and caves.
You'll face the phantom threat across a randomized battle mode and a map-clearing campaign. Koya Rift may not be the deepest or complex game, but it's fun and exciting, with a cool visual style, bullet hell madness, and difficulty that adjusts to your skill level. You can purchase Koya Rift on the developer's site or Desura and vote for the game on Steam Greenlight.

No Money, No Problem: Ending

Title: Ending
Developer: Aaron Steed
Platforms: PC, iPhone, iPad
Price: Free (PC), $1.99 (IOS)
Aaron Steed's Ending is a minimalist roguelike stripped of all the fluff and filler, exposing a challenging game of life and death decisions and strategic planning, where one wrong move can destroy you.
Inspired by chess and board games, Ending casts you as a lowly @ sign, in a maze of dangerous ruthless enemies. Each symbol moves in a specific way or has a special purpose, from moving two spaces in a turn to only being able to attack from a certain direction or firing projectiles. When you move, they move, and one hit is enough to destroy you...or for you to end them. There in lies Ending's brilliant gameplay: it's a game where every move must be considered, where you need to think five steps ahead and know exactly how each enemy will be move or else you'll find yourself cornered and trapped by the fourth step. Maneuvering into advantageous positions to avoid danger and destroy your enemies is thrilling and difficult and always rewarding, and your limited number of moves per room adds more tension and challenge.
Ending offers a trio of modes to test your skills. Puzzle mode introduces you to the concepts and new enemies, allowing you to learn the ins and outs of gameplay and just fine-tune your skills and strategies. From there, you can progress to the game's roguelike Gauntlet mode, a series of procedurally-generated rooms and levels teeming with more enemies and enemy combinations than any Puzzle scenario. A level editor allows players to create and share their own fiendishly difficult rooms.
Ending is a complex game that mixes chess and roguelike elements to create a tense and thrilling experience. You will die...a lot and you will succeed through your own intelligent planning and strategies. Ending is available to play here as a free download or in browser and you can support Aaron by buying the game on IOS.

Friday, October 18, 2013

IOS Spotlight #22: Turret Tilt

Title: Turret Tilt
Developer: Austin Patten
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: Free
Turret Tilt is a stylish fun arcade shooter that offers simple controls and challenging gameplay with some tactical depth.
Through a mix of tilt and touch controls, you aim your turret at the bottom of the screen as waves of ships, enemies, and projectiles close in. Some fire bullets and rockets or just charges at your turret, while others act as mini-bosses. Luckily you have a wide range of upgradable weaponry at your disposal, from machine guns and lasers to shotguns, saw blades, and more. Pick-ups grant you the ability to fire rockets, drop mines, detonate screen-clearing nukes, and restock ammo, and a shield power allows you to strategically protect against damage. You can equip any four ammo types at a time, allowing to adjust and fine-tune your preferred style.
Turret Tilt will challenge you across an endless Marathon mode and a more structured Conquest mode. Stats and leaderboards track your progress and even there is IAP, it's totally unnecessary to enjoy the game. You can download Turret Tilt for free.