It’s the little surprises that make indie gaming so fun to write about, and I don’t think there are many things more surprising than 2008′s first-person arthouse spy adventure Gravity Bone getting a sequel. For those who haven’t played the original Gravity Bone, it’s probably a good idea that you rectify that right now. It was an experiment in first-person storytelling. A short spy story with a charmingly minimalist art style, fantastic music and some cleverly used cinematic techniques that don’t really get much use in videogames.
It also ran on a freeware, open-source variant of the Quake 2 engine. Recycling in action! It’s been a long time since Gravity Bone was released, and a sequel just seemed improbable now that Blendo Games have moved on to more commercial outings. Even more improbable is that the Idle Thumbs podcast (recently revived via Kickstarter) would offer to fund a Gravity Bone sequel as a stretch goal. But they did, and here we are. Here’s the trailer:
Thirty Flights of Loving is yet another piece of first-person, experimental arthouse gaming with a sense of humour befitting a Blendo production. A short story (maybe a quarter-hour long) about the events surrounding a grand heist, it’s difficult to say whether it’s worth the $5 asking price but there’s been no shortage of praise for it so far. Those who backed the Idle Thumbs kickstarter to the tune of $30 or more should have received their invitation back to the exotic the intriguing Neuvos Aires, but the rest of you can grab the sequel either direct via the official site or Steam.
Thirty Flights Of Loving is currently for Windows PCs only, and the combination blocky-headed characters and a Quake 2-derived engine should ensure that it runs on just about anything faster than a pocket calculator.
Seldom has the term ‘Videogame violence’ been so appropriate. Hotline Miami is a game about the kind of stylized neon hyper-aggression that you can only get in videogames. A clean and orderly building becomes a canvas, and in a frenzied burst of activity, you paint it with redder-than-red blood and slightly-too-purple brains layered over turquoise shirts and sharp white suits, all while flashing score indicators leap out of the bodies of your fallen foes, and a score multiplier creeps higher and higher with each brutal, successive murder.
Hotline Miami is the first commercial outing by prolific punk game developer Cactus. Teamed up with graphic artist Dennis Wedin and published under the surprisingly indie banner of Devolver Digital, it’s probably safest to describe the game as a tactical shooter after an all-night cocaine binge. We won’t spoil anything about the rather mysterious storyline, but you can look forward to stepping into the shoes of a very dangerous man with a collection of rubber animal masks, who travels around Miami by night, massacring whole buildings full of heavily armed thugs.
The controls are tight – mouse to aim, WSAD to move and the space bar is all you need – and the gameplay is laser-focused. The current preview build only contains about half the levels and presumably not all of the gameplay elements that’ll feature in the full game, but it’s plenty to get a handle on how it works. Your goal is to kill absolutely everything and everyone that moves across a series of buildings – many with multiple floors – using whatever weapons you can scrounge up on the premises. The big twist is that unlike most action games, you’re just as fragile as the enemies. One good hit and you’re dead, and the enemies are just as fast and twitchy as you are, too.
Your only two advantages are that the enemies move in predictable fashion (each of the handfull of enemy types – white-suited grunts, attack dogs, heavier soldiers, etc – sharing the same AI), and that you’ve got an omniscient overhead view of the level. You’re unarmed, and you know that behind that next door is a medium-sized room with two enemies in. One has a baseball bat, standing in the center of the room, and the other guy is patrolling with a shotgun. If that gun goes off, everyone in the area will hear it and – as there’s three guys with rifles just across the hall – almost certainly kill you, so you time your attack just right.
You wait for the perfect moment and kick the door open, smacking the shotgunner full in the face as he passes by. He falls over and drops his gun, but he’ll be up in a moment. The guy with the baseball bat pauses for a fraction of a second as you charge in, long enough for you to get in a punch. He falls too. You grab the bat, straddle him and smash his skull open. The shotgunner has picked himself up, though, and grabbed his gun. Not having the time to cover the distance, you throw the bat, knocking the shotgunner down again, slumped against the wall. This time, you finish him with a boot to the face.
That’s three seconds of gameplay, spanning just one, simple room, and you’ve got another six ahead of you on this stage alone. Any pause, mistake or hesitation would have meant instant death, and put you back at the start of that floor. It’s hard to be frustrated even when you can die so easily, though – the game drops you back into the action as fast as Super Meat Boy or Trials – and there’s fun to be had in experimenting with different approaches, different playstyles and different routes through each area. There’s very rarely just one ‘correct’ solution.
There’s a complex scoring system, unlockable masks (each with a small but useful character perk attached) for hitting certain point quotas, and some clever variety in the levels themselves. The whole thing is incredibly tightly designed, and held together by an aesthetic that not only works in the games’ favour, but accentuates each kill and death by depicting it in the most garish, lurid palette possible. The music is rather brilliant too, as you can hear from the gameplay trailers.
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Hotline Miami, with it already winning ‘best of show’ and ‘audience favourite’ awards at trade-shows. Now that I’ve had a chance to play it, I can see why people are so excited. Keep your eye on IGM for a full review once we get our hands on the final build.
We’ve covered the convoluted tale of Mutant Mudds before here. One of the highest rated games on the 3DS in general, and probably the best-recieved game on the digital online store on the platform. Developers Renegade Kid are making the jump to PC, and the heavily-upgraded PC version of the game (jokingly referred to as Mutant Mudds: Granny Edition) is nearly here. The problem is that it’s been rejected from Steam already. Repeatedly.
The good news is that the game is already lined up with several other stores, such as GOG, Gamersgate and such. Still, it looks like the only real hope the game has of landing on Steam at this point is the new Greenlight public voting system, due sometime in the next couple weeks. Anyway, enough doom and gloom – here’s a peek at the PC version in the newly released trailer:
As you can see, they’ve gotten around the lack of depth perception from the 3DS version by just using depth-of-field effects to help define the front and back layers of the action. I also can’t help but notice that the PC version seems to contain a ‘CGA World’. That four-colour palette is nostalgic stuff for PC gamers who grew up through the 80s, although I have a feeling the joke is going to be lost on much of the newer generation.
Mutant Mudds is due out on the 30th of August, and will likely set you back around $10. We’ll be trying to weasel an official review copy out of the developers to help you figure out whether it’s worth the money.
Ed McMillen has been a fairly influential force in indie gaming these past few years. A long history of flash and freeware games, topped off by a launch to success with Super Meat Boy, and a stratospheric leap to riches with The Binding of Isaac. It’s easy to forget all the great (and some not-so-great) games that he produced on the way there. That’s where The Basement Collection comes in. 6 of his previous works, 2 secret bonus games, ‘making of’ videos and interviews and more, all wrapped together in a nice UI and with a raft of unlockables and hidden content.
It’s not just straight copies of the games, too. As announced on his personal blog, almost everything has got a full suite of upgrades. Some minor such as the original pre-super Meat Boy getting improved, more responsive controls, and some major, like nightmarish puzzle-platformer Time Fcuk getting an entire second campaign, complete with its own story. It sounds like some, if not all of the games have been updated from Flash to Adobe Air, meaning better performance and UI functionality, including support for the use of that most neglected of things: The right mouse button. This should be of particular use in playing alien spider-simulator Tri-Achnid.
All of this will be releasing sometime on Steam, and will have the full suite of perks and achievements you expect from it. The bundle hasn’t been granted a release date yet, but we already know the price-tag; a very wallet-friendly $4. While these are previously-free games for the most part, the upgrades and editorial content should make it easily worth the asking price. But then, I would say that – I’ve loved just about every game he’s produced. There’s no trailer for the Basement Collection yet, so here’s an astounding Binding Of Isaac one-man-band guitar arrangement medley to sound us off:
Props to Danny B for producing that so-very-memorable soundtrack, and to FamilyJules7X for rocking so very hard.
Just look at that screenshot above. Click it, so you can see it in full. Now, putting aside for a moment the fact that it looks more like a menacing dragon than a goblin, let it act as a reminder of just how astonishingly pretty Frozenbyte’s fairytale puzzle-platformer Trine 2 was, and still is. Let’s also remember that Trine 2 was one of the best indie releases in recent memory, offering a meaty, clever adventure under all those stunning graphics. Good, now we can be fittingly excited that it’s getting bigger – coming this Autumn is the official expansion, Goblin Menace. Here’s the also-lovely-looking trailer:
A new story arc, six new levels set across some very fresh-looking environments, and new abilities for all three of the playable characters. Interestingly, the new powers can also be used in the original campaign, which should add a little more replay value to the old content as well. Sounds like a fairly hefty bunch of new content. There’s no specific release date or price tag set on this one yet, but Frozenbyte have announced that the game will be re-launching under the banner of ‘Trine 2: Directors Cut‘ when Goblin Menace arrives.
You can find the official (and rather spartan) press-release here. Included with it is a large gallery of similarly beautiful screenshots – worth a look, I reckon.
It always struck me as odd that the Newgrounds crew that produced Castle Crashers would ignore their patron platform for so long. Fortunately, time heals all wounds, and the immensely popular 4-player co-op brawler is finally migrating back to PC, and it’s confirmed for a Steam launch too, to boot. You can read the specifics (of which there aren’t too many) in this official forum post here. Here’s the PS3/360 version trailer, too, just in case you’ve forgotten what it looks like:
There’s no release date set yet, but they’re going to be demoing the updated PC version of Castle Crashers at Gamescom, starting tomorrow, as well as their upcoming anarchic combat-platformer BattleBlock Theater at PAX, starting August 31st. From the sounds of things, all the character and cosmetic DLC from the various console editions is getting rolled into the PC version from the start, which is nice. We’ll be taking a poke around the PC version once it launches to see what has changed over the years, if anything.
Well, here’s some truth in advertising. Or at least in titling. Uber Entertainment (developers of the Monday Night Combat series) have unveiled their next project, and it’s a revival of a fan-favourite. Planetary Annihilation is being pitched as a spiritual successor to classic RTS Total Annihilation – they’ve even got the original narrator! They’re adding their own twist to the proceedings, of course. Despite already being a large-scale RTS, it takes place on an interplanetary scale. Want to know what that means? Here’s their gameplay teaser and pitch video:
The footage there is sadly just a mock-up/target render, but it gives you a solid idea of the possibilities. Need to get some troops behind enemy lines? Set up a moon-base and drop troops from orbit. Think the planet is a lost cause? Rig an asteroid with rocket thrusters and smash it into the enemy base. The concept is very much a direct update and expansion of Total Annihilation, right down to the ‘ancient armies of robots fighting across space’ setting, but with a cleaner, more cartoony aesthetic.
A full pre-order will set you back a $20 pitch (or $15 if you move fast, apparently) for this kickstarter, and they’re already 1/9th of the way funded after just one day, so things are looking pretty good for this project. According to their full Kickstarter page, they’ve even got some of the original Total Annihilation crew on board, so there’s a good chance they’ll recapture the spirit of it all. I, for one, have my fingers crossed for this one. Ever since I played Fragile Allegiance back in the 90s, I’ve had a soft-spot for dropping asteroids on people.
I guess we’ve moved past the concept of ‘bundle season’ – you can’t go a few weeks without someone bundling up a pile of indie (or less-than-indie) games, slapping a pay-what-you-want pseudo-pricetag on the lot and calling it a day. Still, can’t sniff at this lot, even if it’s not nearly as grandiose as previous Humble Bundle offerings. Here’s the official launch video:
As always, it’s a fully cross-platform bundle, so despite the ‘Android’ part of the title, everything in here will also run on your PC, whether it’s using Windows, Mac or Linux. It’s a good set of games, too. We’ve got super-popular Tower Defense game Fieldrunners, musical Breakout-esque game BIT.TRIP BEAT, award-winning, brain-crushing puzzle game Spacechem and Introversion’s ‘the future according to the 80s’ hacking simulator Uplink. All great games, although definitely an eclectic bunch. The over-the-average bonus game is Spirits, which I’ve honestly not heard much about, but it certainly looks lovely.
As is Humble Bundle standard, a chunk of the money goes to charity as well, at least by default. You’re free to decide how much of your money goes to the developers, the charities involved and the Humble Bundle organizers. As mentioned, this isn’t exactly a mindblowing bundle, but it’s a solid pack of games, and probably worth it just for Spacechem, which I will happily recommend to anyone with a functioning brain.
Wadjet Eye Games have really been cementing their place as the second coming of Lucasarts these past few years. They’ve put out a steady stream of well-written, thoughtful and interestingly themed point-and-click adventures, and now they’re ready to tease their next project – Primordia. Here’s the brooding, atmospheric first trailer:
A dark, apocalyptic cyberpunk aesthetic here, and a story revolving around a machine-city falling into corruption and disrepair in the absence of human control. All of this, and it’s narrated by Logan Cunningham, the inimitable voice of Rucks from Bastion. The art (while slightly low-res, admittedly) looks fantastic, and reminds me a lot of Beneath a Steel Sky. This is on the grungy, worn-down end of the cyberpunk scale for sure.
No specific release date on this one yet, but Wadjet Eye are aiming for the fourth quarter of this year. We’ll be covering news on this one as it unfolds, but you can follow the development of the game and read up some more on the official site here.
Deepak Fights Robots is another game by Tom Sennett, and if you’re familiar with his work at all (such as RunMan: Race Around The World) you know what to expect. Bright colours, MSPaint doodles, remarkably tight level design and a jazzy, easygoing edge to it all. In this case, we’ve got a Bubble Bobble-inspired platformer where family-man and office worker Deepak is transported to the MAGICAL CAVE OF ROBOTS by the mysterious RoboPimp – the funkiest of all the robots.
Funk is order of the day here. While the joyfully silly MSPaint art and cycling colour palette is good by itself, the music (by the fantastic Family FUNKtion and the Sitar Jams) elevates it to some seriously heady heights. A mix of acid jazz, rock and classical Indian elements all thrown in a blender and cranked up to high. This is a game all about simple, pure fun, and there’s a certain flavour here that you just don’t find anywhere else.
While the game is inspired heavily by Bubble Bobble, it’s by no means a clone. Your goal is still to clear a series of single-room levels of enemies, beating a big boss every ten or so (introduced by RoboPimp, who drops some funky beat poetry on you first), but the approach is very different. There’s no fire button here – nothing beyond moving left, right and jumping, and touching any enemy is instant death. Your goal is simply to pick up all the powerup items in the level. Once you’ve grabbed those, a final one appears, and picking it up turns you into SUPER-DEEPAK and lets you bounce wildly around the screen, punching robots asunder. And then you do it again.
So, without any means of attack until the level itself is cleared, it’s a game of avoidance. It’s also a puzzle game. Some levels you might be up against a robot clone of Deepak that copies your exact movements, but mirrored, and you need to exploit movement quirks and moving platforms in order to avoid bumping into it. The levels also wrap left-to-right and top-to-bottom, which makes for some clever movement puzzles, especially later on where some levels have no floor or ceiling at all. It could have been frustrating, but the game gives you infinite lives, and some of the robots even apologize when they kill you. It’s not their fault they want to murder you – they were just programmed that way.