Indie game news, reviews, previews and everything else concerning indie game development.

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First Playable Demo of PSN Exclusive Okabu from Hand Circus [GDC 2011]

UK’s Hand Circus has made two previous hits, having worked on Rolando 1 and 2 for the iOS devices. The team now has its sights set on the PlayStation Network, preparing the exclusive Okabu for gamers to enjoy. The mechanics revealed in the demo are essentially a mix of puzzle, adventure, and platformer.

The staple, colorfully joyous art of Hand Circus immediately pops out of the screen even without stereoscopic 3D. The off-camera demos may not capture the design as well as the team’s official trailer, so newcomers to Hand Circus’s art should check out this video first:

Did you start singing “Okabu” by the end of that?

While that trailer gives gamers a clear view of the art, I found that the game moves faster in person, at what appears to be 60fps. I also found it hard not to smile while playing Okabu; the design of the cloud characters are so emotive. They look so happy when they dip down to absorb water. I almost wish I knew the feeling, or at least the game made me want the weather to warm up to go for a dip in the water.

The demo featured a few puzzles using the clouds and the villagers who can ride the clouds. Without giving away too many spoilers, the clouds can absorb other liquids such as oil and use that in someway to cause an explosion. The clouds can aim the liquids for streamed shots, or they can allow for a heavy downpour.

The one human that rode my cloud possessed a plunger shot that could stick to walls, bridges, and other hazards that needed adjusting or pulling. I could also fish out items that were causing pollution in the village. In the demo, players could only do one thing at a time: absorb and split out a liquid or carry a human and use his or her tools.

The local co-op never caused the screen to split; it simply zoomed to accommodate the players’ distance. The puzzles and interspersed events suggest that Okabu will be more than a thoughtful, contained local co-op experience. Hand Circus seems to have an ecological message infused that does not feel preachy.

The only conundrum I felt the game presented was that the oil/explosion puzzle felt to be the antithesis of the eco-friendly message. Maybe Hand Circus will allow players to solve puzzles without causing more pollution, or the game will reward players who return to clean up a mess they cause to the environment.

I spoke with Simon Oliver at GDC, and he said the team is aiming for a Summer 2011 release. He told me that the art assets showing players how to do the moves in the game were merely place holders, so they most likely will be redrawn to mirror the jovial appearance of the in-game clouds.

Controls were pretty spot on, and I was only led astray once by the yellow arrow that indicated where to go to progress. I can’t wait to hear the soundtrack better, as it’s hard to hear in a loud event such as GDC. I also can’t wait to play the game in its entirety and see how else the cloud’s properties are exploited. If nothing else, I am excited to have a pleasant local co-op experience that isn’t a shooter or arcade experience to play on the couch.

Interested in Hand Circus? Read this quirky, in-depth Gamasutra interview written by yours truly.

[Media by Steven Bardales]


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Explodemon Helps Redefine The Platformer Genre [Review]

Explodemon-LogoWhen a game helps redefine a sub-genre, one could assume the review will have nothing but praise. Curve Studios’s PSN exclusive Explodemon certainly deserves heaps of praise for rewriting the physics of an exploding platformer. After players breeze by the campy Ingrish (botched English) dialogue intro, they will quickly realize how different Explodemon plays compared to any other platformer. In true indie fashion, Curve has experimented and succeeded in making a challenging, thought-provoking, addicting, and sequel (and prequel) worthy action/puzzle platformer.

GAMEPLAY CONDENSED:

Explodemon is an intensely fun game. At times, it’s a roller coaster ride of blowing up enemies and items, with thrilling platforming elements of jumping, dodging, and avoiding death. The game slams on the brakes with its sometimes brutal, but always mentally rewarding, puzzle mechanics. Players that have no desire to explore may meet the game’s time challenges, but exploring the huge stages with their multiple paths is part of the fun. Curve rewards players’ curiosity with a multitude of items: points for shopping for upgrades, stage-specific explosion restoring speed boosters, and explodicon collectibles. There are twelve stages that took me anywhere from 20-30+ minutes to complete the first time. Exploring was a must me, and I loved every minute of it.

While gamers may die frequently, Curve was gracious with frequent restart points. However, the singular kill screen each time Explodemon dies detracts from the action and becomes a little stale. There are pits, spikes, tons of enemies, areas that trigger random explosions or siphon the ability to explode, launch pads, and much more to keep the stages exciting. Boss fights with the same antagonist added an unnecessary chunk of time and ebb to an otherwise blockbuster event of a game.

“WARNING! THE ANALYSIS OF A GAMEPLAY IS DEEP IN ITS PENETRATING, GASP MECHANIC;”

(Ingrish often doesn’t work, does it?) Explodemon is a demanding but rewarding game, in that Curve has tweaked the “exploding platformer” formula for the better on almost all accounts. Some mechanics are easily learned and retained, while others may take the entire game to adjust to. Insightful gamers or developers could probably write a thesis on Explodemon‘s jumping alone. He possesses a sort of double jump, but it is executed so intuitively that it makes every other double jump seem counter-intuitive. How in the world does a character jump just as high the first time in mid-air?! Explodemon would surely like to know. Inertia is his best friend; at the beginning of his jump, players must hit the explode button to achieve maximum distance in what would otherwise be described as a double jump. This is really just him exploding at the most logical time to intensify his leaping force from gravity.

This jumping mechanic is brilliant. Can Curve Studios undo twenty-plus years of ingrained illogical double jumping? In time and with enough sequels, definitely. By the time I finished the game, I understood how to jump in Explodemon, but I would sometimes revert back to my Pavlovian response for double jumping. Fortunately, Explodemon demands several replays for which I will return and hone my skills.

Another jumping mechanic that Curve tweaked was the wall jump. Players can essentially wall jump once and then must explode to gather enough inertia to wall jump again. A meter limits explosions, so timing is imperative. This mechanic is quite the change of pace from the wonderful wall jump that games such as MegaMan X incorporated to allow exploration of huge terrains and advanced boss fights. Explodemon’s wall jump feels like an advanced technique and is one I struggled to master for a while. However game-changing, I applaud Curve for its ingenuity with the wall jump mechanic.

big stages to explore

The jump has a third major component that isn’t as revolutionary but is still game-changing enough. Explodemon gains an instant “phase dash” ability. The dash also has a meter which limits its use. However, executing successful chains of jumps, explosions, and phase dashing is exhilarating and allows him to explore every centimeter of each stage .

Explodemon has a manual dash, as well. Once he gathers speed walking, he can burst to propel himself. This burst is Jesus-like/magical, allowing him to dash across bodies of water or other liquids. During the dash, he plows through enemies and breakable walls. All of which totals to pure adrenaline.

While Explodemon doesn’t turn water into wine, he can turn his enemies into vapor from exploding. The destructive element has its own mechanics. Last-second explosions to approaching enemies make time slow down dramatically, meaning he dealt maximum damage. A tiny flashing button icon appears above Explodemon’s head when he can rapidly chain explosions (avoiding the longer recharge of the explosion meter). By the end of the game, I could not trigger the later learned triple chain combo (denoted with numbers that flash over Explodemon’s head) with any certainty. This was frustrating when I was facing some of the tougher enemies.

The last major exploitation of the explosion worth mentioning is box pushing coupled with trajectory manipulation. Explodemon sends indestructible boxes sliding across the ground or flying midair with the propelling force of his explosions. Explodemon also has a slide, which helps particularly in puzzles when he needs to “sweep” objects off the ground to set them up for a midair explosion. Often buttons or weighed stations require boxes to weigh them down for Explodemon to progress. Players can later enter a trajectory mode with the shoulder buttons and use the analog to adjust the predicted path of the exploding object.

The trajectory also comes in handy when colored boxes have to line up with their outlines to unlock paths, as well. The puzzles in Explodemon gradually increase in difficulty and feel very rewarding upon completion. The sheer number of different, challenging puzzles is amazing.

Explodemon can rebound missiles to hurt enemies and solve puzzles, adding to the fun puzzle mechanic. Unfortunately, missiles can’t be rerouted with the shoulder button trajectory technique, so players must be beyond painfully precise to hit certain objects. The unforgiving missile mechanic adds a healthy level frustration except for the painful boss fights.

absorbemon

As noted several times, Explodemon is an intense experience. Puzzles and platforming are demanding. The boss fights with Absorbemon every two stages are mostly mood killers, especially when Explodemon must redirect missiles without trajectory assistance to hit him. Absorbemon has a damaging beam which gives him back life and an absorb technique that brings the player in swiping reach for a bigger life regeneration attack. It’s a good thing Absorbemon is so awesome by himself. It’s possible Curve intended these fights to piss gamers off.

STYLE & SOUND:

To quote Explodemon, “Irony detected! The wireless becomes a tether!” The incessant Ingrish Explodemon spouts will cause a love it or hate it reaction from players, but the villagers often quick-witted responses redeem the game. Each of the three worlds has its own strong upbeat/retro soundtrack, with the main melody of Explodemon heard in each. The sleek, futuristic backgrounds of Explodemon fit the advanced robotic technology theme. The minor enemies are a bit drab in color, and the status bars clutter up the sides and corners at times.

enemy colors

There are several comic-style cut scenes that push the story forward and reveal bits of Explodemon’s history, making it seem like he is actually an anti-hero in the story. The ending feels a bit abrupt, as if I expected something after the credits. Then again, maybe I just wanted more Explodemon.

As an aside, Absorbemon looks cooler to me than Explodemon, and his inverted powers of “absorbing” would make for a really interesting game. I get woozy thinking of a (computer-aided or local) co-op experience where players would use their powers together.

EVERYTHING ELSE:

Competitive players rejoice for there are leaderboards for each level, which ranks players by time. I loved almost every minute of the game, save most of the boss fights. I actually enjoyed the boss fight of 3-2. Curve has managed to rewrite the book on a few key platforming conventions, and I feel this outweighs the potential misstep of some of the boss fights. In addition to awesome platforming mechanics, the game’s exploration and puzzle solving were enormously fun.

If only I would ever start playing the game with the analog… I found myself holding the digital input in the beginning without my character moving. I suppose using only analog controls isn’t fault worthy to some; however, I feel a 2D platformer such as Explodemon should have digital controls if only to authenticate the retro experience.

I hope Curve releases an international free demo, so players that STILL have the horrible misconception of this being a copycat can finally shut the hell up… er, be delightfully surprised! Gamers who enjoy platform games must try Explodemon. Explodemon is available now for $9.99.

Thanks for the ride, Curve. I will wear the white hair and chin pubes Explodemon‘s stress gave me with pride.

Curve Studios


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Fluidity/Hydroventure Creators Curve Studios Releases Explodemon On PSN This Week, New Trailer

Explodemon-Logo

In preparation for a PlayStation Network exclusive release this week, Curve Studios has released an exciting new trailer for Explodemon. As DIY’s Scott earlier reported, Explodemon releases February 8 in SCEA territories for 9.99 and February 9 in SCEE territories for £7.99 / €9.99. It is an action platformer with explosion-based mechanics and differs pretty starkly to Twisted Pixel’s ‘Splosion Man. Gamers won’t even need the two minutes this trailer offers to see how Explodemon stands out.


The game is already receiving high reviews. During this week, every other media outlet will be releasing its own Explodemon review, hopefully noting its distinct gameplay qualities that are evident even from the trailer. Curve Studios is lending DIY a copy to determine if the entire game is as explosively fun as the trailer depicts.

According to this interview, Curve’s Explodemon and Fluidity/Hydroventure IPs were imagined in 2005 and 2006. It’s amazing to think of what they created back then standing the test of time, being highly innovative and seemingly addicting. It’s equally exciting to anticipate what else Curve has been cooking up.


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Slam Bolt Scrappers Confirmed as PSN Exclusive

Slam_Bolt_PSN_ExclusiveSony and Fire Hose Games have announced today that they have agreed to a publishing deal that will bring the genre-bending Slam Bolt Scrappers exclusively to the PlayStation Network sometime early next year.

The game has up to four players going at it in an all-out brawl while simultaneously creating weapon packed towers that fight alongside them.

Micah Loucks, Senior Producer at Sony Online Entertainment commented on the agreement and Sony’s stance on independent titles working with the digital download service:

“Bringing Slam Bolt Scrappers to the PlayStation Network further strengthens our position as a leading publisher for independent titles..Slam Bolt Scrappers has been praised by critics and gamers alike and we look forward to bringing it to the PlayStation Network early next year.”

Check out our E3 group preview of the game headed up by Peter. Interesting to say the least. We look forward to checking out the full title early 2011 on the PS3.

[Via Email Press Release]