Everyone’s favorite painter of cognitive dissonance, Cactus, has just revealed his latest opus, a sort of dark and droll puzzle-Robotron called Ultra Mission.
Your task is to rescue the hostages through any means necessary. Use WASD to move; use the mouse to aim. Left click is shoot; right click is kaboom. You can destroy pretty much anything. The trick is to destroy the right things, and avoid being destroyed in the process.
As a Cactus game, it’s pretty tough and tends to reward thinking outside the box (as it were). The presentation is clean and simple, with lots of particle and blur and atmospheric effects to add to the texture. It’s tracked with nifty-weird module music, and there’s not much nonsense to it. You fail the mission, the game politely asks you not to do what you just did, and you immediately try again.
You can download Ultra Mission here. If you like your desktop icons where they are, beware of screen resizing.
In his remake of of Rocket Jockey, The Moonkeeper author Ben Pettengill has delivered something of a gem. Both engrossing in its own right and faithful to what little there is to Active Enterprises’ original, Rocket Jockey is one of the highlights of the Action 52 Owns game jam.
The game begins as you find all your cows beamed into space by interstellar cattle rustlers. So you run out back of your barn, hop on the back of your solid-fuel rocket, and blast off in pursuit. Aside from the arrow keys, the game uses a single button. Rather than shoot, you sling out a lasso. If you rope a steer, you get to sustain another hit and your lasso begins to glow and grow in length. Snag a gunman, and you may pull him off his own rocket. You can also grab barrels, and toss them forward.
Level, enemy, and boss design are all clever and well-balanced. Although the game hints a bit of Gradius, and has some of the surreality of Wings of Wor, it really traces out its own identity. It’s not hardcore, and it doesn’t try to be (though it does include a high score table). It’s just playful, clever, and ultimately endearing.
Of particular note is the presentation. The game looks gorgeous, both in still shots and in motion. There’s a bunch of parallax going on, and the animation is cute. The music is splendidly appropriate, and the sound effects reward just about every action without going over the top.
I think that’s what sells the game. For all its absurdity, the game tends to underplay the humor. Instead of going for wacky, the game takes its subject seriously and treats it gently. Likewise, Pettengill took the effort to make a real, engaging game yet kept it accessible enough for anyone to appreciate. So yeah. Good stuff.
You can download Rocket Jockey here.
The first thing you’ll think of when you see Spanish developer Locomalito‘s Hydorah, and the way you’ll probably see it described, is a Gradius tribute game. After you spend a few minutes with it, you’ll realize it feels more like Darius — the power-ups and weapon types, the progress map, the look of the shield, the wide and narrow playfield.
Somewhere in there, you’ll notice that the interface and sounds are reminiscent of Treasure’s games, in particular Ikaruga. As you play on, the R-Type references will start to taunt you. And then there’s something weirdly Turrican about the title screen. You get the picture; it’s retro in a blender. As Locomalito says:
Think of this game as a bastard son of the classics: it has the genes, but it’s not a clone of one or other. It has a lot of original content, so I hope you understand my intentions when you also notice something familiar with the old times
The save system is curious, and at first feels like it comes from the SNES era. Again that’s deceptive, as it’s a rather progressive mechanism. You have a total of three chances to save, that you can spend between any two levels in the game. So there’s a sort of self-pacing reminiscent of some recent console shooters like (again) Ikaruga or Gradius V, that gradually offer more lives and more credits, the more hours you put in — except it’s more organic. As your skills improve, you can play further without saving, allowing you to conserve your save points for longer and gradually allowing you to expand your range.
In its presentation and design, Hydorah is just maybe the most professional-feeling indie game out there. It manages to walk the line between overt homage to old-fashioned trial-and-error sensibilities and forward-thinking response to the most annoying side effects to that discipline.
You can download Hydorah at Locomalito’s website. When you do, you will notice that the download contains the full soundtrack, with a Winamp playlist file and cover artwork.
Taking a different tack from the other Action 52 Owns game jam entries, Easyname’s Beeps and Blips remake goes even more retro in presentation even as it considerably ages up the design.
The game almost looks like it’s running in text mode, and yet for a top-down shooter it’s rather sophisticated. To move to the next room, you clear the screen of enemies. There are two buttons: shoot, and lock your aim. You can move and shoot in eight directions. Touch a purple orb to gain an “option” (in Gradius terms) and increase your firepower. I’m not sure if there’s a limit; you can certainly collect at least three of them. When you’re injured, you lose an “option” and your firepower decreases. When you lose all your energy, you die and start over from the last threshold you passed.
The levels are scattered with story nodes; hover near them to read snippets of context for the game’s premise. Sometimes the nodes are in areas of heavy fire, so reading them is a bit of a challenge. The game is very talky, in an understated way, ensuring that you’re never lost in terms of exactly what your options are in a given situation.
It’s a clever and elegant game, with a great soundtrack and simple yet clear presentation. All the screen shaking may seem a bit over-the-top, but I like it. Of the game jam games so far, this is perhaps the least obvious standout yet it’s my pretty clear favorite. You can download Beeps and Blips here.