Oh dear. I apparently would make a terrible horse. Possibly an even worse unicorn – that horn is a worrying liability, and an effective pivot point if they ever end up face-down on the ground, which I seem to do most of the time here. Prolific freeware developer and casual sadist Bennet Foddy has released another game, and once again, it is both cruel and unusual. Follow-up to his celebration of olympian failure, QWOP, now you can pretend to be a cantering unicorn in CLOP.
There’s not really much to say here; you’re a graceful unicorn (who is categorically Not Good At Hills) who has been told that there’s a virgin maiden just over the steep hill before him. Naturally, it is your sworn duty as a horned horse to canter this way and yon and into her innocent heart! Unfortunately, your only control over the equine protagonist is four buttons, each one bound to independently control a separate limb. Prepare for embarrassment.
It’s easier than QWOP, but that’s not saying much. Those extra two legs afford you a lot more stability when you’re not moving, but you’ve got to cover a long stretch of complex terrain, and there’s every chance that you’re going to end up flipped over and mocked mercilessly by your ‘friend’ at the start. Have hope, though! I’m sure there’s some technique to it… especially as there seems to be golden target stars floating way above the level. How do you get to them? I don’t know yet. Time to try again (and again, and again) and find out.
Stencyl seems to be the next big thing for amateur flash game development. A drag-and-drop, ‘klik n’ play’ style game creation package that allows designers with no programming knowledge at all put together playable games and export them as Flash or even iOS executables. It has already been used to create some pretty impressive things, such as Amon26′s Halloween hit Gyossait, but the biggest test of its power has come in the past few weeks.
Massive Flash portal site Newgrounds threw down the gauntlet with Stencyl Jam 2012. A $500 grand prize, several runner-up prizes of significant cash value, and all the Newgrounds fame and hits you can eat to the victors. Just make a game with Stencyl and submit it. Almost a hundred entries were completed by the cut-off date, and the voting is just coming to a close now. The winners will be announced soon, but for the time being, go check out the lineup. Even some of the lowest-rated entries are smoothed and polished experiences.
There’s some impressively complete games in there, and due to the fact that Stencyl uses fixed-size sprites rather than traditional Flash vector art, they’re much less of a strain on your CPU. It’s a pretty powerful package, all things considered, and the number of entrants to this competition suggests that it’s pretty easy to use as well. A good piece of advertising for what seems to be a great starting point for budding games designers without the knowledge and training to create their own engine from scratch.
I’ve been meaning to try out Wrack for a while. First announced what feels like an age ago, it’s the product of Final Boss Entertainment, a group of old-school, ‘first generation’ Doom modders and mappers getting together to put their own spin on the retro FPS genre. This weekend, to celebrate Quakecon, they’ve updated their preorder demo and dropped their pre-order price to a very palatable $5 for the weekend. I jumped on this deal to see just whether they’re recapturing that old-school magic, or missing the point, and to tell the rest of you whether or not it’s worth taking the plunge as well.
There’s no pretension here – you’re an all-American action hero, and there’s a bunch of alien lizard-men from Arcturus invading the planet, so you’ve got to shoot them and their robot buddies until there’s nothing left to shoot. First off, the game is still way, way off from being complete. Right now, it contains just four levels, and some key visual effects clearly aren’t finished yet – enemies spawning into an arena just unceremoniously pop into existence, rather than being heralded by a teleporter effect and a shower of particles. Other than the small handfull of levels, you’re going to find four weapons and – surprisingly – three boss battles, although one of those is wildly unfinished.
Yep, bosses. Plural. While the game is developed by Doom veterans, they’re billing this one as halfway between Doom-style FPS and Contra-style arcade game. There’s platforming, traps, pattern-based bosses which fire walls of bullets that have to be jumped over or ducked under, points, secret areas, checkpoints and extra lives. Right now those features feel a little shoehorned in, but with a little more focus on them in the HUD (some kind of indication of when you hit a checkpoint would help), I can see it actually being a fairly interesting blend.
The levels themselves are fairly standard early Doom-era stuff, albeit with a lot more coloured lighting (reminiscent of Quake 2 in places, for better or worse) and the occasional floating platform to hop across. It’s fairly forgiving platforming, and doesn’t tend to get tricky unless you’re trying to get access to all the secret areas scattered around, which often offer permanent +5 boosts to your health and armor capacities. Once you’re past the first level, there seems to be a rising focus on throwing you into thunderdome situations with a pile of ammo and waves of enemies in an arena.
Right now, I think the two largest problems with the game are an over-reliance on the scuttling spider-bot melee enemies that seem to be in EVERY room, and are just short and annoying enough to require shifting your aim, yet somehow aren’t easy to jump over despite looking only two feet tall. That, and the lack of sense of impact when fighting the space-lizards themselves. There seem to be no blood or impact effects at all when they’re hit, outside of a few red particles on the biggest type in the current build, and they don’t seem to make enough noise, vocally speaking. Maybe it’s because I’ve played too much Doom, but I like enemies that groan, scream and fall over with a gory thud.
It would seem that there are no enemies with ‘hitscan’ weapons – everything is a visibly moving energy blob that can be dodged, jumped over or ducked. After the spiders, the largest annoyance probably comes from the slightly-too-small ceiling and floor turrets, which fire diagonally up or down at you, and also don’t seem to have quite enough visual presence. If they made a loud noise and flashed a warning light at you before attacking, maybe that would help. There’s quite a few things to be tuned up here.
Still, I grumble, but the overall feel of the gameplay is solid and enjoyable. The larger arenas tend to be pretty satisfying, with you chewing through wave upon wave of fodder enemies. The bosses, as mentioned, are Contra-inspired. We’re talking telegraphed attack patterns, broad sprays of bullets, big health bars and dramatic opening poses/death-animations. You even get a first-person thumbs-down animation played after taking one of them down. It’s something I’d like to see built on in the full version – they made for interesting breaks in the action. The cel-shaded aesthetic works well for the most part, making the graphics clean and easily followed, and the music is very much in the style of the original Duke Nukem – plenty of energy without rushing you.
They’re planning on rolling Wrack out in episodic format. Almost like the old Shareware days, but probably with a smaller demo. Right now, a pre-order covers just that first episode, so your $5 will theoretically get you maybe 8-10 levels. There’s definitely a lot to be done with this one, and the game is clearly far from complete, but there’s a framework here that I can’t help but find compelling. Looking forward to seeing the final version of this once it’s done. You can get a discounted preorder now for $5 and pass your own judgement if you want here on the official site. Keep an eye round these parts for a full review once the final version comes out.
Under The Garden was a quiet, pleasant freeware surprise back in 2010. A demanding but strangely relaxing survival action/platformer game by Paul ‘Farmergnome’ Greasley. Today, the first playable build of its aquatic-themed sequel, Under The Ocean has been released for those willing to put down a $7 (or higher, if you’re so inclined) preorder on it. The game is available in both Windows and Mac flavours, and looks to be pretty fleshed out already. Here’s a little bit of gameplay footage to give you some idea of how it works:
I can safely say that this is the first game I’ve seen where you have to manually gut and clean the animals that you hunt. It’s also looking really quite polished and refined for an Alpha build, and I’m really quite digging the art style. It has the same minimalist look as the original, but extruded into complex 3D shapes – not something I expected to see, but it works. The UI looks surprisingly intuitive as well, with filling a bucket being literally a matter of dragging the bucket through water.
The current Alpha build of the game is available only to those who preorder the game, which – as with all other alphafunded projects – will get you every update from here til’ release day. If you want to get some hands-on experience with the concept of the game before putting some money down, you can download the original Under The Garden (Windows Only) here. We’ll be keeping a very close eye on this one, and hope to bring you all a more comprehensive hands-on preview soon.
Credit where credit’s due – Pixel Prospector have been doing great work for the past three years. Finding, playing and recording gameplay footage of hundreds of indie games that you might have missed out on – it’s the sort of archival site we need in this fast-moving world of indie gaming. To celebrate the site turning three years old, they’ve gone and released another of their impressively edited freeware roundups. This time, it’s a perfect showcase if you’ve got a friend or two to hand, and want something to play together. Check this out:
Almost all of these are local multiplayer games, and many of them co-op, so a gamepad or two is recommended. There’s a few online ones in there – check the youtube page for the video itself for more detail on which games support what. Of course, this isn’t their first such video – a good reminder of just how good things have been these past few years is their 2010 roundup of 235 free indie games in 10 minutes:
That is a whole lot of good stuff for a the kindest price-tag of all. Ain’t it beautiful? So many games, and that’s not even looking at the commercial side of things. So, well done to Pixel Prospector, happy third birthday, and best wishes for the future!
Today, the third expansion to exceptionally (and ever-increasingly) silly comedy roguelike/eyebrow simulator Dungeons Of Dredmor is released. While the first expansion added more depth to the dungeon (in the literal sense – it added another five floors of traps, Diggles and other strange critters), and the second one was focused on skill-sets, user customization and modding. Conquest of The Wizardlands seems to be focusing on extra-dimensional adventures and more tangential weirdness. Also, encrusting.
As with previous expansions, it’s a pretty cheap package – $3 – and should throw a whole mess of new stuff into the Random Number Generator that makes the game tick. A no-brainer purchase for fans who are still delving those dungeons, nuking monster zoos and brewing illicit moonshine when they should be slaying monsters. The feature-list is impressively beefy, too, offering a bunch of new skill tracks (including two new weapon types), a pocket dimension for mega-scale item hoarding and a variety of useful Crusts to encrust your weapons with.
The new skill sets, including Communism, Tourism and Lawyering.
All of this will be accompanied by a general update to the game, with some UI and usability improvements scattered around, as well as some refinement to core gameplay elements allowing for stealthier gameplay for those who like to sneak and stab rather than just run screaming down the corridors blatting everything they see. There are also terrifying rumours of a Diggle Hell, which is Totally A Real Place. A dark and forbidden realm, ruled over by the almighty Vlad Digula.
A pity they missed the chance to release this one on a Saturday morning, but this is still a pretty momentous release. After hearing much clamouring from the platforming-starved MOBA fanbase on the PC, Ronimo have now brought Awesomenauts, their recently-expanded (now boasting two more characters at no extra cost) arcade platformer take on the DOTA-like genre to Steam. Here’s the so-80s-it-hurts trailer, theme song and all:
So, for those not in the know, Awesomenauts is DOTA + Platformer with a lot of 80s Saturday morning cartoon style, and a bunch of very silly and continually wisecracking characters. Fairly small-scale, with matches being 3v3 bouts, it’s pretty standard ‘bash creeps, defend towers, guard your base’ stuff, although with a bit more focus on arcade twitch skills and precision movement. Previously released digitally on PS3 and 360, it racked up plenty of positive reviews, and there’s been quite a bit of demand for it to come to PC, as you can see in the lovely panel of quotes in the trailer.
Despite being a multiplayer retail game – a hard sell these days – the combination of small matches, bot support and drop-in, drop-out matchmaking should hopefully ensure Awesomenauts has a fairly long lifespan on the PC, even without cross-platform networking. There’s even local co-op/Vs play via split-screen if you don’t feel like taking things online. Always a nice option, that. You can grab the game now on Steam for a wallet-friendly $10, or an even friendlier $20 for a triple-pack.
Localized by Capcom-backed indie translation group Nyu Media, the three games cover a pretty broad range of sub-genres, although all are vertically scrolling shooters. The first being heavily inspired by the Touhou franchise, the second is patterned after the bullet-eating Ikaruga, and the third is more its own thing, although it feels like a lot of classic Toaplan and Cave arcade titles.
The art is pretty sharp in the games themselves, although backgrounds tend towards the straightforward and minimalist. It does fall into the trap of every character being a cute young girl, though. The music is solid stuff through the whole trilogy, and the gameplay, while varying quite a bit between games, is pretty solid stuff. The bullet patterns in particular are of the pretty-but-unthreatening variety, for the most part. Spectacular blossoms of death that are more for show than focused aggression. The genre isn’t really so intimidating, once you realize that.
The bundle is of course still available to buy on a variety of other stores, as listed on the official site, but releasing on Steam really should help open up the games to a much wider audience. The eXceed trilogy will also be joining Satazius – the Gradius-esque shmup by Astro Port that Nyu Media previously localized. There’s also demos of the three games available to check out now, if you really can’t wait til’ tomorrow. We’ll have a full review of the trilogy in the near future, so stay tuned if you’re still on the fence.
For a game that so many have written off as ‘abandoned’ or ‘forgotten’ by its developers, Minecraft sure gets a lot of post-release support. Granted, major releases only happen every few months, but development builds can be downloaded as they’re released. Today is one of those big days, though, and the indie megahit grows once more.
For the five of you who don’t own Minecraft yet, probably the most important new feature is an official Demo mode, which allows you to play up to five days of in-game time completely gratis. Beyond that, the most exciting thing for existing players is that Adventure Mode has now – finally – been implemented, albeit partially. A new take on Minecraft, now with less mining and more adventuring. You gather resources through dungeon-delving and monster slaying, and trade for gear with the now commercially equipped NPC villagers scattered around the world.
There’s some new building materials, too, including a new class of gem – Emeralds – and a variety of gizmos and wotsits such as tripwires (so much potential for trap-based jerkishness) and slightly expanded usage of switches. There’s also an optional quick-start chest on offer for veteran players who want to skip the panicked initial moments after world generation, and just start out with some basic gear to help them get established.
Less thrilling is the general set of tweaks, tunings and world-generation refinements, with options for larger biomes and some alterations made to the height variance on existing terrain types. It all seems pretty standard for Minecraft, but each little change can mean the world when filtered through the prism that is the enormous and terrifyingly proactive community. You can check out the full change-log here, but you’re probably best off just updating the game and seeing it for yourself.
Indian developer RealAxis Software first announced Stained back in January of 2012; the developer had also slated an “early 2012″ release date, but you know how these things go. The silence with the public — although, it should be noted the developer has written several blog and news posts about development — has finally been broken as RealAxis released a brand new gameplay trailer for the upcoming PC side-scrolling/platforming/action effort.
Stained is set in a sprawling yet seemingly uninhabited castle. The player controls a grim reaper-like creature dressed in black robes and wielding a scythe. This character is given no motivations or goals until it comes in contact with the King’s Journal, which eventually guides the player through the castle’s walls, revealing hidden secrets in a place that punishes those who attempt to disturb it.
In the new gameplay trailer, the gorgeous environments and colors of the game take center-stage in addition to reveals of the side-scrolling action and platforming.
There is no exact release date for Stained just yet, but you can visit its official website for more details.