Sunday, January 22, 2017

Indie Impressions - She Remembered Caterpillars

She Remembered Caterpillars

Now Available on Steam

Developed by jumpsuit-entertainment


The spirit of nature is both the giving and the taking of life, the color of growth and the greyness of decay. Just as natural as it is for things to be born and develop into full beings, it is natural for them to wither and die. There's nothing necessarily negative about this cycle, as touched on in She Remembered Caterpillars, as death creates space and circumstances for new and possibly stronger life to be created.

This cycle is communicated through the story of a father explaining this hard to grasp routine of life and death to his daughter, and through the colorful and addictive gameplay. As small snippets of the story are told to us through bits of dialogue, our eyes are treated to a visual feast of vibrant organics and the small creatures who inhabit them named "Gammies".

She Remembered Caterpillars first and foremost is an absolute treat for the senses. With a gorgeous and colorful hand drawn style that looks like something out of a bestselling picture book, and a powerful sound design that evokes the mysticism of a forest untouched by human exploration. From the whimsical and almost fantasy-like usage of organics to the usage of the small and cute spores who act as spirits of nature itself, She Remembered Caterpillars gives a playful yet raw atmosphere of the more mysterious side of the natural world. Each screen is an entire work of art, and each work of art is the stage in which you navigate your small and color coded spore species.

Bridges can only be crossed by Gammies of the same color, and gates can only be passed by Gammies of the opposite color. And where things really get complicated is where you can combine Gammie's colors to make a new color that can pass through bridges any of its base colors but is still sectioned off by gates of another color. It's actually very hard to put into words and as I attempt to try I realize that this is a game that has to be "felt" to really get the full picture with, as you learn with every mistake how to utilize the combination of colors to properly navigate the vibrant fungal forest and sanctuary of spores.

Though the two games are wildly different in execution, I couldn't help but think of Pikmin while playing She Remembered Caterpillars. Perhaps it was the adorable and iconic 'Gammie' creatures that play a part as guardian spirits of this fungal world, or the focus of color co-ordinated logical thinking, or the fact that it all takes place in a living and breathing natural world that acts and reacts as a part of the game itself. Whatever it was, I felt a special sense of nostalgic mysteriousness from a time where gaming seemed more unpredictable, fresh and new to my young mind.

Some games are made to be experiences that leave a lasting impression, and some games are made with the intention of purely being fun to play. She Remembered Caterpillars is a rare occasion where both are achieved.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Indie Impressions - Cold Vengeance

Cold Vengeance

Now Available on Steam

Developed by  Renegade Sector Games



Cold Vengeance is a gun-blazing action-arcade romp through  a deliberately polygonal, block-y and hazy look to it that makes it reminiscent of late 90's 3D action games for the N64, PSX, and Saturn. This retro-flavored and post-apocalyptic appearance in tandem with the forward moving, almost on-rails nature of the shooting bring me back to what I loved most of the era.

An Americana lovechild between Fist of the North Star post-apocalyptic wasteland sensibilities and Sin and Punishment gritty rail-gunning low-poly N64 age badassery, the intuitive weapon combining of the iconic Gunstar Heroes with the forward-pressing level progression of Shock Troopers all wrapped in a hilariously satirical romp rife with action and macho-fueled patriotism that only a post-2016 America could truly be deserving of.

Cold Vengeance is entertaining and funny as hell, it's a nostalgic blast to play, a trip to look at, and it takes it's influences from the best-of-the-best using a formula from the golden-age of games that has stood the test of time.

A part of an ongoing series, the game is a sort of spiritual successor to the developer's previous top-down retro action adventure, Venusian Vengeance, which though I admittedly haven't played is now at the top of my to-play list just because of the awesomely over-the-top action satire in the plot here in Cold Vengeance.

What I love about Cold Vengeance is how well each setting is communicated through such a raw polygonal style, every level really feels like a retro-flavored adventure that only the raddest of 80's and 90's action movies could deliver. The streets are as cold and oppressive as anything else in post-2016 America, and you really feel like it's your sole duty to rid the country of the authoritarian goons of the Canadian Army who now threaten your country's freedom.

The variety of areas keeps you on your feet and kept me hooked into the game to see where I was headed next, greeted by even more outlandish locales than the last. From fighting scorpions in painted red deserts, to mind-controlled apes in wild and primal jungles, fighting from psychedelic log-rafts in a surreal color-gradient forest and even animatronic dinosaurs in an amusement park.

The music is very lo-fi but also with strangely captivating melodies, like so many of the sounds you'd hear from old Japanese arcade cabinets. The sound effects, also, have a memorable grittiness like something you'd hear from an old Genesis game. The Hollywood movie satire through the dialogue of our masculine protagonist is consistently hilarious and beautiful, with moments like Sgt. Jon Dagger declaring stoically that he's already in a committed relationship... with America. There's also even an achievement which I believe may be referencing Guitar Wolf's "Jet Generation", which would explain the very punk rock and DIY nature of the game.

One thing I'd really like to see added to the already slick gameplay of Cold Vengeance is some form of a dodge or dash mechanic. Sometimes charging through the alleyways of a dead America while grenades pour out of the windows of abandoned apartment complexes can get a little hectic, and Sgt. Dagger just isn't quite nimble enough for me to maneuver out of harms way.

Even after a good four hours of playthrough, I had only beaten one route of the game with many alternate levels from alternate routes greyed out of my progression. The amount of secret areas and hidden detours really give Cold Vengeance a lot of replayability and give players more than enough reason to charge through the adventure again.

This was a seriously unexpected gem for me, and I know it will be for like-minded retro enthusiasts too. It's a shame many will likely be turned away by the crude throwback style of the visuals but for those with their curiosity piqued by the appearance, absolutely take the plunge because it's a fun and chaotic trip with a lot of weird variety.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Indie Impressions - Crowtel Renovations

Crowtel Renovations

Now Available on Steam

Developed by SinksAdventure 


Crowtel Renovations has its humble beginnings as a quaint and colorful yet simple and straightforward action platformer on, where it was already a satisfying romp through a dysfunctional hotel starring an incredibly likable scarf-wearing crow. Since then developer Sink has retrofitted the cute indie gem and given it a fantastic new story mode now with multiple playable characters (frog!), squashed some literal and metaphorical bugs, and added plenty more surprises in the gameplay to see and probably die to.

The whole game is a wonderful potpourri of cute, fun and very clever ideas both in gameplay and appearance that never fail to put a smile on the player's face. From the little sign-in sheets your cute crow character signs to save a checkpoint to the chilling and possessed air-conditioners hiding mischievous little spirits waiting to pop out and surprise you. Each transition of an area really feels like another step into a progressively unruly hotel thanks to the wonderfully simple but effective backgrounds.

D-Do I really have to hurt these cute little guys?

The obstacles you come across are always ridiculously clever, beautifully simple, and very accessible outside of the bosses which in classic retro platforming fashion feature difficult patterns that need to be memorized and probably tried a few times. They aren't anywhere near something like Megaman in terms of difficulty but are very similar in their charismatic design and engaging attack patterns. Every little set-piece and every transition tells a part of the story, and every quirk in every level really feels like part of the adventure.

It's also easy to notice that the developer of Crowtel really has down the characteristics of animals as portrayed through the colorful guests and visitors of the Crowtel hotel. The Health Inspector Cats are appropriately nosey pricks, Bunny likes to poop way too much, and Rat is a lazy and reckless jerk who likes to slam. This incredibly adorable and effective portrayal of animals acting in human roles gave a welcoming, old school, almost classic Japanese feel not unlike the cartoons and picturebooks I remember as a child, and this nostalgia is a very good thing!

Crowtel Renovations already has a spot in my heart next to other personal indie platforming favorites like the Momodora games and (Ok I'll mention it) Kero Blaster or Cave Story. The levels are fun, the characters are memorable, the art is stylish, and everything works together really well for an overall fantastically adorable and funny story. There isn't much more you could ask for.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Indie Impressions - Steredenn


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Pixelnest Studios


 It starts with a loud boom and a fire-y explosion, the steel body of your fleet's capital ship smoldering in the blackness of space as fighters scramble, taking off into the heat of the oncoming battle. Steredenn sets the stage quite abruptly and nicely with this scene of destruction, with an instantly eye-catching and nostalgic pixel art style that captures the intergalactic action in a gritty and old school Macross sort of way.

We see the distincly, deliciously crisp and crunch-y pixel art style used in a lot of different genres, notably from roguelikes like Crypt of the Necrodancer to run'n'gun shooters like Super Time Force Ultra, but how often do we see explosive and authentic balls-to-the-wall arcade shoot-'em-up action utilize these snappy and memorable retro flavored visuals? And more importantly; does it deliver?

Your journey through eight stages of increasingly chaotic randomized waves and eight well choreographed boss battles are a real test of endurance, and your goal will be to repeatedly push yourself through this series of intergalactic struggles to eventually perfect your run and maybe even make it to the end of your first loop. With some obvious love for the classics and a clear devotion to recreating a pure and classic shootemup romp on par with the likes of Gradius or R-type, but with more unpredictable action than muscle-memory, 

Steredenn is an absolutely worthy successor to the horizontal shmups it takes its cues from. Aside from living up to that classic formula of easy to jump into score-chasing action, it shakes things up with randomly generated stage progression and weapon drops to keep each playthrough fresh and interesting.
Players are able to hold up to two different weapons and must carefully decide which one to ditch when coming across new and more powerful equipment to utilize. From grenade launching drones to damage absorbing shields or passive auto-fire upgrades there's plenty of strategic combinations to play around with, but in the end nothing beats shredding apart a crowd of enemies with an enormous space-drill.

The music is serious headbanging material and exibits all of the signs of a classic STG soundtrack, from the ominous and slow building synth-heavy title screen to the energetic and adrenaline pumping guitar riffs during the heat of battle, I was instantly reminded of the iconic first stage BGM from the aforementioned R-type.
This rebellious and gritty space trash vibe combined with the tight controls and high impact action gives Steredenn a very nostalgic and similar atmosphere to the legendary Jets n' Guns, but the random generation of levels and weapons strewn about gives a much more hectic, arcade-y and action focused playstyle that stands out on its own. There isn't as much focus on progression, therefore putting an emphasis on unpredictable and quick experiences each time in an accessibly randomized rogue-lite fashion that make each playthrough unpredictable and at least partially driven by luck.

All of the action looks gorgeous and is just so damn fun to play, as any good shooter should be. With such a unique visual style and a pixel art style that is something especially rare for the genre, addictive highscore chasing, an appropriately heavy soundtrack and some seriously clever weapons that manage to also be really satisfying to use, Steredenn is the kind of innovation we need to keep the real spirit of shmups alive and new generations possible.

 Steredenn is a new kind of arcade shooter that focuses not on the standard formula of muscle memory or scoring mechanics but on the joy of experimentation and the excitement of discoveries that come with it each time. It incorporates core roguelite mechanics into the shmup formula extremely well, presenting the player with an array of randomized decisions in the form of upgrades leaving you wondering if you really made the best choices after each miserable and impending death. Leaderboards and daily challenge runs complete the package and keep you regularly coming back for more in order to test your mettle against your friends and the rest of the world.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Daily Indie - Day Three : Don'Yoku


Now Available on Steam

Developed by  Dark-Spot Studio


Just a quick reminder that you should try Don'Yoku.

Remember when shoot'emups and bullet hells were actually as brutal, 'manly' and badass as their difficulty, and not exclusively about magical shoujos?

Don'Yoku is a rare breed of manly shoot'em up action with a very traditional arcade flavor, the last of its kind in an already struggling genre that seems to be dominated by formulaic Touhou knockoffs.

Seriously though, this has the visual aesthetics of a Toaplan classic like Batsugun, the heavily rockin' soundtrack of a Raizing romp like Battle Garegga (think Dimahoo), and the tight and realized scoring system of a modern cave title a la DoDonPachi. That's a seriously impressive balance to achieve, and if you have any idea what I'm talking about so far you should probably just pick up this game right now.

Don'yoku; the last of the 'manly' shooters! 


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Daily Indie - Day Two: Trigonarium


Now Available on Steam

Developed by Kimmo Lahtinen


Slick and responsive twin-stick shooter with a bright, colorful, and psychedelic visual style and a very intuitive and addictive dashing mechanic. Each dash ends with a powerful burst obliterating any nearby baddies with an extremely satisfying explosion, and is crucial in the most chaotic of moments.

The sound design kept my ears perked at all times just as any authentic arcade experience should, with distinct bleeps of power ups being collected and the tinkling of small crystalline enemies spawning from their red-glowing silhouette. Trigonarium is a twin-stick that just bleeds with awesome and nostalgic atmosphere.

The gameplay starts off slowly in usual twin-stick fashion with smaller enemies casually lurching around you from each corner, but as time goes on and score conditions are met the frequency and intensity of waves increases into a seriously chaotic clusterfuck of colorfully calculated craziness. The arenas begin to transform and screen-filling bosses show up to occasionally greet you. Things get tense to the point where you're counting down every second until your next Dash move is charged to plow your way forcefully to that crucial power-up that just spawned across the map.

Trigonarium is an incredibly charming and inventive, extremely fun to play twin-stick and is criminally underpriced given the amount of fun I've squeezed out of it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Daily Indie for the New Year - Day One: Space Hole

Hey everyone! Sorry for the radio silence, I had a series of computer problems interspersed with real life interruptions. I'm back though, and finally have a new PC so I can get back to seeking out, discovering, and then bringing your attention to more obscure and under the radar games coming out in the underworld of Steam.

To get back into the groove of things I'd like to do a Daily Indie Spotlight for the duration of the current ongoing Steam sales to help shine some needed light on underrated and underplayed indies you can grab on sale. Until the last day of Steam sales, I'll be looking back at some titles I've recently missed that I think are very under-the-radar and seriously deserve your attention for being original, creative, weird, and just plain fun. It's Holiday time and things are busy so I'll keep these nice and brief, until I get back into the motion of things!

First on the list:

Space Hole

Now Available on Steam ($0.49 on Sale, $0.99 normal)

Developed by Sam Atlas


Super Monkey Ball, or Marble Madness for the old fogeys, in a terrestrial setting drenched in stylish indie rock and geometric oddities to roll around in with your bubble-encased space ship. It's as weird as it sounds and I love it.

The control you have over the rolling is very fluid much like any of the top marble-rolling titles out there and I never felt like I was fighting with the controls especially with a gamepad. The strange and out-there galactic setting along with the engaging and weirdly outside-the-box level design, not-too-easy-but-not-quite-impossible stages of varying colors and shapes to navigate make this really satisfying to play and visually really fun to look at especially given the price. Many of the later levels become a bit frustrating displays of trial-and-error but the execution is almost always ingenious and original, full of excellent ideas that sometimes just take a few tries before really working and keep you retrying on even the oddest seeming solutions.

The soundtrack is a big plus just for following in the vein of the rest of the game and trying something new, will probably be grating on the ears for those not keen on 'indie rock'. Like so many of the indie garage bands remembered from my middle to high school days the music is an instant hook that's catchy, fast, and melodic yet heavy. It even gets pretty psychedelic and trippy at times fitting the surreal imagery of rolling your space ship through the galaxy a la Katamari Damacy.

Fun, addictive, just the right amount of challenge, super affordable (Seriously the game is a dollar, or 50 cents on sale!) and overall really weird in the best ways possible. Indie as it should be.