Only one week until Christmas, so it’s high time to get some presents. Bundle In A Box might just have the right thing for you if you like your indie games a bit more varied.
Genre mixes galore
Eclectic Delights is the newest bundle the site offers in its pay-what-you-want model. With a minimum price of 0,99 Dollars you’ll get 5 games (point-and-click-adventure Shadows on the Vatican, Act:I, turn-based strategy titles Delve Deeper & DLC and War of the Human Tanks, platformer Eversion and first-person survival horror Fibrillation).
Pay more than the current average price of around 3 dollars, and 6 more games will be unlocked (platformer-puzzlerThe Adventures of Shuggy, FMV brawler (!) Stay Dead, first-person-experiment The 4th Wall, 8-bit-adventure Flibble, first-person-jump-music-maker-adventure Skylight and the soon-to-be-released Shadows on the Vatican, Act:II ).
Of course again it’s impossible to review each title in its full length (still need a break from the other special weeks and preparing for some more articles), so here’s just a quick rundown of what you can expect and what I thought about the individual games:
Shadows on the Vatican Act I
(Italy 2012, developer/publisher: Adventure Productions, platform: PC)
A 2D point-and-click adventure with nicely-drawn backgrounds and especially cool-looking comic-scenes. These look even better than what Charles Cecil tried with the new Broken Sword design. Music is excellent as well, voice acting could be a bit better as there are some awkward pauses and overacting (but it sort of fits the comic aesthetics).
In the first couple of minutes which serve as a tutorial for adventure beginners, there are already quite a lot of objects in the inventory. Solutions to the puzzles are logical, but it needs to be seen how difficult it gets to manage them and how accessible gameplay becomes and if it’s also suitable for adventure games veterans. Same holds true for the story, as it’s a rather slow-paced start (except for a fast flashback intro sequence), but as there’s a second chapter coming (already as a pre-order in the bundle), there’s probably a more complicated story which will hopefully not end up as convoluted as some adventure mystery games do.
(USA 2012, developer/publisher: Lunar Giant Studios, platforms: PC, Xbox 360)
A turn-based strategy game in which teams of dwarves have to find as much gold as possible, digging deeper and deeper in a mountain.
Graphics and humor are reminiscent of the good old Lost Vikings, but of course gameplay is completely different. There’s quite a lot to learn before digging into it, as every move has to be planned strategically. As there are only a limited number of turns until the game (or rather level) is over, it adds even more to the pressure the player is under.
It can become quite time-consuming, like chess, when one has to wait for three other teams to move, especially with so many dwarves on the screen. It’s not an easy game to pick up and play without learning the ropes, and even then with a rather large mining complex, it’s difficult to see everything in advance.
Still with some lighthearted music, the humor and the Wriggles gameplay (who remembers that German strategy game with the stoned gnomes?) turned into a turn-based competitive strategy game, there’s quite some enjoyment to be found, even if it means accessibility leans more towards the hardcore gaming community.
(Brazil 2008, developer/publisher: Zaratustra Productions, platform: PC)
At first glance, it looks like the Giana Sisters approach to imitate Super Mario Bros: Jumping on creatures’ heads, hitting blocks with one’s own head, collecting…gems. But the most tricky and ingenious part comes when at certain points in the levels, by pressing a key, the gaming world is transformed into an alternative version of it. This means that e.g. clouds can finally be jumped on to reach gems which were unattainable before. It gets even more complicated when certain obstacles can only be passed through (like trees) when the player is in the right version of the world, so alternating between these is essential to grab all the gems.
With its cutesy visuals and happy soundtrack, the game looks like another kiddy platformer, but underneath lies quite a complex puzzle game which can also be frustratingly difficult when jumps into the abyss lead to many restarts. A good thing that there are unlimited lives and a checkpoint system. Just like the XBLA title Fez, this title plays with old platform mechanics and turns them upside down.
(Russia 2012, developer/publisher: Egor Rezenov, platform: PC)
A weird first-person survival horror game, but without the clunky controls and usually outdated click-two-buttons-to-turn-around mechanics so many adventure titles suffer from. It looks quite impressive, with a strange white-film-corn filter used as in Silent Hill. What makes it even weirder is that by pressing the left mouse button, the player can close his eyes in the game. A bar for stamina further indicates that running around can’t be done without taking a breath sometimes.
I haven’t played much of it, due to some motion sickness (yes, the first-person perspective shakes when running), but so far the atmosphere is quite excellent, even though there are still problems prominent in most FPS titles: jumping can be annoying, and there’s no real clue what to do or where to go next. But maybe that’s exactly the kind of feeling the developer wants to create: helplessness in an unknown world or state of mind.
The 4th Wall
(USA 2012, developer/publisher: GZStorm, platform: PC)
Another experimental title which is less a game than an experience, something to make the player think about his environment and limited actions. Only by following signs and clues can he progress. The atmosphere comes from the surprise he feels when walking through different rooms (or is it one room?). Again motion sickness prevented me from getting very far. Fortunately there’s no jump-button, and moving around feels more akin to the old Castle Wolfenstein, of course without the shooting and violence, as there’s only one key for activating…something, whatever and wherever that is.
No music, just the breathing sounds of the player, and some weird noises, together with minimalistic graphics create a not-game which is hard to find anywhere else. Even without GLaDOS.
Some very catchy tunes and some devious level design make for a puzzle game with long playtime, even if it all boils down to getting all the gems to reach the exit. Nearly each level introduces a new game mechanic, but as more than one level are unlocked, there’s always the option to tackle different problems.
Cutscenes in cute comic drawings are motivating enough, but overall this is quite a tricky game. Fun, but difficult. The only problem could be the controls as jumping is not the most precise. Still a great platformer which also offers co-op (which I haven’t tried yet) with up to four players and some other modes. Highly recommended!
(Italy 2012, developer/publisher: Brucefilm Entertainment, platform: PC)
Why didn’t anyone think of this before: an FMV beat ’em up, (FIGHT!)? Or maybe somebody did, but they didn’t have the right tools or technology, and above all have people who can actually fight and look cool! It’s a beat ’em up fan’s wish come true, although the only downside is that the keyboard has to be used. Would be much more intuitive with a gamepad controller.
It needs some getting used to, and the second fight is already quite difficult as the button prompts are coming rather fast, but all in all, this is just a great idea finally being realised on the PC screen. I hope it gets a console release and some more fighters, maybe some character roster to choose from, and multiplayer would be awesome too.
Who needs to talk about graphics if there are real actors? So only cinematography can be rated, and despite just having the fight screen (what else should there be), fast cuts and some nice music add to the experience. This could actually be the beginning of a franchise, as the fighters do a great job, unlike some amateur cosplay people one finds on the web.
(UK 2012, developer/publisher: Zed, platform: PC)
Harking back to the old 8-bit days of British coding, graphics are pretty horrible and only with die-hard-nostalgia glasses, one could find some enjoyment out of the “art style”. Gameplay is also very basic: collect enough of the critters and unlock a portal (a blinking block) to progress. Avoid or shoot enemies, don’t get lost in the maze-like level structure.
What saves the game or actually makes it rather fun to play is the sense of humor, as there is a funny story with dialogues permeated with British humor. Of course it’s all very linear and text passages become a bit too long. Still for the most part it’s captivating enough to continue playing. Add some variations in the level design and music (although some tunes are quite annoyingly jolly) and it’s a nice time-waster if you prefer your graphics and gameplay mechanics as outdated as the 8-bit machines of old.
(New Zealand 2012, developer/publisher: Moment Studio, platform: PC)
A simple idea well executed again. Jumpin from one piano key to the next might sound easy enough, but as some can already break and they aren’t in a straight line, there’s quite a lot of strategy involved. Of course controls are not the best as is usually the case with in first-person titles, but it is quite an elevated feeling to progress with making music on the way or rather fly.
An interesting risk-reward method is also introduced by the score system as the higher the player jumps and the more notes he skips, the more points he gets. Having a bar on the screen showing how far away the goal (home) is makes proceedings that bit more suspenseful, even if at the end the percentage of what has been achieved so far can have the opposite effect as well.
Music is not only key in the game, but makes the player feel like flying, losing himself in a unique experience. Another interesting attempt to try something different with fusing platformer, FPS and a bit of rhythm-“action”.
War of the Human Tanks
(2012, developer/publisher: Fruitbat Factory, platform: PC)
First I’ve got to say that I’m not a big anime fan. Studio Ghibli yes, and maybe some few movies like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I’ve tried a couple of JRPGs and I’m always willing to give Japanese games a try, no matter how cute the visuals and how silly the stories are. But here I already gave up before the first fight.
An endless wasteland of text passages, some horribly patriotic and silly dialogues, neverending Nintendo hardcore music and of course the intro song having lyrics which are dripping with clichés and are sweeter than I could stomach.
After skipping the next hundred lines of dialogue, the fighting finally started, and of course some ridiculous techno, rock, whatever mix blared out of the speaker. It doesn’t help that there’s not much of a tutorial (I guess everyone who likes this genre either already knows what to do or has no problem reading some more text in the manual).
Sorry, I guess I’ll just stop here as it’s not really my sort of game or presentation. Hardcore anime fans or Japanese maniacs will probably lap this up as if it’s the greatest thing since among all the other turn-based strategy titles, but I’d rather stick with western visuals… or maybe try my luck with Advance Wars.
Add some more to a full package
As with most indie bundles, the more people buy, the more extras are unlocked, and again Bundle in a Box offers some incentives (which are already unlocked at the time of writing), even if they aren’t as many or as varied as in their previous bundle: soundtracks of War of the Human Tanks, The Adventures of Shuggy, Shadows on the Vatican, the soon-to-be-released Droidscape: Basilica, the comic of The Adventures of Shuggy and of course the aforementioned pre-order of Shadows on the Vatican.
Again, Bundle In A Box provides indie games lovers with a wide selection of genres and of a generally good and sometimes outstanding quality. For less than 5 dollars, you’ll sure find something which will please your taste of experimental or old school gaming. So head over to their website and pay what you want.
There are a lot of indie bundles around, but with this you support developers, contribute to charity and get DRM-free games. What’s not to like?