With no minimum price, there are already five excellent games available: experimental fun-or-social-commentary game Little Inferno, comic multiplayer RPG-action Awesomenauts, retro puzzle-action-platformer Capsized, puzzler with a narrative twist Thomas Was Alone and not-game but full-storytelling art title Dear Esther. Included are also their individual soundtracks.
With a minimum price of just a little under 6 dollars, six more games can be unlocked: controversial stealth-arcade bloodfest Hotline Miami, picturesque pixelart exploration not-game Proteus, comedic puzzle-platformer Tiny & Big in Grandpa’s Leftovers, run-and-gunner Intrusion 2, spatial puzzler English Country Tune and naval RTS Oil Rush with its Tower Defense DLC. Additionally, except for Hotline Miami (which is really a shame, as it’s so good), the games’ soundtracks are made available as well.
So without much further ado, here are some impressions and opinions for each individual title…
(UK 2012, developer/publisher: Tomorrow Corporation, platforms: PC, iOS, Wii U)
A strange little game which is all about ordering stuff via imaginary mail and burning it up in a fireplace. It’s actually less a game than an experiment to see how long players will repeat the same action again and again. Weirdly, the gameplay really works to a certain degree by constantly unlocking various objects in a catalogue which can be burned together to achieve combos.
There isn’t a highscore system per se, but depending on the way how things are burned, the more gold coins can be picked up to buy new stuff. Mysterious letters from other people add some variety, as they give hints or ask the player to send over some more burning material.
Despite the intentionally repetitive gameplay, it’s an addictive title which boasts with some cartoony visuals and unique and often hilarious burning animations for each item. Even with the cheerful background music, there’s always a subtle uneasiness when playing it, questioning the player’s actions and making him or her think about why buying and destroying things becomes so joyful.
(Netherlands 2012, developer/publisher: Ronimo Games, platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
With a cartoon look similar to the awesome Castle Crashers, I expected another great variety of levels with a multiplayer option. Unfortunately after a promising cutscene start which introduced some sort of story, it turned out to be a defend-one’s-own-base vs. destroy-the-enemy’s-base affair. Playing with bots is of course less fun, so I might give it another try with friends.
Still what can be said about the technical side is that the characters and backgrounds are detailed and colorful while the voice acting and sound effects complement the overall nice presentation. It’s too bad then that there’s no campaign oder story to speak of. This could have been taken to full advantage, especially since the unlockable protagonists are varied and the levelling up system with different weapons to choose from would have made a great Castle Crashers alternative. Or maybe that’s exactly what it is: short sessions with a teamplayer vs. focus.
(Canada 2011, developer/publisher: Alientrap, platforms: PC, Xbox 360)
Part arcade shooter (with a jetpack), part physics-based puzzler, this might not be the most original concept to ever grace the indie scene, and there are some difficulty spikes throughout because of some oversensitive controls (preferably by keyboard and mouse, because the gamepad support is rather clunky), but it nevertheless makes for an interesting exploration game.
This is mainly because of its excellent background visuals and atmospheric soundtrack, but the way the story is told via cutscene stills also works to immerse the player, even if there is no real character interaction. I only played a bit of it, so there might be some surprises ahead with the storytelling. The puzzles relied a bit too much on pulling and pushing boulders around to get through as well, which was a bit cumbersome due to the controls. Still just for the visuals and audio it’s well-worth investigating.
Thomas Was Alone
(UK 2012, developer/publisher: Mike Bithell, platforms: PC, PS3, PS Vita)
The concept of having different-sized blocks put into their appropriate places might be overused in psychology for spatial awareness and since Tetris, lots of games have used it in various ways, but to have some personalities built into them and an actual story is pretty unique.
The shapes themselves don’t talk, but a narrator gives the player some insight and descriptions of how they feel and what they think, especially about each other. This works remarkably well, considering that the goal of each level doesn’t change. Though it becomes more complicated with each new form Thomas meets, as their sizes mean they have to find their own exit doors and they’re also characterized by their unique abilities. Switching between the different shapes adds another layer of strategy, akin to games like Lost Vikings or The Cave.
The graphics are very simplistic, with only color changes in the background, but this also fits the believability of this world inhabited by the character shapes. Add in some stellar voice acting by the narrator and a nice soundtrack, and you have something very special on your hands unlike so many other generic puzzle games.
(UK 2012, developer/publisher: TheChineseRoom, platform: PC)
I already played this two years ago at the Not Games festival in Cologne, and like most of those games, it’s more an experiment in art design and storytelling than an actual game. Now with updated graphics it looks pretty amazing for a Half-Life mod. Sound effects and music add to the overall loneliness and discomfort, but also the beauty one feels when walking on the deserted island.
It’s pretty difficult to say what the game achieves in terms of storytelling, as diary entries are read out randomly, so each playthrough isn’t the same as the last. There’s slow progress with only some small hints by chalked signs in rock or drawn patterns in sand, and as the character can’t run or jump, it’s even slower.
Still at times haunting, mysterious, even scary in dark places, it’s a journey one has to experience at least once. But only those with an open mind and patience will persevere.
After having recently reviewed the game, here’s only a short summary of what to expect from this arcade-style stealth-cum-shooter-murder-simulation: blood, guts and a surreal atmosphere created by an outstanding 80ies-synth-pop-rock-something soundtrack and a fragmented style of narration. Not for everyone, but a unique take on the 8-bit arcade twin-stick shooter formula with a Metal Gear Solid meets Manhunt twist.
Even more of a not-game than Dear Esther, this feels very much like an interactive screensaver, although a very beautiful one. By simply exploring the randomly created island with no clear goal in sight, it’s quite relaxing to get lost in a forested area where pixellated leaves fall down and clouds move by. The same holds true for the night-and-day cycle, which has to be seen to be believed.
If this sounds like an idealized version of non-existent gameplay, it’s hard to argue otherwise. It also doesn’t help much that there’s no story or narrator. Still, with an ethereal soundtrack, there’s something quite beautiful and touching to just walk through this strange world and get lost in its colorful surroundings without thinking about puzzles, game overs or other things.
Something like a vacation from all the overcomplicated games and convoluted stories for those who like their gaming experiences a bit more calm and happy, in contrast to the aforementioned Half-Life mod Dear Esther.
Another physics-based puzzler, this time with a third-person perspective and the ability to bomb, cut or pull one’s way through the levels. The controls are a bit tricky at times as in Unmechanical, and because it’s in 3D there’s also a bit of fighting with the camera.
The humor feels a bit forced at times, and the graphics engine isn’t the best, but its cel-shaded look and the cheerful soundtrack (despite a lack of voice acting) turn this into a fun little adventure which leaves a lot of room for experimentation and different ways to progress.
(Russia 2012, developer/publisher: VAP Games, platform: PC)
Like Capsized, this one has some lovely drawn background images and character animation sprites. Even though the controls could be a bit more responsive and the physics make progress cumbersome with bridges, snowballs etc. standing in the way, it’s a fun blaster in the vein of Contra, only with less enemies on screen and a bit slower. The heavy rock soundtrack adds a bit more tension, though (except for the sound effects which are a bit on the boring side).
What remains is a no-brainer which could have done without physics-based puzzles, as these unnecessarily slow down the action. Still with a variety of enemies, bosses and weapons, it’s a great little revival of the old-school run-and-gun genre.
English Country Tune
(UK 2011, developer/publisher: increpare, platforms: PC, iOS)
Another hard-to-put-down puzzler with a well-worn formula which is no less addictive: pushing a ball or more into their respective containers. Doing this with a flat square which flaps from one side of a square-formed surface to the next might sound easy, but when the three dimensions have to be taken into account, moving around cubes and also being careful about gravity, the whole thing gets a little bit more cerebral.
There isn’t much of graphics or music to speak of, other than simple sound effects, so that the emphasis lies on the puzzling itself, not making it any less hectic or relaxing in comparison to other games of this genre.
A surprisingly addictive RTS with high production values, i.e. great graphics with slick animations and realistic water effects, sound effects and rock/orchestral music which plays according to the action on screen. In contrast to lots of slow-moving naval combat strategy games, this one plays much more like the good old Command & Conquer in terms of explosive, fast-paced action, not to forget some B-movie like voice acting and story.
Still this is in no way an easy send-all-troops-out-and-keep-the-fingers-crossed-they-succeed scenario. Units are not selected individually, as the percentage can be decided of which ones stay to defend an oil station and which ones attack the enemy. It’s a nice risk and reward system which works perfectly. I wouldn’t have believed it, but this has been more fun than any other RTS game in years, and to find it in the indie scene with such high production values is even more suprising.
A mix of the good, better and best games
The Humble Indie Bundles don’t come as often as other games compilations (except their own excellent Humble Weekly Sale which just started with a Serious Sam special), but when they come, they usually provide an awesome amount of content, not only when it comes to the quality of the games, but also the extras.
Some games might be a bit too experimental for a mainstream audience, but this doesn’t distract from the fact that it’s hard to find a more comprehensive collection of contemporary indie games for such a small price. So don’t wait until the offer expires and just go over to their website and support non-profit organizations (Electric Frontier Foundation, Child’s Play Charity) and developers at the same time.
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