An Ongoing Look at Indie Gaming, part three
By Aaron Robinson
07 January 2010 — I'm back again with five more indie games for you to try, most of which are free to play.
Little Wheel is a gorgeous but incredibly short point-and-click adventure from OneClickDog. If you're the kind of person who normally gets confused and disgruntled with adventure games, you'll be happy to know that all the puzzles in Little Wheel are quite easy. But if you're the kind of person who likes to be actively engaged with what you're playing, prepare to be a little disappointed. Every object is clearly highlighted and there are never more than a few things to click on each screen, so even mindless experimentation will make things run by pretty quickly.
So why do I recommend it so strongly? For one, it's very pretty. The black and white visuals, combined with the simple, retro robot designs, give the game an awesome noir-ish feel (which is further reinforced by the jazzy music playing throughout). The concept is clever, giving you a brief overview of the world before throwing you into a lone robot's shoes. And whilst the gameplay never requires much in the way of thought, it moves along at such a brisk pace that it doesn't really matter. You're always experiencing new content, never spending more than a few minutes on a single screen. Put simply; it's just fun.
Play it for free at http://www.fastgames.com/littlewheel.html.
For the first few levels, I really liked Use Boxmen. It's pretty, well animated, and it's built around a clever mechanic. The basic idea is that you control a little man who can create clones of himself to do his bidding. For the tutorial levels it's fun, if a bit simple, and it seems to be building up to some clever ideas. And it does, to an extent. But a massive increase in difficulty does a lot to destroy all goodwill I had for the game. And it's not just that it's difficult; it's that the thought process behind solving the puzzles starts to feel convoluted, and the timing required to pull some of them off is far too strict. I kept thinking I wasn't getting a full grasp of what I should be doing, but there's a video walkthrough that shows just how frustrating it can be.
But gosh darn it, the gameplay is so engrossing, I think it's at least worth playing for a bit. Just don't be surprised when you find yourself totally stumped.
Play it for free at http://www.bubblebox.com/play/puzzle/1415.htm.
'Splosion Man is the latest title from Twisted Pixel, the indie developers behind the Xbox Live title The Maw. While The Maw was a slower-paced adventure game, 'Splosion Man is a fast-paced 2.5D platformer designed around pinpoint timing.
In 'Splosion Man you control a hyped up, fire-covered creature that can jump consecutively three times by "sploding" himself off any solid surface. Once you've exploded three times, 'Splosion Man burns out, and won't be able to explode again until he either touches solid ground, or builds up friction by sliding down a wall. Since 'Splosion Man spends most of his time bouncing off surfaces or launching himself off of exploding barrels, the game often shifts the camera so that you can see what's ahead of you, particularly in areas where you need to time an explosion just right. In many ways it feels like the old Sonic the Hedgehog games, even though it's a much more guided experience.
The biggest flaw has to be how much the game relies on rote memorization for its difficulty. I found it really frustrating when I started coming across levels where you can fail purely because you aren't given enough time to react. And don't get me started on the rising water levels. Imagine playing through a level that you can stuff up early in, seemingly without consequence, only to have your mistake come back at you a few minutes later. I'm fine with the game being difficult, but there are some really weird design choices that make me pull me hair out. The game does let you skip ahead if you die repeatedly (although you'll have to wear a tutu), but after a while I just didn't feel the drive to keep going.
I still think there's a lot more good than bad in 'Splosion Man. The single-player campaign has a grand total of 50 levels, most of which are fantastic. And if you have friends over, there's an additional 50 levels built around co-op.
You'll be playing for a long time before the game really starts to get difficult, and longer still before it starts becoming frustrating. At the very least, it feels like it's worth its relatively small price tag.
'Splosion Man can be downloaded on the Xbox Live service for 1000 MS Points.
NyxQuest comes from the Spanish developer Over the Top Games, who've made a surprisingly creative platformer for the Wii that does a good job of playing to the console's strengths. Initially it's a pretty standard game; you control a winged girl named Nyx whose sole abilities are to fly and glide, both for short periods of time. Outside of dodging the occasional enemy or environmental hazard, there's not much to do. But it isn't long before you're given the power to move around certain objects with the pointer, which shifts the game into a puzzle-platformer.
Here's where the game starts being clever: the puzzles themselves are rarely hard to figure out, and the platforming, if taken by itself, wouldn't be too difficult either. But the combination of both creates an interesting medium. Figuring out even the simplest puzzles while maneuvering your character takes a bit of skill, but both are simple enough that it hardly gets frustrating. What's weird is that I rarely felt like I was juggling two different styles of gameplay. They work together so well that it just felt natural.
Beyond that, it's the little touches that I liked the most; it felt like the puzzles were really well-paced, and they were clever without being too difficult. My only complaint is with the boss battles, which so far haven't been all that fun, even if they do break up the gameplay a bit.
NyxQuest is available on the WiiWare service for 1000 Wii Points.
When I first heard about Canabalt, I had a hard time understanding what the big deal was. A platformer that gets increasingly faster, where you're only input is a jump button and where your impending death could be seconds away at any given time? It didn't sound fun at all. And yet, when I finally gave it a shot, I found it hard to put down.
Canabalt would still be a fun game if it didn't have the flair it does, but it's the combination of a cool art style, a bunch of clever little visual effects (particularly the parallax scrolling), and a thumping electro beat that makes it shine. Still, when I got into a trance and started making progress, I was a little sad to see that the game doesn't shake things up that much. But perhaps I didn't make it far enough.
Canabalt can be played for free at http://adamatomic.com/canabalt, and now there's even a version for iPhone.