Posts by: Dylan

GameMarx 2011 XBLIG Game Awards Recap

Here is the recap of our personal Top 10 games of 2011 lists and our GameMarx 2011 Xbox Indie Awards.  To hear the discussions behind each category, check out podcast EP71 – 2011 Game Award Show.


GameMarx 2011 Xbox Indie Game Awards

Dylan’s Top 10 Games of 2011
Cicelie’s Top 10 Games of 2011
Mike’s Top 10 Games of 2011

Most Blatant Ripoff

Nominees: FortressCraft Chapter 1, CastleMiner, Total Miner: Forge, Fishcraft / Angry Fish, Avatar Farm

Fishcraft Angry Fish
Fishcraft / Angry Fish

Most Misleading Box Art

Nominees: Akane the Kunoichi, Bunker Buster, Temple of Dogolrak, Off Balance, The Charge

Temple of Dogolrak
Temple of Dogolrak

Weirdest Ironic Hipster Humor

Nominees: The Skyfish series, the GHXYK2 series

GHXYK2 Classics Vol. 1 SWASHBUCKEL UR SEATBELTS RE: Get To Schol On Time
The GHXYK2 Series

Most Squandered Potential

Nominees: Crazy Hobo, President John America Saves America, A Pimp RPG

Crazy Hobo
Crazy Hobo

Creepiest Attempt at “Sex-Sells”

Nominees: Spermatozoon, Can You Handle 2 At Once?, Moe Mekuri 2.5

Can You Handle 2 At Once?
Can You Handle 2 At Once?

Uncanniest Valley

Nominees: Incident of Dreamy Vale Church, Blackstone – Part One, Bureau – Agent Kendall, Colonies: Neociv

Bureau - Agent Kendall
Bureau – Agent Kendall

Best Use of FMV

Nominees: Bloody Mary, Sword and Hammer, Hell’s House

Hell's House
Hell’s House

Best “With Avatars” Sellout

Nominees: Wacky Waving I. A. F. Avatars; Avatar’s Rock Paper Scissors; Avatar Workout; Avatar Snake; Dude, Where’s My Avatar?; Avatar Gold Grab X-mas Version

Wacky Waving I. A. F. Avatars
Wacky Waving I. A. F. Avatars

Best Finger To “The Man”

Nominees: Game Type, DLC Quest, Why Did I Buy This?

Game Type
Game Type

Best 2011 Game Released in 2010

Nominees: Cthulhu Saves the World, Cursed Loot

Cthulhu Saves the World
Cthulhu Saves the World

Best Retro Throwback

Nominees: Ionball, Wizorb, Battle High: San Bruno, Insanity X

Battle High: San Bruno
Battle High: San Bruno

Most Ambitious Design

Nominees: Avatar Adventurers Online, Alpha Squad, Raventhorne, Battle for Venga Islands

Avatar Adventurers Online
Avatar Adventurers Online

Best Use of Zombies

Nominees: Attack of the Zombie Horde; Dead Pixels; Undead Empire; Zombie Death Zone; I, Zombie; Zombies Ruined My Day

Dead Pixels
Dead Pixels

Best Looking Graphics

Nominees: Orbitron: Revolution, radiangames Ballistic, Lil’ Demons: Splatter, Infinity Danger, Shifters, T.E.C. 3001, TIC: Part 1

TIC: Part 1

Dylan’s Top 10 for 2011

  1. Sequence
  2. Battle High: San Bruno
  3. Dark Delve
  4. Dead Pixels
  5. LaserCat
  6. Avatar Legends
  7. Wizorb
  8. Doom & Destiny
  9. Laser Logic
  10. Solve It – Pack 1

Cicelie’s Top 10 for 2011

  1. Aban Hawkins & the 1000 SPIKES
  2. PLATFORMANCE: Temple Death
  3. Avatar Legends
  4. Wizorb
  5. Bonded Realities
  6. LaserCat
  7. Wizard’s Keep
  8. GrappleBoy
  9. FishCraft
  10. FortressCraft Chapter 1

Mike’s Top 10 for 2011

  1. Solar Struggle: Survival
  2. Junk Fields
  3. Mute Crimson
  4. Escape Goat
  5. Nyan Cat Adventure
  6. DLC Quest
  7. Hidden in Plain Sight
  8. Moe Mekuri 2
  9. Fatal Seduction
  10. Can You Handle 2 At Once?

Game of the Year 2011 Runner-Up

Battle High: San Burno
Battle High: San Bruno

GameMarx Game of the Year 2011

radiangames Ballistic
radiangames Ballistic

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GameMarx EP67 – Dashboard Confessional

In Mike and Cicelie’s absence, Charlie and John from the Chainsaw Buffet Podcast sit in to talk about the new Xbox Dashboard (and what it means to indie games) as well as a lean weak on the New Releases front.

Show Notes:

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Dive into Dark Delve

Review of Dark Delve on XBLIG: Try
If you like old-school fantasy RPG, this is everything you love in a more modern package.

CheckMark Games threw down the gauntlet and offered us our first shot at a pre-release review with Dark Delve:

Dark Delve is a first person dungeon crawler where the player explores a sinister dungeon and engages deadly monsters in exciting turn based combat. Create a custom group of characters to dissolve a centuries old curse in the 6+ hour campaign or test your skill in one of several unique challenges available. The dungeons abound with secrets to uncover and enemies to defeat.

At first glance, Dark Delve reminds me of classic 3D dungeon crawlers such as Bard’s Tale or Eye of the Beholder. Old-school fantasy gamers will feel at home with the basic mechanics of exploration: treasure chests, secret doors, monster encounters (planned and wandering), traps, and puzzles.

The combat system throws in a few twists, including a chain/break system and performance-based rewards and healing. As a fan of older turn-based RPGs (such as the original Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior), this was more complexity than I initially expected. However, it encourages faster, riskier kills over long, drawn-out strategies, so I spent more time on exploration than on combat (which is my preference).

The class system offers an excellent range of abilities without being excessive. Three core classes (warrior, mage, and rogue) keep character creation simple. Each class has three skill trees (such as Knight, Paladin, Assassin, and Druid), which offer a wider range of builds.

Exploration will likely make or break this game for most people. As an Explorer, I spent around 5 hours thoroughly exploring the first dungeon, and barely scratching the surface of two others. Suffice it to say, the 6 hour campaign is an underestimate for me.

However, if you’re into combat, the exploration aspect may not entice you. The first dungeon doesn’t give many hints and it’s not a small map. In addition, features like the “rest” meter can be frustrating–I didn’t keep track of the altars that act as resting points, so I found myself making trips back to the surface often.

I rate this game a Try. If you like old-school fantasy RPG, this is everything you love in a more modern package. If you’re not a fan of the genre, it probably won’t change your mind. But it’s definitely worth a try–or even two, as one eight-minute trial may not be enough to fully get a handle on all of the mechanics.

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Explore secret societies in Esoterica America

Review of Esoterica America on XBLIG: Try
This adventure game has a complex storyline, but is light on gameplay.

I found it hard to pin down this game’s genre in the 8 minute trial. Initially I thought it was a role-playing game or a King’s Quest– or Maniac Mansion-style adventure game, but it’s more of an interactive story punctuated with mini-games. Sam, the game’s protagonist, is given an empty notebook for his 21st birthday, and is sent off on a quest to determine what really happened to his supposedly-dead father. It turns out that his father was involved in various secret societies, so Sam must investigate these and fill his notebook with facts.

The story is told in a minimal black-and-white comic art style. Cutscenes consist of zooming and panning layers of static images. Most cutscenes are voice acted, although the quality of the voice acting varies. Still, the overall presentation is compelling.

The game’s main selling point is the story, but I suspect it may be polarizing. The initial tease of secret societies reminded me of pulp-fiction games like Call of Cthulhu or 7th Sea where societies are played up larger than life. Instead, this is more a straightforward presentation with a New Age or real-world conspiracy-theorist feel. As I’m somewhat skeptical about such things, it didn’t grab me.

However, if you’re into that sort of thing, this game does a great job. The 16 pages of information that Sam collects covers the history and practices of societies such as the Golden Dawn, the Rosicrucians, the Eastern Star, and the Illuminati. The story itself is short, but the cliffhanger ending and the credits imply this is going to be an ongoing tale.

Gameplay ties the story together, but I found it lacking. Much of the game revolves around exploring a room and clicking on any interesting items—this either adds new pages to Sam’s notebook or progresses the story forward. In addition, each of the four lodges requires Sam to undertake a series of challenges to progress. This starts with a meditation minigame, where Sam must dodge distracting thoughts and nullify them with his color-coded mantras. After that, Sam must solve a problem for the lodge’s leader by completing a puzzle.

Progression through the four lodges is completely linear. To travel to the next lodge, Sam must finish his quest at the current location and talk to the right person or click on the right object. Even though all four lodges are shown on the map, Sam can only travel to the next lodge in the sequence. If Sam misses a notebook entry, there’s no way to go back and collect it. Completionists can take heart in the fact that, by skipping the text and cutscenes, the game can be completed in less than an hour.

Overall, I give Esoterica America a Try. There is a complex story as well as loads of supporting content. It’s not the sort of fantasy or sci-fi you’d expect to find in an adventure game, and I applaud the developers for thinking outside the box. However, from my experience, if the story doesn’t grab you in the trial period, the gameplay probably won’t be enough to make you stick around.

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An Army of Minions!

Review of Minions! on XBLIG: Buy
This shooter’s simplified style belies serious strategy and real challenge.

Minions! is a slightly different take on the shooter genre. Instead of a first-person view, however, there’s a choice between a third-person camera and a top-down camera (which functions like a dual-stick shooter). Its seven missions feature common scenarios such as search-and-destroy, escort, and hold-and-defend. While it only offers a single-player mode, the player character is constantly assisted by a collection of eponymous minions in a nod to team- and squad-based shooters.

In addition, Minions! throws in a few RPG elements. The main character earns experience from directly killing enemies (minions can steal your kills) which can be used to beef up speed, damage, health, and shields, and gold drops. It’s possible to go back and grind through previous missions for experience. Over the course of the game, three specialized minions can also be customized for hire during each level. While both of these elements were helpful in the long run, I didn’t see a noticeable difference in power as I leveled up. This isn’t a complaint—I never felt I could substitute level grinding for good tactics or strategy.

Good strategy is essential to winning. While I found the first three missions a piece of cake—mainly because they’re almost impossible to lose, given infinite respawns—later missions became frustratingly difficult. Mission 4, for example, requires taking down the Red Team’s super tank before it reaches Blue Base. I replayed it countless times, maxed out my character, and still couldn’t win by attacking the tank head-on. It turned out the only effective way to win was to draw the tank’s fire and let my turret and minion allies (with their effective rocket and laser attacks) do the hard work for me.  Again, this isn’t a complaint, although it will likely be a turn-off for some casual gamers. (Full disclosure: I reached the final level, but could not finish it.)

I’m not a fan of the presentation, but the gameplay more than makes up for it. The game’s style reminds me of Lego men (although I don’t think Lego would ever license a game with this much blood). It has charm, but the oversimplified 3D models and rough animations may be a turn-off at first glance. In addition, most of the player character’s voiced quips fell flat for me, and some are even groan-worthy (the female commando starts one level by saying, “I wonder if there’s a mall in this town?”).

I give Minions! a Buy. While it’s not going to give A-list squad-based FPS titles a run for their money, fans of that genre will enjoy the strategic elements (although casual gamers will likely find them frustrating). It’s a difficult game, but it has a lot of variety and it’s addictively fun.

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Sequence mixes the rhythm and RPG genres

Review of Sequence on XBLIG: Buy
Polished art, professional voice acting, and excellent dance pad and guitar support make this rhythm/RPG hybrid

Sequence—an unassuming name for a complex game—is primarily a rhythm game in the vein of Rock Band or Dance Dance Revolution. Rather than isolated challenges, each song represents a battle against a monster, with well-executed RPG elements tying them all together. Instead of one set of scrolling arrows there are three panels of arrows used for spellcasting, defense, and mana regeneration. In between battles, there’s a complex leveling and crafting system as well as an engaging storyline.

The storyline is standard fighting-anime fare. Ky, an ordinary college student, is knocked unconscious and awakens in a tower where he must battle through seven floors to escape. The Shepherd Naia, guiding him from a control room somewhere else in the Tower, is his only ally. The writing is lighthearted, and the subtle use of internet memes and real-world details drew me into the dialogue. It’s not a particularly complex story, but I was curious as to what was really going on in the Tower.

The most noticeable thing about the game is the presentation. Every screen features a detailed background and characters are professionally illustrated in a cartoon style. Cutscenes are mostly static with simple animations, but they are fully voiced by a fairly large cast of actors. The result is a high quality experience that could easily beat some XBLA games.

Sequence’s strength is the use of peripherals. While it’s possible to play the game with a normal controller, use of a guitar controller or a dance pad is also supported. Dance pads work just as they do in DDR, but require a controller to select spells and flip between the spellcasting, defense, and mana panels.

Of the three controller options, the inclusion of guitar support impressed me the most. The control scheme is fundamentally different, not just an option slapped on top of the existing game. The fret buttons correspond to the four arrows, and the strum bar must be used just like in Rock Band. The orange fret button and the strum bar are used to flip between panels, and the whammy bar is used with the fret buttons to cast spells.

I’ve played both DDR and Rock Band for years, and the dance pad felt the most natural. Using the controller and the pad is awkward at first, but it quickly becomes natural, and I found it was easiest to change panels and adapt. The guitar control scheme is a clever use of a limited set of buttons, but it takes some time before it feels natural. It would have been nice if the guitar replaced the four arrows in each panel with colored gems as in Rock Band—it still feels natural to play because of the order of the buttons, but it takes slightly longer to process which button corresponds to which arrow. The controller is a good choice if you don’t have (or aren’t comfortable with) a dance pad or guitar, but button mashing just didn’t have the same appeal as the other controller options.

RPG elements are the main difference between Sequence and other rhythm games. Ky can equip weapons and armor, select a set of 6 spells to carry into battle, level up (and down) with experience points, and craft new items using drops from enemies. Ky progresses from floor to floor by repeatedly fighting one of three different enemies (selectable before the battle), crafting a key, then fighting a boss battle. The game sucked me in, although I realized around the 6th floor or so that I was really just playing a series of WoW-style grind quests—”kill enemy name to collect X number of quest item.” Still, the rhythm game mechanics were so entertaining that I didn’t care.

Like many rhythm games, Sequence offers four difficulty levels, which can be changed at will until the third floor of the Tower. I played on the lowest level and didn’t find it overly challenging, but it was still enjoyable. This is a good thing—Sequence’s mechanics focus more on perfect combos than either DDR or Rock Band. The third floor limitation is generous while still requiring a certain amount of discipline. However, I felt the third floor limitation also locked me into using one controller since I was much better with the DDR mat or controller than with the guitar.

I give Sequence a Buy. For Rock Band or DDR fans, this is a must buy—it puts a new spin on the game. But even novices can find something to like in the story or the presentation, and shouldn’t feel too overwhelmed on Easy—grinding for experience and gear can make up for a lack of skill.

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