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500-Word Indies

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Tobe's Vertical Adventure - Xbox 360 (January 5, 2010), Windows (July 18, 2011)

by Neil Foster - May 31st, 2013

Logo

Indie platformers with retro aesthetics are rampant nowadays, mostly using the blocky graphics as an excuse to be hip or mask bad art design and generally have no respect for the games of old. Fortunately, the team at Secret Base funneled their old-school passion into an unironic little nod to character-driven spelunking titles. According to Raymond Teo, the creator of Tobe, most of the inspiration for the game came from Nintendo's Ice Climber, seemingly focused on the bonus segments at the top of each mountain spire from the 8-bit classic.

What little plot there is is threadbare and it isn't taken seriously. The titular Tobe is your typical slacker gamer, literally dragged along to go treasure hunting for King Garuza's legendary bounty with his materialistic girlfriend Nana. Tobe is the faster character that can run up the edge of walls in order to climb up cliffs. Nana is slower, but possesses a helpful double jump ability. Tobe is the only playable character in the Xbox Live Indie Games release with Nana and a 2P co-op mode exclusive to the PC version.

Opening the huge treasure chest at the bottom of the level starts the clock for a race-against-time to escape back to the start. Many of the tricks for reaching the bottom or obtaining items involves using the wraparound on both left and right sides of the screen, with added vertical obstacles to overcome via gliding down gently with balloons or tossing up rope chains - both earned from Sonic-style item monitors. Enemies and other hazards are rather scarce, keeping the focus on platforming and collecting over spikes, pits, and lava. Scattered around each level are roughly 100 or more jewels and 5 cute animals to save, each optional to obtain but rewarded with additional hit points, lives, and item slots, as well as achievements for collecting every single one along with some beneficiary content from the creator's website: a digital set of game artwork and the full soundtrack.

The graphics are a sharp early 16-bit style affair with every stage constructed with blocks. The four themes keep to standard video game clichés, with a semi-grassy starter island, an ice island, a volcano island, and a pyramid-themed island. The music composed by Adam Alonso is a laid-back PSG chiptune score that only picks up slightly as you make your timed escape climb. Each island is bumpered with cutesy big-headed cutscene stills that mostly divulge into Nana heading off to the next destination with Tobe in tow.Unfortunately, the charming retro platformer is sinfully short with only 16 levels in total, so if you're not much of an achievement hunter, this game will be a very swift one-time sprint before resting in your Steam library to collect cyberdust.

The game was taken down from XBLA shortly after the PC release due to Raymond's regrets on the flaws on the original release. Secret Base later developed 3 more Tobe games in Flash and for mobile devices.

Homepage

Quick Info:

Developer:

Secret Base

Designer:

Raymond Teo

Genre:

Platforming

Theme:

Free Climbing
Going Underground
Player Character: Woman

Type:

Commercial


Tobe's Vertical Adventure (Windows)

Tobe's Vertical Adventure (Windows)

Tobe's Vertical Adventure (Windows)

Tobe's Vertical Adventure (Windows)


Stay Dead - Windows (December 12, 2012)

by Gendo Ikari - June 7th, 2013

Logo

Billed as a "Motion Picture Game," Stay Dead aims to push the "interactive movie" genre beyond the limitations that caused its quick fall from grace. In designer/director Fabrizio di Giovinazzo's words, it would be a movie to someone who just watches but still feel like a regular game to the player.

It's a fighting game atypical not only in the use of live action movie clips, but also in how the fights are structured: you have no energy but 10 rounds to deplete the life points of the opponent. At the beginning of every round, you have a choice between a single-input quick attack, easy and safer but also more risky in a prolonged fight; a series of inputs making a combo, harder but more rewarding; or to start in defense, which awards a damage bonus in the subsequent counterattack. If you waver too much, the opponent will attack first.

Similar to a rhytm game (the contemporary genre that's arguably closer to laser games), there's a limited time to enter each input, signaled by a dot crossing a square which displays the required command over the screen. Such interface was conceived for an easy adaptation on both desktop computers and touch screens. In all fights except one, if you miss an attack, you are given the opportunity to defend and even counterattack. This is by far the best idea: too much mistakes are still not allowed, especially at higher difficulties where the time to enter each input is reduced, but you are not immediately punished in case of errors, eliminating the biggest source of frustation in the genre. It all feels remarkably fluid, thanks to the really excellent editing of the clips: of note is the use of slow motion between attacks, to reduce distraction while the commands appear on the screen.

Beside the genre's limits - clips will start to repeat sooner than later - good cinematography cannot hide the low budget: costumes and makeup are very cheap, the fights lack physicality, and menus and screens inbetween are very spartan. On computers, the keyboard is the only input method allowed. There's also no story, even textual, just fights. Reportedly, cutscenes were filmed and casted the foes as demons (proof is in names like Yama and Dagon) escaped to Earth due to a mistake of an angel, but some of the producers didn't like the idea and they were left on the cutting floor. It may be for the same reason that Dukerg's armband svastika has a mosaic over it, or maybe it's just to allow Stay Dead to be sold in Germany.

With just five enemies to beat, the game is over very quickly, with a few achievements as the only incentive for replays. Despite all the good intentions, it's too limited to be either a good fighting game or a good rhytm game. Still a commendable effort, but the genre will need more than a Z-grade action flick to not stay dead.

Homepage


Quick Info:

Developer:

Brucefilm

Designer:

Fabrizio Digiovinazzo

Genre:

Interactive Movie
Fighting

Themes:

Contemporary: Urban
Digitized Actors

Type:

Commercial


Stay Dead

Stay Dead

Stay Dead


Crayon Physics Deluxe - Windows, iOS, Mac OS, Linux, Android (January 7, 2009)

by Sam Derboo - June 22, 2013

Logo

Back when Epic Mickey was first announced, the brush feature made it sound as if it would be about solving problems with creativity. It didn't turn out like that at all, but luckily there are the Indies to take an impossible idea like that and turn it into a cool game. Crayon Physics Deluxe is all about a sheet of paper where everything you sketch becomes part of the game world, with simulated physical properties.

The whole presentation is set up to drive home the sketching concept. All parts of a stage are drawn in the same crayon style as the player-created objects, the Super Mario World-style level map is full of goofy doodles at the side, and some strangely animated sketch creatures populate the area. There are some really fun ideas here, like a sun and a moon that are pulled along a conveyor belt to "simulate" a daylight cycle.

Crayon Physics Deluxe is mostly a puzzle game, although action elements become part of some stages, too. On each screen, the player has to make a red ball pass one or more stars to unlock more stages. This starts out as simple as can be - draw a bridge so the ball rolls down to the star - but soon gets more and more complex. What do you do when the ball is enclosed in a box? While you can delete all self-drawn objects with a click, stage props are irremovable, so you have to move the whole box over to the star. Or when the ball starts below the star, how to get it up there?

The complexity picks up especially after the pins are introduced. These are small circles to which other objects are pinned, thus they can only rotate around them anymore. The example for this use is a hammer whose weight is used to propel the ball like a golf club. At first these appear as fixed parts of the stages, but eventually you also get to draw your own pins. Also, connecting an object directly with a pin creates an elastic rope, which allows for pulley constructions.

On their own, many stages don't feel all that dynamic, because the only driving force to move things around is gravity, but there is one "cheating" move to start things rolling - a click on the ball gives it a slight push to the right. Later levels also introduce rockets, which ignite as soon as something is dropped on them and go off at insane speed. While they break the simple beauty a bit, much fun is to be had with them. Enclose the ball in a box that's tied to the rocket, for example, and try to delete the box just in time for the ball to drop on the star.

Crayon Physics is a mighty fun experiment, and while many stars can be cleared through just drawing garbage, the concept invites to search for creative solutions, and you can even set a flag on a level when you think your method deserves it, alongside the standard flags for single-object solutions and no ball push runs.

Homepage

Quick Info:

Developer:

Kloonigames

Designer:

Petri Purho

Genre:

Puzzle

Theme:

Level Editor
Physics
Unique Visuals

Type:

Commercial


Crayon Physics Deluxe (Windows)

Crayon Physics Deluxe (Windows)


Eversion - Windows, MacOSX, Linux (December 28, 2008)

by Neil Foster - August 2, 2013

Logo

This sugary cutesy-looking platformer begins with a screen with both a quote from H. P. Lovecraft and a warning that it isn't for kids or those with nervous dispositions. That alone should be enough of a clue that Eversion is not all as it seems. The game stars the walking flower protagonist Zee Tee who must rescue Princess Nehema of the Flower Kingdom, his homeland.

Each of the colorful stages is filled with blocks and strolling blob enemies with big eyes, as well as gems to collect as you work towards your goal; the fairly standard platforming fare that seems lifted straight out of the mid-to-late '80s. One button jumps and the other "everts" as certain spots in the world allow you to shift to a mirrored variant reality complete with its own set of changes to the scenery. One reality's clouds are solid enough to walk on, another's plants wilted enough to bypass, and another's blocks ready to crumble away. Each shift has a deeper level of reality to evert to, slowly losing the bright cheery nature of the stage to a decaying unhappy and desolate grey landscape... before shifting into darkness. The deterioration doesn't end at the levels themselves though, as the interface is tampered and screwed with, even changing the starting lines before each stage to a sometimes more unsettling phrase. By the end of the game, you'll delve into 7 layers of reality (with the darkest 8th available only for those that collected all the gems) in order to reach the kidnapped princess... or whatever it is waiting for you.

The biggest problem with Eversion is that it's rather shallow outside of its gimmick. After the initial shock factor, all that's left is a short 8 stage game with some rather bland platforming and sometimes infuriating gem collecting just to get the good(?) ending. As a free title to experience once, that isn't too terrible, but it leaves merely a tingle aftershock much like awakening from a bizarre nightmare. Still, it's trollishly deceptive for anyone expecting a title at face vlaue and showcases how far simple soft pixel visuals can corrupt into unease with minimal incremental changes - that and the slowly unnerving tonal shift in the music and some of the preceeding text (or no text) before you begin a stage.

After releasing the first version of the game for free in late December 2008, a later updated edition was made available on Steam on June 7, 2010. The Steam version has a little tinkering to some of the level designs and boasts higher quality graphics by doubling the resolution (to 640 x 480) as well as parallax backgrounds and rearranged music. There is also a Time Attack mode with leaderboards available after completing the game, which also allows custom levels. There's even a secret third ending for those persistent enough to search for it.

Free Version

Steam Version

Quick Info:

Developer:

Zaratustra Productions

Genre:

Platforming

Theme:

Horror
Unique Visuals

Type:

Free / Commercial


Eversion (Windows, Steam Version)

Eversion (Windows, Steam Version)

Comparison Screenshots


Additional Screenshots


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