What does it mean to be a god if no one will listen to you? Arcen Games looks at this with a bit of humor in their latest release, Skyward Collapse. Here, we play an omniscient, omnipresent celestial being, tasked with cultivating and manipulating two factions that would like nothing more than to see the other eradicated. That's an interesting scenario on its own, but we are further entangled by a godly need for entertainment (conflict) and plagued by natural "woes." To further jumble our troubles, rogue elements including deities and mythological creatures try to spoil our day. In this turn based strategy/god sim, we inherit the intriguing situation of lacking direct control yet commanding plenty of manipulation.
Well, I was not entirely ready for this. The Cat Lady, released last year by Screen 7 and created almost entirely by Remigiusz Michalski, was absolutely no where on my radar until I recently saw a preview of it in action. I suppose this isn't overly surprising. Michalski's and his studio, Harvester Games, have only developed two titles. The first, released in 2009, is called Downfall and is apparently both highly acclaimed and fairly successful. The second is this game, The Cat Lady. Both are created in Adventure Game Studio and are horror adventures, further limiting the client base (unless you have the media strength of The Walking Dead).
Yet, this ended up being one of the most interesting and complete titles I've played in ages. And somehow, that's even more satisfying when it's a complete surprise. It feels like this game has been stirring and simmering over the course of many years, and that probably isn't very far from the truth. This is an unbelievably mature experience, most likely the most mature game I've ever played. Many of the themes are very dark and complex and real, and this is one of the few instances I can imagine where an age/user discretion is actually warranted. And that can also be a bit of a warning for the rest of this article.
Originally known as Dyson during its prototype stage, Eufloria is self-described as a "space gardening RTS." What that means is not very clear without some description, but in essence, Eufloria is about growth and destruction. Building up your own spores of pollen to seed across the galaxy and wreack havoc on your enemies. Any tree not your color is marked for death and total domination is necessary for your own survival.
Well, that might sound cooler than it actually is, but Eufloria is our latest go-around at Indie Impressions. Developed by a trio of indie devs, Eufloria was released in 2009 for Windows and later released on Linux, OSX, iOS, Android, and PlayStation Network. Here is Steve and Greg's take on the game after playing a few hours.
Gratuitous Tank Battles is a unique take on tower-strategy mechanics, created by a man who clearly has a strong attention to detail. This article will be covering both the base game, released this past May, and its expansion The Western Front, which is being released this today on Steam. Both are developed by Positech Games, which is more or less known as Cliff "cliffski" Harris. At first glance, GTB appears to be a standard tower defense game covered in a fine finish, but things quickly become more complicated. For a bit of background reading, we do also have a preview of the game which goes over the basics from a different point of view.
Gemini Rue. Duality + regret. A remarkably thoughtful and fitting name for this game (and certainly much more pleasing than the original Boryokudan Rue). Another entry in the monstrous Wadjet Eye Games adventure lineup and primarily the child of Joshua Nuernberger, Gemini Rue has been very well received since its release in early 2011. The game takes place in a futuristic sci-fi world with some touches of cyberpunk thrown in. As with other recent Wadjet games, it is a full experience complete with voice acting and attempts to push the underlying Adventure Game Studio engine as far as it can. As a whole, their efforts greatly pay off, riding on the strength of the characters and overarching story.
After playing Penumbra: Overture, everyone knew a sequel was on its way. The ending leaves scores of questions unanswered and perfectly prepares a follow-up. In 2008, Frictional Games released Penumbra: Black Plague, and in many ways, Black Plague does make the original feel like a mere overture. Frictional well heeded feedback following Overture's release and significantly tuned up their product in regards to pacing, controls, physics, and character interaction. All while continuing the fantastically creepy atmosphere and adding significant new elements to the story.
I first became aware of Dear Esther on the day it was released, as news passed that it recouped its Indie Fund investment in a mere six hours. Somehow, I entirely missed word of the game prior to that, but as I read more, I knew I had to play it. While it will take multiple playthroughs to obtain the game's full experience (due to semi-randomized dialogue), I came away a bit underwhelmed by the game. I normally eat up intentionally vague/confusing dialogue-based stories, but this story seems a bit more pedestrian than most (even if the vagueness fully makes sense within the story). But this in no way takes away from the game's other draw; its relentlessly gorgeous handcrafted visuals, with each frame packed in detail.
Fresh on the heels of the well-received The Blackwell Legacy arrives Blackwell Unbound. After playing and thoroughly enjoying the first for our Indie Impression feature, continuing was an inevitability. For reference, Legacy was released in 2006, and Unbound in 2007. There have since been two more releases in the semi-episodic series, so I'm still a bit behind. I am playing the re-released versions in the Blackwell Bundle, which offer improved voice acting as well as bug fixes and some extras. The Blackwell series (as well The Shivah) were primarily developed by Dave Gilbert and his studio, Wadjet Eye Games.
For ease of writing, I'm just going to assume that you don't mind to be aware of mild spoilers in the first act of the first game. After all, it's printed everywhere, including the covers of these very games. Essentially, the Blackwell series is about the generational history of this family who has been "blessed" to be mediums to the restless spirit world. In the case of the Blackwells, they have been assigned by the powers that be to a ghost detective named Joey Malone. He is forced to stay with his medium at all times and guide them towards restless ghosts in the world who have, for one reason or another, been unable to pass on into the afterlife.
During Legacy, we played as Rosangela, the newest medium in the Blackwell family. She has to fight through a bit of family history as well as her own personal weaknesses, before encountering her family's legacy. In Unbound, we travel back to her aunt, Lauren, who has already met and come to terms with Joey.
If someone tells you they're going to do a "reverse" something, odds are the result will be terrible. The concept sounds similarly cheesy for games, evoking memories of bad minigames and multiplayer modes. However, for some genres it actually could be a fresh take on the concept, and 11-Bit Studios tries to prove this with their "reverse tower defense" game, Anomaly: Warzone Earth. 11-Bit is a brand new developer out of Poland, powered by a small team of industry veterans. It appears that they've taken an independent mindset towards publishing and distributing, releasing Anomaly directly to Steam and the Mac Store. Thus far, they seem to be having a good deal of success and are proving capable in quickly porting their game to new platforms, including iOS, Kindle Fire (!) and an upcoming XBLA release.
Plants vs. Zombies is a game I've been eyeing for a while. It regularly tempted me at $10 Steam with even cheaper sale prices. This summer's sale finally put me over the edge. Every so often you need some good tower defense action, and PvZ seemed like a unique yet highly praised take on the genre. Its cartoonish, Popcap/flash feel and simple five-lane setup makes things perfect for beginners. And it has enjoyed massive success over a huge variety of platforms. Originating on PC, PvZ has since expanded to every modern platform imaginable, both traditional and mobile. Popcap is undeniably a casual gaming powerhouse. The Bejeweled and Feeding Frenzy creators certainly know how to make products and pricing that clicks with the average consumer. They've been so successful that EA recently purchased the company for ~$750 million.
For the most part, PvZ exemplifies this success. It creates a casual-friendly atmosphere with calculated progressive learning combined with enough longevity and a tad of optional difficulty to round out the complete package. The game starts slowly, at first holding your hand with only a couple plant options (towers) available to defend your house from a weak zombie horde on a completely barren level. With only five lanes to defend, beginners will learn quickly what it takes to operate. In case they make mistakes, the game includes a get-out-of-jail-free card, in the form of zombie-clearing machines that activate and clear the lane should a zombie make it past the plants. For a while, the game introduces a new plant on almost every level, encouraging the player to try them out and discover what they're worth. Soon enough, juggling several plant types on more obnoxious levels will be a requirement.