Saturday, April 9, 2011

Retrocade: DataStream Y2K600

So for the past two and a half years I have been scanning the Xbox live indie games new release tab just about daily. I have my own routine: Click A, Move Thumbstick Right to View Gallery, scan images to determine if game is worth playing.

Screenshots aren't my only metric for making the gameplay determination, I play about 90% of the games that are released, the screenshots cull that ten percent with mechanics that can be completely determined from the screenshots, if I can visualize how your game plays in my head, why would I need to play it? What I am really looking for is something that I haven't seen before,

The above screen is obviously depicting a frogger clone reminiscent of the early 1980's. In other words RETRO. Something that we have all seen before by definition. So why did I instantly download DataStream and play it for upwards of an hour non-continuously? Well, for one thing it's fun.

Indeed, RBG Entertainment has this to say about their own game,

"Pure unadulterated game play that the entire industry was built upon. No fancy graphics, no social media BS, and no silly advertising tie ins; Just rock solid retro fun."

Actually, the textual overlays on the screenshots caused me to lol in real life, and whenever a content description causes this reaction, the content is added to my download queue instantly, no questions asked.

Datastream is at its core an implementation of those classic Atari carts that came loaded with multiple variations upon a single gameplay theme. Frogger is the nucleus as previously mentioned, but I always found the linear nature of frogger to be quite limiting. Luckily RBG entertainment has brought Frogger back to its roots and twisted the mechanic beyond all comprehension. Yes, you control a block of pixels and yes, you will be moving up, down, left, and right avoiding other pixel blocks while attempting to collect others but you will be doing so as a pixel block itself.

The frog has become irrelevant, Datastream is what I refer to as a pure game. One stripped down to its essential elements. I quite enjoy these types of games.

Each variation comes with its own set of rules, each slightly different, each slightly similar. I only enjoy playing one variation though, depicted here,

I am one colorless pixel block amongst many, but I have fallen out of the flow. My only purpose is to collect errant yellow blocks while avoiding my colorless brethren who are sliding past at varying speeds and lengths. Quite fun actually. I do suggest you try it.

Click To Download The Trial of DataStream

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Snake Man

Ah Snake, That most classical of the classics. Xbox Live Indie games has not been wanting for its lack of snake clones since its inception back in November of 2008.

Snake360 was released 8 days after the service launched. I know this after a few seconds of use of what I think is a very powerful tool for the Xbox Indie Searcher, the filter. In the past I used that official game list over at the MS Apphub but its interface was horrid and it did not allow me to filter how I wanted. The funny thing is that has always been in the vanguard when it comes to sorting and displaying XBLIG.

Coming to the point of this post,

Snake Man is in my opinion the cream of the cream when it comes to snake clones on the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace, the filter mentioned above lists 14 games that can be found by using the keyword Snake. One of these is a Silver Dollar abomination that has nothing to do with Snake but is listed due its title "Murder on Snake Road" And two are quite similar, Snake 360 mentioned above and Snake 360 lite. I have strong opinions when it comes to my Indie Channel, I feel that lite releases have no place.

So according to the filter, 12 Snake games. I feel that this number is a bit low.  Undoubtedly there are some snake games that do not list the word Snake in either their title or description. This is no cause for alarm, all that is needed of the filter is the addition of user generated tags, something that I hope will be implemented shortly.

Oh yeah, if you haven't already tried Snake Man I suggest you do, it is surprisingly good. It's retro inspired feel and progression style leads the player towards the do a little better next time mentality, which is the hallmark of the classics.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cuckoo Crack

"Is this that angry birds for the Xbox?" She asks.

"No." Although the aesthetic is quite similar.

Cuckoo Crack, recently released through the Xbox Indie Marketplace can probably trace its origins to Defender, although in Cuckoo Crack, we are only given two options for control of our bird, The left trigger, which when pressed translates to a flapping of our bird's wings, giving the Cuckoo an upward thrust. And the right trigger which causes our bird to "lay" an egg. Lay enough eggs in the seemingly infinite number of nests and advance to the next round.

A game such as this is made or broken on the strength of its artistic sensibilities and sound effects. Cuckoo Crack delivers on both fronts. I must admit that pulling off a triple lay in the same tree, results in a most pleasant, "ping, ping, ping" to eminate from my speakers. To me, the most satisfying feedback in the game. The looping background music, although not too grating is easily muted by a simple press of the Left Shoulder Button.(note to devs: If you find yourself with an unused button when your game is nearing completion, consider turning it into a volume control. Your gamers will thank you for the option.)

Once I got the hang of the physics involved,  internalizing the rate of egg drop calculated against the speed of horizontal velocity, I found myself completing the game's 5 levels in about 15 minutes. The game then asked me if I would like to play again, I did click yes but did not notice any change in the difficulty or speed for this Challenge round level 2 so I simply quit the game. It's probably a good thing that I did.

Cuckoo Crack makes use of multiple scrolling backgrounds, all scrolling at various speeds. When this scrolling stopped, the room began to scroll. The motion aftereffect from Cuckoo Crack is intense. If you're sensitive to this affect, you might want to give Cuckoo Crack a try just to experience it.

As I mentioned there are 5 levels in Cuckoo crack, but only two types of challenges, a score challenge where you are asked to rack up a score by laying eggs, and an egg laying challenge, which requires a certain number of eggs to be laid in a certain amount of time. Both types of challenges come with a timer of 3 minutes.

In the later levels, the game speeds up about every minute or so, It might actually speed up based on score or by number of eggs laid, either way, the fact that the game scrolling speed does speed up is what's important here. If the developer had an easy to find weblisting, I would have asked why an infinite mode was not added to Cuckoo Crack, where the player can simply play for as long as they would like, as long as their reflexes could keep up with the increases in game speed of course.The after effect might be interesting as well.

And I have now spent quite a bit more time on this review than I actually spent playing the game, so I must stop.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Score Rush

Pixel Perfect Production Proudly Passes Peers, Presents Players Performance Proudly.

Click To Download the Trial

I must admit to being a little concerned about my ability to play this game. My concerns were unfounded of course, especially once I realized that my ship's collision box wasn't actually the entire ship. No, that tiny pixel there in the lower right of the screenshot above, surrounded by a green energy field is. It's actually a 4x4 pixel grid.

Maneuvering that tiny dot through the stream of rainbow colored bullets required me to sit extremely close to the screen and my speakers. Something I highly recommend that everyone does. Please remember to always go to 11.

Score Rush, developed by Xona Games as a part of the indie games winter uprising is not quite horizontal and not quite vertical. Actually my knowledge of SHMUPS is not extensive. Luckily others have expounded on the matter in great length and detail. The playfield under consideration is similar to Geometry Wars, as in slightly bigger than my television set. It allows for a bit of movement to the game's camera which is nice but I'm still a bit undecided about the style, part of me wants to see everything and part of me likes to imagine the unknown.

The Geometry Wars reference is not without its merits, indeed,

Brittany says, "It looks like Geometry Wars, MAKE SOMETHING DIFFERENT. Stop writing everything I say." She doesn't call herself a gamer but I know better.

I don't mind that Score Rush recalls memories of such a classic game, and the fact that we are only charged a tenth of what we were charged for Geometry Wars is pretty interesting I think. I still play Geometry Wars from time to time, and that game is going on five years old. Will Score Rush hold up to this test of time?? Or is it even supposed to? 

Xona Games The developers of Score Rush, call it a spiritual sequel to Duality ZF, their upcoming XBLA release. Score Rush uses the same engine as Duality ZF. I believe that Score Rush is more of a tech demo actually, showcasing to the gamer what their engine can do. But here we begin to blur the lines of what exactly constitutes a game and so we must retreat.

At any rate, Score Rush is probably in the top five percent of enjoyable titles on the indie channel, at least to me. 1500 games on the channel, 75 that I have thoroughly enjoyed. That sounds about right.

When I play SHMUPS, score is not my main concern. In fact I purchased Geometry Wars about the same time I got my first HDTV. I was interested in how the colors would look mostly. Score Rush definitely delivers in this regard. My only problem is that my ship always tends to explode just when the screen is being lit up to its full capacity. But is this problem worth looking into and fixing?

Whenever you start a playthrough you are offered a helpful tip on the loading screen. One said, "Find your path through the stream of bullets." A bit Zen there but I did make some attempts. Perhaps this game does require the player to enter into a sort of trance while they play. To that end,

Auditory stimulation of the senses. Sound is extremely important to any game,  perhaps even more so than the Visual aspects. 

Copy from the Xona Press Release,
"The 60 fps adrenaline-rush experience is complemented by a hard-rocking Dragon Music Productions soundtrack" 

I'm not much of a fan of the game's soundtrack but I just load up whatever I think will get me into the zone and blast it at maximum value. Adult Contemporary usually results in very short games, but I've been having excellent results playing along to Dan Deacon,


One of the game's menu screens encourages the user to Blog about the game and SHMUPS in general. Which I am doing now as you are of course aware. Matthew from Xona Games has also asked bloggers to blog about XNA Connect issues, which affect the future of the XBOX Indie Channel and so are good to vote on. Making and voting on Connect issues is one of my guilty pleasures in this life,

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rise Up, Gaming...

Well, I hope you have been enjoying some of these Xbox Indie Uprising Releases as much as I have. We are about halfway through it and I think the best of them are still yet to come. I'm particularly looking forward to Alpha Squad myself.

To me it's not so much the games, but the ideas behind the games, and the process that must have occurred for these games to appear on our 360 Dashboard. A space for independent developers on a consumer games console with limited oversight from the console manufacturer on what shall and shall not appear in that space, That kind of thing just doesn't happen overnight. The Indie Channel spent a good portion of time as a beta on the web and then a beta on the dashboard before it was ready for primetime as they say. And here we are two years later with nearly 1500 games on the service. Some are great, some are not, and some should probably be sent back to the drawing board.

I'd like to draw your attention to Microsoft Connect. It's a website where users of MS products can easily submit feedback and log bugs concerning Microsoft Products. There is a page on this site dedicated to all things indie games and there are a number of suggestions listed currently which you can vote and comment on. Here is just a sample of them,

Create an "Indie Game Winter Uprising" list under the XBLIG dashboard

Optional Free Playtesting Membership

XBLIG Leaderboard/Highscore Access

XBLIG Achievement Access 

To access these issues and vote on them just click on the link below,

And scroll down a bit, looking for the XNA Game Studio line, there should be a sign in link on the far right. Sign in with your Windows Live ID and you can start voting on issues that affect XBLIG Development, Distribution, and Our Indie Game presence on the 360 Dashboard among other things. Vote Early, Vote Often and leave lots of comments. Come on now, who doesn't like leaving comments??

Friday, December 3, 2010


Deep space welding by wire

No, but that robot did cost a few million to manufacture, is it the same?

UberGridder from BadgerPunch Games continues the Winter Uprising. It's a sort of thinking man's pacman where you don't actually have to think. The protagonist is a nicely rendered three dimensional robot who is displayed on a two dimensional plane.  Programmed to build in a vacuum our robot finds company where there was expected to be none. The work continues regardless.

I've often wondered what we will be listening to when we finally reach the stars, and are given eternity to contemplate.The background music to this game sounds like it might be pretty close. I found it very relaxing.  There might be a couple tracks that the game loops through so I will have to play again to hear more.

Here's the website of the game's musician, pretty good stuff,

I played through the trial a few times on the XBOX, not really anxious to get the level complete, I just knew that it would eventually get done. If it wasn't for those pesky monsters! For some reason I got stuck on level 3. The high score table lists a nine as the highest level so I assume there's that many levels. Unless it is endless.

Interestingly I had a look at the developer's website and noticed there was a windows version available for download.

The version plays very similar, although I found the arrow keys to be a simpler control method.  

Our robot is designed to continue on his path until he reaches a junction or receives input from the user. Input being a direction of movement along the construction grid. What I liked about the game was sending the directional input before the junction, and then releasing the button to watch as the robot processed my command and turned at the appropriate time. I made it to level four on the windows version of the game, and noticed the speed had increased significantly, kickin' it up a notch

How much would you expect to pay for this casual mix of hardcore gameplay? If you said 80 MS Points you are correct. If you're addicted you will probably buy this game, if you're like me you will create a website devoted to XBOX Indie Games in order to obtain copies of the games released there. Either way, as long as everyone plays.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Epic Dungeon

The best roguelike on the indiechannel so far.

I'm a gambler and my favorite stat is luck. It's all about the gold and I was stockpiling it. But my supply of health potions was dwindling. Fortunately I found a store around Depth 3 but the trader's prices were steep. I left everything behind for a few precious potions. What use is gold if you're dead?

At around Depth 6 I picked up this odd looking quarterstaff. It would certainly be better than the simple dagger I was using to fend off those pesky spiders and bats. If nothing else the weapon had some reach.

Once I touched the weapon though a strange weakness passed over my body and I could barely lift the staff off the floor. I tried dropping the cursed thing but my hand refused to obey my mind's command. This didn't bode well. I spent some time on Depth 7, circling the corridors, practicing with my feeble weapon in the hopes I would gain some semblance of skill with it.

It was to prove futile, as a pack of wild dogs finally got the best of me on Depth 10.

Epic Dungeon is the first game to be released as part of the Xbox Indie Games Winter Uprising. A response to treatment the Xbox Indie Channel has received from gamers, developers, and Microsoft themselves. What will this uprising lead to?

But more importantly how does Epic Dungeon play?

Quite good actually. Even though a few seconds into the game, I was about to fly into a rage concerning the lack of diagonal movement. My thumbs felt constrained, attempting to translate my mind into a mode of action that the game did not allow. After a few minutes however my thumbs were properly trained and I understood the game's need for a strict four way movement pattern. (Apparently you can move diagonally, maybe I wasn't pushing hard enough.)

The game is simple to pick up and play. At least for someone familiar with the Roguelike ;) My practice of skipping the instructions screen before the first play did not prove detrimental to my experience of the game. At intervals throughout the game, friendly little popups appeared at the top of my screen telling me what all the buttons on the controller do. After my first playthrough I did check out the help system and found it to be simple but informative, very nice.

Throughout the dungeon you might meet fellow crawlers and perhaps even some locals. They are represented symbolically by a question mark on the map, the standard quest depictor. Press the button and,

Short textual quests, with the possibility of a reward if you answer correctly? But what is correctly? I chose the way of the gambler and it worked out most of the time. These mini quests are a nice break from the action of the dungeon crawl which can get a little frenetic at times, especially when you are surrounded by multiple monsters and the screen starts flashing red, urging you to drink a health potion.

After a few short playthroughs as a gambler I decided to switch to the Shaman. Epic Dungeons Wizard archetype (and the type I usually play). The Shaman has a freezing AOE attack that allowed me to make it out of Depth 50. This was only my third playthrough of the game and it took me about an hour and a half. So I've beaten the game, not something I expect to do with a roguelike on the first day of playing. But Epic Dungeon isn't your typical roguelike.

For one thing it's not quite turnbased, the dungeon's monsters move on their own terms and if you need a few moments to think about your situation you will need to pause the game. Or just open up your inventory and use a teleport scroll to port to the nearest shop, and load up on health potions.

Combat in the game is pretty standard, simply walk in the direction that you wish to attack and if there's an enemy in your way you will swing your weapon. Besides the standard attack, there are four unique special attacks. Each one mapped to a button. As you level you can increase the number of times you can use these attacks in sequence, up to a maximum of ten. I've only used two special attacks in a playthrough, managing to chain all four together would probably be pretty difficult but I'm sure it can be done.

You probably already know that the game's art direction is influenced by the 8-bit. This style influences the modern gamer greatly, its visuals and sounds having been deeply imprinted into our minds at an early age, and connotated by many emotive aspects.  It's obvious that Mark, the sole developer behind the game had fun with the art. There are a lot of nice details here, animated traps, and scroll effects among other things. I really enjoyed the detail put into weapon and armor types.

I just wish the game lasted longer, maybe for Epic Dungeon 2?