Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter Break 2010-2011

Winter break has its ups and downs. On the up side, there are no classes, no homework, no exams, just relaxation (at least, so I’d like to dream; applying to internships kind of ruins the relaxation a little). On the down side, traveling to the other side of the world sucks when you’re flying economy, and what sucks even more is Chinese internet. In lieu of other internet things to distract me while I’m in China (aka Facebook and Youtube), I’ve been making my way through the plethora of indie games I have on Steam. I was going to update them all in one big chunk, but there are actually a lot, so I’ll do it a few games at a time. These are the games that I'll cover, in the order that I'll cover them:

1.       RUSH
2.       VVVVVV
3.       Super Meat Boy
4.       The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom
5.       And Yet It Moves
6.       Blueberry Garden
7.       Puzzle Bots
8.       Deathspank
9.       Shatter
10.   World of Goo
11.   Toki Tori
12.   Audiosurf
13.   Windosill
14.   Shank
15.   Zen Bound 2
16.   Blue Toad Murder Files- The Mysteries of Little Riddle
18.   Machinarium
19.   AaAaAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity 
20.   Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes

So. Here we go.

Developer: Two Tribes
Genre: Puzzle

Giant colored blocks appear from start points and roll on their way. Your goal is to place markers that guide them to their endpoints without having any two blocks collide or letting a block fall off a stage. Markers you can place include simple direction changes, conveyor belts that shift the blocks without changing which direction they roll in, stop signs to temporarily halt a block, and a switcher that directs blocks in alternating directions.

Completion Rate:
Finished all easy and medium levels, dipped into the hard and bonus levels.

RUSH is deceptively simple at first. Blocks turn right if they hit a wall, if they can’t turn right then they turn back. There are essentially four types of markers to place. Occasionally levels will throw in color coded warp panels. That’s all there is, essentially. The easy levels are a breeze, and most of the medium ones are rather simple as well. And then I hit the hard levels. Since starting the hard levels, I have not managed to complete a single level without using any hints (basic hints show whether your currently placed markers are correct, while advanced hints show where you should place markers and verify whether you placed the right marker there or not). Working out a path for the blocks to follow usually isn’t difficult, but working out the timing for the multitude of blocks can become quite a hassle. However, there is something quite satisfying about finally figuring out the right way to arrange the markers, and then hitting the start button and watching the blocks all march on to the end. At least, when you don’t use advanced hints to guess and check the entire solution. The level design is good, but has its faults. In particular, the more complex levels unfortunately tend to be quite frustrating to play, since it gets difficult to see where the blocks are going and place markers appropriately. Overall, RUSH is a fun game with a great concept, but sometimes becomes more frustrating than fun on the more complex and difficult levels.

Developer: Terry Cavanagh
Genre: Platformer

You are Captain Viridian, leader of a group of dimension exploring scientists, and your ship has crashed in an unknown world, scattering your crew. It’s up to you to explore this new world and reunite your crew. It’s a basic retro-style 2D platformer, with one major twist: you can’t jump. Instead, you have the ability to reverse your gravity. Spike pit in front of you? Flip to the ceiling, walk past, and flip back if necessary. You can’t flip in mid-air, but in certain parts of the games there are lines that will automatically flip your gravity if you pass through them. 

Completion Rate:
Beat the game once. Have not attempted time trials, flip mode, or no-death mode.

Sadistic, but brilliant. As I played through VVVVVV, that was the one thought that consistently came to mind. The slightest brush with a spike or an obstacle/enemy results in instant death. The world feels very Metroid-esque in design, and the challenge of getting through the level to reach a crew member or a collectible shiny trinket often left me both marveling at the brilliance of the design and cursing at the difficulty. However, thanks to a generous checkpoint system, the game’s high difficulty almost never becomes frustrating. I say ‘almost’ because there is one shiny trinket that is frustratingly difficult to reach, and the somewhat clunky keyboard controls will cause quite a few unfortunate deaths. The story is nothing remarkable and leaves more questions than answers, but it does its job of driving the gameplay. The graphics are retro, and the music is catchy (unless you’re stuck in a room for a long time). The main game only took a bit over three hours to complete, but completing that unlocked time trials for individual levels, a flip mode (the entire world is flipped vertically), and obtaining high ranks in time trials unlocks no-death mode for the truly masochistic (rather than being teleported to a checkpoint upon death, the game ends). I died over 2000 times in my run of the game, I cannot even imagine what kind of skills it would take to be able to complete the entire game without a single death.

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