Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sequence, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Splice, and Auditorium

It's been a while since any of us have written, oops. Summer is unexpectedly busy. However, to celebrate me getting a shiny new computer to play games on, and the Steam summer sale, I'm going to talk about three games today! As you may have guessed, these games are Sequence, Splice, and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. Let's make this fast, I want to get back to playing asap.

Sequence I actually got quite a while ago, and I could have sworn I had already written something about it. But then I searched through our post archives and couldn't find anything, and was immensely disappointed in my past self. For some reason I still feel like I've written about this before though, so in case I missed it in my search forgive me if I'm rehashing old territory. Sequence has you playing as Ky, who wakes up in a strange tower filled with dangerous monsters. You are led through the tower by Naia, striving to make it to the top and escape. Along the way, you'll level up, learn new tricks, and all that typical RPG jazz. What spices things up though, is how the battles work. These are far from the standard turn based battles, and are instead rhythm based. Each battle has three screens, each of which has its own set of falling notes a la DDR and those similar games. One screen dictates enemy attacks, another is where you activate spells, and the third allows you to regenerate mana. Miss a note in the enemy attack screen and you'll take damage, or activate a spell and then miss a note on the spell screen and the spell is wasted (thankfully, no penalty for missing anything in the last screen).
Every battle becomes a frantic juggling act balancing defending yourself from enemy attacks, gathering the resources to counterattack, and finding the time to actually counterattack. You've activated a basic spell, but the enemy is making an attack at the same time! Do you sacrifice the mana to defend yourself (and spend some time on the mana screen later earning it back), or do you take the hit and focus on casting the spell? In addition, you only have a limited number of spells you can bring with you into battle. Do you want to bring only attack spells, and end the battle as soon as you can? Or do you just take the most basic ones, and bring mostly healing spells for when things get out of hand? Sequence is practically the only game I can think of that brings me to a state of 'flow' like how Shoofle's mentioned before. When it's going good, I am easily juggling the three screens of falling notes, easily blocking enemy attacks and countering with my own. But all it takes is a single fumble, and suddenly everything falls apart. And it's absolutely amazing. Even though the story and art didn't grab me (not to mention everything is just a static sprite anyway), gameplay is king. The battle system alone was more than enough to keep me playing this game for hours.

Next up, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet! This one's a strange one. I've gotten to a point where I'm entering some water, and was instantly reminded of Aquaria. And it's pretty easy to see why, too. Both are Metroidvania style games that forgo the usual platformer aspect of the game, with Aquaria taking place entirely underwater, and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet having the player be a free flying UFO. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (I'm just going to call it ITSP from now on) plays essentially like a dual stick shooter, though the player has to constantly juggle their abilities to select the best one (or the required one) for the situation. The game has a very unique aesthetic, but honestly that's all I really have to say in favor about the game. It follows the Metroidvania style of blocking off passages and forcing you one way until you have the prerequisite item that allows you to pass the other way, but I didn't find it as fun as I usually do other Metroidvania games. Fighting felt dull and boring. The upgrades didn't feel like they were granting me very much power, and the environments felt too constrained. While there were aspects of exploration involved, there are few of them and the rewards for venturing off the path are meager. The aesthetic is interesting, but not enough to hold the game up on its own, and pales in comparison to the absolutely gorgeous aesthetics of Aquaria. I don't know. I really wanted to like this game, and it sat near the top of my wishlist for a while, but honestly I'm disappointed.

This is Auditorium
Thankfully, I saved Splice and Auditorium for last. Splice and Auditorium are by Cipher Prime. I played Auditorium quite a while ago and absolutely loved it, and it looks like Cipher Prime has managed to duplicate the magic with Splice. But first, I want to talk a bit about Auditorium. Auditorium is a very simple puzzle game (originally a Flash game, now available on mobile devices and Steam), where you use manipulators to direct a flow through some containers. Early levels are extremely simple, but later levels add multiple colors and get deviously difficult. But the main reason I loved Auditorium is the music. The game is silent at the start of each level, but as you redirect the flow to pass through the containers, the music starts to build up, one part at a time. The music is slightly repetitive, but I think the tracks are absolutely beautiful. I highly recommend this one (and they're working on a sequel!)
This is Splice
Ok. Now for Splice. Splice is a cell based puzzle game of sorts. You start with a tree of cells, and have a limited number of splices to make in order to reach a target tree that has a certain configuration. The game itself is also extremely simple: activate a cell 'mutation' by clicking on the cell, splice by dragging cells around. But like Auditorium, this game also absolutely fantastic music. Actually, as we speak (er, as I write this), I'm searching for where I can download the entire damn thing, because I want it now. And actually, I don't have much else to say about Splice. I've never seen puzzle mechanics quite like Splice before, so the novelty is extremely appreciated. I haven't played enough of the game yet to say for sure, but the puzzle mechanics seem extremely solid, and the game feels like it's going to ramp up in difficulty fairly soon. I'm excited, so I'm going to end this post now so I can go play. Peace!

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