Friday, July 25, 2014

IOS Review #81: Marble Drop

Title: Marble Drop
Developer: Matthew Arbesfeld
Platforms: IOS Universal, Android
Price: Free
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I learned about Marble Drop earlier today thanks to an email from the developers. The origins of the game quickly raised my expectations for the experience. Marble Drop was the top prize winner of the MIT Student IOS Game Competition, but don't worry. You don't need Ivy League intellect to enjoy this polished physics puzzler.
It only took seven levels for me to see that this was one quality puzzle game and the levels that followed only confirmed that assessment. Marble Drop is a wonderful case of easy to play, challenging to master. Gameplay wise, the game is quite simple. You only need to drag colored marbles to funnels so that they land in like-colored cups. But the developers waste no time layering on new mechanics that turn a simple concept into something much more complex. From tiles that change your marble's colors, mixers that let you combine two marbles to make a new color, and stacked cups that must be filled in proper color order, to more exotic elements like explosives, cannons, switches, and changing gravity, Marble Drop reveals itself to be a tricky challenging physics puzzle game. The charming art style only adds to the overall polish and presentation
Marble Drop combines simple controls with a diverse variety of challenges and mechanics to deliver a finely crafted puzzle game. The game is free to download; IAP lets you remove ads and purchase coins to unlock hints and special marbles.

You can download Marble Drop here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

PC Review #105: Shadow Blade Reload

Title: Shadow Blade Reload
Developer: Dead Mage
Platforms: PC, Mac
Price: $9.99
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I posted my thoughts on the original IOS version of Shadow Blade back in January, and the game did not disappoint. The challenging gameplay, the fluid animations, colorful and wonderfully-designed leves made Shadow Blade one of my favorite platformers on mobile. Now Shadow Blade has made its way to PC, and thanks to numerous tweaks, upgrades, and additions, it's easily the definite version of the game.
If you've played Shadow Blade here, you know what to expect here. It's the same game you remember, a fast paced platformer with a light stealth elements, evading hazards as you time attacks against your enemies so your monument isn't broken. It's the new elements that make this the best version of Shadow Blade. I thought the touch controls were good for the game, but it controls so much better on PC. The visuals look like they've been improved, brighter, with more details; the entire menu and interface has been revamped and redone. You're armed with shuriken now, allowing you to kill enemies from a distance. The more important addition is an inclusion of an editor that allows you to create and share levels, meaning there's no need in sight for this agile ninja.
Future update will futher enhance the game with new levels, new difficulties and modes, new music, and Steam Workshop support. As it stands, Shadow Blade is very playble, with nice visuals and solid controls. You can purchase Shadow Blade Reload on Steam.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Q&A: Jean Canellas, Alex Kubodera on Death's Gambit

I wrote about Death's Gambit a few days ago and now I was fortunate enough that developers Jean Canellas and Alex Kubodera were able to spare some time to answer a few questions about their promising action RPG
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This is something I ask all the developers I interview, perhaps a cliched inquiry: What inspired you to become a game developer?
Jean: I knew for sure that I wanted to be a game designer after I made an indie game in highschool called Aftermath. It's very old and crappy, but some people actually said it had some of their favorite boss fights in a game maker game(I really don’t think so). Hearing people discuss the games I made between themselves really pushed me to study game design after high school. 
Alex: It was sort of a natural progression for me. I made RPG board games in elementary school for my classmates to play using Legos and paper cutouts. I incorporated elements of our class work into it by gating progress with quizzes. At home, my father and I would create murals of crazy characters battling it out on a huge piece of paper. Drawing inspired me to develop stories for these characters, but why stop there? I later discovered Fable: TLC, and player choice affecting the world was so intriguing to me, I simply had to create a world of my own.
If there was one thing that caught my eye while reading about your game, it was the art style and atmosphere. Could you talk more about this "alien medieval" world you're crafting and the kinds of environments we may encounter?
Setting our game on an alien planet gives us the creative freedom to do what feels best for the game, in terms of setting the mood for the story and gameplay. Each environment will have its own unique color palette and biome that breeds specific kinds of enemies. That being said, most of our locations have a very dark atmosphere, rich with hidden lore. 
Death's Gambit is described as an action RPG. What RPG elements will the game feature? 
The nature of RPG’s is inhabiting a character and crafting your own adventure. You will meet a motley group of characters, all with their own agenda, offering up advice or misinformation depending on their disposition. Every boss encounter tells part of the story as you develop relationships with them and to the world. Defeating them rewards you with epic loot and a core part of the gameplay is finding the best gear that works for you.
On your Tumblr page, you describe encounters as "complex hack-n-slash puzzles", two styles of gameplay that don't seem immediately compatible. How does combat work in Death's Gambit?
Oh but they are compatible! Most bosses in games could be considered timed puzzles. We want our bosses to focus more on strategic thought-out play as opposed to twitch reflexes and button mashing. For example, we have a prototype boss encounter on an unbalanced platform. It's all about making sure there is enough weight on either side while you fight the boss. On top of that, he has multiple phases that each play with the mechanic in different ways. They are brutal in the dark souls way(you dodge roll and jump out of attacks) and on top of that, each boss has at least one mechanic that forces the player to solve some sort of combat system puzzle. Sometimes bosses will feel very challenging to some players before they realize there are multiple ways of tackling their mechanics.
Another seemingly incongruous inspiration you mention is Spec Ops: The Line, a title lauded for its narrative and subversion of genre tropes. How has that game influenced the narrative and gameplay of Death's Gambit?
This one is a bit harder to explain without going in-depth into the story, so we can’t really say much. We did mention how the game is about collecting epic loot and empowering the player to surpass insurmountable obstacles. Overall I wouldn't expect a lot of genre satire or war themes out of Death's Gambit. 
We should probably exclude “inspired by spec ops” because it gives people the wrong expectation. Regardless, it has influenced us greatly.
Perhaps the most compelling and intriguing aspect of Death's Gambit is the Shadow of the Colossus vibe, as seen in the image and GIFs where your character ascends a towering beast. Why did that game in particular influence development? How central will these battles and enemies be to the overall experience?
So this is a fun anecdote. The giants (called Gaians), were not a part of the initial design “draft” for the game. Jean initially was inspired to add climbing sections after prototyping a grappling hook. It was then that he coincidentally was linked to an “Attack on Titan” video, which sparked an idea to prototype a giant's leg. He was so excited to find out if a giant would look/play well, that he ignored all schoolwork and worked until 6AM. 
The giant prototype turned out to be a huge success. So much so that it impacted the future of the game. We want to make sure it captures the same sensation as SoTC does, in sheer size and impact. The Gaian functions as it’s own level, so we want every climb to take you on a journey that tells a compelling story about the creature and world, while making the combat encounters increasingly more challenging. 
On TIGForum, you mention that Death's Gambit has been worked on full time for several months. What's the state of the game at this time?
Well it’s only been two months, but we have about 40 to 60 minutes of gameplay. You could technically say we have more, but a lot of content is still in the prototype stage. The game is somewhere between 5% to 10% complete.
You can learn more about Death's Gambit here, and follow its development on Tumblr and TIGForum. Keep an eye out for a Kickstarter in the future.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Watchlist: Death's Gambit

Title: Death's Gambit
Developer: White Rabbit
Platforms: PC
Very early in development
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Death's Gambit is an challenging action rpg where you explore a alien medieval planet filled with horrors, beasts, and knights. Every new enemy encounter is a complex hack-n-slash puzzle to solve. Every piece of environment and mechanic tells part of the story.
Shadow of the Colossus was and still is one of my favorite PS2 games. So when I saw a GIF of a figure scaling a towering moving behemoth one Screenshot Saturday, I had to learn more. Death's Gambit is an upcoming action RPG, set across a sprawling alien world that blends sci fi and medieval elements.
In Death's Gambit, you're not merely any warrior. You are an emissary of Death itself, armed with powerful weapons, guns, and magic to fend off the deadly enemies and beasts that roam the landscape. With three weapons at hand at any time, as well as items and abilities, you have a vast array of options in how to tackle any battle. Combat won't be a fast paced twitchy affair, but strategic and measured against relentless challenging foes. And just like the combat, the world of Death's Gambit will be equally open ended, offering multiple paths and non-linear progression.
Rounding out Death's Gambit's mechanics are its large scale encounters against massive beasts. While the nature of these encounters are still very much subject to change, the developers plan to have several of these battles throughout the game, as you clamber up and fight your way across these towering lumbering giants. Inspired by Attack on Titan and the aforementioned Shadow of the Colossus, each of these encounters will be a journey and experience in itself, offering intriguing details about the world and creatures while offering a challenging conflict.
Death's Gambit is still very early in development. You can learn more about the game as well as its development and progress here. The developers are also planning a Kickstarter for late Fall or early Winter of this year.

Friday, July 18, 2014

PC Review #104: Claire

Title: Claire
Developer: Hailstorm Games
Platforms: PC
Price: $9.99
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My impressions for Claire are later than I had originally anticipated. Perhaps that's a testament to how scary and atmospheric Claire is, since I could only play in short chunks before switching to something loud and fun like Broforce.
From the opening minutes, Claire crafts an eerie unsettling tone. The game is one best experienced without much knowledge of what happens, so I'll keep the story details vague. Just know you are Claire, a trouble haunted girl, with a sick mother and a loyal canine companion, as you explore and survive a dark twisted environment filled with nightmarish creatures. This isn't Resident Evil; fleeing and hiding is always your best option, and your meager arsenal of lighter and flashlight can only keep the things that lurk in the darkness at bay. As you explore the labyrinth-like halls of the hospital, the game provides an overwhelming sense of tension, the darkness barely illuminated by your light, distorted whispers and the sounds of movement all around you. Claire focuses on establishing lingering dread, a feeling on vulnerability, rather than jump scares; fans of Silent Hill will feel at home at among the dilapidated halls and twitching organic...things that haunt your visions. The story is revealed piecemeal, slowly coming together as you learn more about your past; Claire is designed for multiple playthroughs, offering a New Game Plus mode and multiple endings to discover.
Claire absolutely succeeds in providing an atmospheric unsettling experience, a compelling story, and fantastic sound design and soundtrack, that all work in tandem to make this a must-play for survival horror fans. You can purchase Claire on Steam.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Watchlist: Super III

Title: Super III
Developer: Super 91 Studios
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
In development
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SUPER III is a fast-paced, action/puzzle-platformer that follows the story of an alien named, III (Three). After a galactic war, III is given the task of finding and rescuing all survivors. Utilize III's teleportation abilities and screen-wrap to smash baddies and solve puzzles!
There's nothing perhaps more disappointing than when an anticipated game is cancelled (or at least equal in disappointment to when an anticipated game doesn't meet expectations). I've discovered a lot of games, followed a lot of projects that have since been abandoned or put on hold. Games like Stealer and A Shepherd in Dark Times and, most recently, Frog Sord. You can read about what happened to Frog Sord here and its current status here, but I'm excited to say that while Frog Sord may be in limbo, some of the developers of that promising game are working on something new: the teleporting platformer Super III.
In Super III, you play as an alien on a sprawling planet filled with enemies and bosses to defeat, traps to avoid, and puzzles to solve. Super III promises to blend challenging precision platforming with large expansive levels, a design choice inspired by games like Mario 64. Rather then bite-sized rooms, levels here will house multiple challenges to tackle, from races and time trials to survivors to rescue and items to collect. Your little alien is more than capable of traversing these areas, thanks to the ability to teleport horizontally and wrap around the screen. Hazards are numerous - bosses, spikes, missiles, unstable blocks, and more - but all are surmountable through timing, precision, and smart use of your skills.
Initially designed as a jam game for indiE3, Super III has only been in development for little over a month; however the game has progressed at an incredible pace, with numerous levels and mechanics for the game's five worlds already designed and prototyped. A Kickstarter and Greenlight campaign are planned for early August. You can learn more about Super III and its development on TIGForum.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

PC Spotlight #103: The Nightmare Cooperative

Title: The Nightmare Cooperative
Developer: Lucky Frame
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $9.99
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If you go into this game expecting a grand and complicated experience, you'll probably be disappointed. The Nightmare Cooperative is a compact game, a roguelike distilled to its base elements. You won't find complex skill trees, or a multitude of loot to collect and equip, or expansive environments for you to explore and perish in. That's not a bad thing; if you're looking for something simple but challenging, simplified yet also strategic and tactical, The Nightmare Cooperative excels.
The set-up is simple, a framework for the action rather than an extended narrative. Your village is in disarray; go out, gather gold, fight monsters, survive. The core of The Nightmare Cooperative is its gameplay and that aspect proves to be much deeper and more engaging than the story. If you've familiar with Michael Brough's 868-HACK, you'll feel right at home among Nightmare's enemy-filled rooms. Similar to that game, your goal here is to amass a high score, the amount of gold you collect equaling your final score. Opening chests rewards you with gold and spawns enemy so choosing whether to rush for the exit or increase your score is a crucial choice. Enemies move when you move so each step forward is a strategic decision that, when combined with the game's mechanics and varied foes, gives The Nightmare Cooperative a methodical, puzzle-esque vibe.
You don't control a single hero in Nightmare, but rather an entire group at once, each hero moving and using their special abilities simultaneously. Each hero is unique and positioning and formation is important since their abilities are only effective under certain conditions. The Archer can only shoot enemies directly ahead, the Mage can hit enemies on diagonals, the Warrior can perform two strikes in one move, the Ninja can pass through enemies, and so on for the other seven heroes. Supplementing these abilities are items that provide special perks, such as extra life at the expense of mana or not spawning enemies when opening a chest.
The enemies you face are equally varied and cement the game's strategic puzzle atmosphere. Some enemies travel along predictable paths. Others mirror your movements or move extra spaces in a turn. Turrets rotate and fire in intervals. All this knowledge is always at your disposal and define how you position your heroes, which heroes are best for a given room. Managing four heroes at once, while timing and syncing your movements to evade enemies or get into formation to attack a desired enemy with a specific ability, is a satisfying challenge. It's best to approach each move in The Nightmare Cooperative slowly and carefully, taking the time to plan out your next steps, thinking about where you are and will be in relation to enemies and hazards. A poor decision can easily find your heroes scattered across a level, cornered, a beneficial move for one character being dangerous for the others.
The colorful distinct art style rounds out this compelling package. The Nightmare Cooperative is all about the gameplay, the turn-for-turn decisions that make the best roguelikes so satisfying. Those looking for something with more depth may find the game lacking, but the strategic gameplay, varied heroes, and one-more-go appeal makes The Nightmare Cooperative a worthy addition for fans of the genre. The developers plan to add a challenge mode that will feature rooms with predetermined heroes, enemies, and layouts designed to test your strategic prowess. A mobile version is also in the works, with an estimated release time frame sometime later this year.

You can purchase The Nightmare Cooperative from the developer's site, Steam, Humble, and itch.io.