It has been said that trying to get Indie developers to work together is like herding cats. Maybe, maybe not, but one thing is for sure. Indie products are somewhat more prone to delays than their corporate counterparts. We’ve been waiting for the final Indie uprising game to drop so that we can close out our coverage of the event, but as this December promotion drags into February, Rickenbacker vs. the Aliens still lists its status as Coming Soon. We’ve decided to make an executive decision and swap it out for coverage of another game we grabbed from the XBLIG roster. So, without further ado, the exclusive BL edition of Indie Games Uprising. (Sorta NSFW)
Smash TV/Robotron is a game type that works well for an Indie game. Sort of an omni-directional shmup with periodic breathers, it takes a very simple core game mechanic and makes it too frantic to feel repetitive. Alpha Squad follows in the footsteps of many of its Uprising brethren by taking this game type and evolving it. As one of the rare XBLIG titles to allow online multiplayer, you can host or join a game composed of any combination of up to four local or live players. Like Smash TV, a level is made up of a series of screens. The first time you enter a screen you have to deal with a wave of enemies. Enemies aren’t terribly varied, but there are enough to keep it interesting, from monsters that spit gunk that slows you down to gun and club toting maniacs. Once the enemies are dealt with, exits that lead to other screens open. One new aspect is that you are able to return to previously cleared screens, thus allowing you to fully explore a level. Likewise, whereas Smash TV activates a powerup immediately upon pickup, Alpha Squad will allow you to store health or shield powerups in a one-slot inventory. Health, by the way, is another thing. You HAVE health, rather than the usual “touch someone and die” policy. The “big money, big prizes” that you accumulate aren’t just bragging rights, either. The cash can be used at any time to visit an armory screen and buy weapons and health, thus making survival much easier and the resulting game less frustrating. Another addition to the game type is a story and quests. As one might expect, they usually include killing lots of people and finding an item to return. Notably, sometimes items are on different levels and require you to return to past locations.
You have four characters to choose from: A wild man party animal, a serious merc days from retirement, an armored new guy, and an aloof samurai type in a trench coat. Yes, they have names, but lets just say that this game has certain other assets that proved distracting to me. The artwork and graphics are good, and they seem to follow a particular… theme. Take a look at the screens below and see if you agree.
I’m not complaining. No sir. I approve of this. Overall, the game plays well, and the music is good. Normally I would say that adding a story where there wasn’t one would be a universal improvement, but when you go from trying to carve a path through a swarm of homicidal maniacs for fifteen minutes to waiting for the host to tap his way through screens of text, your attention span can wear thin. That coupled with the difficulty I had finding a game hosted by someone actually interested in playing (not really the developer’s fault) and a short bout of network errors shave a few points off for the game. I’m a simple man, though, with simple needs, and this game fills them shamelessly.
7.9 / 10: A decent Smash TV type game with network multiplayer, a gun shop, and boobs.
Aban Hawkins and the 1000 Spikes
Since we got tired of waiting for Rickenbacker to finally get around to taking on those aliens, we decided to cherry pick one of the stars of XBLIG as a stand in. Don’t worry, Rickenbacker, we’ll review your exploits when we get a chance to give them a try. But until then, let’s talk about spikes. Aban Hawkins is a Pitfall Harry/Indiana Jones type who has found a death trap strewn ruins that is just dying to be raided. You start with 1000 lives (presumably one for each spike) and must work your way through the levels using only running, low jumping, high jumping, and knife throwing. A thousand lives seems like it will be plenty, but you’ll soon see that this isn’t just a standard platformer. Whereas Super Meat Boy followed in the footsteps of I Wanna Be The Guy with its high difficulty and extreme precision required, AHAT1kS focused more on the “Trial and Error” aspect of the game. You will, in short order, come upon a trap that you literally could not have foreseen. Maybe it is a block that will fall before you can land on it. Maybe an idol head will spit a dart at you. Whatever it is, you’ll soon find that timing and sequence are at least as important as precision. You’ll laugh the first few times it happens… then you’ll stop laughing.
Realizing that the average gamer might get a little bit tired of being two inches from the exit and having a chunk of the ceiling suddenly dislodge and pancake them, the Devs wisely gave you a “give up and skip level” button, but use it sparingly, because eventually they’ll take that option away, if you abuse it. At the end of each sequence of levels, you get an artifact that will give you a bundle of lives, starting at fifty and moving on to 256+. The graphics and music go the retro route, and the gameplay is reasonably well implemented. There are a few foibles. Jumping immediately after landing, or while standing on a slowly descending platform, often just doesn’t work. This is probably by design, but when something feels like a bug, and annoys you like a bug, I treat it like a bug. Other than that, I found something oddly addictive about the game. Some games make you feel like you are controlling a character and helping him fight his enemies. Aban Hawkins makes you feel like you are in a battle of wits with the game itself, and right now, the game is laughing at me. You win this round, ridiculously fast scorpion, but we shall meet again…
8.0 / 10: A simple, maddeningly challenging retro game in the “Nintendo Hard” tradition.