Category Archives: mmm Steam sale

Indie Pack Reviewlet: Gish

Gish is yet another game featuring a 12-lb ball of tar as its hero. Honestly, developers, can’t you come up with something original? Here’s an idea just off the top of my head: there was a conflict around the middle of the 20th century, where most of the World had a War (for the 2nd time, as it goes), surely there’s scope for some kind of shooting-based game there? Anyway, at least there’s a twist to Gish that sets it apart from all the other tarball based games: you have a human ladyfriend who gets kidnapped, and you have to get her back!

You may not think a ball of tar is ideally equipped for such a rescue mission, lacking as it does opposable thumbs (any thumbs, in fact, not to mention hands, arms or limbs in general), but Gish has three rather handy abilities: he can extrude spines, enabling him to stick to surfaces, he can increase his density and he can become slick. This allows a variety of actions, such as sticking to, and climbing, walls and ceilings, smashing blocks and enemies, and sliding through narrow spaces.

Gish is a very kinetic game, there’s a real sense of movement in the character and its interactions; your default jump isn’t very high, but when you land you compress slightly, and if timed correctly and you jump again when compressed you jump a little higher, compressing more on landing, enabling you to build up to more impressive leaps. Gish also has a surprising amount of personality for a ball of tar with yellow eyes and fangs.

After a simple opening level introducing you to the basic control mechanisms and a fairly straightforward squish through some sewers, I started to get a little frustrated as the game got a bit trickier. I’d tend to get past sections with trial, error and random key mashing, die further on in the level, and have to re-do the earlier bits with more trial and error. I suspect I just need a bit more practise to get various techniques down and repeatable; it’s another game I hope to get back to with a bit more time (if only Steam did sales on Time). No technical problems on the laptop at all, it ran very smoothly, and very reasonable at £5.99. It even includes some player vs player modes like “sumo”, and “football” featuring opposing blobs of tar attempting to manoeuvre a football past the other side to score a touchdown, which look like they could be quite fun with a few people. Overall: a blobby tar thumbs up. Just please, developers, no more platform/puzzle games based around balls of tar with structural altering abilities! Here’s a tip: some fellow called Tolkien wrote an obscure book almost nobody’s heard of, I reckon a Game in which you Played a Role in that sort of setting could sell like hot cakes.

Indie Pack Reviewlet: Blueberry Garden

Blueberry Garden won the Best Game prize of this year’s Independent Games Festival. It’s an “interactive fairytale” in which you control an odd en-beaked individual (possibly Raymond Luxury-Yacht, though there’s no guide to confirm whether it’s pronounced “Throatwobbler Mangrove”) on his travels around a hand-drawn world.

At first glance it seems a fairly conventional platform game, you move with the cursor keys and jump with space, but you soon get the feeling you’re not in Miner Willy’s Mansion or Vorticon VI any more, Toto, with the distinct lack of enemies you have to carefully jump over to avoid losing a life. In common with The Path, Blueberry Garden is about exploration and discovery, but where The Path is dark, disturbing and heavy on the death, Blueberry Garden is fresh, whimsical and much more interested in fruit (so far, at least; I’m presuming you don’t fall into an inescapable pit of doom and despair further into the game). Something else Blueberry Garden has in common with The Path is relatively high system requirements: a 2GHz dual-core processor and 256MB graphics card are suggested, and the laptop did struggle with it. The game was just about playable but slowdown and stuttering did spoil things slightly, so I didn’t fully explore the garden, though I did start to make a fairly impressive tower of a giant pencil, block of cheese and a tomato…

Again it’s not something I’d go out of my way to pick up, but if I had to go exploring and the choices were a nice garden with some blueberries or The Forest of Death and Blood (“is there a story behind that name?” “why yes, everyone who goes there dies of death and blood”), the garden would edge it, and at £3.99 it doesn’t even need to last two hours to achieve Sherbet Dip Dab hourly cost parity. Overall: a blueberry-stained thumbs up. If, of an evening, I’m tempted to plunge into the sound and fury of Angry Internet Man forum debates over the bitter controversy of the day, I might go and wander around Blueberry Garden for a while instead; I suspect it would be far better for the blood pressure.

Indie Pack Reviewlet: The Path

Difficult one, this. If I’d come to The Path totally cold I really don’t know what I would have made of it; as it is, there were several good articles and interesting debates over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun around the time of release. The Steam page says: “The Path is a game about growing, about changing, about making choices, about accepting the consequences of these choices. A game about playing, and failing, about embracing life, perhaps by accepting death.” I say: it’s not exactly a game, more an “interactive experience” or “downloadable installation piece” or “experiential user-controlled unstructured narrative conveyance” or perhaps “Neville”, if you prefer. Once again one of the RPS collective does it full justice in a Eurogamer review, and perhaps the key phrase I’d slightly out-of-context-edly extract from that is: “It’s totally no fun. It’s interesting, but there isn’t a fun bone in its mopey body.” Not really what I was after when unwinding of an evening; still, I fired it up for a bit of a wander around the forest, and hit something of a problem in that the laptop couldn’t cope very well and juddered through the introduction (the systems requirements do specify “no integrated graphics”). Turning all the graphics options down rendered it almost playable, but it still juddered and stuttered during interactions, which robbed any atmosphere that was building up. I’ll try and give it another go on my main PC sometime, perhaps at two in the morning when sleep deprivation is starting to kick in to give it more of an unreal vibe (not an Unreal vibe, though, I’m not sure a voiceover of “MULTI-KILL!” and “RAMPAGE!” would entirely be in keeping with the spirit of the game).

I’m glad something like The Path is out there, pushing boundaries, exploring the meaning of games n’ all that, but it’s not something I’d go out and buy, though £7.25 seems reasonable enough if it’s your bag. That’s one of the nice things about the multi-game pack, it gives you the opportunity to try things you wouldn’t normally bother with (even if only to confirm your preconceptions). Overall: the stuttering idea of a thumb in a forest at an indistinguishable angle.

Indie Pack Reviewlet: Darwinia

In Darwinia you pitch up in a computer world under attack by a nasty red virus, and are tasked with helping its creator save the native Darwinians. It has strong RTS elements, but scales things down so you only control a few units, and increases your part in the action so that rather than just clicking your squad and clicking an enemy to get them to attack you directly control laser and grenade fire.

The prologue/tutorial is quite in-depth, introducing you to the various elements of the game, but I was somewhere towards the end of it when I had to shut down and couldn’t easily find a save option (might just be me, though). Next time I started it up the game crashed just after building a second unit (probably more to do with the crufty Windows install on the laptop than the game itself, it ran pretty smoothly with a couple of the options turned down), and with limited time I didn’t get back to it again. Still, from what I saw there’s plenty of game there for a most reasonable £5.99; it was released a couple of years back, and I remember PJ spoke most highly of it at the time. Another one I’m looking forward to returning to in a spare moment; an electronic thumb up, in between battling a virus.

Indie Pack Reviewlet: Crayon Physics Deluxe

Crayon Physics Deluxe does exactly what it says on the tin: you draw stuff with Crayons, it’s subject to Physics, and it’s Deluxe. The object is to navigate a red ball into a star, and the method is with whatever you can draw: weights, ropes, pivots, hatstands, marmots, members of Alec Douglas-Home’s 1963 cabinet…

It’s a very well realised game, technically ran absolutely fine on the laptop, but it never quite clicked for me. I think I have two main shortcomings: a lack of crayon-based physical imagination, and a lack of drawing ability (not that you need to produce masterpieces, but even my blocks and rectangles were a bit wonky), which results in a combination of not really being sure how best to approach a level, and then having some difficulty executing those plans I do come up with (I just can’t get Reginald Maudling’s hair right). Perhaps the mouse is a bit of an obstacle, and either an iPhone version or some sort of graphics tablet would work a bit better with the central drawing motif of the game. At £15.99 it’s pretty expensive for an indie game, I don’t think I’d personally be too tempted at full price. Overall, a slightly ropey crayon drawing of a horizontal thumb.

Indie Pack Reviewlet: Mr Robot

Due to the unseasonal clemency of the British summer I didn’t get a chance to fully explore several games of the pack, so a few fairly brief impressions: “Just like that, ahh.” “Oooh, Betty.” And now a few brief thoughts on the games: Mr Robot is a charming isometric puzzler that, at a dramatically lower resolution and with fewer and more garish colours, could be from the 8-bit era (in a good way; Knight Lore and Alien 8 are quoted as inspirations). You’re a little service droid on a spaceship where the humans are in cryogenic storage, overseen by HEL 9000 the central AI. I’ve only played the first few screens (HEL 9000 still appears to be in full possession of its electronic faculties, and I don’t think it would be a massive spoiler to predict that might not last too long) so can’t make any grand pronouncements, I haven’t even collected any party members or seen the “Ghost Hack” abstract RPG, but it’s definitely a game I’m looking forward to getting back to. It ran absolutely fine on the laptop, and £5.99 for the whole game seems most reasonable. A provisional robotic thumbs up.

Indie Pack Reviewlet: World of Goo

Another not exactly first impression, as I bought World of Goo on the Wii back in January. One of the potential annoyances with packs of games is if you already own some of them, and although you can sometimes “gift” extra copies of games on Steam, that’s not the case with any of the indie pack. On top of Audiosurf if I already had the PC version of World of Goo, or it wasn’t a very good game, it might have raised the irritation level from “small piece of grit in shoe but only for a minute until an opportunity arose to sit down and empty shoe” to “small piece of grit in shoe but in circumstances where much walking is required and it would be considered rude to expose your be-socked feet to all and sundry like perhaps a guided tour of a large workplace with dignitaries”, but as it is I’ve been loving getting Goo-y again (as a metaphorical actress may or may not have said to an entirely hypothetical bishop).

Once again I’d direct you to John Walker’s lovely Eurogamer review for a full assessment of the game. I’d agree that the Wii version of the game ever so slightly shades the PC version by virtue of how well suited the Wiimote is to the control system (though the mouse has a slight edge for precision), plus support of up to four players simultaneously, but it’s the slimmest of differences, a mere few extra chocolate shavings atop the magnificent baked cheesecake of goodness that’s common between the two platforms.

Having finished the game on the Wii I didn’t compulsively play through the PC version, but it was always a joy to drop into for a quick level or two; apart from anything else it reminded me how great the music is, from the first joyous “pompompompompompom”, and being available from the author’s website you can even play through it in Audiosurf.

Technically, no problems at all, it ran absolutely smoothly on the laptop. It’s the most expensive of the pack at full price, £16.99, but well worth it. Three thumbs up, comprised of goo balls, floating on red balloons.

Indie Pack Reviewlet: Audiosurf

Bit of a cheat, this one, as I bought Audiosurf when it was released a year and a half ago. In Audiosurf you “surf” down a track based on a song picking up coloured blocks into a grid, matching colours together for points. When I first got it, deep in the throes of Guitar Heroism, the gameplay didn’t quite click for me; Guitar Hero note tracks are carefully hand-crafted by skilled editors, whereas Audiosurf automatically generates its game tracks from any MP3 you throw at it. The tracks reflect the music they’re generated from, swooping downhill when the tempo is quick and climbing uphill when slow, the block colours changing from cool purples and blues to warm yellows and reds with the intensity of the song, but it’s a fairly broad impression of the music as opposed to the pin-point reflection of the guitar lines that Guitar Hero offers, and that took me a little while to fully appreciate.

What you gain over something like Guitar Hero, of course, is the infinite variety of your own MP3 collection, especially if your musical preferences generally don’t tend towards index-and-little-finger extending RAWK! Classical, baroque, jazz, trip-hop, game soundtracks, Dylan bootlegs, Interröbang Cartel, Harry “The Hipster” Gibson’s classic “Who Put The Benzedrine In Mrs Murphy’s Ovaltine”, if you’ve got it as an mp3, wma, ogg, flac or iTunes file, you can pipe it into Audiosurf and see what crazy tracks result.

Once Audiosurf clicked for me I really got into it, and could quite happily lose a couple of ours with “just one more song…” Something I particularly like is its straightforward high score table; in this internet connected age, most high score tables are frankly depressing as you find yourself in competition with thousands, if not millions, of other players, and after a triumphant, almost-perfect run of something you shout “yes!”, punch the air, and then find, after an awful lot of scrolling, you’re at position 10,472 on the table. Audiosurf lets you choose your battles; if you really want to test yourself you can play one of the included songs (particularly Still Alive), or something terribly popular with the playerbase at large (Through The Fire And The Flames). In the darker recesses of your MP3 collection, though, you’re bound to be able to find something with rather fewer players that you can boldly proclaim yourself Pro Champion of.

Something else I’ve come to appreciate in the past year is just how difficult it is to make a decent game based around any MP3 you can throw at it. I’ve tried a couple of others since, Raycatcher (a bargain from a Steam sale, natch) which was distinctly “meh”, and Jam Legend, that promised to turn your music into Guitar Hero-style tracks, but really didn’t for the couple of examples I tried.

Hardware-wise the laptop coped fine, after cranking the resolution down a bit, but as I’ve played it plenty before I only ran through a few songs on holiday. Overall, two bouncing-to-the-crazy-beat thumbs up, and well worth the full £5.99 individual purchase price.

Indie Pack Introduction

I remembered the laptop charger so, as planned, I spent the odd evening and mercifully rare rainy day of last week’s holiday with “The absolute, autonomous, freewheeling, grassroots, nonaligned, nonpartisan, sovereign, unconstrained, uncontrolled, unregimented games pack” from Steam, ten popular and acclaimed indie titles.

The laptop I was using wasn’t really an ideal gaming platform, 1.8Ghz Celeron processor, 1Gb RAM and shared graphics adapter using up to 128Mb of system memory, but it coped fairly well with most of the pack.

On with the games…

Steam Indie Games Weekend Deal

I really ought to be packing a suitcase at the moment as I’m about to head off for a (hopefully) nice relaxing week on holiday, but a last minute browse through the feedreader found news of Steam’s indie games sale on Tales of the Rampant Coyote.

Away for a week, with a laptop that can’t handle big, graphically intensive stuff, and a collection of indie games for less than £2.50 each? At least one of them is a copper-bottomed actinium-edged classic, and several others have sounded interesting but not necessarily the sort of thing I’d want to shell out £10 for, so the pack is merrily downloading away.

If I get a few quiet evenings (or a couple of days of the traditional British summer and resultant torrential rain) I’ll try and write up a few thoughts on each of them, although bearing in mind that the best laid plans of mice and men often go wrong, and frankly these are, at most, third- or fourth- best laid plans, I probably won’t even get a chance to play them, let alone write. Like if I don’t get a shift on, I’ll forget to pack the laptop charger, but I thought I’d just point out the sale while it’s still on in case anyone fancies playing along at home.