Thank Christ August is ending.
I’ll be honest, I looked forward to this month. Xbox One’s Summer Spotlight rolled out in full force along with its newly added Creator’s Collection, and all I got was shovelware, asset flips, and boredom. Screw it, if Microsoft isn’t going to play by its own rules, neither am I. Originally this was going to be a showcase of the “greenlit” additions to the Creator’s Collection but nope, it’s turned into the 360 Indie Game marketplace within a faster time limit. Maybe there’ll be gems added soon enough but for now, let’s highlight some other subjects.
A few rules I’m going to place on myself before we begin. One: there’ll be 5 games highlighted in this piece, all of which are going to be a mixing of genres. There won’t be 5 different walking simulators, otherwise I would have just recommended Oxenfree 5 times. Two: the games on display will be from the ID@Xbox program (If they are on other consoles, that will be mentioned), and have a purchase count of 2,000, with the data for that being a rough estimate from TrueAchievements‘ tracking system. Nevertheless, let’s get started.
NeuroVoider – The Binding of 155-AC (PS4/Xbox One/PC)
First on the chopping block is Flying Oak Games’ perfection of the Roguelike genre, and if it ever gets topped, I’ll eat my shoes. Starring as a procedurally-generated robot brain, you’re tasked by the childish FAT-32 to eliminate the robots standing in his way of domination. Starring 80 million different guns, body parts, and enemy variants, you’ve got a long way to the top, and the road is paved with shrapnel.
The charm of NeuroVoider comes from the melding of qualities that turn it into a thing of beauty. The weighted combat, the synth-heavy soundtrack that isn’t overbearing like many others, and the customization and strategy of the player character makes what should have been a frustrating and bloated experience, into a booming and electrifying game, up there with Geometry Wars, and Nuclear Throne as the king of twin-sticks.
Westerado: Double Barreled – Rootin’ Tootin’ (PC/Xbox One)
Cowboy games are ultra-rare, so next on the list is Westerado, Adult Swim Games & Ostrich Banditos’ tribute to the spaghetti western with an open-world zest. Packed with charming characters, punchy and chuckle-inducing dialogue, and a rugged but not overly annoying combat system, the title stands head and shoulders above the rest of Adult Swims’ unfunny fodder.
You are a nameless ranger, who in a strangely compelling opening sees his house and family torn asunder by an unknown gunman. Now he’s rampaging through the tumbleweed-filled towns, looking for revenge and maybe wetting his whistles. The gimmick of Westerado is the freedom that’s present throughout. You can take a slow and methodical approach towards who the actual killer is, or just blame everyone who comes into contact, which results in humorous outcomes.
The surprising overall quality that radiates throughout Westerado is the success of keeping a consistent tone. The game never goes full wacky like Blazing Saddles but it never gets too thoroughly serious like a Sergio Leone film. It manages to be captivating and hilarious, and was one of the sleeper hits of 2016. Adult Swim Games have been pushing out games with varying quality, but this is where almost everything hits and it’s a brilliant journey through the deserts.
HoPiKo – Jumpin’ Thru’ The Mainframe (PC/Xbox One/iOS)
Platforming has seen many revisions of the formula, with it all riding on just how fluent the character movement is. So, Laser Dog just decided to say “nah, man” and just make the character jump. HoPiKo is a barebones platformer where you can only jump, and you’ll be goddamned if you think anything else will follow. There’s no story, no context besides “saving gaming” and now you’ve just got to jump.
HoPiKo stays effective throughout despite such a simple mechanic. The twitch-reflexes that follow in fashion make you feel incredibly cool when you get through the trials, and the difficulty is a natural curve that’s stays fair along all the levels. The high-octane presentation intermixed with the incredibly skittish chiptune soundtrack make this an essential for anyone sick of Mario.
Valley – Dear Esther, From Sonic (PC/Xbox One/PS4)
Y’know, I figured that we need at least one walking simulator here, and I decided to go with the one that feels the least like one: Valley, Blue Isle Studios’ Experimentation of what happens when you give Myst 80 grams of sugar. You are Man or Woman Esq., here to research a forgotten island amidst rumours of unknown and immortal life existing there. What follows is a breathtaking run through endless canyons, corrugated tin landscapes, and an outright brilliant sense of speed.
The L.E.A.F. Suit may be one of my favourite Exo-Skeletal suits in videogames, purely for the amount of fun it gives. The story of Valley itself is really quite negligible, as even Blue Isle recommend just roaming around, but not for exploration, for the speed and fun it gives. Even now, after scouring the island for medallions and speedrunning routes, I return to the mystical island, just because it offers me first-person speed unlike any other titles out there.
Dreaming Sarah – Mario Dream Simulator (PC/Xbox One)
Finally, we have the only title from the Creators’ Collection that didn’t make me want to staple my tongue to a burning log: Dreaming Sarah! Asteristic Game Studios’ evolution of what Yume Nikki started. As the title suggests, you are a dog named Derek, who is awake, and after being awake for so long, you now see the world as Super Mario Brothers 2.
In all actuality, Dreaming Sarah manages to take on the surreal tonal shifts that were present in Earthbound, and emulate them quite well in what could’ve been a silly platformer. The story is nonsensical, even more so when present, but it’s the imagery and set pieces that follow that truly make this game a “fun” trip to participate in.
Out of all the titles mentioned so far, Dreaming Sarah is the cheapest, and it even comes with a demo that you can download here. So, regardless of what you think in the end, you have nothing to lose with Dreaming Sarah.
And that’s that. I would’ve loved to have covered more games, but as it stands, the money that was spent was like getting two 7’s and a middle finger on a slot machine. Maybe when I return, there’ll be brighter days ahead, but right now? I’ve seen enough endless runners and Android ports to last me a lifetime. ‘Til next time, Microsoft.