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The Indie Investigation Vol. 3 – Showdowns, Sh’m’up’s and Blackjack, Oh My!

Yeah, let’s bring this back, it’s only been a bloody year since the last one.

 

Lots of games have been coming out recently, and as pathetic of a human being I am, I can only review so much, or rather find so much to review. Out of the sixty-odd games in my 2018 backlog, A good twenty to thirty are worth talking about to some extent, and the ones that aren’t? Well, it’s not that they’re all bad, but they don’t have much to offer, and this is what Indie Investigation is for.

 

Bottom line is, we’re going to look at five games, see what makes ’em tick, and figure out they’re worth you checking to see what makes them tick in action. We’ve got something for everyone here! Anime girls, Cheating dealers, a reference to The Quick And The Dead, and the obligatory Roguelites. You can’t lose here! Variety is the spice of life, and at least one of these is guaranteed to be good… right?

 

Atomic Heist – Inanimate Carbon Rod – Dev: Live Aliens

Platforms: Xbox One, PC

 

 

Fiiiiiiiirst up, Atomic Heist! A twin-stick roguelite where you have to go through ten levels of pure hell in order to get a rod of radiation to the end. At your disposal are a good handful of weapons and ships, and… oh, that’s it actually. Huh. Anyway, I sure hope you like the look of Gross Green and Platonic Purple, because you’re going to be seeing that on Level One for hours and hours.

 

Live Aliens never really want you to take your time with levels. From the moment you’re given control, you’ll already have robots tracking your arse down, and the game is incredibly unforgiving at all times, even more than the average Roguelite. It’s not keen on giving you any leeways in combat, as you can be easily OHKO’d by some of the starting enemies, and every upgrade that actually means something always has a hefty detriment to go along with it. Oh, and the ability to see your health bar isn’t something pre-installed to your ship? Yeah, no thank you.

 

The ideas for the game’s uniqueness are present throughout, what with your rod of radiation slowly trickling your health down along your way through the levels, but good grief, it’s hard. So hard that the enjoyment disappears completely when you realize you aren’t making any progress. Sorry, Live Aliens, but I can’t see what I’m being killed by, and the game’s boring, not unlike…

 

Rating: 3/10 – Meh

 

Earth Atlantis – The Aquatic Adventure of The Last Bullet Hell – Dev: Pixel Perfex

Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Switch, iPhone/iPad

 

 

Earth Atlantis! A bullet hell boss rush infused with MetroidVania elements, which looks like a stunner right out of the gate, in stark contrast to the washed-out feel of Atomic Heist. I mean, we have this lush art style, which looks like concept art with some well-done animation, and the map is pretty big! You play as a survivor of Earth after it’s been fully drowned in water, and now you’re just rolling around the ocean, looking for mechanical fish to kill, which are inexplicably populating the entire world now.

 

Gameplay works like this: You grab your ship, and you’re plopped into the world, with the vague objective of “killing bigger mecha-fishies than the usual suspects”. When you do kill one of these bosses, then a random part of the map will open up for you to explore further. Rinse and repeat until the game tells you to stop; At which point, do it again, but quicker.

 

 

Unfortunately, there’s next to no variety to any of it, and a lot of the bosses just end up being generic palette-swaps of previous foes. It also commits a cardinal bullet hell sin by having the bullets blend into the background due to its two-tone colour scheme, so its difficulty comes from an accidental design choice. An honest mistake, but when you consider just how little of this game there is, a little mistake like that goes a long way.

 

Finally, despite the fact that the lovely art style of this game could almost carry the game altogether, with any firefight seeming like a background wallpaper ready to happen, it drags after 3-4 hours of playing. The Xbox One version in particular has some pretty bad frame rate drops and V-Sync issues, so it definitely turns into a mish-mash of colours near the end. Sort of like…

 

Rating: 5/10 – Sick

 

Xenon Valkyrie+ – Streaky – Dev: Diabolical Mind

Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PS Vita, PS4

 

 

Xenon Valkyrie! Another pixel-art roguelite, but with more of a platformer flavouring this time. You have your choice of three characters, that’s two anime girls and a lizard, so naturally you pick the lizard and attempt to thwart the plans of an evil witch through a bunch of levels. That is all the game is going to explain, so you better write that down and soldier on with no knowledge.

 

It’s the most standard Roguelike setup you could ever build up, almost to a fault, but if there’s one thing that Diabolical Mind knows a thing or two about, it’s pixel-art. The graphical quality of Xenon Valkyrie is almost unmatched, with sheer scope and scale added to every environment you crawl through, despite the fact that everything is 2-D. It’s sort of like Owlboy, but without the graphical clarity that Owlboy possessed. Now, if only the rest of the game could match that skill, then we’d be set for life.

 

 

The combat and level design are at odds with one another, trying to compete to see which one is the worst part of the game. You have a melee weapon and a pistol with limited ammo at all times, and most of the melee weapons have such a stupidly short range that you’re going to be risking a slap from most enemies unless you can cheese them from underneath a platform. Bosses are extremely fun to fight though, there’s good telegraphing of attacks, they’re varied in how they work, and they all look damn cool.

 

The level design, on the other hand, there’s not a lot that can be done to salvage it. Every level is this huge, huge sprawling space that becomes overwhelming at times due to the extremely small mini-map barely offering any guidance. That graphical density makes it worse however, with the murkiness and mixed-up nature of the colour palette making those extremely small paths to freedom that much harder to spot in the flow of it all. In short, the game isn’t bad, but blimey, some things needed a tune-up.

 

Riddled Corpses EX kicks arse though, I’ll give Diabolical Mind that. Kicks more arse than…

 

Rating – 6.5/10 – Sick

 

Super Blackjack Battle II Turbo Edition – Lost Boys – Dev: Stage Clear Studios

Platform: PC, Xbox One

 

 

Super Blackjack Battle II Turbo Edition! A game that exists solely for that name, and nothing else. If you remember having fond days of playing Street Fighter II on your Super Nintendo, then SBBIITE will remind you of the massive debt you put yourself in when going to Las Vegas once. Plot’s the exact same as SFII as well: you’re all Blackjack professionals, and you’ve been invited to a world tournament, with someone else pulling strings in the background.

 

Gameplay is literally just Blackjack, there isn’t even a Street Fighter aspect to it. It’s you and your opponent versus The Dealer, and you have to work on bankrupting your opponent. It’s as authentic an experience one can get without actually going to the casino themselves, and it has it all. Tables with nobody on them, empty rows of slot machines, and as always, The Dealer is a cheating bastard.

 

 

There’s next to no strategy to it, and even more luck is required than the actual game of Blackjack. The AI seems to be on a random number generator, they always bet randomly with no cohesion or logic behind it, and it’s so dull realizing that you can just bet 50 every time and play it safe. The suicidal tendencies of the AI always bite it in the arse later on, and if you mess up? Quit and restart almost instantly, the game offers that little.

 

Honestly, the inclusion of the dealer just makes the game that much more tiresome. Getting Blackjack immediately isn’t that impressive if the AI wins more just by standing at a total of nine, making you feel like you have less control over the game. Maybe this is something that would’ve translated better in a different traditional card game, like Poker or Bridge. Maybe they should have put a bit more effort into the game instead of just banking on the name, because it’s confusing trying to figure out why this game exists.

 

Rating – 2.5/10 – Abysmal

 

Western Press – A Fistful of QTEs – Dev: Bandit-1

Platform: PC, Xbox One

 

 

Finally, we have Western Press, a party game in the vein of DDR, with a slight tinge of Westerado’s snappy comedy behind it, and maybe a few more elements crowbarred from Westerado. You’ve got the undefined but clean pixel art, the tone, the music, combat based around a gimmicky control scheme, and a slight chuckle follows every death.

 

You and your opponent spit quips at each other, as well as your chewing tobacco, and you both have to perform a complex pattern of buttons in order to see who’s the fastest gun in the room. You’re allowed to sacrifice accuracy for speed if you have butter fingers, but this comes at the cost of adding a time penalty to your pattern. If it comes down to the wire like that, then it’s whoever made the least mistakes.

 

It’s fun! Admittedly one-tone and arguably a bit pricey for something so direct, but you can’t knock something executed so elegantly. You can also cheese the AI by pressing pause while the button combo is on display, which is pretty funny, but if you have a few friends round your house and need a quick fix, Western Press gets the job done. Effort was put in the right places, and it’s a good burst of fun.

 

Rating – 7/10 – Sick

 

That’ll do for now, and we ended on a high note. Sure, some of these games weren’t exactly gravy, but they had promise, charm and undoubted talent behind them… well, the last one’s debatable. Anyway, stick around! There’ll be one next week, that’s for sure. I need to clean out this hard drive of indie games before the Christmas rush.

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