… I really need to cut the number of games per update so that I can get these done more often, it’s been almost two weeks again. That said, E3 excitement has distracted me a lot for sure, and indeed E3 started today with the first two press conferences! It would have been better to post something yesterday, but this will have to do. As we have moved on to digital downloads, there are nine games covered this update, all indie titles released in the past five years. And that means lots of annoying xinput-only-for-gamepads games. I recommend the program x360ce, it gets most games working with regular PC gamepads.
2A. 2D Platformers – Digital Download
1001 Spikes (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepads supported (dinput supported). 1001 Spikes is an indie platformer from 2014 released as a digital download only. While the PC platformer was nearly dead for almost a decade, thanks to the growth of Steam over the later ’00s, the platformer eventually had a renaissance, and this game, and most of the games in this section that aren’t digital re-releases of DOS games, are examples of them. I have a fair number, but there are far more 2d platformers than this on Steam and other PC download storefronts now; 2d platformers, particularly ones with pixel sprite art like this one, are one of the more popular kinds of indie games. And indeed, as an extremely difficult indie platformer with pixel art, 1001 Spikes is quite unoriginal. What it is, however, is good, if you don’t mind the crushing difficulty. This is a somewhat well-known game, for its good gameplay and high challenge, so I picked it up eventually. You are an adventurer guy, going through ancient temples looking for treasure as you follow your father’s treasure map, or something like that; the plot doesn’t matter much. The game has nice pixel art with tile-based visuals and small sprites that allow for you to see a long on each screen. Like a lot of these games, the vaguely “8-bit-ish” visuals have parallax scrolling that is pretty much impossible on a real NES and far too many colors for an actual NES, but the look does work. The music is good chiptune stuff, and I like it though it’s not incredibly memorable.
The game controls quite well also. You move, attack with infinite throwing daggers for a weapon, and have two jumps, a lower and longer one on one button, and a higher and shorter one on another button. The controls are precise and responsive. The two different jumps are absolutely key to the game, as levels make heavy use of designs that require you to learn exactly which jump to use in each situation. Levels are short but quickly get excessively difficult. The game is broken up into worlds of 5 stages, and is only moderately long in terms of levels, but plenty long in terms of how long it’ll take to finish. You have 1001 lives to get through the “1001 spikes” you will face, and you’ll probably need a lot of them unless you are very good at games! Levels are only a few screens long each, so they are densely packed with challenges. The most omnipresent threat in this game are spikes, as the title suggests, but there are also many bottomless pits, invincible death-bolt-spitting statues, spikes that move back and forth on tracks, and even, once in a while, enemies you can actually fight such as scorpions. This is mostly an avoidance game, though, and levels are full of traps. You will die many times on each stage until you learn where the spikes will appear from the floor, which platforms will crumble under your feet as soon as you touch them, which stone faces will shoot at you once you get close, and more.
The game follows its strict rules, though, so it isn’t unfair, just extremely difficult. You’ll need good reflexes and perfect timing to survive, but it is satisfying to finally get through a hard level after dying many times. The life limit is a potential issue, though, as the game auto-saves after each time you die. This means that if you play badly and run out of lives befor the end, I presume you just have to start over… that would be awful. And the frustration factor can be high at times, in the harder stages particularly. I’m only in the third world in this game, but at times I’ve wanted to quit and never play it again because of how hard it is. Strill, I probably will return, because as hard as it is, 1001 Spikes plays very well, looks and sounds good, and is, overall, pretty good. I can see why the game was successful, it deserved it. I definitely recommend this game to anyone who likes masochistically hard games, is good at platformers and wants a challenge, or is bad at platformers and wants to suffer (or stream themselves on the internet dying repeatedly to hard games). Others may want to stay away, though; this game isn’t going to be for everyone. Also playable on Steam on Mac and Linux. Also available digital-only on Wii U eShop, Nintendo 3DS eShop, Playstation 3 PSN, Playstation 4 PSN, PS Vita PSN, and Xbox One XBL.
8BitBoy (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepads supported (dinput supported). 8BitBoy is an obscure indie PC platformer. Of the games in this update this is probably the most obscure, but it is good, even if it has some issues, as you might expect from an indie game mostly made by one guy. 8BitBoy is a very Mario-esque game, but it also takes inspiration from other platformers as well. You play as a unhappy 30-something guy who gets sucked in to his old 8-bit videogame console, so now you are in the game and have to escape! It’s a new take on a classic story, and it works. I do find it amusing that the console looks like a Sega Master System 2, even though this game is very much Mario-inspired. On that note though, this game has a bit of an identity crisis — the name and story make it sound 8-bit (3rd-gen), but the graphics are very much 4th-gen at minimum, as the game uses parallax scrolling and has lots more colors than you’ll find on 8-bit consoles. Ah well. As for the interface and in-game manual, they remind me very much of an early ’90s PC game, as you have an on-screen cursor and must click on things, and the manual is one of those flip-through-pages affairs, as in many shareware PC games then. There’s a bit of everything here. The game does look nice, though. I like the sprite art, it’s good stuff. The music is also great chiptune-style European techno, I like it a lot.
As for the gameplay, this is a tile-based platformer, so you run, jump, and fire-ball-shoot your way through many levels. The game controls decently, but controls are slippery, and not quite as precise as I might have liked. It gets even worse in the ice world, but even the rest of the time, jumps can be difficult Level designs are good. This isn’t too complex of a game, and like Super Mario Bros. it has 8 worlds of 4 stages, but there is also an exploration component, as there are coins and powerups all over. The main path through a level is usually a little easier, with tough side areas all around to entice you into tougher situations. It’s a good design which I like. This game is a fair challenge and will definitely be difficult to complete, but it’s not one of those super-hard modern indie platformers, thankfully; I’ve never loved the ultra-hard games, a reasonably tough but approachable game like this is better. There aren’t checkpoints in each level, but levels are not so long that this is a problem. Your challenge in each level is to figure out the best way through, while getting what you can along the way. The game has both a normal mode with autosaves after each level or a mode where you can only save if you find a special coin hidden in each stage. The choice of either is great to have. Overall, this is a fun game with decent graphics and good music. I like trying to find all the hidden stuff in each level, that’s fun. However, the controls do hold the game back, they aren’t as precise as they should be. The interface also is slow, when using a pad why can’t you just select options instead of having to drag that cursor around? This game has some issues that clearly come from its tiny, inexperienced team. Still, 8BitBoy is a game platformer fans might want to check out. It’s above average, fun stuff. Digital release only.
Aaru’s Awakening (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepads supported (dinput supported). Aaru’s Awakening is an indie platformer with good visuals and art design, unique gameplay, and a very high difficulty level. Modern indie platformers with good art don’t always have the best gameplay, as finding a good artist seems to be easier than a good game designer, and indeed this game does have some issues. I like that they tried something different, though, that’s better than making yet another game like all the others. So, you play as Aaru, a beast serving the Dawn god. Apparently Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Night are four brothers in this fantasy world, and they had a war over who should rule the planet in the past. Now they share the day, but something’s going on and you have been sent to Night to figure out what. To get there you need to travel through all four lands, though. Each land is only made up of a few levels, so this is a short game, but it makes up for it with the steep difficulty and high learning curve.
The controls are kind of odd and unique. This game uses dual sticks or mouse and keyboard, and while the controls are re-configurable to a point, there are limits. You move with the arrow keys or left analog stick and aim with the mouse or right analog stick. This is confusing because you face the direction you are aiming, not looking, and when moving ‘backwards’ you move more slowly, can’t jump quite right, etc, so you need to reverse both sticks, or move the mouse and hit the other direction, to turn around. I do not like this. You can also jump and charge, and the charge is both an attack and your double jump. Now, on pad, these can be on one button; tap once to jump, second time to charge, or with an xinput controller it supports analog triggers for jump and charge as well. On keyboard though, you need to use two buttons, one to jump and the other to charge; map them to the same thing and you’ll just charge, and won’t jump first. This is pretty hard to get used to, to say the least. Your other main ability is this orb you can shoot out and then teleport to. If you teleport into a monster you’ll kill it, and this is your only way to defeat foes. Teleporting is also heavily used in puzzles. This is always on two buttons (it defaults to the right shoulder and trigger buttons on pad), on pad or keyboard, so as with jumping you need to get used to hitting one button to shoot out the orb, then hit a different button once it gets to the point you want to warp to. Hitting shoot again shoots a new orb. If you hold the shoot button down you shoot a more slowly-moving shot, tap it and it’s fast. The games’ levels are designed around the teleport and charge maneuvers, and you will need to get very good at using them in hazardous situations where you can and will die any moment. Touching most hazards or any enemy is instant death and enemy shots kill you in two hits if you get hit in quick succession, so you die quickly in this game. There is no health bar, the screen just goes weird a bit after you get hit with a nonlethal attack. If you’re in safety you will recover back to normal a moment later, but it’s still very easy to die. Fortunately levels do have many checkpoints, but by the second worlds’ boss I was getting frustrated.
So, is the game good? Well, it’s interesting, but I don’t love this game. On gamepad, the heavily shoulder button-centric controls aren’t good; I do not like platformers that rely on the shoulder buttons a lot, they aren’t as fast to press as face buttons are. And you have no choice here, you need to use both sticks. And on mouse and keyboard, the confusing multi-button layout is hard to get used to. And even beyond that, levels in this game are designed to kill you unless you do the exact right thing, and you often have little time to do it in. On the whole Aaru’s Awakening has nice 2d graphics and I like the originality, but I don’t think I will be going back to this one much. Still, some will definitely like this game, so try it out if it sounds interesting. Also playable on Steam on Mac and Linux. Also available digital-only on Playstation 3 PSN, Playstation 4 PSN, and Xbox One XBL.
Adventures of Shuggy, The (2011, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). The Adventures of Shuggy, from Smudged Cat Games, is a nonviolent, avoidance and collection-based puzzle-platformer with small, focused levels and simple but challenging gameplay. This is a decent but somewhat average game. The sprite-art is decent but nothing too memorable. The game has a somewhat Flash-like look, instead of the pixel-art of many other indie platformers. I’ve never cared for Flash graphics, so this game looks kind of bland, though the art design is decent cartoony stuff. Levels and backgrounds look fairly simple, with various dungeons and halls and the like. The graphics and tech here are basic stuff. Shuggy himself is a little purple vampire thing, though given your complete inability to ever attack anything, he must be one weak vampire. As for the audio, the music is decent, but forgettable. The controls are simple: one button jumps, and the other is an action button that does various things depending on the stage. Shuggy has okay controls, though there is some momentum to your movement so you won’t stop the moment you let go of the button. It’s okay but takes some getting used to. And for another negative, there is only support for xinput controllers, which is a pain; I haven’t gotten around to setting up a dinpu emulator for this one, but fortunately it plays okay on keyboard. There also are few options, only one fullscreen resolution available, and no way to reconfigure the controls. So yeah, this game has some interface issues.
The game is worth playing despite that, though, as when you do get into it, you’ll find The Adventures of Shuggy a very tough, and somewhat original, game. Most levels in this game are a single screen; though some do scroll a bit, levels are always small and focused. Your goal is to collect all of the green gems in each stage in order to win. Stages are made up of platforms, and there are those gems to get, enemies to avoid, and switches to hit in each level. Some switches activate by touching them while you’ve got to stand on others to keep them active. This game starts out easy, but the puzzles get very challenging as you progress, and the game keeps mixing things up with new ideas. There are a lot of levels in this game, but despite that there’s a good amount of variety. Some levels are just basic stages, but many others have a gimmick, and there area good number of these. Some include stages with a grappling rope to use, ones where you have several Shuggies you switch between with the action button, and more. One of the trickier stage types are these ones with a timer. Each time the timer runs out, you keep control of Shuggy, but a new ghost Shuggy will follow the path you followed on the timers’ previous course. Each time it goes around another Shuggy is added, and the trick is, if you touch a ghost Shuggy you die, start the stage over! Yes, these stages get hard, but it is satisfying to get one right. Overall, The Adventures of Shuggy is a decent puzzle-platformer with some good gameplay, but bland design and sometimes iffy controls. I also sometimes wished that I could just fight back against the baddies… ah well. This is an alright, game anyway, though, and it is average at least, maybe better. The game does get frustrating at times, but it’s also rewarding enough to return to and keep trying. Puzzle platformer fans should check it out. The game is Mac and Linux compatible on Steam.
Apotheon (2015, WinXP+) – 1-2 player simultaneous (with 2 gamepads only, 2 player mode is a battle mode only), 1-8 player online battle mode, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Apotheon is a somewhat “Metroidvania”-styled platform-action game with very nice graphics, but fairly simple gameplay. This game has a very cool Greek vase-art visual style, and that looks great. You and the enemies are black forms on a colored background. The visual look is unique, and the game looks really good. There is a light and shadow system too, for torches and the like. and the game looks really nice. The music’s simple but good. The story, however, is, unfortunately, generic modern drivel — this is one of the many edgy modern “go kill the Olympian Gods” / “Ancient Greek Apocalypse & Kill the Gods” stories, like God of War, NyxQuest, parts of the Clash of the Titans reboot movie from several years ago (though that didn’t go as far with this as these others here), the last season of Xena, etc. As a history major, all of these stories are COMPLETELY stupid and totally miss the point of what Greek mythology existed for, how the Greek gods acted in their stories, etc, etc. I know the apocalypse is one of gaming’s favorite subjects, whether it’s a zombie one, nuclear one, or what have you, but still, no, I greatly dislike these stories, they get the myths so badly wrong! And having to kill the Greek gods is cruel, too… they should not be evil. Callous, sure, but not evil. “Zeus got tired of humanity and decided to kill everyone, so kill gods to save the world”? That is a bad story.
As for the gameplay, it’s better than the story, but I don’t like this game much, so I guess I go against consensus with this one. Apotheon is a combat-heavy action-platformer, and fighting is the main thing you will be doing. That’s okay, but the controls have issues, and are bad on mouse and keyboard; the game was designed for a pad. This is a dual-stick game, and you move with the right stick, and aim with the left. Beyond that the controls are configurable, but finding a good layout may be difficult, with how you need to use both sticks, the face buttons, and the shoulder buttons all at the same time. It’s asking a bit much; dual-stick controls work in a run & gun, but in this? No thanks. On keyboard and mouse it uses WASD for movement and the mouse for aiming. You attack and switch weapons in the current category with the mouse, while the other controls are all over the keyboard. But either way, the controls are imprecise and flawed. You don’t stop moving until a moment after you stop pressing the button. The jumping controls are awkward and are as unresponsive as the movement controls. The ‘pulling yourself up to a platform’ animation looks really dumb, too; it looks more like you just hover up the side of the wall, rather than grabbing on or something. Aiming is imprecise too, and you will miss ranged attack shots.
As janky as the gamepad controls are, though, keyboard and mouse are worse! On pad, when you aren’t touching the right stick and aren’t attacking, you can move around normally. If you attack or touch the aim stick you lock in the direction you are facing until the attack animation finishes or you let go of the stick; yes, this can be a problem. But on mouse, you basically are “pressing the stick” all the time, so pressing right when you are moving left will make you back up slowly, not actually turn around. To turn around, you need to move the mouse the other way, which is awful! You need to relearn platformer controls to play games with this control scheme, like this or Aaru’s Awakening, but even if you do, it’s awkward. I understand how being able to move one direction while you attack in another can be useful, but far more often in this game I’m clumsily trying to attack enemies behind me, which is harder than it should be since you can’t just turn around and attack them while they move around you. So the pad controls, flawed as they are, are the way to go.
Beyond that, this game is mostly straightforward — go to the places the map marks out, kill whatever’s there, talk to people and then maybe kill them, and destroy everything in sight to collect the powerups. There are a bunch of types of things collect, including armor and shield upgrades, a whole lot of different types of weapons, some melee and some ranged, and more. The weapon variety is a strength here. Level graphics look great, but layouts are mostly simple. This is a combat-first game, but there is platforming eventually, apparently, and the iffy controls hold the game back there. I imagine that you eventually get powers to use in other areas of the world as well, as usual in Metroidvanias, but I didn’t get that far. I didn’t help that I ran into a game-ending but that keeps you from progressing past the end of the first area — Hera doesn’t move to let you enter that fire or whatever, you’re just stuck there, try again from the beginning and hope it works. No, I don’t want to start over… fix your bugs! Oh, as for the multiplayer, it’s a versus battle mode only; the main game is 1 player. I haven’t tried it, but it’s a good feature to have for sure. Overall, Apotheon is a really nice-looking game with average at best gameplay, flawed controls, and a bad story. It’s disappointing. Digital download only. Also playable on Steam on Mac and Linux. Also available digitally on PS4 PSN.
BattleBlock Theater (2014, WinXP+) – 1-2 player simultaneous, 1-4 player online, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). BattleBlock Theater is the third game from the The Behemoth, the team that also brought you Castle Crashers and Alien Hominid. This game is quite different from his previous titles, but in terms of gameplay, this one might be my favorite The Behemoth game! It’s a lot of fun. The artist behind all three games, Dan Paladin, started out making games for Newgrounds in the early ’00s, and that is where I first found his work. I covered the Gamecube version of Alien Hominid in that Game Opinion Summaries list; it’s a good game, but very difficult to the point of frustration. It’s a run & gun not nearly at Metal Slug’s level. The second game, Castle Crashers, is a solidly fun fantasy-themed isometric beat ’em up. It’s a good game, though it isn’t one of the best in the genre. This third game changes genres again, this time to, you guessed it, a 2d platformer! Now, Dan Paladin’s art is cartoon-styled, but one signature element of all of his previous games are that they are quite bloody affairs. previous games are all quite bloody affairs. This time, however, there’s no blood to be found, which is a bit weird for one of his games. The game looks great, though, and I really like the art design. The sprites are large and detailed, and levels, while clearly made up of tiles, look good. There’s a good variety of obstacles, too. The music isn’t amazing, but it’s solid, entertaining stuff. Story-wise, the game is a somewhat dark comedy. You are in a bad spot: during a voyage, your (literal) S. S. Friendship, a ship full of you and your friends, is attacked, and you and your friends are all kidnapped by these jerk villain cats and put in their prison! Now you are all alone, and have to restore the Friend Ship by escaping the enemy prison and finding all of your friends. The game has an announcer who says silly or insulting things, depending on how you are doing, and he does add to the game. The game also has some character customization, as your titular block-person can be customized with various outfits and looks for your weapons, and you can buy more with the collectibles you find in the levels.
The gameplay is pretty good as well. This is a simple, straightforward platformer, and your goal in each stage is to get to the end while collecting some stuff along the way if you want. The controls are great and respond very well, and you’ll stop right when you should. You can move, jump and double jump, throw an explosive attack, and grab onto things, for your main commands. You can stand on enemies, and they won’t go down with one hit; you’ll need to punch them into a pit or spikes or something, or hit them with the exploding bomb and have it explode, to take down foes. So, unlike a Mario, you don’t face lots of enemies at once here; a few is a good threat. There are some more less-useful buttons, mostly for multiplayer, though, including a “help” button. Indeed, this game has been designed with two player co-op or versus play in mind, and is a fun multiplayer game. Again this game is tile-based, and obstacles include spikes, slimy walls you slide down slowly, exploding blocks, teleporters, cannons you can’t defeat, and such. There are also blocks you can grab, blocks you can pass through to find secrets, and water pits which you can cross with boats. The ‘splashing in the water to pull the boat towards you’ animation is amusing. Levels are generally linear, but along the way there are seven gems and a hidden yarn ball to find, and another bonus mark if you finish within a strict time limit. Finding everything usually isn’t too hard, but it is fun; the levels here are great, though the good mechanics help as well. Also, some of those yarn balls are hidden well, and getting the time reward your first time through a level is unlikely. There is also an exploration element to each stage if you want all the collectibles: they are often hidden, and you’ll need to figure out what to do to get to them. Level designs are good, and this game is pretty fun to play.
The difficulty level feels just right, too. This game is much easier than an Alien Hominid, and more forgiving too — it saves after each level you beat, no limited continues or anything. The can gets tough as you get farther into it, and getting everything can be tricky, but it’s not oppressively hard, just challenging enough to be fun. And in addition to the campaign, there is also a level editor included for if you want to make your own levels. The game has two player co-op in the campaign as well, which is great, and versus mode as well. The online battle mode is fun stuff too, I tried some. You fight in small battle arenas, and there are a bunch of modes. The basic mode has you trying to do more damage to the other person than they do to you in a 2-minute time limit, but there are more if you get into it. Overall, BattleBlock Theater is a pretty good platformer with good graphics and controls, good levels, an amusing sense of humor, a robust feature set, and generally good gameplay. It’s certainly recommended. A not-gory game from the guy behind the Newgrounds Flash title “Chainsaw the Children”, and it’s probably his best work! Who’d have thought? Digital-only release. This game is Mac and Linux compatible through Steam. Also available digitally only for Xbox 360 XBLA.
BiT Evolution (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepads supposedly supported (xinput only, can’t get it to work for me). BiT Evolution is a clever and simple pixel-art indie platformer. You play as a ball from Pong, somehow escaped from your game and travelling through Atari, Game Boy, NES, and SNES-themed worlds. Your ball starts out with only a jump, but you get an action button as well once you reach the second world; the Atari 2600 has only one button, after all. Controls are responsive, but unfortunately the gamepad support is broken unless you have actual X360 or X1 controllers, for some inexplicable reason. The game claims to support xinput controllers, but unlike with most games, x360ce doesn’t work with it. That’s annoying. If you also have this issue use Joytokey or somesuch, gamepad controls are essential in this kind of game if you want decent controls! Visually, I like the game. The art design is good sprite-art stuff. Each world has better graphics than the system that inspired it could do, with a much higher resolution here than any of those systems and more, but they do try to at least keep some recognizable traits of the system’s graphics in mind, such as the bands of color in Atari graphics. The chiptune music’s decent, but in the Atari level it can be hear-hurting at times… though that’s just being representative of Atari 2600 music, so it fits.
As for the gameplay, your goal is to reach the end of each level. Each stage has 20 ‘pixel’ pickups to find, and finding them all can be pretty tricky. That counter is the only indicator on screen, though, as you have infinite lives and there is no clock. Well, you have infinite lives, but with a twist: when you die in the main world of each level, you go to a green-and-black sub-world made up of ones, zeroes, and red enemies. From here, if you find a portal you return to a set point in the overworld, but if you die here, you return to the last checkpoint you reached. Checkpoints are only in the overworld, there are none in the sub-world. The sub world’ layout is inspired by the otherworld, but it is different. The game often requires you to die in the overworld in order to progress. That’s different. If you just want to finish the stages this game is only a moderate challenge, but finding all of the pixels in each level is harder. Finding them all involves carefully searching throughout every segment of both the overworld and sub-world, looking for those dots, as the connections between the two planes quickly get somewhat mazelike. It’s an interesting concept, and the game executes on it fairly well. Trying to find everything in a stage can be fun. This isn’t a hugely long game, but there is enough here to last a decent while, particularly if you want to find all of the collectibles. I do kind of wish that you could do the four worlds out of order, instead of having to finish each to reach the next, and the broken gamepad support is a problem, but otherwise BiT Evolution is an above average to good little game. This is fun stuff, check it out if you like platformers. Digital only release.
Bleed (2012, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Bleed is an okay dual-stick-style indie run & gun action game with pixel-art graphics and chiptune-style music. You play as Wryn, a young woman who wants to kill all the old heroes and thus become a hero, or something, though how killing heroes makes you one makes no sense at all. So yeah, you’re killing people who aren’t evil, so I guess you’re the bad guy? Dumb… I’d rather be the goodguy, not the other way around. Ah well. This game has bland homebrew-game sprite-art graphics, too; this is obviously not a professional title. The gameplay here is a bit like the other dual-stick games on this list, but with guns, and completely independent moving and aiming. For actions you can triple jump, slow down time, and fire. While I still greatly prefer traditional controls to this, this is at least better than something like Apotheon, since here you can move any way you want regardless of where you are aiming. Still, though, on a gamepad aiming will be imprecise due to the limitations of analog sticks. I also really dislike that the jumping controls are on the shoulder buttons, but with both sticks always in use this is unavoidable, unfortunately. So, again unlike Apotheon, the better way to play this game is with mouse and keyboard. There you move and jump with WASD and Space, and aim, fire, slow down time, and switch weapons on the mouse. Mouse aiming really is the way to go for this game! Even on keyboard the controls have some issues, though. While movement controls are responsive, jumping is difficult with either control scheme because of how your triple jump works: the first jump is normal, but the latter two are boost-jumps. Those boost jumps go in the movement direction you are pressing when you hit jump again, and this is odd and takes getting used to. It does work, and gives you great mobility, but it’s tricky to get boost-jump movements right. Jumping is crucial to survival here, so the controls hold this game back.
In terms of gameplay, levels are fairly short but action-packed. Levels each have a different theme, and there are trap areas, falling rocks, and more to avoid, or shoot. You have infinite lives, from the beginning of the current section, but you’ll need them as getting through some can be tough, particularly at harder difficulties. The bosses are challenging as well. This game isn’t as tightly designed or precise as a Contra or Metal Slug, though; you have a health bar in this game, and it’s essential because you’ll take a lot of hits. Between the somewhat tricky controls and the volume of enemy fire, you will take hits. That slow-down-time ability helps here, somewhat. It is tied to a meter which refills when not in use. It’s very useful, but only if you already know level and enemy patterns, so memorization is important — it’s easy to be in a place where you can’t avoid damage because you didn’t jump almost before a boss’s attack even began. Yeah, you take borderline-unfair hits sometimes. There is also two-player support, for both co-op or a versus battle mode; it’s local only, no online, but the co-op support is welcome. Beyond that though, this is mostly a straightforward game — try to avoid the shots, while shooting the enemies. There are no collectibles in stages, and the only unlockables are a few alternate characters to unlock when you beat the game on certain difficulty settings. Bleed is okay, but I have issues with the controls in dual-stick sidescrollers, shoulder buttons (or the spacebar) for jump are no good, and I sometimes find it hard to both move and aim at the same time. The story and graphics also aren’t great. Still, Bleed is a fast-paced game with challenge and some decent fun to be had, so while I don’t love the game and I’m not sure if it was really worth getting, it might be worth trying if you think you would like it. Digital only release. The game is Linux compatible on Steam. There is also an Xbox 360 digital-only release in the Xbox Live Indie Games store; note that Microsoft has announced that the XBLIG store will be shut down in September 2017.
Camera Obscura (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Camera Obscura is an indie puzzle-platformer with pixel-art graphics and one idea that it executes fairly well. In this game, you play as a female photographer, climbing an abandoned tower for reasons explained only in text boxes. The tone of the game, and the world it is set in, are distinctly unhappy, but the gameplay is mostly good. You can run and jump as usual, though the controls are floaty and you don’t stop moving until a moment after you let go of the button, unfortunately; this does make the puzzles unnecessarially harder, though it’s not too bad. The key feature here is your camera, though. The camera creates a white outline of all rock or stone platforms on screen that then moves around as you move for a second after taking the photo. Once set, you can then move on the outline as if they were normal platforms, for several more seconds until the image disappears. You can also force the current photo to go away with a button. There are also other substances you cannot take photos of, such as metal. So, the puzzles in this game are all about how you can move around those outlines in order to reach otherwise inaccessible platforms. After a little while you start to figure out the timing for how to get the platform-images where you need them to progress — jump then hit camera and over to drop a platform, hit camera then over and jump to raise one, and such. It’s a clever and unique idea, and I don’t think I’ve seen it before in a game. That is all this game has, though: the graphics are extremely bland and simple, and there is nothing more to the gameplay than that. There is no combat, and you can avoid killing anything, though it is possible to lure baddies into pits through camera usage. Still, it’s a cool mechanic, and I do like the gameplay.
In addition to just trying to beat each stage, there are also many text pages of character and world backstory to find, and you can try to get medals by making it through levels with a minimum of camera-flashes used. There’s also a timer for each stage, for speedrunning. This is a short game, but these features do add some replay value. As for those graphics, the pixel art here is basic stuff; this game could well have been made in Game Maker or something, and the background and environment art is maybe not even as good as PC platformers from the late ’90s. Your character sprite looks better, though she’s quite androgynous looking; without the text boxes I couldn’t tell what gender you are. And enemies look the same as the rest. The music is pretty good, though. It’s all atmospheric stuff, and I think it fits this lone quest through a ruined tower well. The music is definitely the best thing about this games’ presentation, though the story is decently interesting as well. It is a bit depressing, but it fits. Overall, Camera Obscura is okay to good. The graphics aren’t good, the controls aren’t as tight as they could be, and the game has no variety, but the unique concept shines through, and the levels are fun to figure your way through. Exploring them more to find the pages and for optimum routes that minimize camera usage is fun as well. Definitely try Camera Obscura if you like puzzle-platformers. Digital only release.