A week and a half for only seven summaries? Well, some of these are fairly long and detailed, that takes some time. This update includes a couple of really good games and some with issues, so it’s a nice mix. I do want to again complain about games with xinput-only gamepad support, though, which many of these are. Come on, just include directinput support! Thankfully x360ce is here to save the day, but still, it’d be better built-in. Oh, and yes, The Joylancer is weird.
One note first – I decided to call Guacamelee 2.5d, so it’d been moved to that section, instead of covering it in this update. Fez has similarly been moved there, from a previous update.
Table of Contents
Escape Goat (2013)
Gigantic Army (2014)
Gunhound EX (2014)
Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit (2012)
Hocus Pocus (1994)
Joylancer, The: Legendary Motor Knight (Early Access Game) (2014-?)
Escape Goat (2013, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). I somehow failed to include this game in my list, so I’ll have to cover it now instead of last update. Escape Goat is a great puzzle-platformer by Magical Time Bean with pixel-art graphics and some pretty clever mechanics. You are a purple goat, and have been locked up in a dungeon for some unknown reason. So, you need to become the Escape Goat and get out of there! You soon meet a companion, a mouse who will help you out. And to round out the cast, you rescue a sheep at the end of each area in the game. To tell the story, despite being animals, animal-looking animals and not anthropomorphic ones, all the other characters talk to you. That’s amusing. The presentation here is good too, with pretty nice too-colorful-8-bit sprite-art, and tile-based, graphics and great chiptune music. The graphics are all very well drawn, and each tile in the game is distinct and easily recognizable despite everything being pretty small on the screen. That is important in a game like this which is all about the interaction between you and the various tiles in the game. And that music, it’s catchy, well-composed, and fits the game great. Really good work all around.
The gameplay is just as good, too! Your basic controls include a double jump, a left or right dash you can do on ground or in the air, tossing out the mouse, and, in levels with the magic hat and if you have gotten it, the ability to switch the locations of the two characters. The game controls well with either keyboard or gamepad, and the controls are responsive. Each ability has limits, though, so for example you can throw the mouse high up, but only from the ground; you cannot throw it high up while in the air. In the air you can only toss the mouse normally. And you can only dash left or right, not up or down. These limits can be frustrating, but they make the puzzles work, so they’re understandable. There is also a reset button, to retry a level if you’re in an unwinnable position, an issue you will often have. You have infinite lives and the game saves after each level, thankfully. Each level is a single screen, with small but detailed graphics. Level designs are interesting, and figuring out how to solve the puzzle that is each room is a lot of fun. Some tiles are just basic walls and floors, but interactive tiles include crates you can destroy by dashing into, fireball-guns which shoot automatically, enemy wizards who shoot fireballs straight at you if you are in their line of sight, switches you or the mouse can activate, ice blocks you can push around by dashing into but the mouse will stop at if it’s walking along and touches one, explosive barrels, these interesting wheel-switches that only blocks or barrels can activate but you cannot, blocks that other blocks or wheels or such will be suspended over but you pass through, and more. Your goal is to reach the door in each room, and collect keys to unlock that door if any keys are in the level.
The possibilities when you combine these block types into puzzles may sound overwhelming, but the level designs are really good, and the difficulty is just right.Some stages may take longer than others to beat, but the game does a fantastic job of slowly ramping up the difficulty, so instead of just running straight into a wall the challenge here is a nice, fairly smooth slope up as you learn the mechanics each puzzle teaches you, before later puzzles combine them into trickier forms. You can also abandon a world to try another one if you want, and pick up where you left off later. The level layouts themselves are the best thing about this game, though. Levels have a great mix of action and puzzles, so this isn’t just a thinking game, reflexes are definitely also required. I really like the variety of levels and puzzle types you see in Escape Goat. Most levels rely on using both your goat and the mouse in order to beat them, and figuring out how to get to all of the keys with the goat, since the mouse cannot pick them up, is great fun. Escape Goat is not a particularly long game, and should only take a few hours to beat as it is not long or as hard as some indie platformers, but it’s a very good one any puzzle-platformer fan should definitely play! There are some hard post-game levels you unlock, too. With good graphics and art design, great music, very good, responsive controls with some unique elements in the two-character mechanic, and great level designs and puzzles, Escape Goat is a fantastic game I highly recommend. There is also a sequel; though I don’t have it yet, I’ll definitely get it sooner or later. Also available for Mac and Linux on Steam. This game is an enhanced port of a 2011 Xbox 360 Live Indie Games title of the same name. That is still available, until XBLIG’s shutdown of course; read above for details on that.
Gateways (2012, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves. Gateways is a mouse-and-keyboard-only platformer with a portal gun. The game has a single large Metroidvania-style world, but with portal puzzles everywhere and with jumping on heads to defeat enemies, classic platformer-style. The game has average pixel art graphics and bland chiptune-ish music, and clearly is a very low-budget affair. The basic concept of a 2d platformer with portals is a pretty good one though, and the game does throw some tricky portal puzzles at you from fairly early on. You are an older, white-haired scientist guy, and are apparently British because this game was written in British English. Something has gone wrong in your oddly videogame world-shaped lab, and you’ve got to fix it, portal gun in hand… and more as well, later on, including a flashlight and a time gun. Gateways is a flawed game with some definite issues, but the core puzzle element is mostly a good one. Trying to figure out how to get a laser beam to a switch through the use of portals, or where to put portals to get over a pit or to collect all the collectibles that you can spend in hint stations without running into an enemy, can be fun. The game shows you what’s through a portal when you look at it, too, which is a nice touch, though it does mean that you can’t see what would have been behind that portal. There’s a fair challenge here too, as you die in a few hits. You do have infinite lives from the last save point, but save points are somewhat far apart in this game so dying is a punishment.
That’s all mostly good, but Gateways has issues. The graphics are bland; the controls are finicky at times as you need to land DIRECTLY on top of an enemy to hit them, which is tough, so I keep taking hits and dying while trying to land on enemies; closing portals is harder than it should be; and puzzles sometimes frustrating. I don’t like the open-world concept either, and would definitely like this game more if it had one linear path. There is a map with an arrow pointing out the general area you need to go to, but it’s only on a subscreen and not on the main screen, so you’ll need to pause and view the map sometimes if you want to navigate, which can be annoying. And while the numerous hint stations around the game are appreciated, that the developer felt the need to include hint stations which tell you if you have the items yet to attempt the puzzle there says something. Sure, that’s better than not having them, but shouldn’t it be fairly clear without that whether you can do something or not? That is not the case here, so the awkward ‘can you do this puzzle yet’ element of the hint stations was included. Still though, there are not many 2d portal games, and this one has some good puzzles in it. Fighting enemies is kind of bad with how easy it is to take hits while trying to jump on them, the world is not straightforwardly designed and the game can be frustrating, and the game is visually very bland, but still there is enough here that some definitely will like this game. Myself though, I’d probably call Gateways slightly below average. It’s okay, but not great. Also available for Mac and Linux through Steam and GOG.
Gigantic Army (2014) – 1 player, saves settings and unlocks (but not main-game progress, that you need to restart each time), gamepad supported (directinput supported). Gigantic Army is a sidescrolling mecha run & gun action-platformer from Japanese indie team Astro Port. It is inspired by NCS Masaya’s classic Assault Suits series, a series of three mecha action-platforming games on the Genesis (AS Leynos), SNES (AS Valken), and Saturn (AS Leynos 2). The first two got US releases as Target Earth and Cybernator, and the last was Japan-only. All three games are short but very difficult games which I like a lot despite the steep challenge. Square also made a similar game for the SNES (Japan only) called Front Mission: Gun Hazard, but it’s an Assault Suits clone with added RPG elements that neither this or the next game have, so yeah, this game and Gunhound EX below are both very blatant Assault Suits clones. Making a new game that uses the basic gameplay of a classic, but with new graphics, music, level designs, and such, is a popular approach for some indie developers, and when a series is quite dead, like Assault Suits was before these two games released, I’m fine with them doing this.
I’d like to cover the graphics first because it’s the first thing I noticed. Visually, Gigantic Army has a “PC game” look to it, compared to the very console-styled Gunhound EX. Inspired by the original AS Leynos, this game has long levels with infinitely-spawning enemies, and a zoomed-out camera somewhat like the original. The game runs in 4:3 640×480 only, pretty dated for a 2014 release; this looks like something from the later ’90s. I don’t mind that, but some will. Environments are detailed and the art is good, but it doesn’t have the flash or production values of a Gunhound EX. The mechas and enemies don’t look as good, and everything here are just basic scaling sprites, with few special effects and a totally flat look. Again, it’s a very ’90s shareware PC-style look, I’d say. I like that, but it does look cheaper. The music is forgettable electronic stuff, and also doesn’t match up to Assault Suits or Gunhound EX sound. Still, the game looks decent to good, and there is variety between stages. And as for a story, there barely is one; all you get are text-only diaries between levels, written by a mechanic working for one of the factions in the sci-fi war you are a part of. The character interactions and deeper plot of Assault Suits games and Gunhound EX are sadly absent here.
As for the gameplay and controls, Gigantic Army is indeed an Assault Suits-styled game. This game uses only four buttons, for your main weapon, secondary weapon, jump/hover-jet, and shield. You can also dash with a double-tap of forward or back. You choose from three different main and secondary weapons at the start of each game, and can’t switch during the game. All main weapons have infinite ammo, while all secondary weapons have limited uses per level. I don’t think there are any more to unlock, either, giving this game quite a small arsenal for this genre. Your mech moves at a decent pace, faster than Gunhound EX below, which is nice; it’s easier to dodge shots here than in that game. The shield is nice as well, and blocks enemy fire until it takes too much damage and breaks. Your main gun and shield both can be aimed by pressing Up and Down on the stick/keyboard, but they lock while firing or holding out the shield, so you need to aim while not attacking, then attack with the firing angle locked. There are no alternate settings here, unlike Gunhound EX. The game controls well, and at first this game may seem easier than some in the genre, but it tries to make up for that with limited continues and no saving in the main game. Yes, you have only three lives here, and then it’s back to the beginning of the game. You do unlock levels for play in Practice mode as you reach them, but you can’t progress through the game that way. I really dislike limited continues, it’s such a frustrating and artificial way to add difficulty to a game! Sure, as usual in these games there is only a handful of levels, but seeing all of them will require a lot of replay. There aren’t even checkpoints in this game, so when you die at a boss you have to start the whole level over. This is a problem sometimes. And last, unlike any other game in this genre I know of, there is a ticking timer here with a tight time limit. You will find weapon and time-extension power ups around, and you’ll need as many of them as you can get to not run out of time and die. While I didn’t usually run out of time, this kind of game is plenty hard without it, it’s not needed.
The games’ six levels are linear, though there is some platforming here as you navigate each stage. Those constantly-spawning enemies are your main threat. I do prefer a more uniquely designed challenge over a stream of random stuff like you see here, but it does serve to emphasize the difference between bosses and regular enemies, and the boss fights are pretty good. As as always in these games the bosses are huge, take a lot of shots to kill, and can take you down quickly, and thus are easily the hardest part of the game. Some bosses and level design ideas borrow heavily from Assault Suits games, maybe to a fault, but there is enough new stuff here to make this its own game. Gigantic Army is a good fun game with nice graphics, good controls, and lots of explosive mecha-platform-shooting action to be had. It’s a homage to some under-recognized classics, and a good one. The game is short, but with four difficulty levels, higher scores to shoot for, and limited continues to pay attention to, there is some lasting value. However, the very flat graphics, forgettable music, minimal story, somewhat average-at-times action, that there are no weapons to unlock, and awful choice to have limited continues hold this game back. I should also note that there is a bug, and saving for your unlocks and scores may not work correctly in this game unless you first start a game in Easy difficulty and then beat at least one level. After doing that quit to the menu; now saving should work right. If only you could save progress too, but you can’t. Overall, though, Gigantic Army is good. It’s not great, but it is good for sure and might be worth a look. The Steam version also has Linux support available, along with PC.
Gunhound EX (2014, WinXP+, though this is an enhanced and altered version of Gunhound, a game released in 2009 for PC) [aka armored hunter GUNHOUND EX] – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (directinput supported). Much like Gigantic Army above but better, Gunhound EX is a great, but challenging, Assault Suits-inspired mecha run & gun action-platform game from Dracue, an indie studio in Japan. And as with the above game it’s not really a platformer, but it has platforming elements for sure so I’m including it here. The gameplay and visual style of Gunhound is a shameless copy of Assault Suits’ visuals and gameplay. The difficulty is right up there with a Target Earth/Assault Suits Leynos or Assault Suits Leynos 2, also — I like this game a lot, but the game gets very hard in a hurry, maybe too much so for some. But first, some background. Two nations, the NEU and EAU, are fighting, and you are Yuri, a female pilot on the Hound squad of Armored Hunter mecha pilots fighting for the NEU. All other games I’ve played like this have male pilots only, so the change here is nice. There isn’t much of an intro, and the online manual has only a little backstory, but each mission does have a text briefing, and as in Assault Suits games there are regular voiced conversations between your pilot and others on the squad during missions. They’ll be of little help in-game, of course, but it’s nice that they are there.
Presentation-wise, the game has great 2d graphics, with sprite art that is very early to mid ’90s styled, but with nice shiny weapon effects and such that make it look more modern than Gigantic Army. The sprites are large, more like AS Valken (Cybernator) or Leynos 2 than the first one. The blocky and angular mecha designs are VERY much something out of Assault Suits, but that’s okay, and while I’m no mecha fan, they look very good and fit the game well. The music is a good up-tempo videogame-style soundtrack, and I like it. The Japanese language-only voice acting is also well-done. There is some slowdown, but I think most of it is intentional. I also had one crash, though that may be my aging computer. Otherwise the game runs well. However, while there are a few graphics options, including 16:9 or fill-the-screen modes, the latter handy for a 16:10 monitor like mine, and framerate and anti-aliasing settings, you cannot change the screen resolution. Also by default the gamepad is not enabled, and you need to use the keyboard to map keys (with Z to select, as is default in Japanese PC games) before you can use it. That’s common in older PC games though, lots of DOS PC games don’t have joystick support until it’s enabled ingame.
Gameplay in Gunhound EX takes some getting used to. You have a variety of weapons to equip, and each controls differently. The game uses more buttons than Gigantic Army. The controls are fully re-configurable, but by default the face buttons jump and hover, dash, use your main gun, and use your secondary attack, while shoulder buttons switch to your two special weapons and lock your firing direction, and the option buttons pause and drop heavy armor. All weapons need to regularly reload, but you do have infinite ammo. You always need to keep reloading in mind, though. That heavy armor has a downside, too: with it on you take less damage, but you move much slower and drop like a rock in the air if you let off the jets. As in Assault Suits games, your main gun is fully aimable in all directions, and while this is not a twin-stick shooter, there are options in the menu for if you want to be able to aim while firing or not. It’s a good choice to have; I prefer it with aiming locked while firing, but you can play either way. The game does not have full twin-stick aiming controls, that would dramatically change the way the game plays, so it’s better left out. The controls are complex and touchy, and can feel clumsy, but the game actually plays great once you’re into it, though a gamepad is HIGHLY recommended, . As you control a giant mech you do not move quickly, so the dash ability is critical for survival. It also helps because when you turn around when not in a boss fight the camera switches to point in the other direction so you can shoot things coming from the other way, something which can be distracting and make dodging shots tricky… unless you dash, as dashing backwards keeps your mech pointed forwards while you move in reverse. Handy! To help get used to the controls there is a very useful, and challenging at times, seven-part training mode available, and I definitely recommend going through it.
In this short but challenging game, The levels themselves are straightforward, with straight paths to follow most of the time so the focus is on the action. Unlike AS Leynos or Gigantic Army, levels here are shorter and are not filled with infinitely-spawning filler enemies; instead, everything is pre-designed. The game mixes things up with its settings as well, as there are land, water, and space environments and a defense mission. The giant bosses are also suitably tricky. There is a webpage link in the pause menu for a strategy site that can be very helpful. In space controls are trickier, as zero-g movement is a bit confusing. The game is short, though: the main game has just five levels and then a final boss. There are those seven training missions also, and there is an unlockable bonus mission as well, but that’s it. Still, the levels have variety, and the game encourages replay through its scoring and unlock systems. You can’t change weapons between missions, unlike most games of this style, but you can select a loadout on the main menu, and unlock more weapons for it each time you beat the game. Playing for score is also rewarding for those good enough to be able to stay alive as well, for though you have infinite continues from the last checkpoint, using a continue resets your score to zero, so a good score is well-earned. For this kind of game, the amount of content is reasonable; mastering what is here will require a lot of practice.
Overall, Gunhound EX is a fantastic game. The gameplay is cloned straight out of a classic series and content is limited, but this is a really good game regardless, with great sprite-art graphics, good music, and great, challenging gameplay which keeps you coming back. Highly recommended! If you have to choose between this and Gigantic Army, get this one. Gunhound EX was successful enough that its developer went on to make the recent Assault Suits Leynos remake for PS4 (and maybe PC eventually). If there ever is a PC release I’ll get it for sure. Gunhound EX is also available for PSP. The PSP version only had a physical release in Japan, but there is a downloadable version in the US you can play on a Vita, since the PSP download shop has been shut down for original PSP systems, but not Vitas. The original Gunhound also has a physical release for PC in Japan only.
Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit (2012) – 1 player, saves, dual analog gamepad supported (xinput only). Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is a decent, but somewhat obnoxious, platform-shooting game published by Sega. In this cartoonish game, you play as Ash, rabbit prince of Hell, and need to murder a lot of people and robots because some paparazzi guy took photos of Ash playing with rubber ducks in his bathtub and posted them online. Anyone who viewed that page must die! .. Yeah, I don’t think Ash understands how the internet works. He isn’t too particular about his targets, though, as you make only infrequent attempts to figure out if the people you’re killing ever saw the thread. Ash’s a complete jerk, so just kill everything that gets in your way regardless, pretty much. This all has far too much somewhat-annoying attitude, but beyond that, I do not like playing as villains in games unless it’s VERY well done, and this is pretty much the opposite of that. I greatly dislike the character you play as here, and what he does in the game is horrible, cartoony setting or no. The game does have pretty good, brightly colored graphics with lots of animation, though; this game had some budget. It is lacking in setting variety, as it’s pretty much all set in firey environs, but it looks good. The cartoon-styled art design is good as well.
As for the gameplay, this is a twinstick or mouse-and-keyboard shooter… with a lot of platforming. So you know what that means by now, I think the controls are kind of awful! On keyboard, you need to try to use the keyboard to move and jump while you aim and shoot on mouse, and it doesn’t work at all. Fortunately you often can just take your hand off the mouse and use just the keyboard for both, and then just go back to the mouse for when you need to fight, but sometimes you do need both jumping and shooting at once, and it’s very awkward and uncomfortable. On gamepad things work slightly better, but jumping while aiming and moving all at the same time is still awkward. While the dual-stick setup gives you great control over where you’re aiming, overall I prefer traditional controls. You move quite quickly in this game too, so while the controls are responsive, getting where you want without getting hung up on little corners in the scenery can be frustrating. Maybe the worst thing about the controls, though, are the QTEs. You see, on every single one of the 100 major enemies you kill in this game, you’ve got to successfully do a “hilarious” QTE in order to kill the thing. And you must kill all of them, as there are gates that only let you proceed once they’re dead. If you mess it up, you take damage and get knocked back, which gets old fast. I have always greatly disliked QTEs, and putting mountains of QTEs into a platformer was an awful idea. Sure, there are a lot of violent death animations to watch once you succeed at them, but murdering these sometimes-totally-innocent creatures does not exactly feel good, and the comedy is only infrequently amusing.
Otherwise, though, this is a fairly traditional game, as you run around, explore levels, collect stuff, and shoot and jump. You have three weapons to switch between from, and though this is a level-based game, you eventually get a teleporter to be able to replay old levels and get abilities as you progress that let you get to new areas in earlier levels. The art design is mostly good if lacking in variety, and the fast movement can be fun, when you’re not getting stuck on stuff. There is a lot of variety in enemy types as well, which is nice. But overall, Hell Yeah! is trying WAY too hard to be cool, and for me at least it fails at that. I got this game from a bundle and was not looking forward to playing this game because of the obnoxious themes here, and playing it justifies that. Still, there is some solid gameplay here, particularly for people who like these dual-stick platformers more than I do. Myself, I don’t think I want to ever play this again. Also available, for digital download only, on Xbox 360 XBLA and PS3 PSN.
Hocus Pocus (1994) – 1 player, saves, 4 button gamepad supported. Hocus Pocus is a platformer developed by Moonlite Software and published by Apogee. This is a later Apogee release, and is one of their few platformers that runs in 256-color VGA instead of only 16-color EGA. So, the graphics are colorful, but how is the game? I remember liking this game well enough as a kid, but looking back on it, it has problems. Moonlite Software had previously made another game I played back then, the thoroughly mediocre title Clyde’s Adventure. Fortunately they did much better work with Apogee, but some of that games’ design did carry over to this one. Clyde’s Adventure is a combat-free platformer focused on exploration and collection. You have to get all the crystals in each stage to progress, levels are large and mazelike, and there’s a tight move limit so you need to learn the best route in each level to get through. In Hocus Pocus levels are still large and made up of blocky platforms, and you still need to collect all the crystals to beat each level, though there are only 5-9 per level this time instead of the hundreds of Clyde’s Adventure, but instead of that annoying move limit you have enemies to fight and a magic wand that shoots lightning bolts. These changes are good and make this game a lot more fun than Clyde. The game has simple, responsive controls; all you do is run around, jump, and shoot. You can shoot up or forwards, and also can look up and down to see a bit farther. You only have that one main weapon, the wand, but there are upgrades to shoot multiple bolts at once, and limited-use spells with greater power such as fireballs in some stages as well. Exploring levels, fighting enemies, and collecting stuff can be fun. There are also lots of optional items to collect for points, and secret areas to find full of optional items to collect as well. Looking for that stuff’s fun. And the game doesn’t have any instant-death pits either, which is great, though there are many long pits which damage you quickly and can lead to a death if you wall into them in the wrong place.
The game has some problems, though. First, enemies in this game aren’t always wandering around the levels; instead, they are magically warped in when you reach certain points. So, you’re constantly having enemies appear right on top of you, which can lead to damage. You do have a health meter, most levels have health powerups to collect, and you can save and the game gives you infinite tries at each level, but still this will lead to deaths. And be careful when jumping, as with your somewhat quick movement it can be easy to miss a jump and take damage as a result. Those crystals can be an issue too, as you’ll often have multiple paths to follow, and you’ll generally need to fully explore every level to get all of the crystals. If you reach the end but missed a crystal, you’ll just have to backtrack for it, avoiding traps along the way. The game also has switches. And on that note, Hocus Pocus’s idea of puzzles is either to hide stuff in random corners, or to have multiple switches that you need to set in the correct positions, but there aren’t clues so you randomly have to hit them until you get it right. All of this adds up to a memorization-focused game. You will be restarting levels repeatedly until you memorize the enemy, crystal, and trap locations, and while there is fun to be had, it will get old after a while. The bad music, which loops constantly and doesn’t vary much within each song, doesn’t help much. The background graphics are good, though, and there are nice parallax layers and smooth scrolling with lots of color use. Even so, the sprites themselves do look somewhat amateurish.
Additionally, the game lacks variety over the course of the good-length campaign. This game has four episodes, the first originally released free as shareware and the others pay, and each has a good number of levels. The background tilesets change a bit between episodes, and different levels have different enemies, though each stage seems to have only two or three types of foes in it, but the core gameplay is unchanged throughout and gets repetitive. And for one last criticism, the story is not nearly as funny as the writer thought it was; some of that backstory text is painfully bad. Still, Hocus Pocus is, overall, an above-average game. The game has a fast pace, plenty of content to see, and lots of stuff to find as you search through levels for all the crystals and point items, killing the monsters that appear to bar your way. I may have some issues with this game, but it is more good than bad and is worth a look, for collectathon fans particularly. The retail version was originally released only on physical media, but now the game is available on 3D Realms’ website and on GOG for digital download. As usual you’ll need to fix the bad default GOG settings they use to get the game looking and playing right.
Joylancer, The: Legendary Motor Knight (Early Access Game) (2014-?) – 1-4 player simultaneous (single system), saves (though the full campaign is not implemented yet), gamepad supported (xinput only, at least for me). The Joylancer is a fast-paced action-platformer developed by alpha six productions and published by Merge Games, inspired indie game inspired by the look and sound of original Game Boy or Game Boy Color games, but with 16:9, parallax scrolling, and optional additional effects. In this sci-fi game you play as one of the Joylancers, soldiers with a drill-like weapon, and have to defeat an ancient evil empire attacking your nation again. Joy the Joylancer is the default character, but there are other choices of both genders, each with slightly different stats and abilities. You zip around with your drill-like lance, fighting enemies and navigating platforms as you try to save the nation from evil. The game definitely still feels unfinished, though, despite being in development for several years now. The game has been in Early Access since 2014 but still is not finished after many delays, so this won’t be a review of the finished game, just what it is as of the January 2016 build, the most recent one as of this writing. This is the only unfinished game on this list, but I have it, so I’m covering it.
For modes, the main ones are Arcade mode, where you have to play the whole game in one sitting, and Adventure mode, which is supposed to be the main game but currently just lets you move around the map and play the levels in any order. There is also a battle arena for multiplayer versus fights, though I haven’t tried it. The first issue I have with this game, though, is the menu interface. The menu interfaces are confusing and poorly laid out; why is the spacebar the default pause button, on keyboard? Why are the main menu and pause menu entirely separate; most games have an options menu in the main menu, but not here. Why do you need to hit a keyboard key to get to the control-settings screen, instead of having it as an option in the pause menu? It took me a while to figure out where the control settings screen was. Why does the game save all settings completely independently to each save file profile, so if you switch profiles it’ll automatically switch the game between windowed and fullscreen modes depending on how each one is set, and the controls will auto-switch as well so your gamepad may randomly not work in some if you haven’t set up the keys there? Oh, and I recommend changing graphics display settings ingame, as the menu doesn’t show what each one looks like. And while I appreciate having lots of options, sometimes a developer needs to make choices, and putting so many options in like this is a little odd at times. It’ll be interesting to see if all of this makes the final version.
Next, the visuals. Now, the display options let you change this, but in any settings the game has some sensory-overload issues. First, the on-screen interface has eight totally different looks (I like G the best), but in any setting the constant stream of large, moving attack-type-and-damage-amount indicators that appear in the bottom right is overdone. At least some don’t have useless indicators like a number that changes based on how high off the ground you currently are; yes, I can tell I am jumping without looking down there! You can play The Joylancer in a monochrome palette, a two-palette mode, or full color. In full color the game is garishly bright, as each sprite or background element uses a different 4-color palette and backgrounds are complex and loaded with stuff. I like the concept here, as I love the GB line, but the clashing colors are too much sometimes. So, I probably like the look best in monochrome, though unfortunately this does make it even harder to tell which sprite is yours in the messy melees. The two-tone mode helps a bit here, to at least distinguish sprites from backgrounds, so that’s probably the best setting. The actual sprite-art elements look nice, though, color aside. It’s just a way too busy style, with the backgrounds, parallax, varying-size sprites, status displays, and effects, if you don’t turn them off. As for the music, it’s weird. It is chiptune-style sound, but it is this very weird electronic-sound stuff. I have heard this kind of music before, though I have no idea what it’s called. I find it discordant and grating, and have never liked this kind of music, though it is interesting I guess.
Finally, on to the gameplay. The Joylancer is a two-button game, jump and attack. This fast and flashy game is the opposite of a precision platformer. As with everything else in this game, the game is a bit overly modifiable, though the core gameplay does not change. You can alter how many attacks work, but how attacks go depends on your power meter, which has several blocks. You have a weak normal attack, but also various power attacks. Power attacks go a good distance forward on land, or diagonally upwards in the air. By default it uses a full power attack when you hit attack and have meter, but I think I like the setting which makes you hit the button again better, so you don’t always use all the meter. To recharge the power meter, you either need to tap Down+Attack repeatedly, or find and equip a part which auto-refills your meter. One such part exists in this build, though it might be harder to get in the final game. But oh yes, you have three equipment spots which you will get stuff for. There isn’t much now. The auto-charge is great because having to constantly charge attacks is annoying sometimes. You can also jump high straight into the air with Up+Jump, attack straight down with Down+Attack, and the game even has parry and counter systems. Yes, really. Red lines on enemy attacks mean you can counter them with an attack. As for the stages, levels are broken up into many short areas, and those areas are made up of decent but not always great platforming sections, and areas where you can’t progress until you defeat all the enemies. The game plays very quickly, but despite this enemies have quite a bit of health and can take a while to beat. Enemies have visible health meters in the status display area, and there is also a burst multiplier meter on screen. Ultimately though I’ve never liked side-scrolling beat ’em ups much, so the heavy emphasis on fighting kind of loses me even with the additions this game has. Zipping around with your lance can be fun for a while, but I always find myself losing interest in this game after a while.
On the whole, it’s fun to zoom around blasting through the enemies as you hit stuff, but I think it’s kind of a mess; I have little sense of when I’m taking damage and when I’m not, why my health sometimes refills, and more. It’s so fast and chaotic that such details are hard to discern. Since the game uses only two buttons, you’re spending a lot of time just mashing one button, sometimes with a direction, so combat is repetitive. I’d like more platforming and less combat, myself. Overall, The Joylancer is an interesting but flawed title, and I’d say right now it’s average at best. There is something pretty interesting here, and the extreme degree of customization is somewhat unique, but between the simple, imprecise combat mountain of options to figure out, and unfinished elements because this game is still not done, I can’t recommend this game to most. There is definitely an audience for this though, so if it sounds interesting check it out.