The first three games in this update are games I recently got in bundles, so I’ve got to cover them now instead of where they would appear earlier in the alphabet. After that, three games covering O and P. I’ve been quite distracted with some new console game stuff I got recently, but I finally got this done. This time I cover seven indie games released in the past four years. Oniken might be my favorite game this update and Cally’s Trials my least favorite, but it’s a mostly solid batch of games.
Cally’s Trials (2016, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepads supported (xinput only). Cally’s Trials is an average-at-best platform action game from VDO Games with pretty basic gameplay and graphics, some bugs, and a nice soundtrack. You play as 6 year old Callie, and she may be young but she’s already collecting a large arsenal of pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and more. Probably because the guns here are realistic, considering her age this kind of feels more questionable than games with kids with fantasy weapons like laser guns and the like. But this game has a lot more issues than that. First, visually, this is a bland-looking game that clearly was made on next to no budget in some game-maker software. Many indie platformers use these, but the end results here are pretty much freeware-grade stuff, but this game costs money. The game has bland-looking tile-based environments and okay but genericly cartoony sprite characters. It all looks pretty bland. The soundtrack is better than the graphics, though. I don’t know how well all of it fits the game, but this game has a solid soundtrack.
The controls are simple: you can move, jump, shoot, slash with your sword, and switch weapons. The controls are decently average, but can be glitchy at times. You can also get multiple jumps if you buy them in a store in the main hub world. This store sells a variety of upgrades you will eventually need. Now, this game calls itself a “roguelike”, but it really isn’t; it’s just a platformer with worlds that branch off from a hub with a store system. They try to call it a roguelike because when you run out of lives in a game, you are sent back to the hub to buy permanent upgrades with the money you earned in that run. The levels are not randomized, though, and there are no other roguelike elements here, so it really is not a roguelike, just an overly grindey platformer. Can’t get past that next area? Grind for money earlier on until you can afford the upgrade you need! I don’t like that kind of design much at all. This game wouldn’t be too long if you could just play through it, but by making things just difficult enough that you will surely have to die and redo levels until you can afford more upgrades the game drags, and I can’t see myself sticking with it much more.
Once you are in a level, you run, jump, and shoot everything that moves. Levels are made up of square tile blocks only, with a handful of types including blocks, spikes, lava, and the like. There are no angled surfaces or such here, and little variety within each of the games’ handful of areas. The level designs are decent and can be fun to explore sometimes, but it is average stuff. Enemy AI is essentially nonexistent, as well; all enemies on the ground just move back and forth along the platform they are currently on, while airborne enemies just fly around, maybe at you or maybe not. Each enemy is unique, as some will shoot at you, some will be stopped if you rapidly attack them with your sword while others will not, and such. So, you will need to learn how to effectively fight each type, and this does add to the game. Still, there is zero variety in enemy movement patterns, and this gets old fast. Even bosses are exactly the same as the rest of the enemies in this regard. Unless you get hasty you shouldn’t die much to most enemies.
And as for those weapons of yours, you get a sword that does a flat 1 damage per hit, and several guns, more as you progress, that upgrade as you use them. All weapons require button-mashing to an uncomfortable degree, as there is no autofire on any weapon here and attacking quickly is important. Enemies have a lot of health each, too, so it takes some time to kill them. Basically this game is all about finding places where you can shoot enemies where they can’t hit you back, and usually finding these places is easy. You can die, though. There are two kinds of death in this game: if you touch an environmental obstacle like a spike, lava, etc., you are instantly sent back to the beginning of the current stage. If an enemy hits you, however, you lose health, and if your health runs out you die and return back to the beginning of the game, with your money to buy those upgrades with. You can buy one-time-use extra lives that will respawn you at the beginning of the current stage if an enemy kills you, but these are pricey and take money away from other things you can buy. The game is designed around repeat runs in a not-great way. This game is a spinoff of a series that was originally on cellphones, apparently, and I’d say that mobile design thinking affected this game negatively. So, in the end, Cally’s Trials is a forgettable mobile-style game. The game is never terrible, but it’s never good either. I guess it’s amusing at times, but it’s also mobile-inspired and flawed. There’s really no reason to try it unless the game really sounds interesting for some reason.
Capsule Force (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player tuturial/mission mode, 2-4 player simultaneous multiplayer (local only), saves, gamepads supported (xinput only). Capsule Force, developed by klobit and published by Iron Galaxy, is a platformer take on the recent fad for local multiplayer games. This local-multiplayer-focused wave of games may be passing now, and I have mostly not played them myself since I have few opportunities for local multiplayer anymore unfortunately, but I got this in a bundle recently and it does look fun, so I tried it out. Well, this game has everything except for one of the most important things: a good single player mode. The main mode in this game is the multiplayer mode. Here two to four human players, all on one computer, fight it out. There are several different modes, with the main one being a mode where you need to take power orbs to your end of the screen, but there are no computer AI opponent options sadly; the game is multiplayer only. The single player mode is a mission mode broken up into four different mission categories. You need to complete all missions in one category with at least a C rating before you’re allowed to move on to the next one, unfortunately. This restriction really can be annoying when you’re stuck on one mission and want to try some other game type, but you can’t because it won’t unlock yet. Mission types are, in order, target shooting, getting through a stage in under a time limit, , and . You control one of the four characters, one of each gender for the red and blue teams, through each mission type. These missions are challenging and fun, and beating all of them with good times will take a decent while, but they are no substitute for AI opponents to face off against and a full-fledged single player game. As fun as trying to get past the walls of laser fire or figuring out the fastest way to destroy all those targets are, the single player mode in this game is basically like if Super Smash Bros. had only the minigames like Break the Targets for a single player mode, and no actual AI opposition to fight against. It’s fun, but you need more than this!
All of that is really unfortunate, because Capsule Force looks, sounds, and plays really well. This game is Western, but has an ’80s sci-fi anime aesthetic which looks pretty cool. The game has very nice pixel-art graphics, good chiptune music, and solid controls and game design. The stages each look unique, and I like the multi-layered parallax. If this game is trying to look like an ’80s arcade game, it succeeds. The chiptune music is good as well and fits the theme great. I like the controls too. The game uses four buttons, for jumping and double jumping, shooting, using your shield, and dashing. When you hit fire you shoot straight, or if you hold it down you can aim your shot; this allows shot aiming without the problems of a twin-stick layout, and it works well. You shoot slowly so you need to aim each shot well and consider your shots, it’s key to the game as one shot kills your character, after which you respawn by dropping out of the ceiling from the nearest place there is an opening. The shield is useful, as it defends you as well as damaging anyone close. As for the dash, it goes only a very short distance in the distance you’re moving, and then you freeze in place for a moment after that. That may sound bad, but at that moment you can jump again, and you can alternate jumps and boosts as much as you want, which is cool. So, overall, this is a fun and frenetic action-platformer, with good controls, graphics, and gameplay. The absence of AI opponents and a single-player mode with full-length levels is a major problem, though. As good as the game is, and what’s here is good, only buy Capsule Force if it’s very cheap in a bundle as it was for me, or if you have people to play against locally; it’s probably not worth it otherwise.
Environmental Station Alpha (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Environmental Station Alpha is an indie Metroid clone from Hempuli Oy with low-rez, very chunky pixel-art graphics and challenging platform-action gameplay. This game is technically a Metroidvania, I guess, but really this is mostly Metroid in both theme and gameplay, though the game does do some things differently from Metroid, at least. You play as a small orange robot that sort of looks like a blob of pixels, and have to explore the eponymous station in the title, looking for information about what happened there and, since you fall deep inside at the beginning, a way back to your ship outside. The controls are appropriately simple. Initially you can only jump and shoot a short distance forward, but you get more abilities as you progress for both attacks and mobility, and eventually you will get items you can map to two additional buttons as well. The controls are mostly solid, but the jumping takes getting used to; due to your fast and somewhat slippery movement, I was missing jumps sometimes for a while. You do have a health bar and the game does not have instant-death pits or traps, but even so this is a very challenging game. It is easy to take damage, both from the many enemies and from environmental hazards like spikes or other traditional Metroid areas like warm areas, dangerous liquids, and such. The issue is that it’s difficult to heal damage you take, as enemies don’t drop anything in this game; so far as I’ve seen, the only way to refill health is from the Metroid-style save stations scattered around the world. That’s much harsher than most Metroidvania games are. So, the game will be frustrating at times for sure, but you will get better with practice.
Graphically, the visual style here is low-rez enough to sort of look like a game for an early ’80s computer or pre-NES console, but, for the most obvious modern elements, better music than any of those platforms have and the usual parallax scrolling backgrounds. The game does seem to use tile-based graphics, but it isn’t as repetitive looking as some tile-based games can be, as there is a good amount of graphical variety and different environments to explore. The graphical and level designs are good for the style, but I’m not the biggest fan of this super-low-res, ultra-blocky look; I may love classic games, and it does give this game a slightly different look from many of the other Metroidvanias out there, but it is perhaps too pixelated. The art design is fairly average as well, and isn’t as polished as a Cave Story’s is. Still, the game does have a good sense of atmosphere at times thanks to the good, sometimes creepy soundtrack, the varied environments and enemies, and some good area design. There are some yellow slime creatures that hop around like an animal which I find kind of creepy, for example; good work there. That soundtrack is quite good also, again. The music tracks fit each area well, with machine-like sounds for station areas, more alive sounds for plant regions, and such.
In terms of gameplay this is a very conventional Metroid-style game. You can shoot down as well as up here and can’t roll into a ball, and some powerups such as a grappling hook don’t come out of Metroid, but the main influence is clear. There’s even a hot area which does automatic damage until you get the right powerup, for example! The world is made up of connected areas, some a single screen and some multiple. The world map is standard stuff for the genre, with the expected horizontal and vertical corridors along with the occasional larger square room, along with plenty of hidden areas. Unfortunately there is a short load between each screen, and this does get old quickly. As is standard in the genre, the abilities and keycards you find in the game will allow you to access new areas of the world. There is a map on the pause menu, but this traditional title requires you to go back and regularly explore around areas you have already been, looking for new places you can go. Some of these are obvious, but others are hidden, so you’ll need to search thoroughly to stand much of a chance here. The game world is slowly revealed as you progress so you’re not just wandering around the whole world from the beginning, but still, while this game is definitely fun, having to constantly backtrack, looking for areas I can go to now while not actually knowing where I’m supposed to be going, is frustrating. I have never been much of a fan of Metroidvania games; I want to have a decent idea where I’m supposed to be going and what I’m supposed to be doing in a game. Randomly wandering around looking for that one hidden area I need to find to progress or how to solve some tough puzzle with no clues is not much fun, and this game has plenty of that kind of thing in it, particularly if you want the good ending. Sort of like my strong dislike of required grinding in RPGs and the like, I want to have a clue about what I’m supposed to be doing, and be able to progress forwards! Still, with guides I did have fun with and beat both GBA Metroid games and Super Metroid as well. I do kind of like this game because while I don’t adore Super Metroid like some do, it is a good game and this is highly reminiscent of it. There isn’t a text guide for this game, though, so good luck if you get stuck. But even for Metroidvania fans the absence of any health powerups can be an issue, as it makes the game much harder than it otherwise would be. And you will die easily, particularly to bosses, until you learn their patterns.
Overall, Environmental Station Alpha is a solid, but challenging, Metroidvania game. Thanks to the challenging gameplay combined with very limited healing this game can be tense at times in both good and bad ways. For me though, the biggest issue here is the main hook of this kind of game, that you’ll frequently be wandering around trying to figure out or remember where to use your abilities or trying to figure out some complex puzzle, and there are no in-game hints to tell you what you should be doing next. Some people like this, but I don’t. Overall then, I’d call this game average, with some good and some bad points. Metroid fans should try it for sure, but for the rest of us, maybe wait for a bundle if you are interested; that’s how I got it. There is also a Mac version on Steam. The store page says that the Mac version has no cloud save or gamepad support, but it should otherwise be the same.
Oniken (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Oniken is a NES-styled platformer from . In both its graphics and gameplay, this game takes a lot of inspiration from a variety of NES action-platformers. While this game plays heavily on nostalgia the graphics and gameplay are not copied from any one NES game, but are instead reminiscent of many, from Ninja Gaiden to the NES version of Strider and Shatterhand. The story is that you play as a tough future swordsman off to save the world from evil. There was a horrible war, and an evil group called the Oniken used that opportunity to take over. Your guy, a member of the small resistance force, sets off to defeat the villains. You have allies, but naturally they only appear in cutscenes, not ingame. The basic plot is decent average work, but the cutscenes, particularly the early ones, are way too long; there is more story here than is necessary for this kind of game. There are odd sound problems in the cutscenes too, as the audio often completely stops playing halfway through cutscenes. Odd. Once the game finally begins, though, it’s pretty good.
Visually Oniken looks good. The graphics look a lot more like a NES game than most of these faux “8-bit” platformers do. The number of pixels on screen and visual look of the game are very NES-like and well done. As much as I do prefer 4th-gen games to 3rd I like how well this game sticks to its theme, and the results are great. This game has pretty good art design with a nice retro-1980s-future aesthetic. The game does not stick strictly to the NES’s hardware restrictions, though, so there are some modern elements here, including the usual requisite parallax backgrounds at times, no flicker when multiple sprites are near eachother, and maybe too many colors on screen at once, and there is more blood than Nintendo ever would have allowed on the NES, but the look works well on the whole. The solid backgrounds and quality sprite work help a lot as well, for sure. Your guy is an appropriately musclebound tough guy, and enemies are a selection of soldiers and robots that could have been in games from the late ’80s or early ’90s. The chiptune soundtrack is similarly good. Like real NES music many songs are short loops, but what’s here is solid, apart from a few odd audio issues I will mention.
As for the gameplay, like the games that inspired it this game is a very difficult but straightforward and linear game with lots of swordfighting action and some platform jumping. The game controls well, and as you might expect uses two main action buttons, for Jump and attack. Up plus attack uses a special weapon, and a third button activates the Berzerk special ability if you have it. You can also duck, and will need to duck to hit smaller enemies. The controls are tight and responsive and feel great. You also have a health bar, and when you die you respawn from the beginning of the current part of the stage. The stage layouts are good and the game is fun to play through, but the checkpoints, which are placed at screen transitions, are not frequent; there are only two per level. Dying at a boss sets you back to the start of that segment, not to the beginning of the boss fight, unfortunately, as well. You only get three lives to complete each level with too, and if you run out you will have to start the level over. Thankfully the game does have a level select and levels unlock there as you reach them, so you don’t need to replay the whole game each time you get game over, but ‘Difficult’ is definitely one of the operative terms here. Oniken can be quite frustrating and you will need to memorize each new challenge you reach in order to get past it, though I’ll never try the insanely difficult Hardcore mode, myself; that’s only for the crazy-good, or ultra masochistic. But overall, thanks to the solid visuals, controls, gameplay, and level designs, Oniken is the kind of hard game that makes you want to keep trying until you get it right, not give up right away. Oniken is a good, solid 8-bit-style platformer and I like it. The challenge is steep, but any classic platforming fan should try this one.
Out There Somewhere (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Out There Somewhere is a pixel-art indie puzzle platformer with Metroidvania elements by MiniBoss, a small team which so far has only made this one game. You are an alien astronaut space policeman, stranded on a dangerous world after your ship crashes while chasing a dangerous criminal. In fact this chase is playable in the form of a basic and not great shmup level, but when you inevitably lose it the real game begins. In this highly challenging game, you need to figure out how to use your teleport gun to get past many different situations. You do not have any form of normal attack, only a teleport gun, so this is more a game of avoidance than attack. Now, the game is often fairly linear, but as the ‘Metroidvania’ label suggests you do get upgrades as you progress, so there is required backtracking. I’d probably rather they had just given you a series of challenges to beat rather than this, but Metroidvanias are the style of the day, so they put that in the mix here. Visually, this game is nondescript; it has average vaguely 4th-gen-ish tile-based pixel-art graphics, and the tiles used repeat constantly. Late ’90s PC platformers look better than this. Additionally, as in some other very hard indie games like I Want To Be The Guy, Out There Somewhere does not have scrolling levels. Instead, you travel between static screens that are connected into a single larger world. This means there is no parallax either. The sprite art design is decent and there are some nicely odd creatures here on this strange alien planet, but it’s the gameplay that makes this game interesting, not the visuals. The music is similarly fine, but not memorable.
The controls are simple to learn, but hard to master. You can jump and shoot your portal gun, and when your shots hit a wall or portal-shot-stopping barrier you teleport to that location. While you cannot attack here this is no pure puzzle game, however; a lot of platforming skill is required. A key tactic used from very early on is that your momentum carries over when you warp, so the game often requires you to have the right momentum when you warp to carry you up to a platform. Or, jump at just the right moment as a portal shot creates that portal and you can effectively jump from the spot you’re warping to. Though the controls are tight and responsive getting these warp-jumps right can be hard, so this game gets very tough in a hurry. And all the while, enemies patrol the platforms trying to kill you, and there are instant-death pits, other deadly hazards, and more scattered around as well. You die in one hit too, so if any enemy touches you you go back to the last checkpoint. You do have infinite lives in this game, but the checkpoints are often a couple of screens apart so you will need to redo things frequently. Indeed, as in most games of this kind, the steep difficulty is this games’ biggest issue. You need perfect timing on both your shots and jumping to make it through the jumping puzzles in this game without either missing jumps or dying. It is often a fun challenge, but I did start to get frustrated after a while. Overall Out There Somewhere is an average to good puzzle-platformer with interesting mostly nonviolent gameplay and lots of challenge. That challenge will be too much for some, but fans of difficult games, as well as puzzle-platformers, definitely should check this game out. It’s very cheap and worth a look.
PixelJunk Eden (2012, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). PixelJunk Eden is a … sort of platformer-like thing … from , the team behind all of the PixelJunk games. Each title in this series has completely different gameplay, but I have only played this one and PixelJunk Monsters, which is a tower defense game, so I don’t know much about this series apart from Monsters. That’s a good game, but this one is entirely different. PixelJunk Eden is a unique, interesting, and simple game. In this 2d side-scrolling game with simple but striking sprite art made up of solid colored objects, you grow life in a garden by control a little creature which can move by jumping only. Yes, you cannot walk along the ground, but the game works fine as it is. You play with either a gamepad or the mouse by aiming your jump direction with the mouse or analog stick, and jumping with the mouse or gamepad buttons. The left mouse button does a jump attached to a bungie-like thread, while the right button does a normal jump. This is what you will mostly use. This is a simple and chill game with no timer or enemies which can harm you. The game is broken up into levels, and your goal in each one is to collect the Spectra item in that level. Once you get it the game immediately quits the level back to the level-select screen and shows a score screen for your run in that stage, so only collect those items when you’re ready to leave. Apparently the original Playstation 3 version of the game does not do this and allows you to stay in a level after getting all of the stuff. I’d have liked to see that option here too, quitting out immediately is annoying sometimes. There are 15 levels with a total of 76 Spectras to collect in them, so a bit like Mario 64 you will need to play each level several times, with a different objective point each time. You can start a level either from the beginning or from the last Spectra you collected.
Within those levels, your goal before getting those key items is to explore around, experience the games’ style and music, and score points. When jumping, you will pass through objects you can land on if you hold the right mouse button or its gamepad equivalent down, but will land on the next one you touch if you let go of the button. Additionally, by holding down the button while you jump and moving the mouse/stick around you can adjust your trajectory in the air somewhat. Between these two mechanics you can have fairly good air control, though your jump does have a maximum height so you do need to plan your jumps. In the air there are two different types of items to collect, pollen orbs which stay in set locations and give you points, and moving orb-like Pollen Prowlers, helpless “enemies” that spawn infinitely spawn from the sides of the level and you kill at a touch. When you touch multiple pollen prowlers in a single jump it builds a combo; this will boost your score and also generate more little pixel items. Most of the time these pixel block things slowly float to the ground and give you points when you collect them, but they also will move towards certain circles that are scattered around the environment if they are close enough to them. If you fill up a circle with pixels it will brighten. Then, touch that circle with your character to have a new piece of background scenery grow out of where the circle was. It’s a fun and engaging mechanic which fits with the “eden” title, as everything in this game looks alive. As you progress the game adds more mechanics as well, including wind, teleporters, and more, so you won’t see everything right away. Though this game is not incredibly long there is a fair amount to do.
Visually, as I said, the game uses large blocks of solid colors to represent objects. Generally there will be three color shades in a stage, one for the background, another for the foreground objects you can attach to, and the last for you, the pollen, and such. The look is simple but works very well, and I like how everything waves around to show how it is alive. Aurally the game has a great, understated techno soundtrack. Overall, PixelJunk Eden is pretty good, but it is simple and challenge-free. Jumping around, growing plants, and then jumping off of them to get higher in the level and reach the Spectras higher up is fun stuff, but that is all there is to this game; the worst thing that can happen to you here is that you land in a point beyond the edge of the level or touch some other hazard, if there are any, and get warped back to safety with no other penalty. This is one of those games meant to be an experience as much as it is a game, I think, since you cannot die and the game has no real challenge. Still, PixelJunk Eden is a good, interesting game well worth a try. Pick it up on sale sometime. Also available for download only on PlayStation 3 PSN, though note that this version made many changes from the PS3 original. I haven’t played that version, but it apparently has not quite as good graphics, lets you stay in levels after you get a Spectra, has slightly different controls, has a two player co-op option that this version sadly lacks, and more. I might want to get it, to see the differences.