The next update is done, covering six games which vary from pretty good to just okay. With this the 2d digital-download-games section is, for now, complete. Next I will move on to 2.5d games.
Insanity’s Blade (2014, WinXP+) – 1-2 player simultaneous (single system), saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Insanity’s Blade is a pixel-art platformer by Casual Bit Games styled after classic late ’80s to early ’90s arcade platform-action games. This is a difficult but fun classic-styled platform-action game with a dark and bloody fantasy theme. You play as a barbarian-ish warrior guy, slaughtering legions of monsters, zombies, and more as you try to find and kill the demon who destroyed your village. And yes, as expected your village burns to the ground at the beginning, as usual in fantasy games. The very basic and predictable story is told with overlong cutscenes that are mostly lengthy blocks of text, but you can skip them if you want fortunately. Along the way, you will play main levels and side levels, which you select from a map screen. Player one is always the barbarian guy, while player two can play as whoever your companion is, first a dwarf warrior but others later on. The companion character is only there in cutscenes in single player, so you don’t have an AI ally, and they do not have as many abilities as the main character, but still it’s great that they put co-op into the game.
Gameplay in Insanity’s Blade is simple, but has some depth in that classic arcade style. You move at a good pace, and the game uses three buttons, for attack, jump, and grab. Jumps always go the exact same height no matter how long you press the button for, but you can control your movement in the air so this isn’t quite Ghosts n Goblins-like stuff, thankfully. Jump height control would be nice, but this works. The two attack types are the core of the combat system and are well thought through. Initially your main attack is melee-range, but you very quickly get a projectile attack and can upgrade your attacks with money you collect in the levels. You can also do some additional moves by combining button presses with directions. This way you can rip off an enemy’s arm and beat other foes with it, though I find this move very hard to pull off; rip enemies in half; and more. The game is balanced well, as grabs kill most enemies in one hit but require melee range, while your ranged attacks let you hit them from afar but take more hits to kill enemies. Some enemies are also immune to one attack type or the other, so you will need to learn which attacks to use when as you play the game. You have a health bar, though there are also instant-kill traps that will kill you immediately. When you die you get three lives per try by default, and start from the last checkpoint you passed in the level. If you get Game Over you will have to restart the stage, though. This classic design works, though having to restart levels frequently when you die at a boss at the end too many times gets frustrating. If the game is too much for some there are five difficulty level options available though, including easier settings than the default. That’s good.
The level designs here are straightforward, as expected from an arcade game-inspired title. Levels follow a linear path, for the most part, and enemies are always in the same place each time. This game is mostly about learning the jumps and enemy patterns in each stage, and it’s fun but very challenging stuff. There is some variety here, though, as some levels have branching paths to add a bit of variety, and each level has a new setting and sometimes new enemies as well. This game does not feel quite as restrictively memorization-based as Volgarr the Viking is, but there is an element of that here, as you will find as you get farther in. Memorization is important, as those instant-kill traps, such as crushing ceilings, can be cheap sometimes unless you move slowly through new areas. This is a challenging game and it is easy to take damage quickly, but the fast pace, strategic elements in figuring out how to fight different enemy types, good visuals, and constant action make you want to keep trying. Those bosses take a lot of hits to kill, though. They are large and impressive looking, but drag on maybe too long. Still, the gameplay is mostly good.
Visually, this game looks reasonably good, and definitely has the look of a late ’80s or early ’90s arcade-style game. The sprites are well drawn, the art design is good, and backgrounds are varied and interesting. The game uses multiple parallax layers as well. The low budget of this games’ two-person team does show, though. Coins flicker and then disappear in a somewhat glitchy way and sometimes are still collectible after vanishing but not other times; the level two boss’s laser, when it hits the ground, causes a large spark… which appears on the top of the cliff if it hits a wall instead of ground, because I guess they didn’t do a horizontal blast. There are more examples of issues like those, too. For some other issues, there are also many foreground objects in some levels which only turn transparent when you are actually behind them, which is a problem because the designers like to put enemies there. That may be on purpose, but it still can be annoying. And this is about the controls and not the graphics, but in the main menus, with a gamepad A is accept and B is back. You can re-define the controls, and this reverses that if you switch Jump (back) and Attack (accept)… but this only affects the pause-screen menus once you are in the game. So, reverse the buttons as I did and you need to use A to accept in order to load up your save and such, then B to accept once you’re in the game. That should be fixed. Still, the graphics are mostly good. The music is a solid but not amazing chiptune soundtrack. Interestingly it has both 8 or 16-bit styled variants you can choose between in the menu, though there is no similar option for the graphics.
Overall, Insanity’s Blade is a good action-heavy platformer. This is a simple game, where you walk around levels killing enemies as you try to make your way to the end, and it looks and feels a lot like a classic arcade game. The game looks nice and plays fairly well. I would have liked a bit more jumping control and clear instructions for how to pull off the more advanced moves, and there are some graphical and interface issues, but for the most part the game is fun to play, or at least it is until you die deep in a level yet again and have to start it all over. But there are difficulty options to help with that if you give up, and this is the fun kind of challenge that keeps you coming back until you get through. Insanity’s Blade has some flaws, but overall it is good and worth a look. This game is more obscure than it should be, but the developers’ next and currently unfinished project, Battle Princess Madelyn, has gotten much more attention. Maybe give that one a look once it releases, but play this first.
JumpJet Rex (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only, if you have a controller that works correctly with the game; mine does not). JumpJet Rex is a time trial-based flying platformer. The game has a pretty silly plot. Set millions of years ago, you play as Rex, a dinosaur astronaut who has been tasked with stopping an asteroid heading towards Earth. That’s good stuff, and the game is okay though it has issues. The controls are mostly simple, though they have some oddities. The keyboard controls are re configurable, but by default you can move left and right, fly upwards with your infinite-use jet-boots, drop down quickly, do a spin attack to hit enemies though it has very limited range, dash straight forwards (with a separate button, not a double-tap), and jump. You can jump as many times as you want in the air, but why is there a jump button when you can also fly infinitely? Well, that’s because the jetpack button is extremely sensitive, so you go flying up at the slightest touch of the button. The jump, which always goes the same height up, is thus sometimes useful. The keyboard controls work okay, though the too-sensitive controls can be frustrating and you need to use the mouse or gamepad in menus because while you can move the cursor around with the keyboard you can’t actually select the highlighted item with the Enter key, only whatever the mouse is nearest. Ugh. Menus aside, gamepad controls are utterly broken, at least for me, unfortunately. On my xinput gamepad there is no way to fly upwards, the games’ central mechanic. Additionally you can only move left and right with the analog stick and not the d-pad, and buttons rarely respond when you press them. That’s unusable. Though it probably would still be very sensitive this game would be more fun on gamepad than keyboard, but a keyboard-to-gamepad mapper will be the only way to play this on a pad if you have this issue as well, and those are never as good as built-in gamepad controls. It’s too bad, because there is a fun game here if the controls work.
This is a time-trial-focused game first and foremost, so levels are short and are timed. Each level has requires a certain number of stars to unlock, and has three stars to get, mobile-style. You get one star just for beating the stage, a second for beating a set time, and the third for either another time goal or some other objective. Additionally, the game keeps track if you collected the treasure in each level. Levels are usually only a few screens large but hard to navigate, so you can zip through them quickly if you dash regularly and learn the layout, but will require memorization as laser beams that turn on and off, floating mine-like enemies, spikes, and more abound. You will also need to hit switches to open doors and such. This is a hard game and you will need to memorize each level perfectly to get through quickly. In addition to the enemies there are also gates to travel through and gold bricks to collect for score. You usually want to either go for all the treasure or a fast time in a run, but not both at once, so the game has some replay value. When going for treasure, you need to look for each levels’ warp, which sends you to a tricky bonus stage filled with more gold blocks and a gem. In the main level when you die you will respawn infinitely at the last checkpoint you activated, though the timer will keep ticking up of course, but the bonus-level warp is a one-time-per-run deal so be careful. On the whole JumpJet Rex can be fun, but the too-sensitive controls and tight, hazard-filled levels get frustrating after a while, particularly when you keep dying because of the controls as much as the stages themselves.
Visually, this game has a modern pixel-art look, with rectangular sprites that remind me of some other modern pixel-art games. Environments are tile-based, and are also nicely drawn and have a good cartoon style. There are only four environments though, so expect repetition. The music is okay but forgettable. Overall, JumpJet Rex is a frustrating flight-based time-trial game that looks nice and can be fun to challenge, but it would be better with more forgiving level designs, better, less twitchy controls, and none of the games’ many control and interface problems. If it sounds fun despite that it may be worth a look though, there is a good game here if you get used to it. I don’t know if I will play this again though.
Mutant Mudds (2012, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Mutant Mudds, from Renegade Kid, is a classic handheld game-style pixel-art platformer that originally released on the Nintendo 3DS eShop before being ported to the PC. This is a simple but fun game with a water gun, hover-pack, and some level design inspirations from Virtual Boy Wario Land, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately here on the PC the game doesn’t run in stereoscopic 3d like it does on the 3DS, and I would like to play it on that console, but otherwise it is the same here and it’s good. You play as Max, a boy off to save the world from the invading Mudds, mud-like aliens who are attacking the earth but are vulnerable to water. Considering how much water there is on this planet I’m not sure if attacking Earth was a good idea, Mudds… heh.
The gameplay here is as simple as the classic platformers it was inspired by. You walk around, duck, shoot, and jump. The controls are tight and responsive, and the game plays well. You can also hover with a second tap of the jump button. The hover is limited by a meter in the lower left of the screen, and you can expand it later on with an upgrade but initially it lasts a couple of seconds, Princess in Mario 2 (USA)-style. You do need to be careful to not hit jump twice too quickly as this will start a hover just above the ground, which can kill you at times, but it’s a great mechanic which the levels are designed around. Combat is simple, you shoot enemies with the water gun. You can only shoot straight, while either standing or ducking, and enemies will sometimes be moving above you so avoiding them until you can shoot at them is necessary, and can make for some fun jumping puzzles. You get three hits per life, and there are no health pickups in levels but you do have infinite continues from the last checkpoint you hit, or the beginning of the level otherwise, so that’s fine. If you are careful you should be able to avoid damage anyway, hits are your fault. There are a few upgrades to get in the game, but for the most part this game sticks to what it does, and that’s fine as it’s good.
The level designs are similarly classic assortments of platforms you will have to navigate. The main quirk is, like VB Wario Land, that this game has multiple screen layers that you can travel between at certain points. I’m sure that on a 3DS this would look pretty cool, but on PC it just makes everything larger or smaller, with a blur effect on the other layers. Like VBWL some enemies move between the layers, and again that’d be nice to see in 3d. Otherwise though this is a well-designed conventional platformer, with enemies that move around for you to shoot, gems to collect, and exits to find. On that latter point, each level has three objectives: get to the main exit, get to the hidden sub-land exit, and get all of the gems. The game has a map screen, and you unlock more levels there once you have completed enough objectives. There are 40 levels in the game, which is a reasonable number. Stage lengths are just about right, not too long or too short, and the sub-objectives, which are doors you need to find marked either G-Land or V-Land, add to each levle as well. As their names may suggest, G-Land stages have a mostly greyscale color palette, like the original Game Boy, and V-Land stages have a red and black palette, Virtual Boy-style. I like these touches, and it was great to see a platformer on 3DS actually take influence from VB Wario Land, the VB’s great classic; Nintendo would later put similar dual-plane gameplay in their 3DS Kirby games, but this title released before them. The levels get harder as you go as well, though this isn’t one of those crushingly difficult indie platformers, it is fairly balanced.
Visually, as mentioned this game has a nice chunky-pixel pixel-art look. The game doesn’t try to look like a Game Boy game, as it does use a larger color palette, parallax scrolling, and such, but it looks nice. In 3d it’s surely even better, since I do like 3d effects, but in 2d on a PC it looks good. The music is good chiptune-style music which fits well into this kind of game. Overall, Mutant Mudds is a pretty good game which I like quite a bit… except for one thing: there is also a Deluxe version of this game, available for various platforms including the PC… but I got this game on GOG, and for some very annoying reason the developers decided to not release the Deluxe version on GOG. Buy it again on Steam if you want the 20-plus added levels and other added content that version has. This is not the only time I’ve seen something like this happen, Blade Kitten (which I will get to eventually) did something similar, but it’s always annoying. You shouldn’t have to re-buy a game because it’s locked to one store and the new version is on another one. That aside, though, really the only other complaint I could have about this game is that it lacks variety, but when the gameplay is as fun as this is I don’t mind that. Mutant Mudds is a good game well worth getting, preferably in one of its Deluxe edition incarnations. The original Mutant Mudds was released digital-only for the 3DS eShop, PC, and iOS, and the Deluxe version (released in 2014) is available digital-only for 3DS, Wii U, PS3, PS4, Vita, and PC. The game has a harder sequel with the same core gameplay that released in 2016 called Mutant Mudds: Super Challenge available digital-only for the 3DS, PC, PS4, Vita, and Wii U. For all titles, only the 3DS releases are in stereoscopic 3d.
No Time To Explain Remastered (2015 remaster of a 2011 game, WinXP+) – 1-2 player simultaneous, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). No Time To Explain Remastered is a flinging-propulsion-based platformer from tinyBuild. Originally a Newgrounds flash game, this remaster expands the game somewhat and gives it better controls than it would have in a browser. The game has the misanthropic humor and cartoony yet bloody art style you expect from Newgrounds games, and some decent ideas in its gameplay though it is not original. The story here is that you are a guy at home, when suddenly the wall of your house blows apart and a you from the future appears, gives you a futuristic giant laser gun, and promptly gets dragged off by a huge monster. Just about every stage in the game begins with one of your protagonists’ versions, from some point in the timeline, being dragged off by whatever monster that levels’ boss is, screaming horribly every time while blood flies out. Some of the lines are amusing and I did laugh a bit, though they repeat a lot after a while. The story is an intentionally complex and poorly explained, as the name suggests, time-travel story, but it’s amusing and fast-paced, as most of this game is action and not plot.
The controls here vary from character to character as you move through the game, but all characters have normal movement, a low jump on a button, and a special weapon or ability that helps you move across the screen quickly that you aim with the right stick or mouse. The controls are reasonably responsive, though they are a little slippery at times, and a gamepad is highly recommended as aiming with the mouse isn’t great. Your main character’s is that giant laser cannon mentioned earlier. You can use it to shoot bosses or blocks, but more often you will be using it as a propulsion device, as you move in the opposite direction you’re shooting it in. The key to the game is learning the physics of how the gun, and other characters’ weapons such as a shotgun which tosses this other guy a certain distance backwards when fired while also shooting a short distance ahead as well. The physics are not realistic, and sometimes it can be frustrating when you can’t figure out why your guy won’t go up as high as you need, but it is internally consistent so once you learn how it works, blasting around the screen can be fun. There is even two player co-op support, though this kind of game is definitely best alone.
This game is made up of longer levels, each of which is broken up into many short, several-screens-long stages. Again sort of like other Newgrounds-based games like Super Meat Boy, the sprites here are on the small side but character movement is fast, so you can zip across the screen quickly with the right tactics. There are no breaks between stages in this game, but each level ends with a boss fight so you can tell when one ends. You have infinite tries for the sub-stages, usually from the last ground you touched instead of having to restart the level when you die as you will many times, but at boss fights you get only four ‘lives’ per try so you will need practice to get past them. The game is mostly fast-paced and fun, and it is hard though this isn’t always Super Meat Boy levels of hard. I’m fine with that, though, and for those wanting a challenge there are downloadable user-made level sets available, beyond the default one. It is important to say though, unfortunately the save system only saves from the beginning of the level you are on, not the stage, so watch out for that. Your goal in the game is to reach the end of each stage while also optionally collecting a single item hidden somewhere in each one. The game will save each of those optional collectibles once you get them, thankfully.
Overall, No Time to Explain Remastered is a fun little indie game with some interesting and amusing ideas. It can be frustrating at times due to the tough level designs and how the games’ physics and controls work, the games’ Flash roots show in some ways, and this is not a particularly long game, but this is mostly a good fun game worth a look. The laser-jetpack based gameplay differentiates this from something like Super Meat Boy, and issues aside the game is fun to play, and the levels are fun to figure out. I like the pacing here, which is slightly slower than Meat Boy but still moves along well. And if the main game isn’t enough, there are also user-created levels add a lot of replayability. This game isn’t amazing, but it is good. Genre fans should try it. Also available digitally for Mac and Linux on Steam as well as PC.
Potatoman Seeks the Troof (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, no saving, gamepad supported (xinput only). Potatoman Seeks the Troof is a short indie game by Pixeljam, and that indeed was made in a game jam, with a simple but nice 2nd-generation, Atari-like visual style and similarly simple but quite challenging one-button-and-a-stick gameplay. You are Potatoman, and you are seeking the Troof, whatever that turns out to be. You will learn at the end, but characters along the way tell you what their ideas of the Troof are. The story is simple but amusing, enough to keep you going through this little game.
The gameplay and controls are very simple as well, fitting with its early ’80s-inspired look: your goal is to walk to the right in each stage until you reach the end, while jumping over hazards. Each level is a linear path that is the same every time, apart for variances from enemies that aim for you. You cannot fight back, so you’ll just need to avoid everything. You just need to learn the patterns, avoid the numerous obstacles heading towards poor little Potatoman, and move on in your journey to learn the Troof! Each level in this game has a different visual theme and set of obstacles to avoid, from staying away from birds dropping mountains of eggs in your direction, to avoiding cars in a town, to dodging rocks as you climb a mountain, and more. If an obstacle hits you, you respawn before that section of the level. You have a limited number of lives for each stage before you have to start it over; the number of lives per level varies, but it is at least six. You can continue after a game over, though, so long as you don’t close the game. Yes, as mentioned above this game does not save, so you have to beat this in one sitting, unfortunately enough. Potatoman Seeks the Troof is a fun game, and it is quite short, but it gets aggrivatingly hard at times and it would be nice to be able to break it up into multiple sessions. Ah well.
The games’ visuals consist of single-color sprites on simple backgrounds. Background environments are made of multiple colors, but they have large blocks of single colors, as early ’80s games would. Unlike a game from back then, though, this game runs in widescreen, has multiple layers of parallax scrolling, and can fill the screen with sprites with no slowdown. So it’s hardly Atari 2600-accurate, but still I like the look here, and it’s nice to see an indie platforemr which doesn’t go for a 3rd or 4th-gen aesthetic. The simple but catchy chiptune music fits the game well, also. Overall, Potatoman Seeks the Troof is a fun but difficult little game worth a look if you like very short games which kill you a lot. It really should have had a save system, but give it a try. Also available digitally for Mac on Steam as well as PC.
Rocketbirds: Hard Boiled Chicken (2012, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Rocketbirds is a pretty mediocre run & gun action-platformer by Ratloop Asia… or should that be roll & gun, since you move faster while rolling and enemies often shoot over you? Whatever you call it, Rocketbirds is okay, but flawed in a lot of ways. This is a shooting-heavy platformer where you explore around levels, shooting enemies who all take way too many hits to kill with a variety of guns while you find your way through the stage. The gameplay is okay, but the presentation is maybe the most notable thing here. The game has very large graphics with some decent cartoony characters, all birds as the name suggests. But then, it places them in front of oddly photo-realistic backgrounds that look like they are either polygon models or photos of polygon models. Given the tech specs this game requires it’s probably the latter. It is a distinctive look, particularly with the games’ rotating camera that twists walls as you move towards them in a ‘3d’ manner, but it looks kind of odd. The game actually even has 3d support, for anyone with a headset or 3d goggles for their PC, but I don’t so I can’t try that. Aurally, the music is maybe the worst thing about this game for me; Rocketbirds has a rock soundtrack with full vocals, and I do not like rock music — or guitar music in general, in fact — and this stuff is really bad. It’s from some band I have never heard of called “New World Revolution”. The music is really annoying and unpleasant and drags the whole game down for me, since it has a large place in this game: most story cutscenes have only that awful music and no non-musical dialogue, for example. The few voiced lines are done in accented English.
The gameplay is better, but it does have issues. You move with the keyboard or gamepad analog stick, and do have analog movement with the pad. You cannot move with the d-pad though for people who would prefer that, not unless you use a keyboard mapper program that is. You duck with down, and can then quickly roll along the ground. You can often just roll right past enemies, as you are not locked onto screens until the enemies are dead and only take damage from enemy bullets and not from their sprites themselves. You can also jump of course, though not very high; pick up items, which requires a button press for everything other than the mini ammo pickups enemies drop; change weapons, with the d-pad on a gamepad; and shoot your gun, straight ahead only; you cannot aim around in this game, unlike many modern games like this. Given how much I often dislike mouse aiming in platformers I am fine with that and the game is designed around shooting people in front or behind you and not above, but bizarrely, the default keyboard controls put shoot on the mouse, even though it has no other function. Uh, what? Why? Finally, you have health and ammo bars. Items will refill this as you go. For weapons you start out with just a pistol, but do get some more interesting weapons later, such as one which lets you to take over enemies and walk them around. Still, the gameplay here is mostly simple. The controls are okay but not tight, and rolling around through enemies or watching them jiggle around as you shoot them may be amusing for a little while but it gets old quickly. Enemies do get harder as you progress, but there are only a handful of types. If you do die you respawn nearby and have infinite lives, though.
The level designs aren’t much of a help either. Levels in Rocketbirds are not entirely linear, so backtracking and exploration will be required as you hunt for keys or other items you can use. That’s fine, but it can sometimes be hard to tell what you can interact with and what you can’t thanks to the games’ very high-detail environments. The game does scroll, but it often flips between screens, through many doors, elevators, and more. Enemies won’t follow from one screen to the next, making that roll move even more useful. There are prompts for when you can pick something up, but still it is occasionally confusing. The huge sprites also mean that not much fits on each screen. In addition to the main gameplay, some segments have you flying around on your rocket jetpack. Here one button jets you forward, while another shoots. These parts are amusing, but simple and drag on a bit long at times. Hitting enemies can also be tricky, since the sprites in these scenes, opposite the rest of the game, are tiny. On the whole, Rocketbirds is an okay but below average game with very annoying music and decent but flawed and repetitive gameplay. It’s not bad, but I don’t like it very much. Some people will like this game more than I do, though, so check it out if it sounds interesting. Also available digitally for Mac and Linux on Steam as well as PC.