Reviews for Pixel-Blocked, Rainbow Runner, Star Ninja and Pixelbit Helicopter Challenge are in this episode of The Indie Zone.

UPDATE NEWS: Tobe’s Vertical Adventure has been updated with the new playable character Nana, and is now available for purchase on steam! Personally this is worth checking out for the new update, even though we did cover this title in the past here.

Pixel-Blocked – 80 :MSPoints: – Marketplace

It’s been quite some time since I’ve touched an indie game that I really enjoyed, but that changed when I launched Pixel-Blocked on Xbox LIVE. Pixel-Blocked is a puzzle game and requires you to fill in block puzzles to create pixel art images. Vancouver-based developer, Damni Games, has managed to create a game that easily captures your attention with its quality and simplistic presentation.

Players are presented with 8-bit inspired puzzles that you need to fill in by firing blocks into specified spaces. However, to fill in all spaces you’ll need to work in a certain pattern by rotating the puzzles in a 360° manner. The game features three difficulty levels (plus a bonus mode!) and each level offers up its own puzzles so there are over 180 levels to play in all and you can earn up to a three star rating on each. You’ll have to fill in the same puzzle image six times, but it changes things up in many ways. New hazards like magnetic blocks, crumbling blocks and more will force you to think, but at the same time you’re trying to get a low completion time. When you make a mistake you can use a missile to destroy a block, but they’re limited so you have to stay vigilant. If required, you can quickly restart the puzzle from the pause menu. Since puzzles can be beaten in mere seconds, restarting isn’t an issue whatsoever.

The 8-bit inspired style is eye-catching to a particularly large crowd, especially fans of retro gaming. Many of the pixel pieces of art are common images that you’ve seen before so the game offers some familiarity in that sense. Puzzles feature a dynamic background of a blue sky with clouds floating by –  maybe even the occasional jet plane too. Its soundtrack is pretty fantastic as well and it features five tracks composed by PodingtonBear. The soundtrack isn’t 8-bit itself, but rather a mix of tunes that will have you humming along in no time. I’ll make a quick mention of the sound effects because they’re awesome – but if you’ve played Super Mario Bros. then you’ll recognize a few of the sounds.

Pixel-Blocked is a quality title and puzzle fans should have no reservations of picking this title up considering the low price point it’s available at. 180+ puzzles, a fun and bouncy soundtrack, and the retro-ific style make Pixel-Blocked a worthy purchase. More information can be found on the Xbox Marketplace.


Rainbow Runner – 80 :MSPoints: – Marketplace

Rainbow Runner is a hybrid title that released this summer on the Xbox LIVE Indie marketplace and it features some basic platforming techniques mixed with the twin-stick shooter aspects. The game offers four modes including arcade, endless, wall hero, and boss rush. There’s no multiplayer option so this one solely goes out to you single player gamers.

Progpixel Games market the game as a hybrid title, but at times I feel like the genres just don’t blend together properly. Of the five difficulty levels available, I really can’t find myself enjoying the gameplay when I go past the beginner/easy levels and it becomes more infuriating rather than fun to play. Arcade mode is a mix of everything the game offers and you’ll be auto-sprinting through a dark world filled with rainbow colored enemies and various colored walls flying toward you. You can destroy enemies easily by firing with the right stick, but to pass through walls safely you need to change your characters’ color to match the walls. There’s no legend on-screen to tell you this, but the color of the Xbox controller face buttons match those of your character. Hitting ‘A’ turns you green, ‘X’ makes you blue, and so on. On tougher difficulties (normal and higher), you’ll be trying to focus on enemies and walls simultaneously and it’s just too much.

You’ll encounter bosses if you stick with the arcade levels long enough, and while they’re sort of cool to see, they all seem to feature a simple pattern of attack that can usually be easily avoided. Plus, there’s no visible health bar and after a random period of aimlessly firing at them they’ll just die. The remaining modes in the game are basically a breakdown of everything arcade mode offers, but one thing at a time.

The rainbow style of visuals along with the techno-like soundtrack did get my attention at first, but there’s not a ton of variation aside from what you’ll encounter in the first 10 seconds of playing. The soundtrack is semi-enjoyable for a few minutes but the loop does get old rather quick.

Rainbow Runner isn’t a bad title, but I think they should have leaned towards a standard shooter title, or may put a little more effort into the platfoming aspect… since there isn’t much of any at this time. For 80 :MSPoints: it’s a title I wouldn’t mind owning as a casual game to pick up and play for a few minutes at a time, more so if you like a challenging title and you like to push yourself to top your own best scores. More information can be found on the Xbox Marketplace.


Star Ninja – 80 :MSPoints: – Marketplace

Star Ninja is puzzle game developed by Bounding Box Games and it’s available on the Xbox Indie marketplace. The game only features single player support, but its addictive nature will surely take its hold on you.

Once again we have come to the situation involving Pirates VS. Ninjas – who would win? In the case of Star Ninja, he clearly has an advantage over the unsuspecting pirates in this game. Featured in the game are four modes of play: Focus, Frenzy, Campaign, and Speed Run. Each of the four modes feature the same levels but with different rules. There are 50 levels per mode and you’ll need to do 1/5 of progression in the first two modes to get the remaining modes unlocked, but this can typically be done in a few minutes. Each level is a puzzle where you play a stationary ninja who must use shurikens to defeat all the pirates placed throughout the level. Shurikens bounce off most surfaces but they’ll stick to wooden crates. In Focus mode you have to use a limited amount of them to knock out all pirates – straight shots, bounces – whatever other techniques work to win is what you’ll have to use.

Frenzy mode will feature unlimited shurikens, whereas the campaign and speed run will save your progress and give you bonuses based on stars used to win and the speed of completions. While the levels are the same in each mode, the different goals keep you interested just enough to keep playing. Each level varies wildly in design and the inclusion of basic physics-based gameplay makes things even more fun. You’ll fail often, but it’s a trial and error game that you just don’t seem to get angry at because it’s that enjoyable.

Although I was initially turned off by a semi-messy looking title screen and menus, the levels themselves are well-designed. The graphics are like a cartoonish style and each level seems to have different backgrounds with non-interactive pirate ships and more. The music felt pretty fitting for the pirate theme of the game, but I feel like the sound effects sounded too compressed and I couldn’t always understand what they were saying, not that it has any effect on the gameplay.

Star Ninja, despite my initial reservations, is a truly fun and addictive puzzle game that I’d very much recommend you check out. Fifty levels with each one being more challenging than the next, score tracking on the main menu and four modes of play make it very worthy $1.00 – go buy it, Gamer-san! More information can be found on the Xbox Marketplace.


Pixelbit Helicopter Challenge – 80 :MSPoints: – Marketplace – Review by Kyle S.

Pixelbit Helicopter Challenge sounds like another run-of-the-mill XBLIG that popped up in the vast sea of Indie Games as of late, but boy would you be surprised with this title. Beginning the game you’ll be placed into a room of a typical household asked to fly your R.C. helicopter through hoops, on platforms, through stars and even shoot at a few well placed targets through the five stages. Sure, it seems simple enough to breeze through the game with the starting pair of helicopters, and while it starts out easy enough for beginners it can be quite the challenge getting all of the BONUS letters to unlock the secret stages, and rack up the golden trophies on each of the thirty plus levels. Now, you’re probably wondering how the controls are for a simulation game and thankfully Pixelbit really pulled through with the dual analog stick controls that make maneuvering the tricky flying courses a real challenge without shoddy controls to drag the game down like some other simulators I can think of.

To pair with the solid controls, Pixelbit brought together a household full of beautiful obstacles, textures, and of course, helicopters making every bit and piece of this game a cartoony masterpiece. The simple and childish environments bring back good memories of the simple household, represented with the bright beautiful rooms of each part of the house from the kitchen, to the attic, even to the bedroom. All in all the styled picked and used for the game fits it perfectly in every single way, and especially for an XBLIG are beautiful.

Amidst the tricky obstacles placed in front of your toy helicopter will always be the humming relaxing background music to calm your nerves when the game proves too tough. While not always noticeable, the music is always there playing a variety of tunes for the different areas keeping things interesting and upbeat through all five areas of helicopter ability. While nothing too interesting, the music is perfectly fine for the game, and very mellow and calm to keep from throwing the controller at the wall in the trickier areas (at least in my case.)

If you’re a huge fan of flying around helicopters, and have 80 :MSPoints: to spare you are in for a solid few hours of fun and frustration through the thirty levels of the game. Oh and if you manage to beat all the levels in a short amount of time, go back to 100% it, I’m sure you’ll be rewarded with a few new helicopters for your effort. Here’s hoping Pixelbit games keep up the quality titles in the  near future.