This episode of the Indie Zone has reviews for SteamSunk, Avatar Street Basketball 2, Asphalt Jungle 2 and Blocky.
Before we get on to the reviews, GameMarx are running a competition to where the grand prize is not one, but fifty Xbox Indie Games! Get yourself over to giveaway.gamemarx.com for all the details. You can also watch a trailer here.
SteamSunk – 80 :MSPoints: – Marketplace – Review by Matthieu
SteamSunk developed by Snape (no not that one) is a SteamPunk themed shoot-em-up where players take control of a steam powered boat equipped with a cannon as well as some other weapons/power ups with the purpose of surviving the onslaught of baddies in a circular lake arena. SteamSunk’s design which is pretty lackluster doesn’t do any justice to the genre, and all it brings to the table is a generic shoot-em-up that has you wondering when it will end.
To start off, the controls in SteamSunk are awkward and they obstruct the flow of what should be a smooth as well as intense gaming experience. You move with the left stick and aim with the right stick. However, shooting is mapped to the right trigger which encourages cramps especially when, holding down the trigger will be the main action for your pointer finger.The left trigger is for a temporary speed boost and Y is for the super mortar which most of the time is useless to due to the fact that it has a huge delay between when players target where they want to strike and the actual strike.
There is only one map which is a medium sized lake arena. The only think that changes are the randomly generated positions of some of the obstacles or environment props like oil rigs. So, looking at the same blue and brown environment not only grows old but constantly reminds me of lazy level design. I would of been happier even if it had one or two more maps and alternated between them.
Now game play is where the most problems occur. Each time I have played through SteamSunk I ran into issues where my bullets have to hit enemies at a certain angle or they will just clip right through vice-versa. Also, frame-rate was a huge problem when multiple enemies are on-screen, which happened frequently during any wave after wave three, and especially during bosses waves because, bosses usually spawned with multiple minions beside them. SteamSunk stuttered and spouted like an old station-wagon that needed a choke which was very frustrating. SteamSunk like every other shoot-em-up has the usual power ups like the missile launcher,Gatling gun, and flamethrower. But, in my personal opinion the gatling gun was the only useful power up in the game as the others usually clipped through or missed due to the A.I.’s unpredictable behavior.
The best things about SteamSunk’s presentation were its main menu design and music. The main menu was a 3D model of the inside of the ship model players control. While it doesn’t make up for the many problems the game has, I did feel it was one of the most unique things I have seen that many games in this current generation don’t have. Even for $1 (80 :MSPoints:) I don’t think I would have spent it to buy this Indie title as I feel as though it was still or should still be in production. Snape has great potential but more time is needed as well as patience.
Avatar Street Basketball 2 – 80 :MSPoints: – Marketplace – Review by Kyle S.
I’d like to open up this review with the developers description of the game, as follows: “Shoot hoops with your avatar to be the best scorer in the world! Six courts and six different game modes are waiting for you in the firts “basketball” game with zombies on it!” Yes, that’s a straight excerpt from the games page on xbox.com, which should give you enough warning to steer clear of this title from the get-go. If you’re feeling adventurous then be my guest and read on, as it can only get better from here right?
To start out, I’ll say that the title performs the functions as promised in the title of the game, allowing you to take your avatar on six different street courses to shoot hoops and rack up points, except it’s not actually competitive basketball, instead you’re presented with six different game modes where you play alone and shoot basketballs into one hoop (sounds fun already, right?). Despite the game playing out more like a basketball practice game, without anyone but yourself and the leader-boards to go against the game plays “well”. I say well in quotes because the way you control the distance the ball will travel from your avatars hands is by holding down either the A or X button for a specific amount of time, the longer you do it the farther the ball will travel with the measurement being visible from a ring that extends outward from your avatar dependent on how long the button is held. Seems like a simple control scheme that might be simple to master? You’d be wrong, as I found out the only way to really get “good” at sinking baskets is through trial and error, a whole lot of it too since there’s no precise way to tell how far you’ve launched a ball besides a little halo around your character. With the actual throwing controls being incredibly imprecise it makes experience pretty frustrating as I went through the various modes (on the easiest difficulty mind you) trying them all out hardly being able to get one basket in. Along with the shoddy button controls, the camera control isn’t too great either with an incredibly constrained angle of view that would sometimes get stuck forcing me to reset by moving my character back from the court.
So far on the list we’ve got both description, and gameplay that are less than mediocre. Good news, is that the graphics and soundtrack slightly make up for that. Graphics in the game aren’t incredibly bad, with some catchy eye candy here and there, as well as some creative basketballs shown here and there (Baby dolls for the hospital level, Heads for the cemetery level) yet, there’s not much to be seen with the basic vector design besides a few random avatars or props in the scenery. Besides some basic vector designs, and what I found to be a hard to read font on menus it’s a straightforward basketball arena with little frills on the six stages.
The soundtrack for the game is well, out of place. With upbeat electronic tracks on the levels, besides the one mellow track for the cemetery they make the game feel as if it’s going to be fast-paced and energetic like the electronic songs representing them. Instead you get a slow, easy going game where you’re trying to shoot some basketballs with a blaring chiptune track that sounds like it was taken straight out of a keygen. While the music is great if you’re a fan of electronic, or chiptune music you’re probably going to fall into the same boat with me here, seeing the music as simply out of place where I believe a more easy-going soundtrack would have been more appropriate.
All in all, Avatar Street Basketball 2 is a game I wouldn’t recommend to anyone even for the price of 80 :MSPoints: because of the faulty controls, poor camera, cookie-cutter visuals, and an inappropriate soundtrack. Unless you have your heart set on this basketball game, I’d research others in the genre, or just a different game altogether as it’s unlikely you’re going to get much fun out of the game. To tack onto everything above, the intro cinematic for the game was the developer holding a camera to his TV in order to get some gameplay footage. Really, download the demo and see for yourself.
Asphalt Jungle 2 – 80 :MSPoints: – Marketplace – Review by Kyle S.
Now I know what you may be thinking, with a title like Asphalt Jungle this game has to be some quick-paced action-adventure racing title, right? Maybe it’s a take on the movie of the same title? Well, I’m sad to say it’s neither in this case. What you have instead is an interesting take on the modern puzzle game, as you play god with tracks of street and rotate them to keep your car on the right path while it’s in motion. The concept for a puzzle game is pretty interesting, but Asphalt Jungle is far from groundbreaking.
As is the case with most games in the puzzle genre, the control scheme for the game is rather simple: point your cursor with the left stick / dpad to select a track of road to rotate, and the A button to rotate the selected piece of road, simple as that. While the controls might be simple, the gameplay can be pretty challenging trying to select the right tracks, and change them appropriately to secure the vehicle’s pathway to stay within the point limit, and even on easy I got my ass handed to me. With all that accounted for, despite simple gameplay (and one game mode) I can easily see myself wasting a good bit of time on this if I’m looking to just kill time as I would with any puzzle game, however the lack of variety in level design might steer me away from doing so.
What Asphalt Jungle 2 lacks in gameplay, it doesn’t make up for in graphic design. I’d be hard-pressed to say the visuals in the game are bad, but they’re very basic in every way, from the very small variation in tracks as you progress through levels, to the bare-bones text menu layout I get the feeling the developer was getting a little lazy with the sequel to his original game. That’s that as far as the graphical end goes, as there’s really very little variation or anything that pops out on your screen, despite the game being simple in design I would have liked to see something that shows the developer put a lot of time into this, not basic text menus and simple textures for everything. The only element that stood out to me was the choice of soundtrack for the title, where an appropriate soft guitar plays through all the levels, yet I didn’t hear much variation as I progressed through the levels so you may get tired of hearing the same loop over and over again. However. a calm soundtrack for a calm game goes together perfectly, which was a nice touch to an overall lacking game.
In the end Asphalt Jungle 2 is another pass in the book, with boring uninspired visuals, a non-varied soundtrack and basic gameplay that’ll only keep you entranced for so long before you start reaching for something else. While at the price of 80 :MSPoints: I still wouldn’t reach for the title, even if you’re looking for a decent puzzle game I’m sure you could find one with much more polish out there for the same price on the wild, untamed XBLIG marketplace. Feel free to try the demo though, as always, you might enjoy steering around your little car with your almighty hands of god for a few hours.
Blocky – 80 :MSPoints: – Marketplace – Review by Kyle S.
Block, blocky, blocky. Where to start on this odd title? Well, you play as a standard gray block, with a big happy smile on its face as you go around a free-floating 2D landscape eating enemies, collecting points, powerups and killing bosses as you progress through the waves upon waves presented to you. Sounds interesting, playing as an overly happy block with one soul purpose, to survive and collect as many hats as you possibly can as you level up, no? I sure thought it did mainly because how random it feels to just get thrown into the world of a nameless gray block on a quest to level up, collect currency called moneky, and occasionally turn into a indestructible hammer. Yes, all of the above listed happens, and more.
As mentioned, in Blocky you’re thrown into the middle of a square 2D arena to float around and complete whatever objective is presented to you in the ‘wave’ mode which can range from destroying enemies, collecting points, or simply staying alive for a minute or two. Each time you complete one of these objectives you’re awarded a set amount of experience points that goes towards leveling up to increase blocky’s overall speed, the range of blocky’s “hammer time” which will be explained in just a moment, increase the range of blocky’s internal point grabbing magnet, or increase the spawning rate of power-ups and value of moneky all through the amount of blocks assigned to each category. To explain, blocky’s hammer time is an ability you can buy from the in-game shop for twenty five moneky that will turn blocky into a giant hammer you can use to smash enemies using the left and right triggers. In addition to hammer time, you can also buy a protective shield for blocky, the ability to place two sets of portals on a level, or an ability that’ll reduce the speed of all enemies on the level you activate it on. With all of those buy-able items listed, I personally found them to be pretty useless as you can easily get through all of the levels off of the power-ups hat drop based on the challenge you’re on.
All in all, the wave mode of the game is the more interesting one, with a slew of worlds and challenges to complete with a simple easy to pick-up-and-play style of game play that will last you a decent amount of time, provided you don’t get bored of the stale visuals after a while. On the other hand, you have Blocky’s other game mode, entitled simply ‘retro’ mode. In Retro mode things are a lot simpler, where you start off with no goal except to survive as long as you can against a horde of enemies with only one life. I found retro mode to be entertaining for a while, but as you’d expect it gets pretty stale after the fourth or fifth time going around, starting from the beginning having to regain my ground again.
While the gameplay in Blocky is pretty solid, with everything working (and dare I say it’s even fun for a while) as you might have seen above this game has one massive downfall: the graphics. Hear me out here, I’m not expecting AAA style graphics from these small developers but a series of plain gray menus, the apparently badly-cropped Blocky himself, bland enemies, and the various little things that show a lack of polish really brought this title down. Again, gameplay is fine here but the odd layout for the title with some really odd choices for sprites and backgrounds make this title really visually unappealing. Hopefully the developer learns he needs a new graphic artist for his next title, because I believe he could make a really spectacular game if all the elements come together unlike the mess that was Blocky.
On that sad note, I’m glad to say that there’s one really great part to this game: the soundtrack. Yes, I didn’t expect much from the soundtrack of a simple casual game like this either but I must hand it to the developer for choosing the musical stylings of the “Assam Tea Junkies”. Really, the soundtrack goes with the gameplay very well, and is pretty widely varied giving the game a nice atmosphere despite the not so spectacular graphics so there’s a glimmer of hope yet for this title.
When it all boils down, I wouldn’t say Blocky is terrible but it’s a victim of some really poor graphic design overall that really makes it hard to recommend. But hey, if you can see past the graphics and to the decent gameplay and spectacular soundtrack you may find yourself spending an hour or two beating the wave campaign. As with all indie games I find hard to recommend you’re best bet is to try out the demo first and see if it’s worth your time, if not I’d just give it a pass or consider the fact that the game features a variety of hats and give it a second chance (I’m looking at you TF2 players).0