The Indie Zone – Episode 21

The Indie Zone is back after its Christmas break with reviews for Xbox indie games Grand Class Melee, Millie & Telly and Castle of Pixel Skulls.

Grand Class Melee – 80 :MSPoints: – Marketplace

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Short review: Thinking is for the weak, just buy this for a dollar already. You’re a fool if you don’t. 

Your first thought with Grand Class Melee might be how it shares a striking resemblance to the original NES/SNES Final Fantasy titles, I know it was sure mine, and to have your title associated with what’s believed to be one of the best titles of all time is not a bad first impression by any means. I was really surprised with Grand Class Melee, with what first seemed to be a simple top-down 2D figher turning out to be an incredibly in-depth, immersive, and competitive experience. 

I’d like to note before getting too in-depth with the gameplay that for best results I’d have four actual, real life people playing with you. That noted, to start off the game you’re introduced to a simple tutorial outlining your choices in the game from the five starting classes of Squire, Neophyte, Apprentice, Page, and Savant each bearing their own specific strengths and weaknesses. As you progress from the first round onward you’ll be granted access to a new ability with a new class (the title gave it away) forcing you to abandon your primary one currently, to swap it out for a different (and possibly more effective) one, but with that you’re granted the ability to choose one of your previous abilities to use as a backup. As you go through the various rounds you’ll go through a good variety of classes with a grand total of sixty different options in all to choose from, which kept me going back for more and more to test out the different abilities and how well they work with each other.

Besides the abilities you’re granted with, you’ll be given a simple melee weapon (tying in the melee part of the game) depending on what class you chose that all basically act that same with different skins, and are modified depending on what abilities you posses. Despite the simple swing and lunge attacks and the two ability options at your disposal at any given time I’ve found the combat to be beautifully simple, adding in enough depth to have me playing for hours on end but simple enough that I could have anyone pick up and start playing the game with me (and potentially kick my ass, I know the bots have more than once).  All in all, the gameplay is a delight, as I can easily see myself going back time and time again to see what kind of damage I can do with all of the setups, swinging and stabbing my way to the top. 

As I tend to do a lot these days, I’ve mentioned a good point up two paragraphs above about how the graphical style of this title reminded me of the original Final Fantasy titles, giving the game a nice retro charm to those that can appreciate it. That same charm paired with some masterfully done sprite work on the varied landscapes, characters, and abilities themselves leaves a very good impression of how a game emulating the classic style should be done, with everything oozing with beautiful 16-bit glory.  Another thing I liked was the menu layout, while it may be simple it stayed consistent with the theme and used more than some plain text to spice things up. Paired with the awesome medieval-styled soundtrack you get flawless execution of a consistent theme, and for that I am thankful, and happy to see and listen to this game. That said, the music in this title really is fantastic, with a pounding, epic menu title to get you pumped up to go slaughter some innocent bots, to the frantic battle themes. All around fantastic music, it’s hard to give it justice without you hearing it for yourselves, so go listen to that right this second. Right now, the rest of the review will be waiting when you get back. 

Alright, glad to see you back, but if you didn’t leave for shame. But as you may have been able to tell, I really like this title, from the simple-yet-compelling gameplay, to the nostalgic visuals, even down to the pumping soundtrack always there by your side from start to end of the game. If you’re a person who enjoys competitive gameplay, hopefully has a few friends around with that same love, and a burning desire to decimate said friends (or bots) this game will keep you entertained time and time again, all for the ridiculous price of 80 :MSPoints: where I would easily pay 400 :MSPoints: for the same amount of fun and content packed into this little indie title. I don’t say this too often with indie games, which is a shame, but you should go purchase this title right now, right this second. And I’ll give you my promise if the bots can’t hand your ass to you at least once on one of the difficulties I will refund you the dollar you paid, from me to you. 

Millie & Telly – 80 :MSPoints: – Marketplace

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No, no, this game sadly has nothing to do with Millie Vanilli regardless of the similar names of the star and main character. I was as disappointed as you might be, but the actual game itself makes up for the lack of horrible pop stars. The game revolves around Millie and her sentient robotic jet-bike, Telly that she simply rides around and uses the weapons outfitted on to shoot down a near endless supply of both red and manila colored robots.

I’ll start off on the gameplay saying the opening of this title is hard, very, very hard. I had a tough time with any of the selection of four levels from the start constantly getting shot down time and time again. Besides the immense difficulty, gameplay is solid and smooth with simple controls using the left stick to move, the right stick to shoot, and the left and right triggers to absorb either bullets or energy using the two different shields and utilizing two different color bullets for the two different color enemies, simple as that. With the shields in mind, at the start your shield will last maybe 2-3 seconds making it near-impossible to utilize, jacking up the difficulty level making it hard to use one of the simple features of the game, but this does improve with upgrades as you further progress. Besides the shields at the start, the game is a brutal, masochistic scrolling shooter with excellent, well-working controls with a decently long campaign (seeing as it’s one dollar) and various other extra modes to complete once you finish the campaign. One real complaint I have with the game is the lack of checkpoints which wouldn’t be much of a problem but the levels are incredibly long, and dying near the end is incredibly frustrating. 

Visuals in Millie & Telly really pop out, being vibrant, colorful, varied and eye-drawing in an interesting cartoony pop art style bringing some much needed variety to the usually bland graphical style shown in a good bit of other XBLIG’s. That all taken into account, the characters, enemies and environments look sharp and unique with a good bit of variety, although you’ll notice some striking similarities in the backgrounds for the levels, and you may even get tired of seeing pretty much the same thing through the long levels besides a few elements or two. I wouldn’t call the graphics bad, but scenery could use something to draw my eye, even if I’m focusing more on killing everything that pops onto the screen. Good gameplay and graphics will lead you to believe the music in the title would be decent, maybe even good, right? Well you’d be right there, following the trend Millie & Telly mixes in some interesting tracks to go along with the fast-paced levels, with upbeat energetic music tacking on to the gameplay. While the music is good, you might notice the songs being reused, much like some of the graphics showing little variety, yet the track being re-used is a fairly decent track, after the long levels you’re bound to be tired of it after a while. 

All that accounted for, Millie & Telly is a decent one dollar title, but could be better  if more time and effort was used to show some more variety both musically and graphically. Despite the shortfalls, gameplay will keep you engaged for a few hours earning its worth, if you can withstand the brutal series of levels presented to you without quitting the game. 


Castle of Pixel Skulls – 80 :MSPoints: – Marketplace – Review by Ellis Spice

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Welcome to a world where castles are made from skulls which are in turn made by pixels, and where you have to get everywhere within a minute…. OR ELSE! According to the developer, this game is both a ‘fun retro-styled platformer’ and the ‘craziest and most addictive platformer game ever’. Well, is it?

To put it bluntly… no. For a start, the game’s soundtrack is as basic as you’ll get, with the music playing over and over in the background. Sure, it makes a noise when you beat a level, or pause, but that’s just the same track restarting. Great. At least the graphics fit the style they were aiming for, with the 8-bit like stylings and zoomed out perspective definitely giving this game the retro feel they were aiming for, with the various obstacles in your path very clear to see against the dark background.

The gameplay was always where this game was going to win or lose, and having played the game for a while now, I’m still not really sure what side it falls on. The controls are at a bare minimum, but that’s not what I’d describe as a bad thing as this means the game itself is fairly easy to pick up and understand. The game only requires 3 things from you; to move using the left stick or directional buttons, to jump with A and to attack every so often with X. See, simple!

Of course, the game also has a simple premise to go with it’s simple controls. All you have to do is reach the goal before the time runs out, and the timer always starts with 60 seconds. Sounds easy enough… Except, very quickly, it isn’t. If… Sorry, WHEN you die (because, believe me, you WILL die!) you get taken back to the last checkpoint, and seeing as the game never tells you when these are, you better bloody well hope you passed one. The clock keeps running, so reaching that goal in time is vital, because if you don’t, it’s game over for you.

And when I say game over, I mean it. This game doesn’t have any save functions at all, so it’s back to the beginning with you. I know they were going for a retro feel, but that’s just plain evil! As a result (and this may just show how crappy of a gamer I am) I never got past level 4. The amount of times I reached that level, got past all the previous obstacles, only to then just kept dying until time ran out on the final one in level 4 would have been funny if it wasn’t so annoying. However, it might not have all been my rubbish skills. I’d believe it was also the result of poor level design and that they simply made it too damn difficult, as there never seemed to be enough time to complete the level with time allowed for human error.

In the end, this game is seems to fit slap-bang in the middle of good and bad, with all of the positives outweighing the negatives evenly. It somehow manages to be neither amazing or rubbish. Really, for the small price of 80MSP, it wouldn’t be a complete waste of your money, but if you actually want a ‘fun retro-styled platformer’ for the same price, go buy Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes. Trust me on this one.


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