Review – Glow Arcade Racer

Somewhere, deep beneath the earth’s crust, lies a factory that makes rubber bands. One day, this factory was raided by the developer behind Glow Arcade Racer, and every rubber band in the factory was stolen.

They were then melted down and converted into AI.

Glow Arcade Racer is a hyper-stylish top down racer. It really does look very nice indeed, and as you race the camera sweeps around so that you can always see what you need to see. It looks quite wonderful in motion, which is obviously the first thing that anybody will notice about the game.

It plays brilliantly as well, to a point. You have only the most basic controls, RT to accelerate and A to fire a weapon but that’s all you need and you lose speed automatically as you corner, depending on how tight you take the corner. This means that driving smoothly rewards you with the fastest laps. If that sounds like it’s unusual, it’s not, it feels completely natural from the very first corner you go around.

And then you reach “the point,” the point where the gameplay stops working entirely. Unfortunately, the rubber banding of the AI in Glow Arcade Racer is so bad that even Mario Kart would blush.

My suspicions were roused quite early. I had made six or seven attempts at this one track, and every time I managed to get a small amount in front, I would be caught up and passed. It was literally impossible to pull out into any kind of lead. Progression in Glow Arcade Racer is linear, and so you only unlock the next track by winning the previous one. This meant that coming 2nd, 3rd and 4th over and over again meant all I could do was keep replaying this same race and I just couldn’t win, no matter how well I was doing.

Suspicious of the presence of rubber banding, it was time to experiment. When the next race started I just stayed on the line for ten or so seconds. Then I went. Then my controller’s batteries ran out and instead of the game pausing, I was just spinning around in a circle for a while as I hastily rooted through a drawer in search of a play and charge kit, then plugged it in. Finally connected, off I went, and the rubber banding went into overdrive. I managed to catch up all the AI vehicles within a few laps, and went on to win the race.

It was completely ridiculous, and makes the whole racing experience feel nothing short of pointless. It’s a shame really because the feel of the racing itself is really nice, and with an included track editor it has so much potential for making wonderful tracks to race on. It’s just that none of those races would be in any way fun.

Glow Arcade Racer is available now for 80 Microsoft Points.

Animate Pixels in 3D with, er, Pixel Animator 3D

If ever there was a game that did exactly what its title implied that it did, it’s Pixel Animator 3D. Well, it’s more of an app than a game, but whatever.

For 240 of your Microsoft Points you can make 3D models, and then add frames to them with the ultimate goal of making your own little cartoon, or bizarre slice of weirdness as in the trailer above.

I had a few issues getting used to the controls, to be honest, but if you’ve got the patience to persevere with them you should have a lot of fun with this. It’s better than another fucking Minecraft, anyway.

September 2011’s Best Xbox LIVE Indie Games

It’s October now, which means it’s time for a round-up of the best (and worst) of what September had to offer. Alundra and Arkanoid, mainly. So enjoy!

Click here for the actual enjoyment.

Review – Wizorb

Wizorb has been slightly misrepresented in trailers, but that doesn’t stop it from being pretty cool.

The impression most people have of the game is that it’s a cross between Breakout and RPGs, with sweet pixel art. In reality, it’s Breakout with some very light RPG elements, and super-sweet pixel art.

The game is very much focussed on the Breakout aspect. In each of the five worlds, you’ll face 12 levels and then a boss level at the end. Levels are colourful and brilliantly designed, but the game is still standard Breakout stuff, mostly. You’ll move your paddle left and right and deflect a ball to break all the blocks in the level and then progress to the next and you’ve got three lives in which to reach the end. You can continue three times and extra lives are available throughout the levels, but it’s not always easy to get to the world’s boss and it’s almost recommended that the game is played on “easy” which gives you a couple of extra lives per continue, it really makes a difference later on.

The bosses are excellent. While sometimes they’re as simple as hitting them with the ball, sometimes they require a little more strategy than that, and that’s where the magic comes in.

You have a few magic spells at your disposal such as a fireball that fires from your paddle and destroys a block, a fairy that lets you manoeuvre the ball directly, and a few others. They’re always ready as long as you’ve got the MP to cast them, with your MP replenished by collecting potions which fall from certain destroyed blocks.

There’s more to think about than there would be in a basic Breakout clone, then, and between balancing magic and thinking about angles and lives and gold there’s a lot to contend with. It plays really well, and in hours of play there wasn’t a single instance where I thought a death wasn’t my fault. That’s a positive that can’t really be stressed enough. In so many Breakout clones (and there are so many on XBLIGs, even) the paddle is difficult to control. It’s too fast, or it doesn’t stop quickly enough, or the momentum is all wrong. Wizorb gets the movement completely spot on, absolutely perfect. When you want it to move somewhere, you’ll be able to put it exactly where you want it at exactly the speed you want to put it there.

The Breakout side of the game is excellent, but the RPG side of it is lacking. It’s not bad, or anything, it’s just very light. There’s a basic plot about a village that’s been destroyed which you can pay to restore using gold coins you collect in levels, but there’s not really any focus on this at all if you want to ignore it completely, you could do, because it doesn’t have much impact on whether or not you’ll complete the final world, the rewards you get from the RPG side of the game are just things that you can get from destroyed blocks in the levels anyway.

It’s not really an issue, though. The RPG side of the game may be light but it’s the Breakout side of it that you should be here for because it’s a really tremendous rendition of it. Combined with magic, bosses, and some secret hidden paths in levels that unlock a super-attack, there’s loads of variation in the gameplay and it’s something I happily sat and played to completion, enjoying every minute.

Wizorb is available now for 240 Microsoft Points.

Review – High Gravity Wells

High Gravity Wells (get it?) is a game that basically nobody will buy, which means that it’s a game that basically nobody will realise the aceness of. You should download it, then you can make all your friends download it and tell them how you liked it before it was cool.

You should also download it because of the aforementioned aceness.

It’s a puzzle game. It’s an action game. Aczzle. Puction. I dunno. It’s both. Deal with it.

You have to direct your little ship to a space station, but you don’t have anything in the way of thrusters. It’s like the anti-Hypership Out of Control, you have nothing but brakes. What you do have, though, are gravity wells. Up to four are present on each level and you can operate them with the various face buttons at your disposal.

When you activate one, your ship will be attracted towards it and if you keep it turned on, your ship will orbit it. You can then turn it off and your ship will be thrown off in whatever direction it currently has momentum in. Or, you could just turn the wells on in turn to manoeuvre the ship around between them without actually going anywhere near them.

You’ll need to use various different methods to get your ship to where it needs to go, avoiding the many hazards that litter the way. Black holes that have a gravity field of their very own and will irreversibly pull you in. White holes that repel you at speed. Asteroids that, well, it’s pretty obvious what happens when you come into contact with an asteroid.

The whole game is wrapped in the incredibly simple concept, then, and it’s impressive how much variety there is in the levels despite that. That’s where the puzzling comes in. Getting to where you need to go is all action, but working out a sequence of buttons that gets you there can often be difficult – which isn’t to say that then performing said sequence is easy. If you want replayability, how’s this: each set of eight levels scores you on how many times you die while completing it. The last set isn’t particularly easy to bring in under triple figures; reckon you can do it?

High Gravity Wells has “ignored” written all over it. It’s just one of those games that, no matter how good it is, people just won’t try it. Especially with the amazing luck that sees the game released on the same day Microsoft put half it’s XBLA catalogue on sale. Don’t be part of the problem, you won’t regret giving it a go.

High Gravity Wells is available now for 80 Microsoft Points.

Review – The Fall of Gods

There was a point in The Fall of Gods, half way through a trade-chain, where it became obvious to me how much I loved the game. I don’t want to tell you what it was, it wasn’t even a significant moment, just the tiniest of touches that shows how much a developer cares about their game.

Trade-chains are a fairly big part of The Fall of Gods. You’ll be wandering the world trading various trinkets for other trinkets all with the ultimate aim of getting an all-important trinket or as at the end of a few of the chains, a level up. If you’re familiar with Zelda you’ll be familiar with this kind of gameplay; the world is full of people that need specific items and it’s up to you to find them. This is something that’s always really annoyed me about Zelda. There, the hints are vague at best and it’s often pure luck whether or not you’ll speak to an NPC and just happen to have the correct item. Most of your time is spent wandering aimlessly, hoping for that chance encounter.

The Fall of Gods doesn’t suffer in the same way. NPCs are always clear about what they’re after and if you can’t remember, often it will be marked on the map anyway so there’s almost always somewhere to head for. Not that there aren’t times where you’ll be stuck. Horribly stuck. I know exactly where you’ll get stuck. The world is so pleasant though, the music so calming, that it just didn’t matter that I didn’t know where I had to go because I was happy just wandering around. The world is large, but it never feels prohibitively big and so everything feels within reach, even when you don’t know what it is you’re reaching for.

To say something of the gameplay, the initial Zelda comparison still stands but at the same time it feels a bit more like Alundra to me. There are a few dungeons in the game and they have enemies, puzzles and bosses as you’d expect. Most of the ten hours (which is a conservative estimate) will be spent exploring the overworld, though, and the game puts much more focus on this aspect of the game. While most of the puzzles are in the dungeons, there are some in the overworld too, and even some Layton-esque riddles about the place if you can find them.

Combat is real-time, see an enemy on the field and rush over to them and smash them with your sword, or from afar with your bow and arrow. There are a number of magic spells too, and these can also be used in combat though are more often used to interact with the environment to aid progress. The weapons, too, can interact with the environment in various ways, and by the end of the game you’ll have fifteen or so things between your inventory and your spells that you can use in the wild.

And you’ll have a tennis racket because you’re sure someone somewhere needed one of those.

What’s important, is that it all works really well. Combat isn’t ever particularly difficult, which just means that you’re free to explore. I have a (quite rational) dislike for games that encourage exploration and then bog the player down in needless combat, but The Fall of Gods gets that balance perfect. There’s loads to explore, too, in a world full of hidden caves and secret passages, with all of them leading somewhere. You’ll find new armours, new shields, and all kinds of other things.

Such is its scope and ambition, there can be bugs now and then. They’re not common, but it’s recommended that you save often anyway. You can save anywhere, so it’s only ever a problem if you forget, albeit a fairly frustrating one when it happens. That certain indie “rough around the edges” charm manages to feel just that, charming.

Everything about The Fall of Gods is that, really. The story, the world, the music, the dungeons, the puzzles. I was expecting another generic RPG when I began it, but somehow it got its claws into me and I have nothing but absolute love for it now. Just ask her to play for you. You’ll see.

The Fall of Gods is available now for 240 Microsoft Points.

Wizorb Coming Next Thursday

Yes, yes indeed. RPG/Breakout hybrid, Wizorb, is being released next Thursday. This calls for a lazy news post where I just post a picture of the tweet that confirmed the news while adding nothing of substance!

Sometimes I even write things of substance underneath images. Not this time.

Review – Angry Fish

Angry Fish is some kind of joke.

It’s the follow-up to FishCraft, a game that could only have copied Angry Birds any more if it had been called “Angry Fish.” It turns out though that people weren’t buying the game, apparently too stupid to realise that they were being offered Angry Birds, and so the game’s sequel has been released as, er, Angry Fish. That should make the morons understand, eh?

Thankfully, the developer ditched the “Angry Fish RYO” crap that was so shameless that Rovio’s lawyers would have sued everyone in a twelve mile radius into oblivion if they’d found out about it, but this is still inexcusable.

Gameplay-wise, it tries to be Angry Birds and nothing more. It plays exactly the same as that game does, only shit. It has the same birds, sorry, fish. The same colours. The same powers. The same scoring. The same three-star rating system. Angry Fish brings literally nothing new to the genre and it doesn’t even try to, it’s just an attempt to trick people out of money with the allusion that the game has something to do with Angry Birds. It’s a complete con, then. Perhaps worst of all, the game has literally no merits as a game because it doesn’t even work. If it was at least a good game its existence could be forgiven but it’s not, and it doesn’t even manage to meet FishCraft’s low standard, losing a third of its levels for a start.

It also contains all of the same bugs as that game did; levels that tell you that you’ve lost while they’re still in progress that you’d then go on to “win” and have to replay anyway. Levels that you lose that then don’t fail you for over 60 seconds.

Then it adds a whole bunch of new bugs too, which I suppose is as close as the game comes to “new content.” The yellow bird fish is supposed to charge at structures at speed when you press Y, but instead it tends to just warp straight through them as if they weren’t even there and has literally no effect on them. The physics of the game are entirely broken, planks of wood float in the air at random or fling themselves up off the floor at 500mph with no accelerant. The pigs cats just disappear at random sometimes clearing levels without you needing to shoot a bird. FISHGODDAMNIT.

If the game had any positives at all, I’d put them here. Unfortunately, there aren’t any. It’s even full of Comic Sans, for goodness’ sake. Anyone with access to Xbox LIVE Indie Games probably has access to a device that Angry Birds is available on, and it’s coming to Xbox LIVE Arcade in the future anyway so soon they definitely will. There’s just no reason at all to suffer through this vastly inferior rubbish.

Angry Fish is available now for 80 Microsoft Points, which is 81 more than it’s actually worth.

いれかえまほちゃん Doubles in Size; Adds English

I don’t really know what いれかえまほちゃん is called. When I say it adds English, it adds it everywhere apart from the title, which could be anything. Google seems to think part of it is “swap,” which makes sense. Swap isn’t much of a game title though.

Anyway. This game came out last year and is a really cool single-screen puzzle-platformer. You have to get to the exit before time runs out, and the only way to get there is to jump and to exchange positions with enemies by shooting at them. Swapping places with enemies can get you through walls or higher up in the level, though not all walls can be warped through.

The game was updated today, and now has a bunch of extra stuff. It has English text in the menus and in the levels themselves. The time limit for every level has been extended to a minute from, in some cases, as little as ten seconds. There’s also a new awardment system for faux-achievements.

Best of all, though, there are fifty new levels. For a game that had fifty to begin with, that’s a pretty hefty update, and it’s free if you had the common sense to have already bought it! Just launch it, and you’ll be prompted to update.

For everyone else, it’s available now for 240 Microsoft Points.

Hypership Out of Control – Now on iOS!

This might be the only piece of iPhone/iPad news this blog ever carries, so you should be very excited by it. Unless you don’t have an iPhone or an iPad, in which case you’ll need to go to the shop and buy one.

Why? Because Hypership Out of Control, one of the best Xbox LIVE Indie Games there is, has just been released on iOS. It’s more awesome than ever!

You fly through space with a jammed accelerator and knackered brakes, in what is some kind of cross between Zone mode in WipEout and an endless runner. You’ll crash. You’ll die. But how long can you last before it happens? How high can you score? And how many Game Center achievements can you get before it happens?

There are four different modes, ten completely redesigned waves from the XBLIG version, awesome music, and controls which are basically perfect.

Get it here for a dollar or 69p or whatever that translates to in your region.