READING THIS REVIEW REQUIRES THE ‘GAMES ET AL DLC PACK’.
Hehe I’m funny.
DLC Quest caught my eye as one of those little indie games that you look at and think “huh, that’s a cool idea”. The premise is simple: you must defeat the evil bad guy. Problem is, the standalone game does little to aid you in doing so; to complete the game, you’re going to need some DLC.
Very much a commentary on what the industry has sadly become, DLC Quest requires you to use in-game money to buy DLC in order to fulfil your goals. DLC ranges from simply adding jumping or music, to weapons, life, and so on. In this sense, it reminded me of Evoland, as the player continues to progress through an ever evolving game.
The gameplay itself is extremely straight forward – a 2D platformer that reminded me of old Sega Mega Drive games, particularly with the environment detail and hidden caves, I felt like I was play James Pond. Anyone? James Pond? Ahh nostalgia. Ahem. The map itself is relatively small, and you will find yourself going backwards and forwards to complete objectives, but the game is just long enough at about 2 hours that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It also features a lovely little 16-bit soundtrack, including some atmospheric pieces reminiscent of old RPGs!
Overall, humour is what drives this game forward. As mentioned, it is very much a satire on the current state of DLC and the sheer ridiculousness that surrounds it. DLC Quests parodies various unfinished games (requiring you to purchase DLC to continue) as well nods to well established franchises such as Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, Minecraft and Plants VS Zombies. Aside from this, DLC Quest is also full of its own self-referential humour that will keep you smiling as you slave over hunting down coins to buy the overly expensive season pass (that enables you to traverse the ‘Winter Zone’), or the HD pack (tinting everything with a lovely sepia tone).
The game consists of two short campaigns, each lasting about an hour. It’s a fun way to kill some time if you have it, whilst making you think about how crazy the downloadable content market has become. I’d recommend grabbing it if it’s on sale, but wouldn’t really spend more than a couple o’ quid. There isn’t really a lot else to say about this game, other than if you want a quick, chuckle-worthy pastime, get yourself a copy. Another 69p well spent!
Back in the days of early generation consoles, the 2D platformer was the pinnacle of technology and the staple design for many iconic games – think Sonic, Golden Axe, Earthworm Jim! With today’s modern graphics and technological developments, the humble 2D platformer is more often than not swept under the rug like an easy to conceal bag of incriminating evidence, save for prevalent series such as Mario. Dust: An Elysian Tail (yes, ‘tail’, not ‘tale’) is a game that revamps the 2D platformer dynamic and thrusts it salaciously into the modern day. It falls under the umbrellaing category of Metroidvania (or Castleroid) – action/adventure with RPG elements. This is a game done right.
When I first booted up Dust on the ol’ PC, I thought that I’d wandered into some sort of My Little Pony/furry fan’s wet dream. This was largely due to all of the characters being anthropomorphic animals, drawn in an anime fashion. Fortunately, as I began to play, my initial worries were quickly cast aside like yesterday’s ham.
Playing Dust feels a bit like you’re watching an anime film. The cutscenes look remarkably like a 90s Studio Ghibli film, which is a compliment when (aside from the voice acting, soundtrack and a bit of the writing), Dust was developed by ONE PERSON. According to various online sources (Wikipedia), Dust’s lone developer, Dean Dodrill, is a self-taught illustrator and animator. It’s outstanding, then, to think that this one person not only developed this entire game, but also drew it. Anime is one of those genres that retains a certain magic when it’s hand drawn, and Dust definitely brings this magic to life. Both the character models and settings are truly beautiful and well imagined. The world feels alive, buzzing, and full of fleshed out characters.
Indeed, one of the game’s best features is its design. Character costumes are pretty incredible. The protagonist – the eponymous Dust – wears an iconic sedge hat, instantly setting him apart from other characters, who tend to wear more traditional casual Korean gear. He also holds his sword with his backhand, so you know he’s cool. Each character feels unique, with the exception of some enemies – but even they are palette swapped to add a bit of variety. The backdrops across the game, along with the well-designed levels, also follow this anime-esque model, and as a result create the rich, varied explorable world that Dust: An Elysian Tail is set in.
The game opens with Dust awakening one day in a pretty little grove, lost and confused. He is quickly greeted by in-game companion Fidget (a kind of cat/bat/weasel thing, who, although very annoying, is awfully endearing…like a Tara Strong character) and a legendary talking sword, Ahrah. Together, they must thwart the malicious General Gaius, who is committing mass genocide across the country, and find out who Dust really is. The story is quite compelling, though not the game’s strongest point. It’s interesting, but predictable, and quite typically anime. Again, it reminded me of a Studio Ghibli film – mixing that wondrous feeling of magic and humour with a slightly darker, mature undertone. It touches on subjects such as war, morality and redemption, but it won’t leave you wanting to discuss the plot with your fellow comrades around the watercooler at work on Monday.
As mentioned, the level design is another of the game’s highlights. Each explorable area is divided into several ‘rooms’, for lack of a better word. These rooms fit together like a jigsaw, clearly indicating which side access points are on. This means that you won’t just be travelling right all the time, as with games of yore, but also up, down and left. This, along with the use of height levels, secret areas and explodable walls, adds great variety to each level – nothing feels like it has been copy and pasted.
Throughout the game you can also collect keys to unlock chests, which contain money and food. Food is used for healz, and ranges from a modest lasagne, to a slice of birthday cake, and even some Korean inspired dishes. Keys also unlock cages that contain a variety of ‘friends’. Purely Easter eggs, these ‘friends’ are characters from other indie game such as Super Meat Boy or Bastion. You can go and chill with them in the Sanctuary. Which is a nice way to take a break from killing things.
Dust’s combat utilises both hack ‘n’ slash and RPG elements. Fidget can use her magic to help inhibit enemies, whilst Dust attacks with the standard two button combat controls, which you can mix up to perform a handful of combos. There are only like….three, but chaining multiple attacks together, along with adding Fidget’s magic to the mix, can create a lovely dance of destruction. The flow of combat has been quite masterfully tailored, with fluid battle animations and responsive controls that you can jump, dart and dodge your way around the battlefield seamlessly. The RPG elements come into play in the form of experience, which can be used to buff Dust up and increase the damage that Fidget deals. The levelling scale is a little off, however. When you first enter an area, combat is…no exactly difficult, but slightly challenging – you have to keep on your toesies. But once you level up a couple o’ times, you obliterate anything in your path. This includes bosses. There are only four boss fights, with a handful of mini-bosses, but none really pose a threat. The last boss, who requires you to fight him four times, is the most challenging, but even then, on normal difficulty, he wasn’t a problem at all. I only died a couple of times throughout the game, and that was largely down to my own hubris when fighting a bazillion enemies at once. I have no idea what the fighting is like on a higher difficulty, but with levelling up and the various augments that you can equip to up your attack, it’s all pretty easy. Speaking of, I was disappointed that the game doesn’t feature a New Game Plus option once you complete it. Seems like it would be a good way to offer some replay value to a game that has none. Also, if you try and exit an area whilst you’re still in a fight, a little notification pops up which sounds an awful lot like the old Windows Messenger sound. That’s pretty irrelevant to this review, but I thought I should mention it. Sorry.
TO CONCLUDE. Dust: An Elysian Tail is a good game. Not amazing, but definitely worth playing if you can cough up the dollar. I completed the game with 111% out of a possible 117% (I couldn’t be bothered to do the challenge maps) in about 8 hours or so, so add on a couple of hours for level grinding and completing the previously mentioned challenge maps, you’re looking at a lifespan of about 10 hours (IGN reckons 20 wut). It’s beautifully designed, and amazing when you think that the majority of it is one person’s work. The voice acting is pretty swish too, and you could be mistaken for thinking that you’re watching an anime film (fun fact, the game actually started off as a film called Elysian Tail). There are also plans for a PS4 version to come out soon, which is gonna look sweeeet. So yeah. If you like fun, quirky, 2D hack ‘n’ slashes, then definitely go and check out Dust. If not, well, Shadows of Mordor is out soon so…
As I write this I have only actually played about 25 minutes of the game. I had to stop because oh my goodness my head is now spinning. What caused this cranial conundrum? Read on to find out…
I picked up The Bridge because it was 69p on Steam’s midweek madness. Last time I got a game for that price I was extremely pleasantly surprised (see Tiny and Big review). Published by Quantum Astrophysicists Guild and developed by Ty Taylor and Mario Castañeda, The Bridge is pretty much everything you would expect from an indie title – innovative art style with thought provoking gameplay. You play as an unnamed inventor-type fella who awakens from a nap after an apple falls on his head à la Isaac Newton style. From the level hub that is his house, you navigate your way through a series of puzzles to…well, I’m not sure why because I stopped playing…
The reason I stopped was because after completing the first of the four chapters my head was screaming at me to lay down. See, The Bridge utilises a physics engine, and the primary gameplay has you rotating each of the levels to manipulate gravity in your favour. It’s a cool concept, and allows you to traverse the M. C. Escher style designs by moving giant balls or swinging chains in your favour. But, for my poor little head, this trippyness proved too much, and I had to stop. I was enjoying myself though, so I will definitely scuttle on back later after digesting a few more litres of water. For you, dearest read o’ mine, it may be different, and your head may survive the disorientating gameplay. I hope so.
The game’s art style is completely hard drawn, and compliments the gameplay. Each level begins with your character being sketched into the puzzle, and that (along with the ability to rotate the levels at will) gives the player the feeling of an omnipotent being. Perhaps that will become more apparent in the game’s story as it progresses? Get all meta ‘n shit.
The accompanying soundtrack is nice too. It isn’t too distracting, but jut apparent enough to create an almost ominous atmosphere throughout the game (that, and the looming threat of a ball-like foe named the Menace…he is the thing of nightmares).
It’s clear that The Bridge has taken inspiration from other successful indie games, notably Fez, Super Meat Boy and Braid. Coincidentally the three games featured in the must-see Indie Game: The Movie. That’s probably irrelevant. The level design is somewhat similar to that of Fez in the manipulation of space. The Super Meat Boy inspiration comes from the kind of cool idea that you can see everywhere you have died. And finally the game is very reminiscent of Braid in its drawing stlye and the fact that you can essentially rewind time if you die. These are not criticism in any way – if something works, why not utilise it? I’m just making an observation – if you enjoyed those games, you will probably like The Bridge.
There isn’t really much more to say about The Bridge. It’s current full price is £6.99, and whilst I will probably attempt to continue playing at some point, and although it’s pretty pretty and quite innovative, I think that the overall experience will become a little tedious eventually. I may be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But we’ll see. A lot of indie games do now seem to just implement a unique art style and call it a day (I’m currently playing through a game called Secrets of Rætikon that seems to be doing pretty much that…review will come soon).
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was released in 2013, developed by Swedish company Starbreeze Studios (who also did the Payday games, which is kind of odd) and directed by Swedish director Josef Fares, who wins the handsome smolder competition. Like Child of Light, we’ve got a real European feel goin’ on here. Also like Child of Light, one could instantly dismiss Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as being ‘indie-bait’ – the art style, gameplay, type of story and unique elements that make up the game are all those that make game reviewers rave about what an outstanding experience this is. But don’t let that deter you. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is truly a unique game, and only taking up about three hours of your time, it’s definitely one that you should check out. I can only rave about what an outstanding experience it is.
One of the aspects that makes Brothers a stand-out game is the control system. You play as two brothers, believe it or not: the younger Naiee and the elder Naia. A controller is required to play this game, as you, the player, manoeuvres each brother individually using the two analogue sticks. The shoulder triggers are also used to enable each respective brother to talk to other characters, grab ledges and generally interact with objects. That’s it for the controls. Simple? Non. As the game is played from a third-person overlooking view, you must keep the two brothers within a certain distance of each other at all times. This means, more often than not, controlling both Naiee and Naia at the same time. Believe me when I say you’re going to have to take numerous pauses throughout the game to reassess your bearings. Controlling one brother with one half of the controller and the other brother with the other half is difficult enough, but then you get an instance where they cross over and suddenly the right half of the controller is controlling the brother on the left and ahhhhhhhhhhhh. As such, rushing through this game is pretty difficult, which is great because if you take your time and absorb the surroundings you will get a much richer experience. Which leads nicely onto another aspect that makes Brothers such an outstanding experience.
Brothers is presented in an entirely fictional language that sounds a lot like Simlish (NOT SWEDISH!), an as such, the immersive story is told and interpreted pretty much entirely through gestures. Some critics have argued that this distances players from the characters and restricts you from really caring about them, but I disagree. By interacting with NPCs, exploring and really making the most out of the game, you can get a real feel for the brothers’ personalities: Naiee, the younger, is a bit of a mischievous dick but means no harm really, whereas Naia is a bit more gawky/cool in a Zac Efron in High School Musical kind of way.
The game opens with Naiee mourning at the grave of his mother, who drowned when she seemingly fell out of a boat, and Naiee was unable to save her, thus living with the guilt of her death. Naia beckons his brother over, as they must take their ill father to the village doctor, who then sends them on a mission to retrieve water from what is probably called the Tree of Life in order to save him. Thus their quest begins! Throughout their quest, the brothers must traverse through various lands to reach their goal. It’s these atmospheric environments that makes the game really feel alive. At first I thought the game was just set in your standard medieval work, but oh-ho I was wrong! The journey is an adventure, and along the way you’ll meet an array of interesting characters and settings that will make you want to just sit and appreciate how populated this world feels. It also really made to want to play Minecraft. There are various benches scattered across the world that allow you to just sit and enjoy the view for a while. This was a game that was meant to be enjoyed, not rushed. To make the world even more immersive, there are also several little side-quests along the way. These are very short, but offer a greater insight into how this world works, and how its inhabitants live. It’s an outstanding experience.
Ultimately, the Brothers is a puzzle game. To get from point A to B, Naia and Naiee must overcome various obstacles using teamwork and brains. These puzzles aren’t particularly challenging, but are still enjoyable for the most part. Some get a little tedious at times, but they always politely excuse themselves and leave when they have overstayed their welcome, like a good house guest. My personal favourite was climbing a giant tower, using momentum and PHYSICS to aid me along the way. Such an outstanding experience.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a game about relationships, overcoming fear and moving on from death. It would be cool to offer a co-op option, where one player controls one brother, which I’m sure would lead to some hilarious hi-jinks, but then I think that that would deduct from the overall impact and point of the game. Whilst at times I did get a teency weency bit bored, the environment and atmosphere sucked me right back in and made me want to play more. The Steam price of £10.99 is a little high for the three hours or so of gameplay that you will get out of it, but if it drops down to around £6 or so, I definitely recommend playing. Also you can abbreviate the title to Brothers: ATOTS, which is fun. It’s a real outstanding experience.
This game popped upon Steam’s midweek madness for 69p, so I thought YOLO and bought it. Oh my goodness I’m so glad I did. This is by far the best 69p I have ever spent.
Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers has you playing as the character Tiny – a Tim Burton-looking technophile with a squeaky voice – as he tracks down his nemesis (and possibly brother?), Big, who has stolen his grandpa’s heritage: a lovely pair of underpants. Accompanied by his trusty grappling rope, laser cutter and rocket launcher, and friendly talking Radio, Tiny sets off into the desert to foil Big’s plans, whatever they may be, and get back Grandpa’s underpants.
The story throughout this three hour campaign is pretty funny, witty and very enjoyable. It’s not convoluted or complex – it just does exactly as it says on the tin. It’s silly, charming and wonderfully presented. Aesthetically, the game looks like something from a cartoon, with a very cool hand drawn and cell shaded look, mixed in with the aforementioned Burton-esque character design. The environment is beautiful and immersive, and despite the fact that only two characters (three including the Radio) really exist, the world feels weirdly populated and not at all desolate.
The best part by far of Tiny and Big is the gameplay. Or, rather, the physics engine. As I mentioned, you are armed with three tools – the laser cutter, which is used to slice up giant rocks and structures; the grappling hook, used to pull things; and the rocket launcher, used to…well, launch things. With them, the world is your oyster! Using a sandbox environment, the game allows you to make your way from point A to point B with no real right answer – how you do it is up to you. I had too much fun cutting up massive statues, watching them collapse, then attaching a rocket to the rubble and sending it flying into space. It’s just very satisfying, if that’s what you’re in to. The physics engine is brilliant in that near enough every object in the environment is responsive – that is to say, you could cut up a large rock into five pieces, one of which falls and hits into a statue, causing it to collapse and unexpectedly smush you. True story. It was hilarious. It’s a game that rewards exploration and initiative thinking, with over fifteen individual songs to collect throughout the game by various lesser-known artists, which means you can be a total hipster about knowing them.
There isn’t really too much more to say. The game is short but sweet, but personally I would love to see more from developer Black Pants Game Studio! It’s currently 69p on Steam, reduced from £6.99, which is still worth it to be honest as the game is littered with achievements, adding mucho replay value. My screenshots don’t really do it justice as it’s hard to hit F12 at the exact moment of awesomeness, so go on: spend 69p. I mean, what’s that…like…a Mars Bar? You don’t need any more of them, fatty.