April 06, 2012

The IndieFort Bundle, Because Nothing is More Fun than a Fort

This post was also published on Indie Game Mag.

Since all the cool kids are doing it, popular digital distribution hub GamersGate has entered the bundle ring with a hell of a release. The IndieFort bundle is designed to promote their new IndieFort program, a subdivision of the site to cater to indie developers. Better still, it looks to be about as fun as an actual pillow fort. But pillow forts are pretty awesome, so do the games compare? That's what I'm here to figure out.

The bundle is a minimum of $5.99, with any extra money going straight into the pockets of the devs, no cuts. Since it's being run by GamersGate, the bundle doesn't provide any extra codes beyond adding the game to your GamersGate account, obviously. Platformwise, all of the games are Windows only besides Cardinal Quest, which oddly enough includes a Linux version, but leaves the Mac edition out. Currently you also get the Steel Storm and Cardinal Quest OSTs, with more music and games to come as more people buy it.

But for now, let's concentrate on these six games. The IndieFort definitely skews towards niche genres, so if you're a total nerd like me you should find something to appreciate. Skip past the break to learn more.

[images via Indie DB]
Developed by Lo-Fi Games

Kenshi is the only alpha game in the pack, so keep in mind that you're not buying a full game here, but a work in progress. Unlike the fairly far along Indie Royale Alpha Fund games I reviewed a while back, Kenshi definitely lives up to its alpha status. It's rough, it's prone to errors, the performance is pretty terrible and there isn't much to do yet beyond trading and looting and wandering. Yet despite the unfinished nature of the game, it's easy to see just how awesome it could become.

The main appeal is just how unique the game in both setting and gameplay. The world of Kenshi is a near endless desert, with a few tiny towns separating vast tracks of dunes and crags. It's not post apocalyptic, or sci-fi, or any of those desert excuses. It's just a desert because deserts look amazing and are wonderful to travrse. The artwork for characters is not quite as polished as the environment yet, but the samurai style is something that's underused in games, and needs to make it in more. The thought of an open world RPG in which you play as a samurai, wandering the desert from town to town and fighting against bandits and raiders makes me absolutely giddy. It's a fresh, new setting that I never realized I wanted, but I find myself crazy for it.

Gameplay is also interesting, but much rougher than environment. It's an RPG RTS hybrid, somewhat like games such as Baldur's Gate or Dragon Age in that you can pause to command and configure each party member separately during combat. However, it's on a much larger scale, and your personal ronin band can number up to fifty members. It's a huge scale to work with, and while you'll probably never reach the limit without a ton of hard work and effort, the fact that you can have a party of fifty angry samurai just makes me giggle. While there isn't much to do with your honourable army yet, each party member can be seperately equipped and trained into different roles.

The closest game I can compare it to is Mount & Blade, except entirely seamless between wandering and battle plus with a lot more detail in the gorgeous environment. Mount & Blade had a very similar alpha release, and they quickly became one of the most innovative and fun RPGs out there. I have a good feeling Kenshi could do the same. Still, there's a ton of stuff to be implemented. The path-finding is wretched (which should be fixed soon), there's not nearly enough variety to the content, managing your party can get unwieldy and the performance and bugs can get annoying. But the underlying concept of the game is incredible, and I will certainly be stopping in down the road to check things out.

Just a warning to would be bundle purchasers, the version packaged by GamersGate is out of date. Simply download the latest version from IndieDB instead, and then use the serial number GamersGate gives you to activate the copy. Easy as that. It's all good now. Download away from GamersGate.

Cardinal Quest
Developed by TameTick

Hot on the heels of a different bundle with an indie roguelike comes Cardinal Quest. Unlike the very difficult Hack, Slash, Loot, Cardinal Quest is very user friendly and low maintenance, and somehow manages to boil down the core concept of a roguelike to an even easier base structure. If you've never even touched a roguelike before, Cardinal Quest is a great introduction to the basic style. It's fast paced, it's very friendly and it's not all that challenging. I still quite liked it as a roguelike fan, but people used to more hardcore adventures might get a bit bored of the lack of challenge.

Why is it easier? Well, Cardinal Quest takes a very difficult genre and guts out all of the complexity. Take items for example. Inventory is totally managed by the game for you. Step on a pair of boots, and the game instantly decides if it's an upgrade or not, and then either equips or sells the loot right away. Sometimes you might find a sidegrade the game can't decide on, but for the majority of the time you just need to stomp your way through the dungeons while your computer dresses you. Another distilled element is potions and spells. Every potion is identified right away and added to a toolbar to await your dire need for +3 strength. Spells and skills are similarly added to a sidebar, and can be used at will by any class so long as the ability is lit up. Each one has a cooldown, but it's generally short or can be alleviated by waiting around in a safe room. The spells run the usual fare a la healing and fireballs and such, with a few other tropes thrown in like stealth and berserk rage.

There are three classes, each with certain perks. However, you need to think of the classes not as character traits but as a way to choose your difficulty, or more accurately pick your desired complexity. For example, the warrior is near bulletproof and can generally just stomp into any situation without getting too worried over health. It's fun, but the roguelike connoisseur would want more. The thief is an amazingly fun class with an invisibility functionality that emphasizes hitting baddies without being hit in return. It's a lot more dependant on good skill management to survive, but can scrape by in a fight. The wizard is entirely skill focused, and entering a one on one fight without a fireball up your sleeve is a quick way to a game over. You need to completely focus on positioning and timing of skills to have a lot of success.

It's definitely one of the easier roguelikes I've encountered which is going to be a pro for many people. Unlike other casual roguelikes along the lines of Hack, Slash, Loot and Dungeons of Dredmor, Cardinal Quest is perfect for someone just learning the genre. Vets might enjoy experimenting with the skill pick-ups and tougher classes, because I certainly did, but the emphasis here is on fair play and lowered difficulty. I mean, this is a roguelike with extra lives. How many roguelikes are willing to do that?

If you're still not sure, there's a lengthy demo on Kongregate.

Black Market
Developed by Big Block Games

I'm a big fan of space trading sims, but sometimes it seems like there's a lot of extra junk added in. In many of these trading games, especially the not so great ones, the general gameplay just descends into warping from station to station, dropping junk off and loading up more in complete monotony. Black Market is a great attempt to cut some of the fat bogging down the ridiculously complex genre by completely rethinking it. By moving the space segments to a board game-esque galaxy, and turning the battles into quick turn based affairs, Black Market reinvents a genre that tends to demand days of your time into a fun casual experience.

Despite what I just said, the game does keep most of the typical Freelancer style trading elements. As a newly awoken pilot with no clue of your past, you jet from planet to planet carting goods and undertaking missions. There is a main storyline, but it's more or less an extended tutorial for the free-roaming mode. Still, the dialogue is fairly amusing, if a little too frequent, and the storyline zips along with just enough intrigue and mission variety to keep the game fun. Outside of the main missions, the side goals are all fairly standard procedurally generated fare based around gathering materials and fighting off baddies. It's the structure we've been getting since Elite, which is exactly what you'd expect from a space trading game.

Less typical is the base gameplay. The galaxy is laid out as a series of nodes on a top down view, a bit like a world map or a board game. There are a series of beacons connecting major trade routes, but you can go off the beaten path into uncharted spaces to take short cuts or seek out pirates. On this screen you can jet to new planets, which are basically pretty looking menus like most trading games, but there's a good chance you'll run into trouble eventually. There are dozens of other ships roaming the map at the same time as you, and running across a hostile ship takes you to a battle. Battles are heavily influenced by JRPGs; they're real time but somewhat hands off as your ship pilots itself. You just need to mash the keys that correspond to your weapons and shields, and click on the enemies flying back and forth above you to send the attacks on their way. It's quite a bit of fun to furiously tap buttons and watch the explosions, and it's surprisingly tactical when it comes to activating shields at the right time and blowing up targets in the most efficient order.

It's a fun formula, but admittedly it doesn't have a lot of staying power. Still, I for one can appreciate a game that just aims for a quick and easy burst of fun. Just like Cardinal Quest, Black Market takes a traditionally hardcore and sometimes monotonous genre and turns it into a fun bite-sized casual game to fool around with for a few hours.

Still on the fence? Go ahead and try the in-browser demo if you're curious.

[images via the official site]
Wanderlust: Rebirth
Developed by Team Wanderlust and Reflect Games

Say what you will about the sorry state of community on places like Xbox Live, but the marriage of internet and multiplayer has been a net positive for us; at the very least, it has been a massive influence on gaming as a whole. Wanderlust: Rebirth is a very neat game that takes some of the best, most nostalgia fueled gameplay of the past and combines it with the online multiplayer that would not have otherwise been possible if the game was as old as it looks. It's something that six year old me would have loved to have as I sat playing Secret of Mana, sadly staring at the second controller my three year old brother was too dumb to pick up.

Speaking of Secret of Mana, that's been the general buzzword thrown around the internet when asked about what exactly Wanderlust is. I'd have to agree; the game is definitely working in that Secret of Mana vibe, and it's not just because the game has that neat radial menu thing with the spells. The basic game is a top down hack and slash romp, centred around slicing up enemies with three other players. There's a loose framework of narrative, a few side quests here and there and some very gorgeous pixel artwork with an odd fixation on bears. The artwork looks like it was ripped straight from a SNES RPG classic. It's great work.

To keep things varied and fresh between four friends, the developers have added four separate classes which, surprisingly, all play quite differently. I started my game as the mage character, and was somewhat annoyed by the fact that it just seemed like a top down shooter, and boggled by the complex magic system (it's somewhat like the element system in Magicka, but you pick your combo ahead of time and save it to one of two slots). Upon restarting as a fighter, I realized the game was completely changed. Now I only had the keyboard to control my avatar, and there was some nice melee mechanics built in like counters and customizable attacks based on my stance. When many games make nearly no distinction between classes, it was wonderful to be surprised by the variety in mechanics and controls.

If I were to guess, the distinct classes thing is part of the game's slight MMO influence. You certainly don't have to play online, and beyond activating the game to an account the first time you could never run into a single online element. But regardless of how anti-social one is, the focus on coop plus the emphasis on loot, treasure and crafting definitely makes me think of some other MMO-lite fare along the lines of Dungeon Defenders. If you can find three friends to pal around with over the fairly lengthy storyline (and it shouldn't be hard with the IndieFort bundle being at such a cheap price point), you'll have a nostalgia fuelled blast.

If you want to give the first three levels a shot before buying, check out the demo.

Devil Whiskey
Developed by Decklin's Domain (originally Shifting Suns Studios)

Devil Whiskey is mind boggling. It's absolutely insane that a game like this can exist in this day and age. I mean, it's insane enough that a game like this existed in 2004, when it was originally released, but even more insane that it's been quietly chugging along, building up a tiny dedicated fanbase until eventually coming to GamersGate in time for the IndieFort bundle. I mean, right now all eyes are on recent indie darling Legends of Grimrock for bringing back the Dungeon Master style of games, but here's Devil Whiskey quietly building an entirely new game that's gets its cues from an even older source. Madness.

After reading up on the wonderful forum community for the game, I found out that Devil Whisky is essentially a hypothetical Bard's Tale 4. Yeah, that Bard's Tale. Like most older than dirt RPGs along the lines of Bard's Tale, Might and Magic and Wizardry, you construct a party based on a series of classes more or less ripped from D&D, enter a grid based world where you walk in the compass directions and kill things. The game basically pulls the entire engine and interface straight out of the 1985 release, so expect things to be confusing and primitive. You're going to get used to typing letters for commands. You're going to be juggling eight different inventories. More than likely, you're going to be hand drawing maps on a sheet of grid paper out of game. Yeah. You think you're all retro because you've beaten Baldur's Gate? Welcome to the big league, kids.

Honestly, I'm probably both the absolute best and worst person to comment on this game. I absolutely love these kind of games. I go nuts for old dungeon crawlers, which is bizarre considering I wasn't even born when many of them came out. While I think the idea of a brand new Bard's Tale style game is awesome, I can recognize that it's probably not going resonate with most gamers. Even so, I'd argue that it's worth a shot. The game allows for a few concessions, such as mouse based controls to alleviate the keyboard requirement, and minor helpful convenience perks. There's a lot of in game explanation too; while in Might and Magic you had to look up a spell's code and effect in the instruction book to find out what it did, Devil Whiskey explains it all in a helpful pop-up description. If that's not quite enough, there's a ton of mods and resources to help you out, including a mega-mod pack that, among other things, introduces an automapping feature. One particularly amusing mod converts the game into a remake of, you guessed it, The Bard's Tale.

More so than any other game in this pack, Devil Whiskey is going to be a love it or hate it title. If you're willing to try some pre-1990 RPG goodness, this is a fun follow-up to those old classics. If you think you've been spoiled by modern gaming with things like waypoints, quest journals and the ability to move diagonally, you'll probably be baffled by it.

One final note. The reason it's called Devil Whiskey is because the town has been paralysed by a shipment of cursed booze known as Devil Whiskey that causes people to become violent and drop into silent stupors. Guys? That sounds like just regular whiskey.

Like most of the titles in the bundle, you can download a demo. Right here, actually.

Steel Storm: Burning Retribution
Developed by Kot-In-Action

Steel Storm: Burning Retribution is a game with a long and varied history (thanks to @sbenrap on Twitter for the interesting interview). Originally part two of a freeware episode one, it's gone through revisions, updates, tweaks and modifications since the original release. I distinctly remembered playing it way back when it was part of the Humble Indie Bundle 3, but I didn't much care for it at the time. One very mild pet peeve I have are games that show a bit too much of the backend, and Steel Storm felt like each level was running off of a dedicated server. But still, that was then and this is now. I don't know if I was just doing it wrong, or if it's all the dedicated updating work Kot-In-Action has done, but Steel Storm: Burning Retribution is a pretty great top down shooter. It's flashy, it has a good weapons system and it's quite fun to play, especially with a game pad.

First, let's go over what I really like. The game looks awesome, with excellent flashy lights for the weapons and cool cel shaded graphics for the many bad guys you face. The environments are detailed and quite varied, and the game runs incredibly smoothly even with a lot of pizazz on the screen. The angle is quite unique as well, finding a balance about halfway between a traditional top down shooter and a third person car combat game. The weapons are all slowly unlocked throughout the campaign, and you can pick and choose what to equip based on the situation at hand using a booth at the entrance to each level. The weapons all look excellent as well, particularly the special attacks. A giant honking laser? Sounds good to me.

There's a few glaring issues I feel like I should bring up and it all seems to centre on the level design. The levels are just not well crafted, and too many of them require utterly pointless back tracking. I'd have no issue if the game respawned the enemies and forced you to fight your way back to whence you came, but aside from a few half hearted weaklings you're mostly retreading through empty corridors. Why? The second half of the second level has you fight to the end, flip a switch, unlock a gate, fly back through nothing, flip a switch and then fly all the way back to the exit gate. It just doesn't make sense.

Still, this certainly isn't a dealbreaker, as most of the time the backtracking never adds more than a minute or two. Honestly, the fluid and fun combat more than makes up for it. As someone who always liked cruising on a Ghost in Halo games, this feels like someone blew those segements up into a fully loaded vehicle shooter. It gets even better in cooperative missions with a few other players zipping around and exploding things. You don't have any friends and you hate people? There's a great deathmatch option as well. Overall, I had way more fun with Steel Storm: Burning Retribution than I remembered, and I wish I'd given the game a second chance earlier. If you're looking for a bit of mindless vehicle shooting fun with a few friends, Steel Storm is a solid choice.

You can download the first episode here, and also try a Burning Retribution demo on Steam or Desura.

That's it for my take on the IndieFort, and while I wouldn't say it's the greatest bundle of all time, it certainly is the most intriguing and varied bundle to come along in a while. There is a pretty wacky mix of genres on sale here, so I'm sure you can find something to please. If you're interested then head on over to GamersGate to pick up a copy, because I want those bonus games unlocked soon, thanks.

As for me, you can find bundle reviews and more here on the Backlog Journey, or follow me on Twitter, Facebook or even Google Plus for the latest and greatest of my game critic career.


  1. This is one of the best indie articles I have read in a long long time! Great job!

  2. Thanks for the great article. It convinced me to check out the bundle.


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