April 20, 2012

A Spring in your Step with the Indie Royale Round-up

This post also appears as a multi-part guest article on IndieGames.com.

Indie Royale returns with another fantastic bundle, this time with six fresh new interesting games. There's a great tower defence with a ton of atmosphere, a neat action RPG with several new tricks up its sleeve, a beautiful retro platformer, and three great games from an awesome shoot em up dev.

Better yet, the bundle offers much better Mac support and a variety of options for downloading your games. And if you pay more than $5.00 (or the equivalent in your own currency) then you get Danimal Cannon's chiptunes jam session Roots. Not too bad at all. Check past the break for my usual commentary on the games offered.

Unstoppable Gorg
Developed by Futuremark Games Studio
Platforms: Windows, Mac; Steam, Desura, DRM Free

This time around the Indie Royale brings us another tower defence, which is great because I just love them and also great because it gives me another chance to ruminate on the game design of tower defences. To revisit an old favourite discussion topic, I mentioned in my rundown of both Defense Grid and Sol Survivor that tower defences usually fall in one of two design directions. You have the clever genre fusing entries which combine tower defence with other game styles a la Sanctum, Orcs Must Die and the Busker made (and utterly fantastic) Pakkuman Defense. Then you have more straight-laced defence games like the aforementioned Defense Grid, which tend to concentrate on providing the best possible "traditional" tower defence through lots of polish and perfecting of the usual formula. Of course, my little pet theory can be utterly proven wrong by games like Unstoppable Gorg, which manage to take the winning traditional formula and adds completely unique game mechanics without simply resorting to a genre mash-up.

Unstoppable Gorg is a retro throwback, but not in the way you think. Instead of being presented as a throwback to retro gaming, the team at Futuremark have crafted a loving homage to the retro future world of 1950s cheesy sci-fi movies. You are Captain Atom, Earth's premier space explorer and the last hope of stopping the presumably unstoppable Gorg invasion. It's rare for me to call out the cut-scenes as a highlight of a game, but in this case it is both necessary and well deserved. The small snippets of newsreel footage recorded by the developers offer up every bad B movie trope they can think of including UFOs with visible strings holding them up, robots constructed out of cardboard and tinfoil, a brilliant shot of a prop planet exploding, an announcer straight out of 1940s radio and plenty of stock footage. If you're a fan of watching hilariously old and cheesy B movies a la Plan 9 From Outer Space, or you're just a complete Mystery Science Theatre freak like I am, the cutscenes alone are worth checking out.

Luckily the gameplay is no slouch either, presenting a great take on tower defence that puts a unique spin (gag) on things. The basic structure is class tower defence, with the usual gamut of towers of varying effectiveness and utility. The unique element is the way both your towers and your enemies have a fair amount of flexibility. The field is divided up into several orbital paths, with built in spots for towers. By grabbing one of these paths, you can spin all of the satellites in the same orbit around the circle, allowing you to reposition your towers at will. Similarly, the projected path of the enemy may change, or occasionally multiple paths will appear, so you need to orient your towers to the best possible defence plans on the fly.

It seems simple, but that one new element is a fantastic addition that changes up the formula drastically without reinventing it. The spinning towers mechanic is a unique and interesting gameplay aspect that, to my knowledge, has never really been used before. It solves the common problem of lack of player interaction that most tower defence games suffer from, and it does so without transposing the gameplay to a different genre so it retains the very classic tower defence gameplay. Unstoppable Gorg is a game that hits all of the traditional tower defence check marks, but still manages to make it a fresh experience for vets of the genre.

All of this, plus those retro cutscenes that are just really outstanding. If you like sci-fi cheese, tower defence games, or both, you really owe it to yourself to check this game out.

Still not sure? If you want a bit more depth, I did a review of this game a while back on New Gamer Nation.

Depths of Peril
Developed by Soldak Entertainment
Platforms: Windows, Mac; Steam, Desura, DRM Free

How about something a little different for this bundle. Depths of Peril is a hack and slash action RPG that will feel right at home for longtime Diablo players and World of Warcraft fans. You've got your attacks, you've got your abilities, you've got your health and mana, you've got your clicking and you've got a bit of mindless looting fun. However, Depths of Peril transcends most Diablo clones by building in an overarching strategy that seems to borrow heavily from Civilization, with even perhaps a few DotA elements. It all adds up to a game that isn't quite like any other. Confused? I'll try to elaborate.

I should say that I don't think of the term Diablo clone as an insult or a bad quality. Whatever your feelings on it, Diablo overall is an excellent game and it's not surprising that other developers use the same great gameplay base to build their own adventures. Depths of Peril, like most of these types of games, apes the best qualities and makes the main structure of the game just straightforward hack and slash. You pick your class from one of four, grab some quests from townsfolk and go to town on the baddies. Your home city is a town called Jorvik, which doubles as a home base with the usual amenities like shared stashes and quick teleports to the field. Stretching out from here are a series of square regions home to a vairety of enemies and environments, and as you get more powerful you can begin to travel further and further out for better loot and scarier monsters.

I know, right now it just sounds like Diablo instead of merely inspired by it. The twist that comes into play is the faction system. You are the leader of a covenant in Jorvik, which is locked in a power struggle against the other factions of the city. Each quest you pick up contributes to your overall influence and power over the town. There are definite shades of Civilization diplomacy in terms of how you have to balance your relationships with the other covenants, as you can barter basic stuff like gear, but also trade routes, items, alliances and wars. If things go south between you and another covenant, you can declare war on each other and begin to attack the crystal each of you has in the centre of your guild house. If your crystal goes boom, so do you.

The constant scheming and rivalries are an addition quite unlike anything in other Diablo influenced games, and the sim management aspects basically adds yet another layer of looting and upgrading to the genre. The game even encourages the competition, offering up quests with new covenant members as a reward and forcing each covenant into a race to complete it. Your ultimate goal isn't some kind of MacGuffin or massive evil; you simply have to destroy everyone else and claim control over Jorvik. It may not be the most noble of goals, but it certainly is a lot of fun and gives the game a far more open ended structure than most action RPGs.

To sweeten the package, there's even extra modes like hardcore and solo characters, and a mod kit has been released to let users provide tweaks and edits. There are a few issues here are there as well, mostly centring on the somewhat grindy gameplay that's present in all most Diablo based titles, and the dated graphics. But the one and only real flaw is lack of multiplayer, a problem fixed by the follow-up titled Din's Curse, but sadly missing here. The unique guild vs. guild structure is practically begging for human competition, but the AI does a sufficient job of filling in and they didn't seem to be as temperamental or easily taken advantage of like in some versions of Civilization.

Overall, Depths of Peril is a great take on the action RPG by transposing it to an almost MMO-like structure, but filling it out with a strategic meta-game of management and diplomacy. It's unlike anything else I've ever played, but the combination of some of my favourite genres made it a real winner in my books. Soldak is an excellent and surprising addition to the Royale, and I for one plan to go and check out what else they offer, especially if they keep it up with the new twists on old formulas.

Tobe's Vertical Adventure
Developed by Secret Base
Platforms: Windows, Steam

Tobe just wants to stay at home and play video games, but his ladyfriend Nana is insisting that he come on a treasure hunt adventure with her. First world problems, am I right? Luckily, said treasure hunt adventure comes in the form of an absolutely delightful platforming game that can be played by your lonesome or with your very own Nana or Tobe. The wonderful pixel art, the slow but tight platforming controls and the solid level design makes for a great platformer with a retro look and a modern feel. There's a lot to love about it.

The basic structure of the game sees Tobe (or Nana, or both) descend into a cave to find a treasure map. Each cave is basically a lengthy vertical tunnel built out of tile based platforms, vines, spikes and other such fun stuff. All you need to do is hop and bop your way to the bottom of the map, collecting treasure, chests and baby animals, and then open the big chest at the end. At that point, the level will collapse and shift, and you then have about a minute and a half to reach the top of the level and grab on to the escape rope. It's a clever shift from slow methodical treasure hunting to fast paced escapes, and puts a nice little twist into the design of every level.

Tobe and Nana are both fairly agile, but in different ways. Tobe is faster and he run up walls for a limited distance, while Nana uses her feminine wiles to break the laws of physics with her double jump. Both can run, bounce off enemies, kick off walls and roll through cracks, and both use deployable ropes to get a leg up or balloons to lessen a steep fall. You can play as either of the characters through the same set of levels (and the game tracks your progress for both characters separately) or you can team up with a friend and play the levels together. While there's very little co-op specific content, simply sharing the experience with someone else serves to make the game a lot of fun.

The game takes a slow and methodical approach with the tile base system and the ease of control, while the generally forgiving difficulty keeps Tobe's Vertical Adventure from dipping into the realm of twitch based platformers. The escape sequences crank up the twitchiness and difficulty slightly, but the open ended level design ensures that you have a variety of options for your escape route, allowing mistakes to turn into new opportunities.

The game is clearly not lacking in terms of fun, but Secret Base have also made sure it's plenty charming as well. The pixel art used in game looks fantastic; many games that use a retro aesthetic occasionally forget to make the game look good, not just look old. Secret Base avoids this and creates an art style that looks modern, even though it's building from a retro aesthetic. It's clear the developers have a ton of love and nostalgia for the platformers of yesterday, but they don't get bogged down in paying tribute and are willing to cheat on the visual limitations to make the game look better. The cutscenes are animated in a far sharper style; though they can get slightly repetitive by repeating animations between worlds, I was utterly charmed from the very first cutscene onwards. Topping off the beautiful cake is the soundtrack, which is catchy and well done; one particularly cool aspect is the alternative sped up versions that play when you have to make your quick escape. Even better, the bonus soundtrack for a different but similar Tobe game is thrown in as a perk to all Indie Royale customers, and it certainly found a spot in my soundtrack library.

I wasn't sure what to expect with Tobe's Vertical Adventure, but after playing it I find myself quite taken with the game. It's retro without becoming archaic, and through its fluid and methodical gameplay it manages to be an excellent choice for anyone with a platformer itch.

Developed by Radian Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Desura, DRM Free

Next up in Indie Royale's dog and pony show is a trio of titles from shoot-em-up indie superstar Radian Games. If that name rings a bell, Radian Games is the developer of Super Crossfire, previously featured in the New Years Indie Royale (and my personal highlight from that bundle). All three games included in this go around are former entries in their Quadtastic Launch Collection that brought many of their games to PC, and they've all got that same sort of glowing digital art style, but the games are quite a bit different from each other and from Super Crossfire.

First up is Ballistic, which is essentially the most distilled version of a twin stick shooter imaginable. Control a circle, shoot every other circle, try your best to survive. There's very little effort to change up the formula or add in gimmicks, so you're left with the purest arcade shooter imaginable. In terms of how it looks and sounds, the presentation fairly amazing. It has the cool neon Radian Games look about it, with stylized explosions and sharp, simplified graphics, while the soundtrack is appropriately thumping and sounds pretty awesome.

I said the gameplay is basic, but there are a few twists. One is the upgrade system, which lets you add a new perk to your ship every ten waves. Then there are other quirks like the ballistic mode, which slows down your speed and pumps up your bullet output, but can overheat and leave you defenceless. But the best aspect of the gameplay is the utter feeling of being overwhelmed. While Super Crossfire was more of a puzzle game, and you were always in control, Ballistic is sheer insanity the whole way through. There are always far more enemies than you can handle, and the game is not about clearing the waves, but simply killing enough baddies so that the madness ends and you get a breather. It's a high energy hyperactive shooter, and probably not for the faint of heart. But if you like twin stick arcade games then this is essentially required reading.

Developed by Radian Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Desura, DRM Free

I don't think people realize just how hard it is to create a puzzle game with original mechanics these days. We live in a world where every variation on Bejeweled and Tetris have been done to death, and it's rare to find something that breaks out of the mold beyond a few simple tweaks. Which brings us to Radian Games' second entry in the bundle, a puzzle game that's quite a move away from their shooter offerings. While Slydris owes part of its structure to Tetris, it's also quite unlike any other Tetris variation I've ever tried.

Slydris is exactly what it says: sliding plus Tetris. But besides a few usual elements—falling blocks, make lines to remove blocks, music choices of A, B and C—the gameplay and pacing are about as far from Tetris as could be. Blocks only fall after you've made your move, which gives the game a slower and more thoughtful pace. It's quite a change from Ballistic up there.

In Slydris, you can slide blocks of varying width either left or right. That's it. Each move you make causes two or three more blocks to fall, so it becomes a struggle to arrange your blocks into lines and manoeuvre the proper sized blocks into the ideal spot. Oddly enough, this change of pace manages to make the game slower, but makes you feel even less in control. Sure, the blocks wait patiently for your move before you fall, but your inability to move more than one block without four more getting added means that simply sliding blocks around without a plan will cause a pile-up very quickly. You need to be strategic about how to arrange your lines, as there's no way to be a perfectionist in this game. It's one of the most interesting takes on a Tetris-like formula since Tetris itself, and the entirely different pace gives Slydris a whole new feeling. It feels like a solid new idea for a puzzle game fan.

Developed by Radian Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Desura, DRM Free

Inferno+ is a twin stick shooter, and it controls almost exactly like Ballistic. It has the same cool blue Radian aesthetic, a similar thumping soundtrack and there are a slew of customizable upgrades. The similarities almost entirely end there, and Inferno+ is almost essentially a roguelike. And you thought you were getting out of here without a new roguelike to play. Ha! In your dreams.

Inferno+ has you choose a class of ship to begin the game, which gets you to fly through corridors, blow up bad ships and collect the money, drones and keys that are left behind. The levels are made up of corridors and rooms, with locked doors and secret passages hidden all over the place, and the beginning of each level brings you to a ship in which your hard earned money goes towards more upgrades and consumables.

The shades of Ballistic are everywhere, as you'll often find yourself confronted by a huge crowd of ships, and occasionally some very tricky manoeuvres will be required to keep from being damaged in the tight corridors. But Inferno+ generally limits the amount of enemies in each level which allows you to keep in control of the situation, and by doing so it ultimately makes the game more of a slow paced roguelike than a fast paced shooter. If you like the twin stick action in games like Ballistic, but you prefer games to be a little more fair and relaxed, or you just really like dungeoneering, Inferno+ is a good alternative to the more hectic Ballistic. And luckily the Indie Royale is including both, which is a pretty great offer for those of you who missed the Quadtastic Launch Collection.

The Indie Royale just keeps knocking it out of the park with these latest bundles. They've had plenty of heavy hitters mixed with smaller fun titles, and I've been consistently impressed. Here's to seeing them keep up the quality, because these bundles just keep being fantastic values. If you like what you're hearing, buy yours now from the link below.

If you've enjoyed this review, you can keep up with my bundles and backlogs via your social network of choice. TwitterFacebookGoogle Plus? I don't discriminate. Plus you can wish me a happy birthday, because it's totally my birthday!


  1. I'm actually surprised this time. I think the Indie Royale has a better offer than the HIB.

    I hope the sales reflect that.

    1. I'm inclined to agree. I personally think Indie Royale has been topping Humble since the latter started doing the Android bundles. I still like both (and having an Android phone I didn't mind the phone bundles too much), but I feel like Indie Royale has been a better overall package. However, I think the major sticking point is Humble's charity and Indie Royale's lack of it.

      But I wish them the best for this bundle, because it's stellar and deserves to be rewarded for it.

  2. It's worth mentioning that Slydris has a non-turn-based mode as well - although as I mentioned in my YouTube review it's slightly flawed.

    Every time it drops a set of new bricks it stops you from moving any for 5 seconds or so while it happens. That messes up the pace of the fast mode a bit imo.

  3. Thanks for your great post, I also find out a game site inside out games they are doing some good games about Inside Out cartoon movie which will be released in this month.


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