June 01, 2012

Indie Gala V Part 1: Yes, There Are Sixteen Games

Yes, there are a whopping sixteen games in this Indie Gala. No, I'm not going to review them all at once. In this post I'll cover the tier one titles, then follow up with two more posts on the next two tiers. Sound good? Sounds good.

I'm fairly confident that due to the sixteen games (and forthcoming music!), Indie Gala V is the largest bundle yet. It's a fine record to hold, but with sixteen games comes sixteen questions of whether or not this is worth playing. Of course, all the proceeds are going to help out with the earthquake in Emilia Romagna, while the other charity is the always wonderful AbleGamers. You can divvy up your donation however you please, and both are very worthy causes, so even if all the games were so great there's still merit to the donations.

However, are the games not so great, or are they a spectacular bonus to an already worthy donation? Let's find out past the break.

Making History: The Calm & The Storm
Developed by Muzzy Lane

Making History is a neat little strategy game that overcomes a somewhat lackluster presentation to fill a strategic niche and present a new style of World War II game. While it may share a lot in common with more complex games like the Hearts of Iron series, it managed to surprise me by simplifying a lot of the core systems. It's still a ridiculously hardcore grand strategy title, but there's a certain Civ-like simplicity to the complicated business of running a country.

Making History gives you the head seat of any country active in WWII, though it does highly encourage playing one of the big fellows (my home team game as Canada was sadly uneventful). There's a handful of scenarios that range from war spanning grand campaigns and logical, fun entry points to small scenarios of appeasement or tail end post war mopping up. Once you've picked a period and settled on a world power, you enter a map of the world where you set out a series of commands and orders, and then end your turn to see them carried out.

Surprisingly, managing a country isn't too hard at all. You have a series of panels to help figure out exactly how to balance your budget and war-spending, and there are plenty of screens that can sum up your territory at a glance. Getting to these helpful screens is occasionally a problem, but with enough experimenting and clicking you can generally suss out what goes where. But trade, infrastructure, diplomacy, resource gathering and spending is all rather simplified and easy to understand for a war gamer. As I mentioned, it's less like an insane Paradox level of detail and more like a pleasant Civilization level of complexity.

Of course, this doesn't extend to all corners of the game. Unit management in particular is a real pain; for an example of overwhelming micromanagement, check out that screenshot of D-Day up there. Moving units is very annoying, moving many units is even worse and complex series of orders are exercises in patience and frustration. For smaller countries in the conflict this doesn't become much of a problem, but the superpowers become unwieldy towards the end of the war.

So the presentation doesn't leave much to be desired and the combat can be a bit tedious to manage. Those nitpicks aside, Making History is a great compromise between the insane complexity of most grand strategies and the relatively hands off management of less complex strategy titles. For someone just looking to enter the genre, you should consider taking a crack at Making History. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it works for a grand strategy title.

Beat Hazard
Developed by Cold Beam Games

Though previously featured in a Groupees bundle, I have to say that Beat Hazard should have been in an Indie Gala sooner. With all the emphasis the Indie Gala folks place on indie electronic music, each Indie Gala has basically provided a built in level pack for the game. So though I covered it before, and you should definitely read that blurb too, it makes sense to revisit Beat Hazard.

But for those of you just joining us, what exactly is Beat Hazard? Well, it's a pyrotechnic twin stick shooter that is entirely engineered by the tunes you feed into it. Waves of enemies grow in strength and complexity as the music swells, while your own firepower is influenced by the tempo as well. Your scores and highest difficulty completed are tracked on a per song basis, allowing you to revisit and perfect each procedurally generated battle and attempt to master each album individually. You can also turn on survival mode, which will loop through a folder of music until you die. It's all very slick, and great for a music lover such as myself.

While the main focus is your own tunes, the music included in the game by default is rather nice, and the presentation is great. In fairness, it's the only game I've ever really appreciated the seizure warning, as the bright flashing lights are far above and beyond your average space shooter flashiness. Unfortunately, without the Ultra DLC, there's no way to reduce the visualizations, which is a small part of a bigger problem. The Ultra DLC is, in my mind, borderline required. While it adds plenty of expansion things, it also adds important options like the ability to scale the visuals and online co-op. Sadly the Indie Gala is lacking this update, but it's worth the extra money to pick up.

But even without the DLC, flying your way through album after album is great fun, and the explosive visuals and boss battles keep things thrilling. The Steam features are very nice as well, informing you of what songs your friends are playing and keeping leaderboards for you. Better yet, it seems that the base game has had the internet radio mode added to it, so you can play a round of survival while discovering new music in your favourite genres. All in all, Beat Hazard is definitely one of the better twin stick shooters out there. Plus you'll be able to load it up in a week's time with some new music from Indie Gala, and might I suggest picking up the potential expansion pack that is the Game Music Bundle 3.

Razor2: Hidden Skies
Developed by Invent4 Entertainment

With sixteen games, it's inevitable that some of them might be not so hot, and with this game we've definitely hit a dud. Razor2 might be well intentioned, and the soundtrack is pretty nice, but aside from that there really isn't a reason to play this game. My video game philosophy revolves around the idea that every game has at least a little bit of merit, but that idea is stretched a bit by Razor2.

That's kind of harsh, but I'm always inclined to keep it honest in these bundle posts. The problems with Razor2 are many and varied. First of all, the game is just a vertical scrolling shooter. There's no interesting story premise, or stellar art style, or decent gameplay innovation. Shoot all the ships, use missiles on bosses. That's it. Aside from the upgrade system, there's not a single new or varied hook.

And while the upgrade system itself is a pretty stock upgrade system, the game mind blowingly does not let you save. It's insane. What game doesn't let you save in 2012? But to my surprise, exiting to the menu cleared out my upgrades, level progress and even my statistics. Maybe it's short enough to warrant playing through in one sitting, but neglecting to add a save system is pretty shoddy.

And finally, we come to the gameplay itself. The levels seem completely stitched together, with random waves spawning as an annoyingly obvious female voice warns you about seven seconds after an enemy group arrives. Every. Single. Time. Worse is the bosses, which is when the game goes from ridiculously easy to impossible to finish. You can't win against these guys due to their bullet patterns. The sad thing is that the game doesn't spawn nearly as many bullets as your average bullet hell shooter, but the bullet patterns are so poorly mapped out that it is literally impossible to find a gap and avoid damage. This means you play the entire level, die, buy better stuff and then play again and hope your stuff is good enough this time around. I hope you like grinding!

It's not often that I find a game that I can't recommend to anybody, but Razor2 is a tough sell. It's too bad, because well crafted space shooters are always in vogue, but this one is just so unbalanced and so underbaked. Oh well, there's bound to be a miss or two.

Ironclads Collection
Developed by Totem Games

So there are five games in the Ironclads collection, so it would make sense for me to do five very tiny reviews, no? Well I thought about it, but in the end it makes way more sense for me to only talk about two games in depth: the first one, American Civil War, and the rest of the lot.

American Civil War is the first game in the series, and far different from the rest. In this one, you're given a preset fleet of ships and told to sink everyone else. You can play as the North or the South, though it affects little beyond the layout of each mission and the ships you get to toy with. Each turn, you can set each of your ships' bearings and target speed. You then let them each move one at a time, stopping to click on each of your cannons when the enemy is in range. Tactically it's very simple and easy to understand, but there's enough depth and luck to make it pretty intriguing and fun. There's a few minor issues in the gameplay, including some unbalanced missions, lengthy battles that drag on way too long for the sake of "realism" and finally the inability to skip or speed up animations, which makes sitting through an enemy turn pretty tedious. Still, I was very much digging the turn based squad gameplay and the unique mechanics based on naval warfare. I was pretty excited to see how they improved the gameplay and ironed out the kinks as the series continued.

Well, turns out I was quite mistaken. Every other game in the collection, which includes High Seas and the three mod-like sequels Schleswig War 1864, Anglo Russian War 1866 and Chincha Islands War 1866, could not be any more different in terms of basic gameplay. They both follow the same topic (in fact, High Seas revisits the Civil War), they both revolve around steering your ships well to get an advantage, but High Seas et al. are real time strategy titles, and all seem to have far less depth to them. In each of the games, you pick a side of the war and a level of realism. You're then given a budget to hire a navy, which you assign into three miniature fleets. The mission begins without even a hint of story or mission goal, and you just have to steer your ships at the horribly overpowered fleet in front of you.

The battles look great, but like the first game they tend to drag on tediously long, even on the arcade setting that promises "dynamic" battles. Ships take a ton of damage, and steering them into position for attack after attack take a lot of time. It's alleviated by the fast forward button, but if you're ships are even remotely close to a collision the setting is randomly disabled. While I can see the merit in slowing down the action in a dangerous situation, not allowing me to turn it back up meant that I was just getting frustrated. The added depth of allowing custom navies and the four settings definitely adds to the overall feel of the game, but I still think the real time aspect is just not as interesting or as fun as a turn based game.

So basically, the Ironclads collection consists of one game with a great premise with unpolished gameplay, and the other four have tedious premises but are polished to a sheen. If you're interested in the time period it's definitely worth checking out the latter games, and if you can put up with quirks the first game consists of some fine turn based strategy. It's a bit of an unusual outcome, but there you have it.

So far we have one really fantastic and easy to recommend title, one niche title worth it for fans of the genre, five games that vary wildly and one dud. But don't stop now! There's eight more games in the pipe and all you need to do is up your contribution from $1 to $4. See you in the next Indie Gala post!

Click here to read part two of the Indie Gala V review.


  1. Hey, nice to see you're still adding games to your backlog! :)
    I'm interested in hearing what you have to say about Puzzle Kingdoms (which is awesome, btw).

    1. Haha, I'd rather be finishing games from my backlog, but I suppose I have plenty of time for that soon enough.

      I'm pretty excited to give Puzzle Kingdoms a try. I love Puzzle Quest, so the fact that it's related intrigues me.

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