July 08, 2012

Economics Downturns Can't Stop the Recession Bundle

Indie Game Bundles is a site designed to round up news about bundles all in one convenient place, but it seemed inevitable that they would get into the bundle game themselves with the Recession Bundle. Fortunately, they've found a niche that's not often used by other bundles: freeware. Most of the games you can pick up form absolutely nothing, with donations accepted and rewarded with two commercial games (including Desura keys, which are being worked on now). Everyone gets ten percent of whatever is earned: the site, each of the developers and a charity; in this case, SOS Children's Village Croatia.

It seems a bit redundant to review freeware, but maybe you need a bit of convincing that downloading these games is worth spending your very busy time on. That's where I step in, with reviews of every free and paid game in the bundle. Skip past the break for the freebies first, followed by the bonuses.

Mighty Jill Off
Developed by Auntie Pixelante
PC, Mac

Face it. The only reason you've heard of this game is because you unlocked Jill in Super Meat Boy. Don't worry, I don't blame you because you're not alone. Now that you've come clean you might as well check out Mighty Jill Off, the game that first featured the little bootlicker.

Jill is a submissive who just really wants to lick her queen's boots, really bad. Like a proper dominatrix, the queen instead berates Jill and boots her to the bottom of the tower, where Jill must hop, skip and jump her way back up. It's very retro, as Mighty Bomb Jack is often cited as a major influence, and like any good BDSM story it's fairly punishing. Maybe not punishing in a bad way, but in a fair way. Jill's jumps are outlandishly high, and tapping the space bar lets her glide back down—yes, just like in Meat Boy—but the level design doesn't allow the jumping to confer any real advantage to you, it just challenges you in new ways. My skill was pretty thoroughly tested by the many spikes, flames and enemies positioned in the most hair raising spots.

Mighty Jill Off gets a lot of attention for the so-called "controversial" aspects like sadomasochism themes and a lesbian love story. Don't get me wrong, it's a fascinating thematic approach to a game and does a lot to move away from the typical and overused protagonists as it were, but Mighty Jill Off is a really fun platformer too. It's very short, but that just means it's definitely worth checking out for twenty minutes or so. Considering it's free, there's really no reason no to give it a shot. That's going to be a bit of a theme for this review.

Apologies for the fuzziness. Viewed at the proper resolution of 320x240, this game looks far sharper.

Action Fist
Developed by TeknoPants

Action Fist is another fantastic retro platformer, except this one takes its influence from equal parts Mega Man, Mega Man X, a hint of Metal Slug and a lot of early Treasure games. You take on the role of the Fourth Doctor Domingus, who discovered that they have stolen his dog, his girlfriend and his favourite scarf. Who is "they"? The game doesn't particularly care, and neither should you. You can either play as Domingus himself, outfitted with his second favourite scarf, or sidekick and Rambo headband toting Ina. Better still, you can grab a second player and play the game in local co-op, an excellent and always appreciated addition.

Alone or with a friend, the gameplay remains awesome. Taking a cue from Sonic games, each level finds you traversing two acts of a particular zone before combating a massive boss. Ironically, you don't use your fists for this but rather a very tweakable gun. You have two configurations that can be customized with power-ups to get the most efficient weapon. Adding in a yellow colour will make your gun strong against yellow enemies, and then you can make it fire like a shotgun with added power. Alternatively you could make it a red machine gun with added penetration of enemies, good for clearing out crowds. Everything is very disposable since dying resets your weapon, so essentially you have to make quick decisions about what you think you'll need the most. It's an ingenious system.

Honestly, Action Fist is an absolutely phenomenal game, and the fact that it's freeware only makes it more impressive. If retro platformers are your thing, grab a friend and a second keyboard and get to work on those robots.

Vidiot Game
Developed by GZ Storm

I'm a sentient frying pan walking across the desert about to die of thirst when Satan appears. Do I hail him? Run away? I instead strike a deal for water in exchange for a limb. Now I'm stuck with fuzzy vision from blood loss. Moving on, I hop on a plane to Venezuela to get revenge when I stop to rob an art collector. Narrowly escaping from the police, I hack into a government computer to find rocket codes, and then find a scratch ticket. I win millions from said scratch ticket, and the game ends.

That's just one of my many playthroughs of Vidiot Game, and hardly the most interesting one. This is a game that makes WarioWare look positively conservative. Nothing is consistent besides the title screen, offering up variations of many video game tropes in a fit of madness. It's confusing, jarring, oddly engaging and the kind of title you'd either hate instantly or play a dozen times without stopping. I firmly fall into the latter category, as I found the randomness and satire oddly on the nose, and the arbitrary choices and twitch mini-games adds up to an experience that's far more engaging than it has any right to be. Maybe it's the way it plays with you, mucking up the graphics and sound so badly you would think you have some kind of virus. Maybe it's the many on the nose observations about things like the illusion of choice and useless customization. Whatever it is, Vidiot Game is a game that works for me despite all odds.

At the low price of free, it's easily worth the time to download it and give it a try. You might be turned away instantly, but perhaps you'll see whatever magic I saw in it. You'll certainly be confused at least.

The Cat and the Coup
Developed by Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad
Steam, PC, Mac

The Cat and the Coup has been floating around as a free game on Steam long before Steam even acknowledged that free to play games existed. It's very short, very simple, very easy and fairly niche, but rather interesting as well. Billed as a documentary puzzle game, it's a great example of your stereotypical art game. If art games aren't your kind of thing, maybe this isn't the game for you. However, you might find yourself rather enchanted with the whole thing.

Pieced together by a dozen or more different styles of artwork and stock footage, The Cat and the Coup follows the life of Mohammad Mosaddegh, the Iranian prime minister who attempted to remove British control from the Iranian oil. He was promptly overthrown by a joint CIA-MI6 operation, and kept under arrest until his death. He's an interesting political figure, and you need to take on the role of a cat to push him through the events of the coup with some relatively simple puzzles. The puzzles are generally quit secondary to the collage art style, which comes together in a frankly stunning way.

There's a lot of ideology and history in The Cat and the Coup, and it certainly gives you something to think about—I'll admit that I immediately took to Wikipedia to learn more about the situation. The games as art debate is one I frankly find tiresome, but I do like the idea of games as a documentary, which is a role The Cat and the Coup fits perfectly. It feels a bit weird to have this game wedged in here with all of these retro throwbacks and "gamey" games, but definitely worth a look if you're interested in the topic or you appreciate a game that can come across as truly beautiful.

Apologies for the fuzziness. Viewed at the proper resolution of 320x240, this game looks far sharper.

Developed by Greg Lobanov

If you like your RPGs nice and NES-like, Dubloon is definitely worth checking out. Consisting of a huge pirate themed world with plenty of dungeons and sidequests, Dubloon feels almost exactly like a pirate themed Final Fantasy from back in the good old 8 bit days. That is, it mostly feels like a pirate themed NES RPG, but there's a lot of other stuff going on in the game design.

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of retro design here, but there are certain other things that keep Dubloon from feeling frustratingly antiquated. For starters, enemies are on the map and fairly easy to slip past, so there's no random encounters and very little reason to grind. There's also some vaguely Zelda-like puzzle elements, where certain items are needed to find particular dungeon routes and secrets. These are all fairly standard stuff, but my favourite aspect was the inclusion of genuinely fun battle interactions. Most turn based battles use the traditional active time battle system, but Dubloon loves to throw in short mini-games and player interaction for particularly special attacks or boss battles. This might mean catching rocks with your mouse before they kill your party, blocking a Guitar Hero style track full of damage or even just shaking up a can of pop before it explodes. The game even has light Chrono Trigger elements involving special attacks and enemy placement.

It's not exactly what you'd call innovative, and the story isn't going to blow you away, but the average JRPG fan would have a lot of fun with Dubloon. It's expansive, well designed and plenty of fun, and doesn't cost you a cent. This whole free bundle thing is certainly paying off, no?

Developed by Robert Kooima and others
PC, Mac, Linux

I must confess, I don't particularly care for the Super Monkey Ball style of game. Marble Madness I can handle, because controlling a ball is something I grasp. Controlling an entire level leaves me feeling a bit queasy, so the intricacies of Neverball's freeware revamp of the Super Monkey Ball genre were lost on me. However, if you like this style of game, Neverball has an absolutely astounding amount of content and style.

Featuring over 140 levels to work through, divided into various difficulties and level packs, there's a huge variety of challenges in Neverball. There's large, open coin collecting challenges, long, dangerous racing courses, big, tricky stunt ramps and half pipes, and many levels with a bit of all of the above. It's all complimented by basic yet sharp visuals and a pretty decent soundtrack. I found the controls were a bit too finicky for my taste and the camera prone to fits and spats of unhelpfulness, but then again this is a genre I'm neither good at or fond of. For those of you who love rolling the ball through the maze, avoiding pits and hopping over ramps, Neverball is a great free collection of content to sate you.

For everyone else, there's the included Neverputt. A local multiplayer mini-golf game, it uses the engine of Neverball to great effect. Now mini-golf is something I understand, and having 130 plus new courses to work through may keep me busy for a considerable time.

These are all well and good, but how is a bundle supposed to raise money for the developers and for charity? Well, that's where these bonus games come in. If you pay at least one dollar, you'll get DRM free and Desura codes for the two titles below.

8-Bit Night
Developed by Retro Souls
Desura, PC

8-Bit Night is a lot of things. It's a little bit like Fez, a little bit like Minecraft, a little bit like Lode Runner and a lot of fun. You are a tiny miner who needs to collect every speck of gold in each level without running into skulls, spikes, bottomless pits and other such nastiness. Easy enough, right? Well, not after a bit of a mind bending twist gets added in.

You see, at all times there's a phantom of you visible on the screen, exactly opposite to you. Tapping the proper key will cause the entire level to flip 180 degrees, so in theory you are now standing where your phantom was, only flipped. This leads to lots of swapping to get to inaccessible areas, dodge impassible obstacles and complete otherwise impossible jumps. In fairness, it's not the most original mechanic in the world. But 8-Bit Night uses it creatively and with a lot of variety. There's twitch platforming, puzzles to solve, acrobatic stunts, enemy dodging and plenty of other ways the swap mechanic gets used. Then you also have tools you can pick up and use in many levels such as pickaxes or dynamite, which only serve to enhance the puzzle moments more.

It's all bookended by some great looking 3D sprite artwork and a nice, if slightly repetitive soundtrack. My only real nitpick is that the select a menu system is fairly awful, but once you get into a game it's nothing but enjoyable and amusing platform action. It's well worth supporting.

Developed by Eric Billingsley

Star-Twine is a very procedural strategy game. Taking place in the vast reaches of space, you and an opponent build a series of nodes and weapons on a stringy tangle of thread. You can build anywhere on the strand, but clumping together or getting too close to an enemy can be fairly dangerous. Using turrets and missiles to attack, and black holes and defence artillery to defend, you need to eliminate every single energy node your opponent builds while keeping your own chugging around.

It's a stunning looking game, and flying through the tangled web looks and feels exhilarating. There's very few buildings, but the simplicity means it's fairly easy to grasp the game and the giant battlefield allows for more strategy than your average turret game. I only wish they had taken things a bit further; it's quite a fun concept, but there's little else to do other than skirmish matches on randomly generated fields. Multiplayer adds a bit of replayability, but overall the game could have benefited from a more robust experience. While the ideal solution would be more buildings to allow for more strategy, it would destroy the simple to learn rules. But even a campaign mode of randomly generated levels of increasing difficulty would help, as would allowing more than one opponent at a time.

Regardless, Star-Twine is a wonderful proof of concept. If you like supporting new and innovative ideas, or you're a big fan of strategy games, you can't really go wrong by installing it. It's very unique, it just needs a bit more in the way of content.

So there you have it! The Recession Bundle. Go check out the Indie Game Bundle page to install the free games, and toss some money their way to get Star-Twine, 8-Bit Night and push them towards their milestone goals to unlock bonus content and soundtracks.

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