Review: XBLIG: Nomis: Legacy Islands

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
After recently winning a free copy of this game in a Twitter giveaway, I thought it would be nice to give it a quick review!

Nomis: Legacy Islands itself is a ton of fun, having a lot of that platforming fun that has disappeared from console games in recent years. As one reviewer already stated, the main character is very much a “Nathan Drake” wanna be, which is apt: I found the game to feel quite a bit like the poor man’s shadow complex – another game featuring another “Nathan Drake” like character (and, in that case, voiced by the same actor that plays Drake!).

The side scroller and platformer mechanics are fast and fluid. The game has an excellent pace to it, which helps when the levels seem to sprawl in a ‘not-quite-linear’ fashion. While all roads may lead to Rome, you feel like you have a choice in how to get there! The ability to angle your shots with the right analog stick makes the game automatically stand out from other shooters… it suddenly feels more like Contra III on the Super Nintendo, rather than a classic Contra rip-off.

I hadn’t played the game before it’s first ‘overhaul’ – but graphically it’s very well done. Treated with a lot of care so that nothng disappears into the background or is not seen before it attacks you. Some of the ‘backdrop’ girders make me think I have to go around, from time to time, but that’s a matter of learning the level design on my end.

The sound is well done, and the little extras like robots crying out when they kill you, or your character making comments at the end of a level add a great deal to the game.

My biggest complaints come directly from the combat system. If you do not hold down the right trigger when you fire, your shots disappear from the screen. You can’t fire repeatedly as you approach a target, because you must wait for the first shot to hit them! The first boss battle also got very frustrating – if you ran out of ammunition, he was practically impossible to get to. I went to the in-game store to buy some ‘extra lives’ during this battle, but even after they ran out, I just kept respawning. Is there a mechanic where you’re supposed to have unlimited lives during a boss battle that wasn’t mentioned? Was this a bug? I may never know. The tutorial mentions how the Stealth does not work against bosses, however it certainly aided me in getting by certain parts. Tiny other things, like typos (“then” instead of “than”) were evident, but as someone with a degree in English, proof-reading is a curse, sometimes!

From reading other reviews, it seems that the game has seen some enhancements since it first launched, and with a few more, this game will be undeniably fun. For $3, there’s absolutely no reason not to pick this game up, it will bring back a lot of the fun that you haven’t had since your last run through Contra! At the very least, give this Xbox Live Indie Game’s free demo a shot!

Review: XBLIG: Zombie Sniper HD

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
For a buck, Zombie Sniper HD is one of your better options of the Zombie games on Xbox Live Indie Games.

80 Microsoft points gets you three game types: an Arcade Mode, where you simply just shoot as many zombies in the head as you can within a certain time limit. A Challenge Mode, which is similar to Arcade Mode except that it has a classic shooting gallery feel – enemies walk by in pre-determined rows and paterns – still, you have a target number of kills and a time limit. Then there is “Story Mode” – in which you protecting unwitting civilians (see: zombie bait) from becoming zombie lunch.

To accomplish any of these tasks, you take your sniper rifle in hand, and looking down the scope, just start doing what you do with zombies: turning their heads into piƱata party favors and watch all of the fun leak out! You have a targeting reticle on the screen, which you scroll left, right, up, and down with. To zoom in, pull the left trigger, to fire pull the right trigger. And that’s where the problem lies… that’s the entire game.

While the game rewards you for multi-kills, “Nitro kills,” and Killing Sprees, there just isn’t enough going on. If you’ve watched the trailer on the top of this page, you’ve seen the entire game. Zombie Sniper HD itself, in the Arcade Mode instructional screen, the voice over seems to think this game type is a fool proof formula for addictive gaming, claiming you’ll never get tired of shooting zombies in the head. Unfortunately, there’s not much truth to that.

The game seems bug free, the sounds are good, and the HD sprites are cartoon-like by design, but very good looking. All animations are fluid, whether it’s the shambling of the zombies or panning of your crosshair. My biggest visual complaint is that, in some cases, that black aiming reticle disappears into the background; having the option to choose your color from a palette of more visible colors (yellow, white, cyan, green, etc…) would be a nice touch. However, the game really loses it’s luster quickly, and in the end is a great time waster while you wit for your pizza rolls to come out of the microwave.

For a dollar, like I said, it’s not going to break the bank, and it does give some variety. I believe a mode that is timed, but has no target number of zombies to kill (3 minutes to beat your own high score, for example) would have been an invaluable addition to the game. But as far as the overall “fun” the game provides as it stands? It’s a good thing it’s only 80 MS Points.

Review: XBLIG: Avatar Paintball

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
After some “sit down time” with Avatar Paintball, I’ve got to say that it’s a great starting place. The game has obviously been treated with more care than many other Indie Games out there. A lot of work went in to making what is a genuinely good game, though a little more public feedback and play testing I’m sure would have lead to the resolution of my biggest complaints.

In Avatar Paintball, we are treated to an Xbox Live Indie Game with multiplayer online supper through Xbox Live, and a Leaderboard. This is among the most advanced XBLIG’s I’ve played. And while it may not have quite the graphcis of other games out there, even other indie games, but it’s not always about looks. The game itself is fast paced enough to keep you entertained – you don’t have to wait 30 seconds to respawn everytime you’re “painted.” The many powerups in the game, including super speed, invisibility, teleportation and more, all make the game quite interesting. You could be chasing after someone who is leading you right in to a trap.

Some graphical glitches bother me from time to time – fences in the game are only a pixel thick: meaning that, at the right angles, fences don’t even appear on your screen. While most of the game has a cartoony feel, it is a perfect environment for your avatars to play, with many buildings sporting familiar names of other Xbox Live Indie Games from the same developer. This is kind of funnym but the self promotion gets shameless when you press buttons that to find out what they do, and the demo of the game prompts you to buy it every five seconds. Some things, like some of the shrubbery near the buildings, looks out of place and poorly texture mapped, but that may be a graphical complaint not many others will notice.

It’s funny that after spending a few hours in the game, I have no recollection of there being music in the game – if there was, it was neither memorable nor annoying, so let’s just consider that a plus! If you’ve ever played the Xbox Live Arcade Game “Texas Hold’em” for more than 5 minutes, you’ll understand “annoying.”

The game is not without its faults, however. The over the shoulder, 3rd person view is abhorrent for aiming. You’ll go through half of your ammo hopper each time you encounter an enemy, because there is no targeting reticle. It’s a good thing ammo is readily available throughout the map, but perhaps stocking more ammo would be easier.

Avatar Paintball offers upgrades, but they are only unlockable by getting many points built up over a long “career” (so to speak). The more multiplayer games, or single player training sessions you go through, the more points you get to unlock better guns – but the point values for those guns are so high that most players will never get to them. If some players do, the players that haven’t, aren’t likely to stand much of a chance against the more advanced players, either. I’m guessing skill-based match making wasn’t a concern when this game started using Xbox Live’s multiplayer feature.

Finally, the lack of a jump does make me feel a little bit stagnant. While the map is big, there’s only one of them, and at least a little bit of “verticle” may have made the game more interesting. Auto-Aim could solve the problem of looking up or down, it could be relatively straight forward levels of “verticle” – but an ability to jump would come in handy – not just when you back yourself into a corner, but when you see an enemy you want to get to.

A future revision may cure some of these problems, and frankly at the $3 price point, I want just a little more from my indie games. But it’s an excellent start and I hope to see more solid work from DigitalDNA, especially when the demo is shamelessly begging for your Microsoft Points.

The game, itself, I would give a 4.5/10 – but the fun level still gets at least a 6, because you may just want to have a little fun wasting time some nights, and Avatar Paintball may just be a good way to do that.

Review: XBLIG: World War Toon

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
While I hate to be cheap about it, the two previous XBLARatings reviewers both hit the nail on the head when it comes to World War Toon, and you may see me referencing some of the things they had already talked about!

I had seen the name of “World War Toon” and was interested, but I had not yet seen anything about the game the game. After finally having a chance to sit down with it, I could not be more thrilled to play this game.

Protip: when starting the game: use the quick start. Otherwise, be prepared to spend a large chunk of time just determing where all of your troops will begin. While that does stay true to the board game style, I have to admit it got very old – and I think the AI bot placements should go a little faster. In some cases an AI player will rotate the globe painfully slowly. Once they find what they’re looking for, however, the AI players fly through their progressions, knowing exactly what they want to accomplish.

There is no beneficial tutorial mode, other than the basic “rock, paper, scissors” which troop-type is best suited for battle against which. It would help if the game explained or offered tips when placing new troops between rounds. The game seems to rely heavily on prior experience of board game players.

Fluid animation of the interface, the simple and straight forward design of the combat dice being rolled, and the joy of zooming in and out on troops makes this game “not much to look at” and “eye candy” almost simultaneously. The game has no music to speak of, and lacks much in the ways of animated combat or even sound effects of battle… but what it lacks, it makes up for in the same way board games do. The action is almost never ending, can go for hours on end, and will undoubtedly hook you and your friends in to extremely long battles.

I say World War Toon needs to be a full Xbox Live Arcade game with Xbox Live support – I want online play, with maps of different sizes (20 minute games would be nice for LIVE Support), an ability to sort of ‘save and resume’ would be ideal for the long campaigns, even if multiplayer. There is so much potential for this game I really hope the developers continue to work the idea out some more and have a full 800MSPoint offering some day in the future!

Good luck to them. I enjoy the game, and I hope many others will, too.

Review: XBLIG: Easy as 123 Blackjack

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
I was genuinely excited to try this game as soon as I saw the title. I enjoy BlackJack well enough, but maybe I’m just not familiar with the gambling scene to know what was going on. I gave Easy as 1, 2, 3 Blackjack an honest hour and a half and it made very little sense to me.

I had a friend play it and as he started to catch on, he thought it was making sense, but when I asked him the questions that I ran up against during the game, he couldn’t answer them either. Primarly, it seemed as though you were always placing a bet on a hand that hadn’t been played. I could bet $300 and win $25, but the next hand’s ante was $300, when my chances weren’t nearly as good.

Like I said, it may just be my own lack of understanding of the betting system, and other players may be having a blast betting on your choice of 3 different BlackJack hands. The game concept is unique enough, but even for my friend who thought he understood what was going on, the game quickly got stale.

Here’s hoping someone out there finds what they’re looking for in this game, but unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it much at all.

Review: XBLIG: Cyborg Mice Arena

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
Let me right out of the gate say that I’m giving Cyborg Mice Arena a seven out of ten because it is fast paced addictive FUN. Consider it a more comedic version of your favorite twin stick shooters (Geometry Wars, Robotoron 2084, etc…).

I first played the game for thirty minutes, and thought “well, I’ve seen enough.” A few days later, something told me I wasn’t ready to write a review for it, so I sat and played it a little more. It was then that I really got sucked in to the “I don’t want to set the controller down!” pace of the game. Enemies kept coming, wave after wave in the arena. Unfortunately, and this is what frustrated, even though the game rewarded me with 35 waves completed before I died and $39,000 in cash that I could use to unlock more weapons and cybernetic upgrades for my mouse, I was unable to comprehend the process of unlocking levels and game types! I simply could not unlock anything new and exciting.

But just because that is my own mental limitation or inability to correctly read a menu, doesn’t mean this game’s score should suffer from it. The action is great, the 3/4 overhead Isometric view angle gives you much more to look at and appreciate the work that the developer put in to this game.

The menu includes some hilarious backstory, excellent control customization (something missing from many twin stick games), and an interactive “art book.” The art book shows just how much care and creativity the developer put in to this game.

I have not had anyone over and thought to play this game, but I look forward to an extremely hectic night of local multiplayer in the near future!

Review: XBLIG: Dungeon Adventure

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
I played the game, having not played a game like this since the mid 1990’s. You know, that era when a huge number of Xbox Live Gamers weren’t even born.

I started up Dungeon Adventure, and a friend of mine (who was a huge fan of D&D, Bards Tale, and countless other Dungeon Crawling games) sat beside me. Together, we started to figure it out.

I have a chatpad attached to my Xbox 360 Controller, but did not quickly see any easy way to use it.

So I began to play, encountered my first enemy, realized I hadn’t done any reading on combat, and promptly ran away – Emu in hot pursuit. It then killed me. Evidently, to attack an enemy, even if you do not know whether or not you are equipped to kill it, you can simply move your avatar (in the game, not your Xbox Live Avatar) towards the enemy. Trying to run away will invariably kill you.

Navigating in the blind by holding down a particular direction, and stumbling upon an enemy such as a minotaur will kill you.

Not being able to find food… go ahead, guess. Write it down on paper. You’re right! It will kill you.

So after you get killed a good ten or fifteen times, you’ll start to get the hang of the game, realize that the randomly generated dungeouns have their fair share of doors that don’t go anywhere, and levels that only go up, never allowing you to travel back to a previously visited area.

Graphically the game isn’t the best looking thing out there, but that’s it’s shining point: it’s not intended to be. If this game had “better” graphics, I don’t think it would be genuine! The sound is quite lacking, but again, it’s intended to be quite simplistic.

One of my favorite (though embarassing) features is an in game leaderboard which shows user’s details (Gold, Level, how you died). These are fun to scroll through, though the developer could tune the columns, as there is a little bit of overlap (even when playing on an HDTV).

For those nostalgic for this specific type of game, I would think a $3 price point is more than fair. Others might want to wait for the inevitable price drop to 80MSPoints.

Review: XBLIG: Streets of Fury

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
In the early 90’s, digatized fighters was this amazing thing that nobody quite believed was possible. Then Mortal Kombat came out. It looked like you were controlling real people, on your TV. With that leap forward in video games, everyone thought the technology would last forever and it was the unrivaled future of video games. But as 3D models got better, photo-realistic sprites went by the way side.

Streets of Fury brings them back with a vengance. The developers knew exactly what they intended to do and they went for it. And gamers like myself who still reminisce about the days of photo-realistic sprites immediately have to get our hands on this game.

Take that, and the fact that the Beat’em Up / Brawler genre is one of my all time favorites, and also more of a “thing of the past” this game had me firing on all cylinders. After playing the demo for less than the entirety of the first level, I promptly turned around and purchased the full game.

The game has the classic bralwer like interface, individual characters with individual healthbars, the same sprites used over and over again with different palette-swaps. It was a receipe for a win in my book.

Some of the animations are extremely smooth, clearly video-captured. But unfortunately, some of the combat feels clunky and unimproved. I wanted it to feel like Batman Returns on the SNES, not play exactly the same. And the unfortunately small pool of ‘actors’ used in the game makes it a bit TOO repetative. Palette-swapped colors, darkened (ala Noob-Saibot) and enlarged sprites did not add enough variety to the game.

But where the characters lack, the levels swoop in to the rescue. After each level is a quick bonus round, where the simple goal is to rack up as many kills as possible in a very short amount of time. Literally dozens of baddies flood the screen at once, and the game never skips a beat. Some of the levels are completely abstract as well, taking place in the clouds, with no ground beneath you – but it is still just as fun to whoop up on ten or twenty thugs at once.

The game had all of the things that I was nostalgic for in video games, so despite the lack of variety (and some of the typographical errors that this English-Degree having nerd noticed) I have to rate this game very high. It brought back brawlers and digitized actors in a mashup I just can’t get enough of. Here’s looking forward to what these guys will do in the future!

Review: XBLIG: Colosseum

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
I have to admit, Colosseum was the first “Indie Game” I bought from Xbox Live – and for full disclosure: I bought it on accident. I intended to download the trial version and wasn’t paying attention to the dashboard when I magically bought the game at it’s original 800 Microsoft Points price point.

Still, after playing the game, I was absolutely hooked. The control system is unique, and works very well. You use your left analog stick to move your character around the screen and the right stick to attack. And yes, while this sounds like Robotron: 2084 or Geometry Wars, think of using that control scheme to play a game like Dynasty Warriors.

Graphically, the game is a treat. Using cell shaded effects like those you would see in Crackdown or the more recent Borderlands, the games art is crisp and stands out beautifully above many other Indie Games on Xbox Live. Cell-Shading, contrary to some people’s beliefs, is not a way to cover up bad graphics: it is merely an artistic and aesthetic choice which, in this case, pays off in spades.

The sounds in the game are also outstanding. I don’t know where the captured the sound effects from or if they bought the rights to a package of sounds, but they got a lot of them dead on. If I had to file one complaint, it’s probably just that there is a lot of reading to do, but a story unfolds as you play the game and it doesn’t often bore you to death with walls of text – but the game could benefit from some voice acting added in for effect. It seems like such a high quality production anyway, the guys at Shortfuse should be very proud.

Review: XBLIG: Neo Terra

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
When I saw the first screen shots of this game, and even as I loaded it up, I rolled my eyes and thought it was going to be a gigantic time waster. I am glad I actually spent time with the Neo Terra.

The game play is fairly straight forward – as time ticks up, each planet gains resources. The resources are translated in to ships that you can send out to try and take over other planets. If too many of your ships are out when your planet gets attacked, your planet can get taken over by an enemy.

Now imagine all of that, playing out in real time (turn based strategy is for the weak!), and it only taking a matter of seconds to win or lose a planet. A battle can last less than a minute, or several minutes. And that’s what I love about this game.

Every time you play it’s a new experience, even if the game looks and feels limited. It’s very straight forward, but it is a game of skill, not just who can hammer the X button faster. It’s about knowing if your planets need reinforcements, if the enemy has a planet that is weak and can be easily overtaken. It’s about looking at the entire screen at once and knowing where to send your troops.

Graphically the game has some nice backdrops, but the ship sprites are a little juvenile. The sound suffers a lot from a very repetitive selecting sound being about the only sound you hear, but can be easily blocked out if you have multiple people in your living room battling for galactic supremacy.

If you’re home alone, you may want to put on some music while you take on the five levels of artificial intelligence the game has to offer. From “Very Easy” to “Insane” the game offers a challenge for everyone. You can also take on the computer with different game modes, including a “capture the flag” like mode where the point is to overtake a planet at the centre of the map – all the while your opponent could be taking over your planets, thus having a larger fleet to send towards the “flag planet.”

While there isn’t much else going on in the game, it’s really all you need from Neo Terra. The game’s $1 price tag is a statement to that fact: this game is intended to be fast paced, hectic fun, and nothing more. And it achieves that in a way that is incredibly entertaining.

If the developers were to take this game and build a story line around it, it would be an instant buy for me. Battle it out in a “quick match” much like you have right now, then take a few moments to let a story unfold? A well deserved break from the frantic game play would be an absolutely perfect formula for Neo Terra 2. Here’s hoping!