Hug Arena Review

PICO-8, a fantasy console created by Lexaloffle, deviates from the modern definition of a console, dissociating itself from high-end hardware, complex control schemes and expensive peripherals, in favor of simple game-creation and sharing. An all-in-one development system and emulated console, PICO-8’s harsh graphical and coding limitations force developers to streamline and minimize assets in their games. Once PICO-8 is installed, hundreds upon hundreds of free games are instantly available in the form of virtual cartridges, courtesy of Lexaloffle’s vibrant development community. One cartridge in particular that I’ve grown quite fond of is Hug Arena by Benjamin Soule, a simple arena fighter with an interesting hook: instead of attacking or killing enemies, they must instead be hugged, and forced to love the player.

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Hug Arena is extremely simple to play. The arrow keys control movement, and a hug can be performed on enemies within a specific radius with a press of the Z key. It’s a simple control scheme, but when five or more enemies are on the screen at once, the game’s difficulty skyrockets. Certain enemies shoot projectiles that must be dodged before going in for a hug, while some will opt instead to chase the player. A love-bar at the bottom of the screen decreases as hugs are performed; love can be regenerated through the passing of time, or by cozying up to previously-converted enemies. As screens are cleared and the levels progress, the player can upgrade their power, speed, or love bar to more easily take on tougher enemies.

A standard play session of Hug Arena generally lasts 5-10 minutes, unless the player is well-seasoned and able to quickly progress to later levels. While its sound design and graphics are quite stark, the game is nonetheless a joy to play, as it nails its concept so cleanly and simply. To top off the experience, as with all games running in PICO-8, with two taps of the ESC key, the player is able to view and rummage through the game’s code, which provides quite an insight into the game’s development process.

Hug Arena isn’t deep, but it’s a great game to pick up and play for a quick challenge. As PICO-8 carts are free with the download of the virtual console from Lexaloffle’s website, I highly recommend making the $15 purchase, especially if you’re interested in PICO-8, or game development in general.

3.5 Stars

 

My Horse Prince Review

Otome is a bit of an oddball genre, encompassing romance games that feature the concept of a reverse harem. Generally in Otome, a female protagonist is charmed by multiple men, who fulfill the roles of romantic archetypes. While the heavy-handed tropes of the genre might be daunting to first-time-players, parody titles such as Hatoful Boyfriend have proven that Otome’s melodrama can be accessible to newcomers if a little humor is introduced. Now, five years after Hatoful Boyfriend first landed on PC, My Horse Prince by Usaya has arrived on iOS, fusing the romance of Otome with basic clicker mechanics to create a whole new world of romantic confusion.

However, in My Horse Prince, there is only one lover up for grabs. Are you ready to fall in love?

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My Horse Prince Screenshot 1

Yuuma the horse is one of the most hilarious and bewildering characters I’ve ever encountered in a video game, romancing the player with sweet talk and increasingly erratic acts of love, all while strutting about in his equine form. The female protagonist of My Horse Prince forges a bond of love with Yuuma throughout the course of the game, but almost as if to mimic the player’s experience, she spends her time in a confounded dream-state, confused and frustrated by her inability to separate delusion from reality. All the while, it’s unclear as to whether or not their love is meant to be, or if it’s simply a horrifying mistake.

The game’s art style is typical for an Otome game, with the main characters drawn in manga-style, and tertiary characters scrawled as hasty doodles. The animation is chuckle-worthy and smooth, and cutscenes are particularly well-drawn. Unfortunately, My Horse Prince’s gameplay is painfully simple, amounting to an exercise in repetition and patience. After speaking kind words to Yuuma to build up his stamina, the player then clicks on items to build up the love meter at the top of the screen. To recharge the dialogue option, an ad must be watched, after which the process can be repeated. Once the love meter is full, a cutscene plays, and the next chapter begins. However, the heart of My Horse Prince isn’t found in its gameplay, but instead in the bizarre story, detailed cutscenes and hilariously self-aware writing. Every moment of grinding was worth it, just to find out what sort of hijinks Yuuma might get up to next, and what sort of insane plot points might ensue.

Cringe-inducing, hilarious, and utterly unique, My Horse Prince is a must-play, especially as it’s free to download. Though its core gameplay is weak, the screwball storyline and zany animations tie the whole experience together into the most delightfully confusing game I’ve played all year.

4 Stars

 

Developer Spotlight: Spread Shot Studios

Today, Platformalist’s Developer Spotlight is on Spread Shot Studios, a 2-person studio from San Francisco, currently developing the multiplayer bullet hell title Space Jammers.

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The game looks great, Sorob! Can you talk for a minute about who you are, and what you’d like to achieve with Space Jammers?

Sorob Raissi: My name is Sorob Raissi, and I’m originally from Orlando, Florida but moved to the West Coast last year. I used to work in the military simulation industry as a 3D artist and level designer. I’m now working on 2D games and have been learning programming along the way, since I never got a formal education in that department. Frank Meijer (PR at Spread Shot Studios) expressed some interest in helping out with the campaign a few months before I launched the Kickstarter, so we’ve been planning release strategies together since then. He is based in the Netherlands, so we make sure to Skype at least once a week.

With Space Jammers, my goal is to set a benchmark for the company in terms of the tone, quality and features that gamers can expect in the future. I want the games coming out of Spread Shot Studios to be as inclusive as possible, with multiplayer features.

The game’s story revolves around a rock band comprised of alien pirates, trying to fund their musical tour. Are you musically inclined?

SR: I don’t think so …

Space Jammers Screenshot

The screens for Space Jammers look pretty impressive, running at a solid 60fps with a ton of sprites on the screen at once! Could you talk for a minute about some specific challenges you’ve encountered in developing a bullet hell game, and some tricks you’ve discovered in order to combat these challenges?

SR: This game was originally developed on an outdated Android tablet, and later for OUYA, so performance was a bare necessity from the start. The biggest bottleneck I encountered first was maintaining so many objects on the screen. Since I want to keep all the action on one screen, I simply don’t run code in objects that fall outside of the viewable game. This style of managing all objects in the game became the most practical performance enhancer.

Could you talk about what inspires you? Creatively, artistically, and what generally motivates you to put out solid work?

SR: I’m driven to make better versions of games or genres by trying to fix holes or mistakes, to make something better or special. Because I grew up in the nineties, my work comes out through that lens. I feel like games have gotten unnecessarily complicated, for how commoditized they’ve become. I want to eventually try to make games more approachable for people.

I noticed a sprite in your promo material that bears a striking resemblance to Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Is this an intentional reference?

SR: I dunno, but it’s a pretty good show.

Your website mentions that Spread Shot Studios aims to provide experiences that cater to both casual and hardcore gamers. How do you hope to achieve this?

SR: Some of the mechanics I include aim to help those who would struggle with this type of game. For example, bullet time which slows down everything except the player if they are near a bullet. There are plans to port to mobile as well, which will likely end up with much simpler input and gameplay mechanics for casual players. In the long term, I want to make games that use alternate interaction methods that take advantage of what people already know how to use. Not everyone understands gamepads.

If you could send a message to your past self, when you first started working in the game industry, what advice would you give yourself?

SR: Start making games sooner!

Favorite snack while developing?

SR: Scooby Snacks.

Most-used software during development work?

SR: Aseprite.

Favorite game of all time?

SR: Diablo 2.

Favorite console of all time?

SR: SNES.

If you could be any character from Space Jammers for a day, who would you choose?

SR: The one with the straw in his head, so I could “drink your milkshake”!

Any shout-outs you’d like to make? Indie games you’d like to recommend? Anyone I should follow on Twitter?

SR: @wizard_fu – Developing Songbringer, a procedural roguelike Zelda-style game.
@asquaredgames – Developed Sleep, a mysterious story-driven metroidvania game.

If you’d like to support Spread Shot Studios and get Space Jammers at a discount, check out their Kickstarter, follow them on Twitter, or wishlist the game on Steam!

High Risers Review

Kumobius games are something special, exuding a spark of inimitable joy that’s hard not to enjoy. Time and time again, the team nails tight controls, balanced challenges, and a pleasing art style. Bean’s Quest and Bean Dreams are iOS classics in their own right, so naturally, when I noticed that Kumobius had released a little twitch platformer, I was instantly intrigued.

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High Risers is as simple as they come. The player must climb a massive building, but is unable to stop running. Tap to jump, and use the building’s walls to keep yourself from falling out of the tower, climbing as high as possible. The gameplay itself isn’t very deep, but the controls are so tight that I found myself experimenting with different play styles for my own enjoyment. It’s possible to climb the building slowly with a one-thumb technique, but by using two thumbs or four fingers, the character can blaze up easier stretches of the building with ease. However, once you reach floor 100, the character begins to run faster and the building gets noticeably more dangerous.

As in other Kumobius games, the graphics in High Risers are top-notch. Backdrops are rich and pleasant to look at, and each unlockable sprite is charming and loaded with personality. There’s not much to speak of when it comes to the game’s sound design, but it gets the job done and is never intrusive. High Risers is free-to-play, so if you’d like to send Kumobius a few dollars to show your appreciation for the game, additional background art and playable characters can be purchased for a couple dollars each. Alternately, each upgrade can also be unlocked through the use of coins, which can be collected in-game or by watching ads, in the vein of Crossy Road or Rodeo Stampede.

High Risers exudes a simple, addictive charm, and with its non-intrusive free-to-play model, it’s an easy recommendation. The game won’t keep you occupied for hours at a time, but it’s a great little time-killer for a lunch break or bus ride. Not to mention that if you haven’t checked out Bean Dreams or Bean’s Quest, High Risers is a great introduction to the unique charm that Kumobius nails so well.

4 Stars

 

Roofbot Review

Roofbot by Double Coconut and Koreez is a tricky game to review. On one hand, it’s cute, well designed, highly atmospheric and satisfying to play. On the other hand, its in-app purchase model left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, tainting my experience with the game.

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Roofbot is an isometric grid puzzler, in which Roofie the Robot cleans up his roof by dropping colored objects into their respective holes, eventually finding his way to the level’s exit. The game’s hook lies in its tile-dropping mechanic, which adds an element of strategy and difficulty to the game. When Roofie moves to a new tile, the previous tile drops away, leaving the player to find a specific path that will allow them to progress. As a lifelong Q-Bert fan, this mechanic had me hooked from the start, and with the addition of fans and warp tiles, the game gets better and better as the levels progress. From top to bottom, the graphics are stylized and pleasing to the eye, with the protagonist cutely sporting a spinning green flower on his head, occasionally taking selfies and playing the ukulele. Roofbot’s backdrops are somber, futuristic, and highly immersive, topped off with a calming, albeit repetitive soundtrack. My only qualm with the presentation is the robot’s name – Roofie – which could be interpreted as a cringe-worthy drug reference. I truly hope that the reference was unintentional.

I was quite enjoying my time with the game, until I reached Level 40, when I made an unfortunate discovery. There’s a hint button in the top right-hand corner of the user interface, which can be tapped when the player is in need of a suggestion. As the game encourages players to tap the button when they’re struggling, these hints become part of the natural flow and progression of gameplay. By the time I reached Level 40, I had only used four or five hints, but I grew curious about one detail: every time I used a hint, a counter on the hint button dropped by one. I grew suspicious as to what might happen if I used all my hints. After all, Roofbot is a paid game, so they wouldn’t lock hints behind a paywall, especially after introducing these suggestions as an acceptable course of action when the player is stumped or struggling. Or would they? So, in the interest of discovering the truth, I mashed on the hint button until my hints ran out. Once I hit zero, I pressed the button again, and lo and behold:

Roofbot Screenshot 4

An in-app purchase screen appeared, confirming that the developers had locked additional hints behind a paywall. To add insult to injury, the price tag on these hints is quite high, starting at $1.39 for 2 hints, all the way up to $69.99 for 120 hints. I’d happily drop a dollar or two on upgrades to the game, such as new characters or additional levels in a future update, but for hints, which I’ve been trained to use freely? No thank you, Double Coconut.

At its core, Roofbot really is an excellent puzzle game, but its frustrating monetization scheme holds it back from greatness. If the game was free to download, in-app purchases for hints would be an understandable inclusion, but premium titles ought to be fully playable without additional paywalls. Should the developers at Double-Coconut rectify this monetization structure, I’ll happily rethink my review. But in its current state, I can’t recommend downloading Roofbot for $2.99, unless you can breeze through its 100 levels without using up your hint quota.

3 Stars

 

 

 

Developer Spotlight: AwkwardNaut

Today’s Developer Spotlight is on AwkwardNaut, a 2-person team based out of Belgium, currently working on the space roguelike Far Ago.

AwkwardNaut

Thanks for chatting with me, guys! Can you talk for a minute about who you are, and what Far Ago is all about?

Thibaud Gayraud: I’m a Unity game developer, and I started AwkwardNaut one year ago. On the way I encountered Marcus Drake. He was interested in my work and I fell in love with his musical talent. We are now working together on this big project.

Marcus Drake: I’m an eccentric composer from Chicago. I’ve been running a DIY Chicago label called Grandpa Bay and performing in bands for many years, but I recently started to refocus more on composing for games and film. When I stumbled upon AwkwardNaut, I was so impressed that I reached out to Thibaud. We made a pact signed in blood and the rest is history!

Far Ago is an FTL-like kind of game. The game has a huge tactical aspect due to the different type of modules you can equip your ship with, and the destruction system that can strip apart important pieces of your build. With Far Ago, it’s all about choices. Some situations can be handled peacefully while some will require a less subtle approach. Another important part of the game is that every new level is a step back in time, meaning that you can cause ludicrous paradoxes. These paradoxes will be important, but in what way? This we will keep a secret.

As Far Ago is a roguelike, what are your primary considerations when it comes to developing your algorithms for procedurally generated content? How do you keep the content feeling fresh and purposeful when you don’t have complete control over every last pixel?

TG: This is the most challenging part, as keeping every bit of the scenario in line with every quest can quickly become a real mess. Add paradoxical events to that, and now you have your very own 42x42x42 Rubik’s cube! To achieve this, you have to carefully choose the conditions that will drive the creation of every level. Keep everything in easily reusable little boxes. If this is done correctly, you just have to make sure that those boxes are fun to play with and that they can mix together to create interesting challenges for players to overcome.

How long have the two of you been in game development? And when did you decide that you wanted to work in the industry in this capacity?

TG: It was always a dream of mine. I started creating some small Flash games inspired by what I found on websites like Newgrounds when I was 13. I later went into art school and graduated in infographic design with a specialization in video games.

MD: I’ve been a musician for a while, always very inspired by video game soundtracks and have always wanted to create them myself! It took me a while to build a decent portfolio, but through being very active in the Chicago music scene, it all eventually started to come together. Recently, I decided to pursue composing as a career. And I’m very honored to be working with someone as innovative and talented as Thibaud!

Far Ago looks really sharp! Could the two of you talk for a bit about your biggest visual and musical influences for the game?

TG: I’m a fan of the Youtube channel Kurzegesagt – In a Nutshell. I’m a big fan of the minimalist aspects in their videos. The visual universe of Edmund McMillen (The Binding of Isaac, Super Meat Boy) is also a big inspiration.

MD: I’m not the biggest aficionado of dubstep, but recently I have been very intrigued by the production and the futuristic/apocalyptic tone brought on by artists who dabble in that genre. So, while there will be a lot of different elements going on, some things I want to emulate are the emotions and production techniques of what one might call dubstep, but I will be using a wide variety of mostly live, nonsynthetic instruments to make it unique. Two soundtracks I am taking inspiration from are the Earthbound OST by Keiichi Suzuki and Machinarium OST by Tomáš Dvořák.

You’ve previously released a sports minigame called Tippin’ Ball. Can you talk about the most important lessons you learned from your previous release, and how you’re looking to improve for Far Ago?

TG: Tippin’ Ball was a way for me to start making some noise around the AwkwardNaut persona I created. It’s no more than a fun project I did for people to enjoy. The biggest mistake I’ve made was to think that I would be able to do everything by myself; making a game is one thing, but the marketing around it is as important as the game itself! Now that we’ve teamed up with Marcus, we have all the skills we need to create and promote Far Ago.

MD: Tippin’ Ball was the first OST I made for Awkwardnaut and it was one of the most enjoyable writing / recording processes. While the music was a hoot to make, we also learned a lot about how to market our games better. It was a great project that led to productive discussions between Thibaud and I about indie development in general, audience interactions and the importance of transparency.

As an avid iOS gamer, when a great-looking game shows up on Steam, I cross my fingers, hoping that it will eventually be ported to mobile. Any plans to port Far Ago to iOS?

TG: Far Ago is not the kind of project that would work on mobile devices, but I’m very interested in connections between an app and a game; if the game goes well, we may be able to add some mobile connectivity for someone with a smartphone to mess with the player or to rearrange modules on the fly.

Favorite snack while developing?

TG: Pecan nuts.

MD: Steak tartare.

Most-used software during development work?

TG: Unity3D.

MD: Reaper.

Favorite game of all time?

TG: Enter the Gungeon.

MD: Ikaruga tied with Katamari Damacy.

Favorite game console of all time?

TG: N64.

MD: PS2.

Favorite smell?

TG: My Potatoe.

MD: Defeat.

If you were trapped in the game world of Far Ago, what would be your preferred method of escape?

TG: Even if it’s a dystopian world, I wouldn’t want to leave it. I want to go to space so bad!

MD: Bending the code (like my homie, Keanu).

Before we finish this interview, are there any shout-outs you’d like to make? Other favorites in your own development community? Anyone I should follow on Twitter?

TG: @ElorynPartition They are working on a very gorgeous game. Lots of poetry and very unique gameplay.
@JailBreak3014 I met him on Facebook a few weeks ago. He is currently working on a game named Foot; if you like to spit whatever you’re drinking out of your nose, you should check out his work.

MD: @moblets This is a beautiful game about farming, creatures and adventure. It’s something like Harvest Moon meets Pokemon, but very unique. I’m overly excited for it!
@InnerSpaceGame A mesmerizing flight based game being developed by @PolyKnightGames. With a really great OST by Chris Miller.

If you’d like to help AwkwardNaut launch their game on Steam, visit Far Ago on Steam Greenlight and voice your support!

Eggggg Review

Eggggg is a game like no other. Overflowing with torrents of vomit, sentient eggs, and classic 2D platforming, the game drips with an utterly unique brand of weirdness, wrapped up in nostalgic googly-eyed charm, and topped off with unadulterated explosions of vivid colors. From the title screen to the final level, Hyper Games establishes their twisted vision, and they’re not afraid to splatter it all over you.

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Eggggg isn’t lengthy, and its mechanics aren’t wholly original, but the presentation is out of this world. The entire game oozes with the charm of an old Nickeolodeon cartoon, thriving on gross-out humor, unsettling-yet-satisfying sound effects and an atmosphere of pure, idiotic joy. The game’s protagonist exists in a state of endless glee, his arms flailing behind him as plunges toward a host of saw blades, mutant chickens, and anthropomorphic eggs.

The controls are simple. To turn left, tap on the left side of the screen. To turn right, tap on the right side. To jump, tap again in the direction you’re running. After a few well-implemented tutorials, you’ll soon be wall-jumping, clinging to moving surfaces and rocketing through the skies with ease. It’s admittedly difficult to jump straight up or down, to tackle some of the game’s more devious challenges, but instances requiring this skill are few and far between. It’s easy enough to make it through the game’s paltry 20 levels, but the real fun of Eggggg lies in achieving three star ratings on each level, by grabbing at least 50 golden pieces and 3 golden eggs. Not to mention the multitude of hidden golden-balloon challenges, only uncovered by rooting around for hidden passages and invisible walls.

While purchasing Eggggg, I was curious as to how a simple vector-art platformer could possibly justify a 350MB download. However, as soon as I booted up the first screen, the reason behind the huge download was obvious. Eggggg’s graphics, animation and sound design are top-notch, overflowing with personality and detail. The animations are fluid and dynamic, the level design is expertly crafted, and the graphical fidelity is razor-sharp. Not to mention that the audio design is varied enough that I didn’t tire of vomit sounds during my three hours of playtime, which is a miracle unto itself. In a world of shovelware free-to-play titles, Eggggg is a breath of fresh air, and shows that there are developers in this day and age who still value their craft, and care about the gamer’s experience from beginning to end.

I could rave about Eggggg all day. If you consider yourself a fan of 2D platformers or gross-out 90s cartoons, buy it. If you want to make a statement to developers that meticulous detail is still valued in today’s marketplace, buy it. If you’re on the fence and aren’t sure if it’s worth the $1.99, skip your daily coffee and take the leap. It’s an utterly unique experience, and an absolute joy to play.

5 Stars