We’re starting 2019 off in the right way with some stellar indie games in our second Round Up this week, accommodating for a lack of a Nindie Round Up goodness over Christmas. We have brilliant party action in Catastronauts, Wondershot and Oxyjet, some manic, shoot 'em up fun in Overdriven Reloaded: Special Edition, and even some arcade action with Julie's Sweets. This is the weekend to get your friends round for the local multiplayer fun of the good old days via some smashing indie titles.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Our first of three multiplayer experiences starts off with a strong, space-themed bang with Catastronauts. Playing in a remarkably similar manner to the insanely popular Overcooked, you play with 1-4 players, fixing your ship after enemy fire and firing back to deplete their overall health before they can do the same to you. It’s a neat concept that's delivered quite well in an easy-to-understand manner and ramps up the insanity and chaos nicely, especially as more players are introduced.
Your main goals are to put out fires, reseal cracked tiles, and fire your cannons back at opposing ships, all while managing your ships HP in addition to that of your playable character. It’s a task that’s almost impossible when playing alone; this is a multiplayer game that really relies on having at least one friend to play along with by encouraging and rewarding cooperation and quick decision making. The single player option is weaker, giving you command of a second player that you can switch between easily enough, but is maddeningly confusing and frustrating to keep track of in a coherent way. With two or more players, however, it makes for a smashingly fun party game that really gets the blood pumping as the number of hazards spread and gameplay become increasingly frantic. There’s also a fairly charming but basic story mode, but if you’re thinking of tackling that alone, think again. This is a multiplayer game through and through.
Presentation wise, its style isn’t groundbreaking but is sufficiently cute and likeable. Again, it bears a resemblance to the visual style of Overcooked but with a Star Trek-inspired skin, giving you control of red shirts and alien creatures alike. With a great concept, a responsive, sensible control layout and the option to play with up to four players, Catastronauts is highly recommended for some intensely enjoyable cooperative action.
A port of a shmup that originally started life on the Xbox 360, Overdriven Reloaded: Special Edition is such a mad time that it can give even the most intense moments of Catastronauts a run for their money. It’s a shoot 'em up that cuts right to the chase, throwing you straight into hordes of enemies after a very brief tutorial segment. It’s a standard indie shmup at first glance, but it offers some interesting features that let it stand out from the crowd a little.
The weapons are interesting, as the game arms you not only with a basic machine gun, but also a screen-spanning bomb for sticky situations and a huge laser that can be operated at the cost of bringing you down to 20% health. These can lead to some fun experimenting and can be a real lifesaver when used correctly. You also have the ability to change the colour of your ship, allowing you to shoot blocks in a row that match the colour of your blast for some unexpected puzzling elements and further benefits. Other than that, it’s standard fare, but the sheer quantity of ‘stuff’ in general on the screen is as impressive as it is head-hurting.
Overdriven Reloaded looks similar to many colleagues in its genre and is sadly lacking in any really interesting level design. Both the player ship and the enemies are pretty generic, though the weapon animations often look impressive when sweeping across the screen. It’s great fun, but suffers from some minor sloppy issues such as a lack of clarity as to when you’ve taken a hit. There’s definitely more good than bad on display here, though, and has sufficient fun to be found.
A typical arcade-style time management game, Julie’s Sweets has you running a small café and -eventually - different, larger levels inside a thinly plot-driven, cooking-themed sim. The plot involves you guiding Julie through key decisions in her young life, helping the family business and enrolling her into cooking school to make the best dishes possible. It’s about as stock as one can get and bears more than a casual resemblance to Waku Waku Sweets, which we covered a few weeks back. The gaming community just goes mad for stories about young girls who love to cook, it seems.
Gameplay wise, it’s a little basic, with the main goal of satisfying customers by creating various dishes being pretty easy to manage. That said, as multiple orders flood in, with different meals each time, it can get pretty frantic and challenging, especially in later levels. You’re timed on how long your patrons have had to wait based on a decreasing heart gauge, which can lead to some intense juggling and combos when things really start to heat up. Admittedly, once on a roll, the act of preparing and serving food, and earning hearts and new tools, actually becomes rather addictive, if monotonous. Unfortunately, though, its repetition is akin to unimaginative free-to-play games, along with its shallow end goal, strikingly ugly visuals, and dull, simplistic gameplay.
The visuals are indeed a bit unnerving, with Julie’s wide eyes staring directly into your soul every time you boot up for that overly long loading screen. The other characters share this accidentally horrifiying design and look unappealing as a result. The music is also quite stock, sounding reminiscent of old-school social media games like Farmville with its chill acoustic guitar and repeating medley. Overall, Julie’s Sweets isn’t a bad game; it plays well for what it is and can be addictive once invested, but the shallow story, scary visuals, and lack of replay value let it down.
A multiplayer experience in the truest sense of the word, Oxyjet is a unique beast that has you engaging in competitive space action, but not in the way you might expect. Gone are such trivialities as lasers and bullets; now it’s all about creating oxygen leaks to ram into each other, depleting health and trying to stay in the centre circle for as long as possible. This bizarre concept is the most appealing part of Oxyjet, with it essentially playing as a high-tech, space-themed sumo wrestle.
Two players control each ship, one to create leaks with a buzz saw and the other to patch them up. With four players engaged, this makes for more than a good bit of a fun, but without the maximum number of players, it’s a slog; taking control of both characters with different Joy-Con is a hassle. With the benefit of having played Catastronauts this week, Oxyjet really could’ve done with the former's intuitive swap button, rather than manually swapping between controllers. As for single player; it’s non-existent. You’ll always need at least two players to get a match going, which can be frustrating for players who’d prefer to hone their skills against the A.I. Other than that, there’s little to complain about with Oxyjet, as it offers an array of different stages that introduce further hazards and obstacles, adding to the chaos.
However, it doesn’t excel in its presentation, with fairly basic graphics and a run of the mill ambient soundtrack. Concurrently though, its gameplay is brilliant for a party pick, with cooperation between players becoming essential for victory. Games can become very tense very quickly and with more skilled players, have the potential to last a long time. The lack of single player is frustrating, but not enough to rob it of a well-deserved thumbs up.
For our final party game this week, we round things off with the competitive top-down fun of Wondershot. Simplicity is key here, as the game operates similarly to the equally brilliant Towerfall, albeit from a top-down perspective. You have a variety of weapons to choose from and play as one of four characters in an all-out brawl, with each weapon providing a one-hit kill. This means that accuracy becomes your most important skill.
A focus on accurate skill leaves a fresh taste as the game proudly proclaims that there’s no element of luck to be found here. Combining this simple but effective gameplay with a huge array of powerups like super speed and additional weapons, you'll soon find yourself loving the fast-paced matches and ensuing pandemonium. There is also a single player offering in the form of individual challenges, which is welcome not only for skill honing but also as an alternative to the enjoyable but mindless multiplayer matches. The biggest flaw, however, is the lack of A.I controlled opponent battles as the game defiantly tells you ‘we need a second player.’ This is frustrating and would be an essential addition to a patch, expanded edition, or sequel.
The presentation of Wondershot is also really tight. The characters are colourful and well designed, and speak with amusing, high-pitched tones similar to the iconic, weird and wonderful chants of the worms from, err, Worms. All in all, Wondershot, similarly to Oxyjet, is brilliant if you have four friends around. Where it’s superior to Oxyjet, however, is that it’s equally brilliant with just two players and even alone, if you enjoy the challenge maps. The lack of A.I matches is irritating, but certainly not a deal breaker for the charming, competitive, multiplayer experience.
Will you be getting some friends round for local multiplayer action with any of these games? Will you be going it alone with Julie’s Sweets or Overdriven Reloaded? Let us know in the comments below.