This week we have some great entries, with the stand out of Big Crown: Showdown, boasting some really great party game fun. Also featured are twin stick shooter, Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings, simple puzzler, Bleep Bloop, point-and-click horror goodness in Bad Dream; Coma and a disappointing arcade sports title with Pumped BMX Pro. Let’s do this.
An arcade sports game kicks us off this week and unfortunately, it’s a tad underwhelming. Taking its retro inspiration seriously, Pumped BMX Pro puts an emphasis on high scores, via set objectives in each of its 60 levels. It clearly influenced by classics like Excitebike, but has a very ‘mobile game’ vibe about it, that makes it unappealing for a repeat visit. The controls are pretty unforgiving and there’s a general lack of polish that makes it quickly forgettable.
Playing for the first time, Pumped BMX Pro’s difficulty curve is savage. Even playing the tutorial stage, the level of precision required to land a jump or trick is pretty extreme. More frustratingly, the tutorials pop up literally as you’re trying to time releasing the accelerator to properly land, seriously harming your chances of pulling it off. Obviously, as you progress, this becomes less and less of a problem, but the timing required remains laughably precise, leading to restarting levels becoming the norm. There is certainly some enjoyment to be found with landing the right tricks, though the game doesn’t seem bothered either way and lets you progress to the next level just for completion's sake.
Visually, Pumped BMX Pro isn’t anything to write home about, either. The characters are cartoonish, bland, and unappealing. A quick Google search of some of the names told us that these are real BMX racers – which is pretty cool – but their likeness isn’t exactly complimentary. The stages are equally bland, leaving the game feeling quite soulless. Amusingly, the ragdoll physics cause your character to flop to the floor when you lose, regardless of how you failed, which can be pretty funny to mess about with for about thirty seconds. Also of note is the awful sound design, which loops an ear-grating tune endlessly on each stage. Overall, Pumped BMX Pro isn’t broken or awful, but it is bland and forgettable. The bizarre top-heavy difficulty curve, unpleasant aesthetic, and lack of multiplayer make it feel like a wasted opportunity.
Don’t let looks fool you; despite its colourfully childish aesthetic, Bleep Bloop is a fiendishly difficult puzzler, with some great gameplay variations and a gorgeously chilled-out soundtrack. The game can either be played solo or co-op, which is nice. The aim of each level is to get Bleep and Bloop – two red and yellow sentient cubes, in case you were wondering – onto two blue finishing squares, using each other’s bodies to navigate puzzles. When you phrase it like that it sounds weird, but the puzzling here is great and gets the mind thinking.
Unlike say, Soap Dodgem, which relied on mobile game mechanics with the player obtaining a rating for each stage, Bleep Bloop focuses on what matters: difficulty progression and the introduction of new elements every few levels to keep things fresh. While you’ll start off just using the corners and your partner for navigation, you’ll soon come across a multitude of different interactable environmental elements, such as the ability to remove walls. The stages can be pretty frustrating, with a great amount of pre-thought needed to approach each obstacle, but the difficulty never veers into unfair territory. The length isn’t staggering, and could likely be cleared in a Sunday afternoon, but that’s kind of what you want with a game of this style; it’s short and sweet.
Visually, Bleep Bloop obviously isn’t going to win awards, but it has a simple, cute look. A fun touch is the character’s eye movements, which really helps to make them endearing. The stages are colourful, though not varied. Where Bleep Bloop really scores points aesthetically though, is in its rather lovely soundtrack. Each level is blessed by an ambient score that resembles aquarium music, mixed in with gorgeous, soft electric guitar. This really adds to the chilled-out vibe of the game and makes the more difficult levels slightly less frustrating, as you at least have some lovely tunes to listen to. Overall, Bleep Bloop is simple, but it knows it and relishes in it. For a lazy afternoon, you won’t go wrong with this charmingly basic puzzler.
Horror and point-and-click adventures often go hand in hand, merging atmosphere and gameplay appropriately to create a really immersive experience. Bad Dream: Coma is certainly no exception, giving us a stylised, unnerving, and tense game that requires logical thought to progress. The game throws you in head first, with little explanation of what’s going on, though the title is a bit of a giveaway. Little hints of lore are also spread over the levels, for example, such as newspaper segments. There are three possible endings, which is always welcome news for story-driven games; we’ll get to those in a second.
The puzzling is probably the weakest element of Bad Dream: Coma. It’s certainly not bad, and is pretty standard fare for a point-and-clicker, but the logic puzzles are really extreme. Worse still, it’s very easy to rule out the good ending immediately by making a simple mistake. When you’re aware of these implications though, it becomes even tenser trying to avoid something that might cost you the good ending, which is really thrilling. That said, some of the puzzles themselves can be terrifyingly bizarre. Without spoiling too much, one of the tasks required to obtain wires from a baby-doll still gives us nightmares.
Indeed, Bad Dream: Coma relishes in its disturbed, other-worldly atmosphere, which keeps the player on edge. Even though there wasn’t any during our playthrough, there was always an underlying unease that a jump-scare might burst onto the screen to disrupt the eerie ambience. This is largely maintained by the visual style, which is devoid of colour and features some horrific imagery from the outset. The music also works brilliantly to help craft this almost choking sense of unease, producing frightening, loud, hellish sounds every so often, keeping you on your toes.
In summary, Bad Dream: Coma is a nightmare, but we mean that in the best way possible. Though some of its puzzles are a little too cryptic, its tense gameplay, compellingly intriguing narrative, and solid visual design make it an awesome horror point-and-clicker.
Taking us to the skies, Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings is a charming twin-stick shooter that boasts a well-developed world to explore, in addition to some solid voice acting, a decent (if slightly flawed) narrative, and fine gameplay. The imagination in Airheart’s world design and art style is something to applaud, and may just be the game's greatest strength. The ability to see the beautiful sky level below you as you battle it out at higher altitudes is a really nice touch and makes the world feel alive. Similarly, the concepts of sky fishing, sky pirates, and a mythical sky whale to track down, while not completely original, all work to make this more than your run-of-the-mill shooter.
Combat-wise, Airheart is fine, but doesn’t quite ‘stick the landing.’ The control can feel a little clunky. A top-down perspective with 360-degree control is difficult to get right, and while Airheart is certainly playable, it can at times be fiddly and frustrating. That said, the ‘mechanics’ of the plane crafting are certainly more appealing, giving an expansive array of abilities to your little plane, ranging from new wings to additional weapons. The main concept revolves around collecting fish (the game's currency) while fighting off sky pirates. You can go up a level – where more fish swim – whenever you please, but you’ll also encounter more brutal opponents, so you’ll have to use your judgement. You’ll also need to use that judgement to assess when to call it a day, as, if you play on hard mode, permadeath is enabled. There is a slither of hope in being able to redirect your plane towards base camp, but it’s difficult and losing all of your hard-earned gear is a tough pill to swallow.
The visuals of Airheart are colourful and appealing. It adopts a cartoonish style, but manages to inject its own personality into the characters, vehicles, and surroundings, giving it a unique and awe-inspiring feel. The music also shifts as you progress further up, which is a really welcome addition to keep things fresh and avoid a droning sense of repetition. Overall, Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings is a solid time. A decent enough story with some fantastic world-building, fun progression via crafting, and some really intense quick decisions to be made, make this far more than just ‘falling with style.’
We love a good couch multiplayer game and Big Crown: Showdown offers a (mostly) great time. The game delivers frantic versus action, bound by a silly, generic story. The main issue is the lack of any kind of single player function, but as a party game, its value is high. You take up the mantle of one of four cute, multicoloured knights, trying to knock your opponents off of the stage (or into one of the many hazards) and either make it to the end of the screen with the most lives, or to rid your enemy knights of all of their lives, depending on the mode you opt for.
The control is brilliantly simplistic, only offering you the options to punch, jump, and block. Your punch is more a mad flail that’ll usually end in a scuffle with the victor coming down to luck. However, you’re also able to charge it up for a big hit, which can be incredibly satisfying, when throwing your foe directly into a fire wall. The simplicity of Big Crown: Showdown makes it incredibly easy to pick up and play, and it’ll be a great option for players of all ages. The frantic nature of combat also means that it doesn’t get old, despite its repetitive nature, as clashes can quickly turn into heated, epic battles for the victory crown. The number of worlds is a bit disappointing, with only three to battle it out on, though the length and the above-average layer of detail on each do somewhat make up for this.
The presentation of these stages is great, with beautiful spring rivers, mixed in with intricate air traps, that take inspiration from numerous cultures. The adorable sounds made by the knights also match their endearing ‘chibi’ look, making them easy to get attached to. The coins you collect in stages can also be spent on hats to upgrade your player with, and while they don’t make a lick of difference to gameplay, they sure look handsome. Overall, Big Crown: Showdown has great focus; a cute art style, and just plain and simple gameplay. Check it out for some wonderful party-gaming fun.
Will you be battling it out in Big Crown: Showdown, or any other games from the Nindie round up this week? Let us know in the comments below.