After an absence for the holiday period, the Nindie Round Up is back for a double whammy this week to see you into the new year. Today’s entry gives us three puzzle games with varying degrees of quality in Solar Flux, Dreamwalkers and Bring Them Home; the standout title of the week, Rain World - a beautifully intricate platformer with some of the best 2D visuals ever seen; and finally, we round things off with Mech Rage - a fun shoot 'em up that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
And with that, let’s talk indies for one final time in 2018...
Starting off the trend of the many puzzlers this week, this space-themed gem provides a nice breath of fresh air by using the touchpad as its primary method of gameplay. Using your finger, you must shoot off a pod from a mother ship and then control the pod itself to collect plasma, which will then top up the sun and fire off a solar flare.
While the concept may be very simple, the execution is quite strong overall. The controls are a bit tough to get a handle on at first, but once you're adjusted to them, they are manageable. The slow, methodical pace of the ships also works well with the somewhat clunky controls, leading to real ‘spacey’ feel - whether intentional or not. You’ll also manage fuel, shield strength, as well as time taken per level, in order to try and get the top score. The challenge is fair, though a three-star rating can be very challenging to reach and you’ll likely find yourself hitting the restart level button fairly often. The gameplay on the whole, however, is well thought out and will likely lead to cries of ‘just one more stage’ - something that many of its three-star level-based contemporaries can’t claim.
The visuals are a bit on the basic side. The ships, plasma, and suns all look fine, but aren’t exactly much to write home about. They’re serviceable and that’s about it. The soundtrack is quite nice, however, and helps to provide a relaxing, out-of-this-world atmosphere with its ambient sounds. Overall, Solar Flux is good verging on great; it does have a bit of a visual vacuum, but the gameplay - though difficult to get a handle on at first - makes up for this, with potentially addictive action.
Puzzler number two is the cartoonish, dream-based game Dreamwalker; though to be precise, it’s an action-puzzler. This one has you directing a chap through his dreams in order to reach the sun at the end of the stage by moving cloud blocks, navigating him through various hazards including alarm clocks and nightmares that will halt his progress.
Dreamwalker is another game that falls into the category of being suitable for smartphones, but lacks the substance to justify a full console release; it’s a fairly dull platform-puzzler that doesn’t really do anything new or inspired and feels awkward in its own skin. It’s also time-based, with a giant ticker at the top of the screen marking how much time you have left. In fairness, this can lead to increasingly frantic gameplay at times as more hazards appear forcing you to quickly rearrange platforms or risk being transported back to the start of the stage, but it just isn’t that engaging overall. It takes a special kind of game to make simple level-based puzzle gameplay consistently fun and interesting and, unfortunately, Dreamwalker doesn’t cut the mustard. Examples where the mustard is cut include this weeks’ entry Solar Flux, or the last Round Up’s entry of Conduct Together!.
The visuals are also dull, with a stock sounding soundtrack and typical Saturday morning cartoon style aesthetics that aren’t entirely pleasant to look at for extended periods of time. This, unfortunately, leads to a package that dooms Dreamwalker to mediocre obscurity; it’s fine, sure, and does what it does well enough to not be considered a terrible game, but the lack of anything particularly engaging or new makes it difficult to recommend for anything more than fifteen minutes of mind-numbing entertainment.
Our third and final puzzler today yet again ventures into space, this time in the form of a drone rescuing multicoloured astronauts to, well…bring them home. The gameplay is once again basic, but overall, the game serves to be more engaging than Dreamwalker and has a little more visual flair than Solar Flux.
Your goal involves transporting different coloured astronauts to portals, incorporating their different skills and requirements as well as the varied levels, in order to navigate to their end. For example, the red astronauts cannot be dropped from a great height, lest their rouge bodies crumble at the bottom. The green astronauts can be picked up and blue variations can push their comrades along after they themselves have had an initial nudge. This leads to a lot of outside-the-box thinking and a need to work out how to use each of them alongside your traditional puzzler fare like teleporters. This creates a lot of trial and error, however, which can become frustrating as you’ll find yourself restarting levels more often than not.
The visual style is also again, basic, but at least feels like it has a little more character and colour. The spacemen are sweet and easily identifiable, making you feel genuinely bad when you end up sending them to an accidental grisly death. Similar to Solar Flux, the soundtrack is relaxing and ambient, sounding like something you’d hear in a science museum. It doesn’t exactly make for hard-hitting action, but for the game’s purpose, it adds to the charm. Overall, Bring Them Home is a decent puzzler that manages to get the mind going and provides a decently chilled atmosphere. Like Dreamwalker, however, some may find it repetitive, with its simple gameplay only going so far.
A beautifully refreshing change of pace from all of this week’s puzzling action, Rain World is a survival platformer that has you controlling a bizarrely endearing and unnamed creature, traversing an apocalyptic landscape in search of food that allows you to hibernate to survive the tsunami levels of ensuing rain. Your rodent like slug creature is sickeningly sweet and loveable; Pokéfans could consider him a blend of Pikachu and Slugma.
The basic gameplay revolves around surviving day after day by foraging for food and hibernating once you have enough to live off of. Then, you awake and do the same thing again, in an apocalyptic version of Groundhog Day to progress further along the map. This provides some wonderful exploration and free roaming; the game certainly doesn’t hold your hand. It does, however, also provide some cruel difficulty spikes due to the randomised nature of both food sources and enemies. Many opponents are cruelly difficult, with one-hit KO attacks galore and not a huge amount to defend yourself with. That said, the thrill of finding a new area of the beautiful map does somewhat make up for the tough gameplay, which can, unfortunately, devolve into grinding.
However, where Rain World might slightly fall down in terms of repetitive gameplay, it redeems itself in style, sound, and visual aesthetic. This is truly a beautiful game, reminiscent of other 2D indie beauties like Limbo or Ori and the Blind Forest, while also being totally unique and stunning to look at. The wordless opening art tiles set to the gorgeous soundtrack alone could work as a short film; it’s that good. Overall, Rain World is highly recommended as a piece of art, even just to check out its gorgeous visuals. Its gameplay is unforgiving, but not to the extent where it becomes unplayable. It certainly will take some devotion and time to get good at it, but with a world this beautiful, is that such a bad thing?
Mech Rage is meat-headed and silly and it knows it, earning it brownie points. It’s an endearing and carefree shoot 'em up with a stock, generic plot and some fairly good combat. You take control of a mech suit and are left to clear each room of alien invaders before progressing to the next room to rinse and repeat. It’s about as stock as you can get, but the B-movie style dialogue, overly macho directions on the menus, and stereotypical characters make it an enjoyably irreverent experience.
The gameplay is also stock, but is serviceable for what it intends to accomplish. As you’d expect, you’re armed with a basic infinite rapid-fire weapon and have access to various upgrades to a secondary weapon as well as other items, dashes, and the like. You’ll traverse a selection of stages on each floor and upgrade your gear between levels using your collected points. As you’d expect, it’s up to you to prioritise what kind of gear you’ll improve based on your preferences and current needs, giving it some variation and replay value. The gameplay itself is a little slow for a shoot 'em up and feels just a tiny bit shallow; it’s difficult to explain, but the control isn’t the smoothest of the genre and it all feels just a bit clunky. That said, it’s serviceable and can lead to some fun experimentation, particularly on the easy difficulty, which the game humorously scolds you for selecting.
Aesthetically, it’s fine but nothing special - a trait it shares with many games in this week’s Round Up. The visuals are a good example of this, with character models all being classic stereotypes and the main support, Alexa, acting as a clear parody of the device of her namesake, while also resembling other tutorial characters like Cortana from the Halo series. The soundtrack is also a bit uninspired, with the generic sci-fi military vibe again supporting the atmosphere of the rest of the game. To sum up, Mech Rage is a self-aware and amusing shoot 'em up that seems to relish being a parody of the space army trope. It isn’t the best shmup out there, but you might still find some fun with it.
Will you be downloading the fantastic Rain World or any other games from this week’s offering? Let us know in the comments below...