Friday, February 25, 2011


Your goal.
Nothing can stop you.
Believe in yourself
and you can do anything.
Take up the challenge
and continue your BIT.TRIP.

It's time for more BIT.TRIP madness! As a part of our review series, this time we will play BIT.TRIP VOID and BIT.TRIP RUNNER. You can grab both on the Wii Shop Channel for 600/800 Wii Points. And it seems RUNNER for your computer at home is not far away.

Hey guys. What's up.
So, we've been following CommanderVideo for quite some time now, and now it's about time he gets social. Meeting others, finding friends, etc. Sadly, the Commander is doing it completely wrong at first.
The story is being told mainly in the cutscenes this time, and the occassional text appearing shortly in a stage. The background doesn't become less awesome, though.

Popping the void is a good idea
in this situation.
VOID doesn't limit you to the Wiimote this time. You can choose beetween using your Nunchuck or a Classic Controller, both of which work equally well. You can move your void around using the stick, and pop your void using a button.
The game goes after the classic R/R system. In case you are not familar with this, here's a quick explantation. R/R means risk/reward - there is a special goal you can only reach by taking a risk. Let's take Super Mario as example. There's a 1UP hanging right above a pit. The risk is losing your life, the reward getting a life.
The blog of Super Meat Boy has a quite nice analysis, go check it out.

How much will you risk to get
a good score here?
Now how is R/R implemented in BIT.TRIP VOID? Easy - you move around with your void, collecting black beats. For chaining black beats the value for each best increases, the multiplier grows and you get more points stored in your void. The catch is: with every beat your void grows, which makes it slower and thus it's harder to avoid white beats, which reset the beat value. Thus you have to pop your void after some time, and that's when the points in your void are added to your real score.

The R/R system brings a whole new dimension to the game, as you now can't get a highest possible score anymore. That keeps the competition up - sadly, due to the lack of online leaderboards it's hard to compare all scores.
note to myself: make an online portal to post your scores to. Would be awesome, I guess
The new checkpoints sure make the game easier than BEAT and CORE (that may be a good or bad point depending on your skill). The soundtrack is one of the best in the series, and the new backgrounds are awesome. While not being the best game, it comes pretty damn close to it. A great start for new BIT.TRIPpers who are not too sure if they have enough skills.

Now that the Commander has gotten some social skills and new-found friends, it's time to go on. He is living life to it's fullest. Nothing can stop him now. It's time for the TRIP in BIT.TRIP. It's time for BIT.TRIP RUNNER.

RUNNER features 3 zones with 11 levels,
11 retro challenges and a boss.
First thing you notice, the game title has 6 letters as opposed to the 4 letters of any other game. Why? I don't know, but it's worth noting.
Second thing you notice, the gameplay can be compared to the free flash game Canabalt. Holding the Wiimore horizontally, press 2 to jump over pits, rocks and other stuff. But as opposed to the flash game, you can do various other moves you learn while running through the 3 zones, which include sliding, using springs, kicking and getting your paddle from BIT.TRIP BEAT to block beats aiming for your head.

If you reach the highest mode, you
leave a rainbow trail. Double
Rainbow all the way!
As you jump, slide and kick your way through 69 (!) 2-minute-long levels, you must not fail. The NETHER meter from the older games is absent. One hit, and you're out. Back to the start, score set to 0 and mode reset to HYPER. RUNNER takes an idea from Super Meat Boy here - CommanderVideo will start running again just 3 seconds after your death.
But even though you just take one hit, RUNNER is by far the easiest of the pack right now.

And this is just the first part
of the level.

Why, you ask? Well, let's take a look at BEAT and CORE, where a death in one of the three levels would result in a restart of the entire level. In VOID there were 3 checkpoints per level, but you had to have a credit left, thus keeping the difficulty up.
Now let's imagine RUNNER's three zones were levels. You would have 11 checkpoints per level, free to use, and 11 challenges in front of each checkpoint as the only thing you can truly fail at. Also the bit-sized levels make it way easier to get a PERFECT.

That doesn't mean it's bad, though. In fact, this is - right now - the best BIT.TRIP game. Due to the short levels you can play this game for a short time while you wait for another game to finish loading, and it feels way more likely to get a perfect score, thus motivatnig many players to try what they haven't in the other BIT.TRIP games. And since it's the easiest game right now, other players with less skill can also quickly success. This is a must-buy, if you have a Wii.


You may ask why I didn't give a full 5 of 5. Well, it's because there's still room for improvement, since the final game is coming tomorrow. BIT.TRIP FLUX, the 6th part, will was released in Europe today and the USA get it on Monday! Get your Wii Points ready to complete the final chapter of your BIT.TRIP.
But before we review the final duo BIT.TRIP FATE and FLUX, we will take a look at what is most likely one of the most successful indie games of all time, being still in beta and has sold one million copies, though. If you still don't know what we're talking about, here's a final hint:
It's about working in mines and crafting.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Interview: John Sandoval

If you aren't already familiar with the name "John Sandoval," you damn well should be.  John is an independent developer who, while having yet to release any of his big projects, shows an immense amount of promise and dedication to his work.  If you haven't heard of this guy or any of his current stuff, you've come to right place.

When did you first become interested in making games?
JOHN: When did I first become interested in game development? Well, since the moment I picked up a controller, really.

What was your first programming language?
JOHN: Well, I started learning how to program about two to three years ago, when I was 15. Up to that point, I'd been spending a lot of time coming up with ideas and design documents, in the margins of homework and notes and whatever little scraps of paper were lying about, but nothing substantial had ever really come of it. With the intent to change that, I started off learning C++. It was tricky, but immensely satisfying.

Are you still continuing to learn more C++, or have you stopped learning for now?
JOHN: On occasion, I'll still fire up DevC++ and just muck around in it a bit, but for now, I don't actually use C++ to program games. Instead, I use GM8 (Game Maker 8). It's just a lot easier to get a prototype up and running. In the future, I'd like to see if I can build something from the ground up, but for now, it's GM.

Has your prior experience in other programming languages made GML (Game Maker Language) easier to get into?
JOHN: Well, the syntax of GML's not exactly a tough nut to crack, but the general thinking process behind it, the identification of a problem and the discerning of solutions, that's something that's been pretty helpful. I don't know if I picked it up while learning more 'difficult' languages, but it's definitely been my most useful tool.

Biochrome; Sandoval's first game.
You definitely show a liking for Game Maker, as Erhardt and Vergessen, your two current projects, are being actively developed with it.  What made Game Maker the program of choice for development?
JOHN: It's cheap. It's easy. And there's a lot of tutorials for it on TIGSource (The Independent Gaming Source).

Speaking of TIGSource, that's probably the one community you're most active in.  What drew you to TIGS - and the independent gaming scene moreover - in the first place?
JOHN: Well, I can track my very first encounter with indie games back to the Freeloader blog, which was written by Scott Sharkey of 1UP. Anyway, he did a little video podcast on independent gaming, covering stuff like Crayon Physics and Darwinia, and a few of Cactus' games. And as for TIGSource, I got involved with the Indie Brawl Community project (it's been going on for a while now) as a spriter. I liked the people there, so I've stuck with it ever since.

And you've started up a few projects of your own, too!  I'm already familiar with Erhardt and Vergessen, the two you're working on now, but I don't believe I've heard anything about Biochrome, your mysterious other project.  For those who don't know about any of these games, would you mind giving a brief summary of each?
JOHN: Right. Well, Biochrome was the first real project I made (using GM). It started off as a school project for Biology class. The idea was that you were a virus, and you had to infect as many cells as possible. Avoid T-Cells, multiply, evolve, repeat. Aesthetically speaking, the game looked like a microscope slide. Gameplay was a bit derivative, but hey. You've gotta start somewhere.

Erhardt, a "little puzzle platformer" about a girl with mind powers
As for Erhardt, it's a little puzzle platformer I started in the summer of 2010  where you control a young woman with the ability to move objects with her mind. She's trapped in this sort of hellish dimension, and the objective of the game is simply to utilize your abilities to get to the exit. Hopefully that'll be finished before summer of this year, but for now, it's been put on the backburner while I work on my latest project, Vergessen.

Vergessen's currently entered in the TIGSource Versus Competition, and it's a 2 player game built around the theme of "survival of the fittest". In the game, you must work with your partner in order to survive this frozen wasteland, but it becomes clear that the two of you are in direct competition for food and water. So the whole game is sort of this passive aggressive mind game that ultimately results in murder and/or cannibalism.

Judging from what you've released about it so far, Vergessen is probably the most intriguing Versus entry I have yet to see.  Another game that I was reminded of when I saw your thread was Under the Garden, which was submitted last year for the "Game By Its Cover" competition.  While you might not have drawn inspiration from that one specifically, where did you get the idea for that "survival of the fittest" type game?
JOHN: Econ 201. There was a lecture on economic scarcity, and I sort of took that information and tried to bring it to life as a game. We'll see how successful my attempt is in a few days.....

It's a dog eat dog world out there, or man eat man, in this case.
Even from the current screenshots, there's already a sort of bitterness and isolation present.  The idea of cooperating with your partner to survive at the beginning, only to have to stab him in the back later on for your own well being is a pretty brilliant one.  Were you planning to give the player some sort of emotional attatchment to his/her partner to make the act of killing them at the end a morally challenging one?
JOHN: Well, yes. Through the course of the game, there are quite a few instances where players will have to save each others' asses, and inevitably they'll build up some sort of comradeship. However, as to whether or not it'll factor into making them question the act of killing one another, I'm a bit of a skeptic. Murder is just much too fun.  In games, at least.

Since you are making this for the "Versus" competition, you have to finish the game by a set deadline.  Have there been many difficulties in trying to conform to that deadline?
JOHN: I've been managing to keep up fairly well, but a lot of things have had to be cut. Online play was pretty much ruled out in the first week. But some of the cuts have been for the best. Originally, the game focused on exploration, with new areas being unlocked as players delved beneath the surface. Naturally, time constraints have forced me to cut that down quite a bit, reshaping the game's focus into holing down in one area and building up a sort of a base, though exploration still plays a decent part. Still, I feel it provides for a much tighter gameplay experience. An added plus is that I don't have to make nearly as many art assets as I did before.

Vergessen: a game about dots and larger dots.
What has been the most challenging part of development so far?
JOHN: Am I allowed to swear?

Sure, I don't see why not.
JOHN: Right, well then, all I can say is: fuck inventory systems, fuck data structures, and most of all, a very special 'fuck you' to user interfaces. Getting these little bastards up and running has been a long arduous process that's still not 100% complete. In comparison, terrain generation/destruction took me two days, and the damage/death system only took me a few hours.  Yeah, my first version of the inventory system was done with a huge set of variables that was completely hack-ish and ass backwards. It took me a week before I realized I had to redo it.

Is there any confirmed date for release, or is this going to be a "barely make the deadline" ordeal?
JOHN: One way or another, the game will end up being released on the 27th of February. Percentage wise, right now I'd say I'm currently 85% complete, so I feel I've got a pretty solid chance of finishing it to my satisfaction.

Silly questions
"While you were busy fucking off on TIGSource, this guy built 7 games"
Nuclear Holocaust imminent.  You're only allowed to take 3 games into the shelter.  Which three do you choose?
JOHN: Minecraft, Minecraft, and a pack of cards for when the power inevitably dies out.

Inspirational figures?
JOHN: Petri Purho and Jonatan Soderstrom, also known as Cactus. Both are indie developers, and both are known for their ridiculously high output of interesting games. I've actually got each of their faces posted up on my corkboard as sort of motivational posters...  (one of the posters says "WWPD: What Would Petri Do?" and the other says "While you were busy fucking off on TIGSource, this guy [Soderstrom] built 7 games")

You can find out more about John's projects on their respective threads on TIGSource: Vergessen, Erhardt

You should also check out the works of Artem Bank, the man responsible for Vergessen's incredible soundtrack.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A humble goodbye: Babbity

Well, all good things must come to an end at some point.  As of this morning, Babbity, the artist for Monday's reviews, has left the team.  Until I can get a new illustrator, the only posts with illustrations will be those by Mabelma and Suyo on Thursdays.  The resignation message came to me unexpectedly this morning.  While I'm a bit saddened by this, I'm sure there was a reason for it.  He did a wonderful job with the illustrations for the time he was with Grizzly Pixel, and he's no doubt out there making some great-looking comics and drawings somewhere.  Goodbye, Babbit.  You'll be missed.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: Super Meat Boy

In 2008, Edmund McMillen and Jonathan McEntee put a flash game called Meat Boy on Newgrounds. It became an instant hit, and even had a map pack added not long after its release. In January 2009, McMillen, now teamed up with programmer Tommy Refenes, announced Super Meat Boy, a sequel for WiiWare and PC. Read on to see why this is the third best game of 2010 according to Metacritic, on which systems it ended up, and what's soon to come.

The regular Super Meat Boy level:
Saws everywhere.
The story tells the classic tale of "my girlfriend was kidnapped, go save her."  This may seem like standard platforming fare, but the pure creativity and hilarious manner in which it is told really makes it stand out against the sea the other video game stories. First off, the game's hero, Meat Boy, is a boy without skin. Then there's his girlfriend, Bandage Girl. A girl out of - well - bandages. Their life would be perfect if there wasn't a certain diabolical fetus. That fetus, titled appropriately "Dr. Fetus", lives in a jar, and wears a tuxedo, a monocle and a top hat. He hates Meat Boy (actually, he hates everything, including you) and thus runs away with Bandage Girl. What follows is a chase through 6 worlds, each with 20 levels (not counting bonus levels, worlds, DLC and the Dark World levels, which are harder versions of the normal levels) In total, there are over 300 levels to beat.

Guess which game this level references to!
Click for solution: *
This game is brimming with references to other games.. You want some examples? World 5 Intro. A destroyed city in the background, a skyscraper in the foreground. The camera slowly scrolls up, and low and behold, Meat Boy is standing atop it. Get the reference?

Next example. After entering a Warp Zone (another reference!) in World 3, you are greeted with Ogmo from Matt Thorson's Jumper, who can be unlocked by clearing his three stages. Also, at the end of the level the guy from Karoshi: Suicide Salaryman tells you "Bandage Girl is in another Warp Zone" (a nice little nod to "Super Mario Brothers").  Aside from Ogmo, there are 9 other Indie Characters from other games, like CommanderVideo from BIT.TRIP, Runman from Runman: Race Around the World, Steve from Minecraft and The Kid from I Wanna Be the Guy. Everyone has a special ability, like double jumps, warping, floating or just running really damn fast.

These spikes have a point.
For the controls, you better get yourself a gamepad. While the keyboard controls work, the gamepad controls make Meat Boy way easier to control. To quote Team Meat, "[A gamepad] is not required, but neither is bathing. Think about it."

The level design is great - there is a fine line beetween hard and unfair, and Super Meat Boy is balancing on that line. There are traps everywhere, but it's always your fault - there are no unfair jumps or traps like in I Wanna Be the Guy.

Not only does this picture sum up Tofu
Boy, but the speech bubble also
represents the gameplay. Nice.
Also worth a mention: Edmund McMillen has been trolling PETA. Yeah, a indie developer team consisting out of 2 people has been posting the game on the forums of those guys. Then the vegans striked back - releasing a parody of Super Meat Boy, appropriatly titled Super Tofu Boy. Not only has this given a lot of publicity to Team Meat, they weren't done yet and added Tofu Boy as a playable character.
And yes, he plays as well as a wet sack full of snails.

Super Meat Boy is a platformer, but stands out because of its difficulty, which ranges from "this isn't too hard" hard to "try to stop aliens from destroying the world using chewing gum" hard; the retro references, and the indie all-star cast. It's on Steam and XBox Live Arcade, and there will be an annoucement releating to the Wii Retail version during the Game Developer's Conference. The upcoming Level Editor for the PC will bring tons of new content; for the Xbox players too, since Team Meat will upload user-made chapters they deem awesome to the DLC chapter of the console.  (Oh, there's a reference in there too. The DLC chapter is called "Teh Internets" and the planet has an imprinted troll face.)

This game totally deserves being the third best game of 2010 after Starcraft 2 and Mass Effect 2.  It's a fantastic title, but it's not a game for people who don't like getting frustrated at games.  Life has enough of those moments already. If you do like your difficulty hard-as-nails, though, this game is a must-buy.


Thursday, February 10, 2011


Everything comes from nothing.
Nothing comes from something.
Life is rhythm.
Rhythm is life.
It will all make sense
once we return to nothing.
Our BIT.TRIP has started.

In celebration of the upcoming final part, we will review the BIT.TRIP series by Gaijin Games. BIT.TRIP consists out of 6 parts. Today, we will review the first both games of the series, BIT.TRIP BEAT and BIT.TRIP CORE. In case you want to check them out, they are available on the WiiWare store for the small fee of 600 Wii Points. If you want BEAT but don't own a Wii, it was also released on the iOSes, but since the controls were criticized I suggest grabbing for PC/Mac on Steam.

The hero of the BIT.TRIP
series: CommanderVideo.
Space... the final frontier. These are the voyages of CommanderVideo. His continuing mission: To make people rage. Hard. The story of the BIT.TRIP games is told in short cutscenes and the animated backgrounds of the stages. It's hard to look at those while there are 10 beats per second flying on your paddle, though. You probably won't even be able to make sense of the story on your first playthrough. And even after a couple more, it still won't be easy.

Let's play "Keep track of all the flying stuff
on the screen"! ... You lost!
The gameplay can be best described as “Pong versus a machine gun”. By tilting the Wiimote, you can move your paddle up and down, reflecting “beats” which are being launched at you from the right. There are multiple kinds – the ones going straight, the wall-bouncers, the juggling beats, the stuttering beats, the wave beats, the trail beats, and the paddle-stopping beats – luckily you can differ every beat, as they all have a unique color. It starts off easy with slow beats, but later in the 3 stages – TRANSITION, DESCENT and GROWTH - you won't get a break from the massive onslaught.

“3 stages” makes the game sound pretty short, but considering every stage is 15 minutes long and if you fail, you have to replay the entire stage, it sounds a lot longer. This game is unforgiving. If you always fail at the part which appears 7 minutes in, you have to replay these 7 minutes every time. It can be frustrating as hell if you aren't a person who likes really hard games like this.

By leveling up into MEGA, your multiplier
will increase as long as you hit beats
– but miss 5 beats and it gets reset.
As this is a rhythm game, the music is a big part of the experience. And this game does not let you down. Oh no. On a scale of 0 to 5, this soundtrack gets a solid 10. Chiptune beats play in the background, and every beat hit plays a note. Every transition you pass adds a new layer to the background music. If you miss enough beats, you get leveled down into NETHER mode, where the music is off and beeps are just played through the Wiimote. If you manage to avoid a game over, the music instantly kicks in again. On the contrary, if you hit enough beats you get into MEGA mode, which makes your score skyrocket and makes music and graphics even BIT.TRIP-pier.

As soon you finally beat the (incredibly hard) boss of the final level, you are done here. The odd story is concluded in the ending – and suddenly, it all makes sense. The meteor in TRANSITION, the beats, the cutscenes. Relieved because you finally beat those levels, you keep coming back for more; new highscores, and even trying to get the elusive PERFECTs, by hitting every beat. You are competing with your friends who can beat the boss of TRANSITION without missing a beat; who can get a higher score on DESCENT and who can play GROWTH while holding the Wiimote the wrong way. Or, you could just do it to hear the great music again. The only downside is that it's a game for experienced players – other players will get frustrated easily because of the massive difficulty.


But wait, stop! Move your mouse away from that X button. There's more.
BEAT was just the first step on the Commander's journey. Now, it's time to meet his surroundings. The saga continues with BIT.TRIP CORE - it's 600 Wii Points on the Wii Shop Channel, and will be released soon on Steam.

The menu serves, like in BEAT, as a
tutorial - it will show you the basic
controls and gameplay.
CORE uses a completely different gameplay mechanic than BEAT, removing motion controls and the paddle. Instead, you have a Core in the screen center. By holding the D-Pad in a direction, a beam is sent out. As soon a beat passes by your core, press 2 to turn the beam into a laser, destroying the beat, giving you points and increasing your mode. But still, many elements from the first game were carried over, like the 3 old modes, and a new mode higher than MEGA, called SUPER. And I tell you, this is just for the pros. Your score is increasing rapidly, your multiplier skyrocketing and the music is being continually awesome - until you miss a beat, that is. Because one mistake will send you right back to MEGA again.

You will be in NETHER a lot.
And I mean a LOT.
Again, having a load of different beats you have to return, CORE is a bit harder than BEAT, making it the hardest BIT.TRIP game yet. The game still spans three levels, still 15 minutes each and still as unforgiving as before. If you continue to miss beats and end up in the NETHER and don't manage to get back into HYPER, you're out. Score back to 0, progress back to 0, all effort gone. And then, rage. Luckily, BIT.TRIP CORE is motivating enough to keep you going, even through all of your constant failures. Everytime you fail at the boss, you get more and more tries until you can finally nail the pattern, and subsequently, the boss. Then, you're just so damn happy, you jump right into the next stage. And fail. Again.

Though it got some of the best reviews in the entire series, the developers say CORE is the worst BIT.TRIP game. But that doesn't mean it's bad; it's a really great game, and can easily be counted as one of the best WiiWare exclusives. It's addictive as hell, the bosses are great references to old games like Asteroid, and the music is pretty damn awesome. Especially the soundtrack of the final level, CONTROL. The story is less complex (if you got the story of BEAT it will be way easier), but the music works well with the backgrounds and cutscenes to weave an interesting tale. CORE is a wonderful symbiosis, and despite being - as stated before - the weakest game of the pack, it's definitely worth checking out.


And that's it for today! Check back next Thursday when we review Super Meat Boy, and stay tuned for future reviews of BIT.TRIP VOID and BIT.TRIP RUNNER!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Newcomer: Mabelma!

Who am I?

- I am an artist hired by the FBI to create art from important cases like the HellBoy finding or the Pandora riot, you might remember some of my work at the Death Star incident.

- I was the cavemen that came up with the RockTrek saga.

- The Force guides my life.

- I have Na'vi hair and ears.

- Mario and Luigi are my only friends

You've probably guessed it by now, but none of those things are true (though maybe the last one is)... This is who I am.  My name is Mabelma, and I'm an artist. I will be accompanying Superyoshi through his journey into the indie world by making all the illustrations for his articles. Hope you like my work, and remember, stay indie.

Mabelma will now be doing all of the illustrations for Thursday reviews!  Be sure to look out for his debut review with Superyoshi next Thursday!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: Iji

The amount of alien shooters available in today's market is undeniably huge.  In Halo, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Dead Space and countless other blockbuster franchises, shooting space grunts in the face seems to be a recurring theme.  Now, I love games like Mass Effect that try to put a new spin on a weary formula, but those type of titles are few and far between.  The main problem with the "space marine action game" genre isn't so much that it's overdone, but rather that no one's willing to take any risks in it.  But if the mainstream media isn't up to the task of mixing it up a little, who is?  I'm sure that was the question consistently going through independent developer Daniel Remar's mind when he created Iji, which does everything and a half to stand out amongst the crowd.

From the moment you start playing, Iji's influences are easy to spot.  The character graphics are very reminiscent of games like Another World or Flashback, and the atmosphere gives off a huge Super Metroid vibe.  The art is simple yet effective, and I was surprised at how well Remar utilized his resources to create an immersive, memorable atmosphere that gives a unique flavor to each level.  Each aesthetic element complements each other, and the blending together of all of them makes for some wonderful eye-candy.  Add to that some amazing attention to detail (such as  the ship fights happening in the background of some levels), and you have yourself one great-looking game.

Of course, graphics alone don't carry Iji.  Far from it.  The gameplay system Remar has put in place works wonderfully, and you'll never feel like anything less than a nanoteched-out badass.  The basics are actually incredibly simple: Arrow keys for movement, 'Z' to kick, 'X' to shoot, and 'C' to interact.  But the core gameplay goes far deeper than that.  You begin the game with your standard shotgun, which deals reasonable damage, has infinite ammo, and a relatively short reload rate.  As you progress further and kill more enemies, though, you'll begin to acquire a substance called "Nano."  There's a little bar in the lower right hand corner of your screen that tracks the amount of nano you have left until the next level.  Level up, and you'll be given a point to spend at any of a series of modules for upgrading various stats.  Want to get better weapons?  Upgrade your "Tasen" or "Komato" stats.  Can't break down that door?  Upgrade your strength.  Want your weapons to deal more damage?  Getting some more attack power should solve that problem.  If you could level up as much as you want, this could make for one pretty overpowered character, but there's a limit of 5 levels per sector, so you'll have to distribute your stats sparingly.  This type of upgrade system really allows for a lot of experimenting, and encourages you to play through a certain sector multiple times to try out all sorts of different combinations.

One of the stats you'll want to focus on in particular, though, is the "Crack" stat.  This particular upgrade improves your ability to hack, something you'll be doing a lot of.  Hacking is done by interacting with hackable objects.  Once you begin the hack, you'll start a hacking minigame where you have to navigate a white square to a red one, while avoiding all of the black squares.  Lower level hacks are typically simpler, but the higher level ones tend to have much more difficult and complex puzzles to figure out.  You can use hacking to open doors and chests and sabotage enemies, but its most important purpose is in the fusion of weapons.  Each and every weapon you find in the game can be combined with another to form a new, more powerful one.  For instance, the machine gun can be combined with the shotgun to create the Buster Gun, a rapid fire variation of the shotgun.  This weapon creation aspect really adds an entirely new element of strategy and experimentation to Iji, and definitely stands out as one of the bigger highlights in the game.

But the thing that kept me going, the thing that drove me to complete every sector, was the story.  Now, that might sound a bit weird at first.  An alien shooting game with a compelling story does sound like a bit of a stretch, but this is far from it.  The game starts out relatively simple.  You and your family are taking a walk through your father's lab, and you look out a window to admire the view, when a couple of oddly glowing clouds suddenly fire massive laser beams from their interiors and completely fry most life on earth.  Luckily, you make it out alive, but you find out from your brother Dan (via a disembodied voice on an intercom) that everyone you know has been killed by an alien race known as the Tasen.  And it is at this point that you are given a gun and reluctantly make your way to the first sector.  There are two potential paths you can take from here: Do you blast apart these invaders who have wiped out your planet, or do you spare them out of mercy?

The little choices you make in the game have a large bearing on the way the story unfolds.  During your first kills, Iji seems apprehensive about shooting down the Tasen.  You'll hear her apologize, sniff and whimper when she delivers the killing blow.  Little details like these bring a sense of humanity to Iji's personality, making every shot a difficult decision.  Start to kill more, however, and Iji loses that initial sympathy, with phrases like "Sorry!" being replaced by cries of "DIE!"  Iji's emotions aren't the only thing affected by her actions, though.  Throughout the sectors, logbooks of the Tasen and Komato (the alien force fighting the Tasen) are scattered about.  At the beginning of the game, the content of them is pretty much set in stone, but as you are presented with more and more choices, the text within the logbooks changes to conform with the outcomes of those choices.  There are many intriguing elements to be found in these little electronic diaries, ranging from historical facts about the Tasen and Komato to first-hand accounts of war from each side.  They really do a great job of adding on to a game already strong on story.

As you begin to unwrap this mystery of the outside world, you are constantly reminded of the fact that nearly every living thing on the planet has been eliminated, which leads you to question what you're doing.  Is there really much of an Earth left to save?  If you do manage to kill every alien on the planet, what is there left to do?  In many other "space marine" games, the whole point is to stop aliens from destroying Earth.  In Iji, they already have.  It's an interest twist that I can honestly say was very welcome during my time playing.  It makes you focus less on the well-being of humans, and more on the beings that destroyed them.  While Iji's methods of advancing its narrative aren't necessarily completely original, they're done with an air of finesse that few games I've played can match.

Before I wrap this review up, I'd like to talk a little bit about the sheer level of content this game provides.  The lab is split up into 10 different sectors, each an adventure in of its own.  It should take you somewhere in the range of 20 minutes to complete each level, and that's not counting any of the boss fights in between.  A straightforward playthrough should be around 2-3 hours long, which is still an amazing feat for a free game, but chances are, you won't just play through it once.  There are secrets - loads upon loads of them - to be had.  Each sector has a poster and a ribbon in it.  Ribbons will advance a side story about Iji's little sister, while the posters serve a greater purpose.  Collecting all ten of them will unlock something.  Something incredibly, incredibly secret.  I'm not going to tell you what, but it's certainly worth the effort it takes to get there.

Of course, as with every great game, there are bound to be a couple flaws.  The limiting of shooting to only when you're standing makes killing enemies harder than it needs to be, and the knockback you get from some of your enemies' weapons tends to send you flying back further than necessary.  Also, if you want to go for a Pacifist run, you'll have to deal with hardly firing a single shot, which can be rather difficult when you're taking fire from everyone around you.  And the ability to save more frequently - instead of having to start the whole sector over when you die - would be nice.

But, all gripes aside, Iji is an utterly amazing game.  The amount of content and absurd level of polish will have you dropping your jaw every minute.  Between the excellent level design, inventive leveling-up system, challenging enemies and bosses, intriguing story and stellar soundtrack, this is a title that won't soon be forgotten.  So take a look at your calender, save a date, and download Iji.  I assure you, you won't be doing anything else that day.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Guest Review: Super Mario 63

 This a guest review by MessengerOfDreams.  Guest reviews will be put up the first Thursday of every month.  Granted, this one's a little late, but all future ones will be posted then.

Now, at first glance, this might look like a 2-D remake of Super Mario 64. As SMBX is to Super Mario World and 3, and Super Mario Flash is to Lost Levels, this is the rough equivalent of a "Super Mario 64" for your browser. To an extent, it is; Runouw did use SM64 as a base during development. But this isn't any normal fangame; this is a gem unlike any others.

For those of you who want a list of the games he brought material from, here we go. Like I mentioned, SMBX borrowed some elements from the earlier Mario games, although it primarily focuses on SMB3, and to an extent, World. Runouw emulates this in the respect that he takes materials from the more modern Mario games. The gameplay is heavily based on Super Mario 64, with most of the game taking place in paintings inside the castle and the three "Bowser's castles". Super Mario Sunshine, an underrated token of Super Mario history, is another major influence on the game. Shine Sprites replace the typical stars in Super Mario 63, and the FLUDD, which is a massive part of gameplay, almost in the way that Yoshi was in Super Mario World. FLUDD serves as a helping hand in some otherwise difficult situations.  New Super Mario Bros has its niche with the addition of Star Coins, the collect-to-get-prizes objects in the game.  Runouw even adds some nods to Super Mario Galaxy, with several songs and levels that draw inspiration from it. The most apparent influence on the game is that of Yoshi's Island. Runouw has also added some remix music from Newgrounds and other sources to really jazz it up, as well as music from the original Super Mario 64.

With all the odds and ends from the games, you'd expect a mishmash of jumbled up Mario, right? Wrong. Runouw pulls off the construction of this game with finesse, creating not only a Flash fangame, but a Mario experience in of its own. What would normally be recycled Mario elements turn into a thrilling platform game that will have you hooked. There's an attention to detail that really is undeniably brilliant. Every level is amazingly crafted and full of adventure. Another great bonus is that the game's not just a way to kill one afternoon and forget it. Super Mario 63 has a full-blown story mode game that will last you as long as a normal game, give or take. First time through took me 2-3 weeks and then getting 100 percent took me another 2 weeks.

Hands down, though, the best moment of the game is in Bowser's Castle. This is, without a doubt, one of the best levels of any Mario game, ever. The castle alone will take you an hour to finish. It's truly a masterpiece. It's challenging, thought-provoking and a ton of fun, even if frustrating. It could be a flash game all on its own.

That's not to say it doesn't have its flaws, there are a few, that while not major, take away from the experience. Notably, the story isn't really solid. The idea of Bowser trying to destroy the world instead of just taking it over isn't true to character at all, and the plot device (Orb of Power) that serves as a plot-hole-cover for all, is just... a bad idea. I admire that he tried to break away from the "abduct Peach" thing, but it wasn't  terribly successful. Also, he got other characters way off, notably Kamek. With the great plot filler having driven Bowser insane, he fires Kamek, but Kamek acts like he got fired instead of his son rebelling against him. Because when it comes down to it, Kamek raised Bowser, and if Bowser went so crazy that he "fired" Kamek, Kamek would be, to some extent, heartbroken. Because if you notice it, Bowser's the one thing Kamek truly cares about from start to finish. That really bewildered me.

Plus, some levels, as well as they're crafted, can be a real drag. For example, Tidal Isles, a level that mostly consisted of swim to stars with the twist of a tidal wave that hits you above water, which is a good twist, but the level just dragged on for the most part. Some of the other levels become a pain really fast too, such as Turbo Fludd stage, and the tutorials, which you do not have the option to skip. The Edge of the Mushroom Kingdom, a bonus level that is the ultimate 63-star unlockable level, is just borderline impossible that it takes all the fun out of it and makes me scream like a harpy at my computer. Even after nearly 50 hours of playing it I had lacked the skill to get past the first part of it.

And to top it off, the most sadistic glitch I've ever seen. After the second Bowser level in the fight against Bowser (which is really freaking hard) sometimes when you throw Bowser into a bomb, he'll spin around in limbo forever, causing you to close the game and lose all you built up in the level. Really bad

Now let's move on to the level designer. I'll just get it out of the way: this isn't the strong point of the game. Granted, it's really good, but not as good as it could be. The most glaring issue is that unlike most level designers, this does not have everything that the game has, and you come to miss it. The reason for this is because Runouw went game first, level designer second, making all the levels on Flash. He learned his lesson, making the level designer first and making levels off of it for Last Legacy, his new title, but here it really makes the level designer lacking in some ways. Another problem is that it doesn't take much to make the levels lag, you have to often put transitions all over the place to make sure it's not snail speed, and if the level is too big it won't load, it'll freeze your browser and occasionally shut your computer down.

That's not to say it's a bad level designer. You can get it literally right off the bat, and you can create beautiful, intricate levels with it. It's a shame that people can't figure it put for crap, cause it's seriously easy and with a little bit of effort, you've got amazing work, and you can make anything from simple platformers to beautiful worlds to complex masterpieces.

OVERALL: The story mode is the main attraction, with an eclectic mix of modern Mario games that create a crazy good 2-D platformer that for the most part can easily cement itself as a classic Mario masterpiece. However, the story is lacking and character development is way off, and the level designer, while easy to learn and good as it is, isn't all it can be.


You can play the game over on Newgrounds hereIf you would like to have your review posted, please send it to

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Newcomer: Superyoshi

Hey there, I'm the new guy. My name's Chris - known on the internet as Superyoshi, Suyo, TheSuperyoshi or bestyoshi - and I'm living in Germany.
I will (try to) write a review every Thursday, starting off with the BIT.TRIP series, since the final part will be released soon. I also plan to review the internet phenomenon Minecraft and the winner of IGN's "Most challenging game of the year" award Super Meat Boy.
So check in Thursday next week for the reviews of BIT.TRIP BEAT and BIT.TRIP CORE!