This week I tried three new games on the Xbox 360, or more appropriately, three game demos. All of the titles were from Indie developers.

Theoretically, demos should be a good sampling of the core features and gameplay, but lately (as in the last 5 years or so) I think this is no longer the case. Most demos I play these days tend to be poor representations of the game. In some cases I’ve found that the demos under-sold the game, but in some cases they don’t help promote the game at all. This week I was pleasantly surprised to find most of the demos I tried not only sold me on the game, but were worth recommending. Some still failed horribly.

On the X360, demos have stripped down features but mostly the demos are a time-limited opportunity; you can play as much of the game as you can get through in 10 minutes. On to the demos!

Fort Night

Released just this month by a developer who has failed to put their name on the product (there’s no website, no company info on the Xbox page for it, and I didn’t notice it within the game — let me know if you find this information). It’s an action game in the vein of zombie shooters, mixed in with some Minecraft. As a player, you collect raw materials during the day to build a fort and when night falls you battle zombie hordes.

It’s a fairly casual rip-off from Minecraft that has/had potential. I’d personally enjoy a game with this sort of gameplay if only because I’d love a casual Minecraft/Terraria. Something I can pick up and play for a few minutes without worrying about investing huge amounts of time and effort into my buildings. This game falls just short of that achievement with the lackluster gameplay. The interface is spartan — too spartan. It doesn’t convey enough pertinent information (number of materials you have left, names of ground objects, descriptions of things, etc) and too much seems to be missing.

Idea-wise, it’s all there. However, the pixel graphics are extremely unimaginative and pretty crappy. I hate when studios think they’re going to use pixel art to charm the player without actually making ART out of it. This game looks awful, and it’s not due to the pixel approach. Whoever made it just didn’t care much about it.

The controls are a little imprecise or at least I didn’t find using the joystick (left stick) to aim very intuitive. Since blocks and objects can only be laid within very specific parameters (within a grid or when an object is strictly between your arms (a 1 cm space that’s difficult to see)), building and collecting isn’t smooth at all. I should be able to collide with objects with any part of my body and pick up things. Not so with this game. It’s also a pain to pick an object up when you want to move it. I’m not sure it’s possible to pick up a brick, for example, without destroying it. In the process of destroying it, you repeatedly press the button …not fun, not engaging, just kinda stupid.

Pass on this game. While it only costs 80 MSP (or about $1 USD), that’s one dollar you could spend on the two games below, which are actually well-made and fun.

Overdriven

Overdriven arrived just recently and I really liked this game. The creator is Thomas Casamento and the game is a top down space shooter in the vein of Jamestown, 1941, Galaga, etc. It’s very hard for this kind of game to *not* be fun for me. This one’s no exception.

The opening start screen is really nice. It’s clear someone cared about the presentation of this game, unlike Fortnight. Colors and fonts are harmonious without trying too hard. Menus are clean and all relevant information is present: button definitions, difficulty, mission information, pictures of the missions …well done. It looks and feels very good.

The action’s great, but it’s no breakthrough in gameplay. The music is fairly generic, Rock Track 01 type of stuff. One thing that did bug me a bit is the amount of text that’s thrown at you during gameplay. NPCs communicate with you throughout the mission and instead of them just talking, the game puts subtitles up instead. I don’t mind subtitles, but to get them in the middle of 1000 bullets and 35 enemies is extremely poor timing. Either the text needs to be read to me or it’s not important enough to display during combat. Save it for the post-level summary or something. I hated that I didn’t get to read all the messages. I also wish it were possible to clear 99% of the screen of its enemies before it scrolls by. As it were in this game, often you’ll have to flat-out pick a side of the stage to fight on and you can forget about all those lovely points floating by on the other half of the screen. But that’s a fairly minor complaint, one that could be addressed with some fine-tuning in a patch or a sequel.

All in all, this one’s a winner. And it only costs 240 MP (or about $3 USD). Buy it if you enjoy top down shooters at all!

Compromised

The last game I demo’d was this beauty.  Compromised is a top down spatial shooter, where the screen doesn’t scroll. Rather, you can scroll the screen by moving toward the edges in any direction. It dropped this past May and was created by Super Soul.

It’s got a very simplistic beauty about it. The controls are extremely intuitive and comfortable. Every button seemed to fit perfectly where it was bound, which made the action of gameplay seem sleek and pro. Shooting and aiming is a breeze without being trivial; a nice balance was struck there. What I really enjoyed at first glance was the tutorial stage. It opens with your ship floating in space, but there’s a kind of hologram of the X360 controller in the background, almost giving the appearance of a constellation (not quite, but that’s the sense you get).  With instructions so non-intrusively displayed right on the screen for the player as they learn the basics, I couldn’t help reflect on how genius this seemed. It’s sad, but this is one of the best tutorials I’ve seen in a game.

The gameplay is pretty typical otherwise, though I do like the score and power-up system a lot. It’s easy to see how sticky situations can get in the game, but since all the weapons are tactical it’s clear there’s a degree of skill required to master this game. I respect that.

I hope to purchase the game this week; it costs 240 MSP (or $3 USD). This is another winner! The demo was great fun and was the only one which left me feeling that there was the promise of even more fun if I bought the game. I’m unaware if these games are available outside the Xbox Marketplace, but if you spot them anywhere, support these studios. These games are well made and will give you a few good hours of casual fun with ease.

 

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