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Duskers | Review

Posted on June 3, 2016 by Robyn Robo

Duskers recently released after having spent several months in Early Access, luckily they have gone into a full release in good time and with great polish. This game skillfully blends three core elements: rogue like dungeons, tense claustrophobic space horror and puzzles. The game is split into exploration of individual ships, which function as your levels. Each is procedurally generated with a guessed at number of baddies lurking inside. Your job is to use your scrappy fleet of drones to outwit and outmaneuver those enemies to survive and piece together what catastrophe befell the universe. There are plenty of contenders, and you’ll keep a running log of all the front runners through your journeys.

All these planets, and you still can't land.

All these planets, and you still can’t land.

The game display looks like a mash up of a retro-futurist mainframe terminal dream and a DOS computer aided design interface. Your connection with the drones is fuzzy, displaying a barely lit outline of the interior of boarded derelicts. This will wash out, scramble and occasionally drop entirely like an a UHF antenna in bad weather. Your much safer off with the overhead map view, where you can see the position and activities of all your drones at once. Controlling them the only way possible: both hands on the keyboard. That’s right, this game has a command line and beside some primitive joystick like navigation of individual drones, it’s the only way you can navigate.

Schematic view of derelict.

Where you’ll be spending most of your time

And navigate you will, as ‘[na]vigate drone room’ is the essential command to move drones room to room. By stringing together commands on line with semi-colons you can order up whole sequences of events before moving to the next drone and getting it lined up for a day’s work too. Each command can be shortened to the minimum number of letters needed for it to be unique. If you’re into Cisco networking gear, you’ll love it. This game is not entirely unlike a light version of Robot Odyssey, the infamously difficult Robot building game from The Learning Company for old Apple II computers. Except maybe that death is swift, scary and permanent.

The overall ambiance of the game is spot on. Even the soundtrack is simply a collection of your drones clicks and beeps, alongside the background hums of empty spacecraft. Occasionally, you’ll hear the thrumming and screams of angry creatures trapped on board the drifting wrecks. Warning sounds will warn as ancient ships contort and lose integrity or are bombarded with space debris. The game has countless video effects, but they work into the mood instead of against it. Further, they’re mostly in the single-drone mode and won’t affect the overview screen you use most of the time. The simple seeming graphics bely that a full 3D engine is running with particle effects full bore. Despite that, I never ran into a single moment of noticeable latency or lowered frame rates, nor did the game ever crash and break the illusion. The interface is one of sitting at a spaceship control terminal, driven by an actual keyboard making it feel intensely real. It’s as spot on, with a good setup, as playing Elite with a VR headset and customized joysticks. All of this feeds into the slow, horror film pace of play.

I don’t think any other game I’ve played has ever made me jump back from my desk quite as much as this. The levels are twisty and doors or airlocks can fail at random with relatively little warning, so you have to be careful. I found it best to keep most of the doors on a ship closed off, deciding on ‘staging’ rooms to keep myself from losing more than one drone at a time. Once, using the fuzzed out video feed of one disabled drone, I was able to watch an enemy slowly walk into a room I had opened for him. With one multi-part command I closed him off from my disabled drone and was able to space him and tow my precious scout back to the ship. This game revels in something that only computer games can accomplish so well, everyone who plays will walk away with their own narratives.

Confidence of subjects may have been short-sighted.

Definitely short-sighted.

There is some ‘dialogue’ to the game. Corrupted pieces of occasionally relevant information with which you build a database of the ways in which the universe could have ended. Piecing it together is not unlike going over a conspiracy theorists cork board of delusions and after quite a bit of play, I still have no idea what really happened. I’m not even sure it matters, but at least the self assigned objectives give you something to cling on to, hoping to make it far enough to get an inkling of the catastrophe together. Reading through these is one of the few ‘breather’ moments the game really ever gives you.

Much of the game takes place between levels, as in any survival driven strategy game. Drones have abilities built in, and some number of upgrade parts you have to add for basic functionality. These include generators, sensors of various sorts, weapons and salvaging equipment. You’ll scavenge new parts for your ship and drones from the hulks you board. If you’re lucky you’ll also pick up some fuel and new drones. When you’re really lucky, if you like a ship enough and have safely cleared every area, you can commandeer it for your journey. Their are some basic resources of the world, scrap and fuel. Fuel comes in two parts: propulsive and jump fuel. the former moves you around systems, the latter between them. There are multiple systems in each galaxy & you move between galaxies with jump gates. All of these are scavenged, propulsive fuel is also replenished (by ram scoops?) when moving between systems. Between levels, scrap is used to repair your drones, and their parts. It’s also required for buying new parts from automated trading outposts that have survived past humanity’s end. You’ll find that most repairs are pretty expensive, so keep backup parts and only repair what you have to for survival. For example, I tend to build up an inventory of generators, gathering arms and tow hitches as you can’t properly scavenge without all of them. Much of the game strategy is based on this aspect of never quite having everything you’ll need to survive. You can’t revisit levels, even when you just picked up that one part you needed. As an example: I find myself switching from using stealth, to lures, to room sensors, to motion detectors for detecting hostile movement. These all work, in very different ways, for avoiding being taken out by the hostiles.


Time to upgrade (or fix) my mods!

Learning the strategy, and calm careful approaches needed for this game will take a few hours. Even then, you may have runs cut short early from an unexpected turn. This game does not take it easy on you with a learning curve, outside of the built-in tutorial. You also must be prepared to occasionally be hit with a total oddball, such as an asteroid or losing video feeds while something important goes on. The precise balance of controllable and uncontrollable events will keep you on the edge of your seat. Many enemies are quite hard to predict at first. For example, swarms aren’t picked up by motion sensors, but by the loud buzzing you can hear on a drone’s feed next to their rooms. They can also move through the vents, so the room you’re in might not be as safe as you thought. Aside from this dangerous exploring, most of the game is run from the ship schematic overview, and by using preprogrammed commands to orchestrate drone movement. You can easily give a drone a whole sequence of rooms to scavenge and tell it when to return home. I do wish their where more commands along the lines of “once the drone has left room A, close its door” but the lightweight shell style of scripting works very well in this game. It is extremely robust and well though out. All considered, this game is extremely tense and on edge. It is rare to find a game that so perfectly conveys as sense of never being safe as this. Even save scumming with a force quit will not work on this game, it’ll simply act as if you had undocked, losing you access to the level you left and any drones you left behind. Those drones are pretty cute, with their little whirring movement and sometimes cutesy names. It makes it all the worse when they inevitably get smashed up. My stockholm syndrome cried out each time.

That said, with practice, patience and a freighter full of luck, you will eventually get into the rhythm of the game. On a good run, this means you’ll be able to explore further and further on each run and really make a bond with your drones and ship before they are reduced to dust.

My recommendation is to try this game, and when you do: BE PARANOID

I played this on my Ubuntu LTS / Steam / NVidia 960 machine with a provided download code and a ‘mechanical’ keyboard.


ITS: Into The Stars

Posted on April 18, 2016 by Kyle Scarboro


Word around the information super highway is that this little game, aptly named Into the Stars, is a hybrid of Star Trek Commander and FTL: Faster Than Light, but is it really? The people have spoken and the people are generally right. Into the Stars is filling the void of the lack of spaceship commander based games that are out there. With inspiration gathered from these games and mixing it with a collection of modern ideas and stunning graphics, Into the Stars is paving the way and breaking ground on a genre that has not been explored to its full potential yet.

Into the Stars is the first title to come out of the California based studio Fugitive Games and published by Iceberg Interactive based out of The Netherlands. With just a team of four at Fugitive Games, they managed to squeeze out some of the finest graphics in a space based game that I’ve seen from the Unreal Engine 4. Though, the level of artistry and talent comes at no surprise when mentioning the team behind this game. Being former EA DICE and Spark Unlimited developers means that this game should be held at a higher pillar than most. Some of their past titles they’ve worked on are Lost Planet, Battlefield, and Medal of Honor. If working on AAA titles wasn’t enough, they managed to get Jack Wall to work on their soundtrack. For those who do not know Jack Wall’s works, he is the man behind Myst IV, Jade Empire, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Lost Planet 3, but most notably from the Mass Effect series.

Like most small developing teams these days, Into the Stars was conceived by crowd funding through Kickstarter and surpassed their goal on January 16th, 2015 and by their last day on February 4th, they managed to raise over $110,000. By early July, they were Greenlit through Steam and up for Early Access. Now into 2016, their game is finally released, but does it hold up to the ideals they instilled in their 4,000+ backers and many others who helped through early access?


Read More


Space Grunts | Review

Posted on March 28, 2016 by Robyn Robo


Space Grunts is a lovely little game available now on Steam for PC/Linux/Windows, the Humble Store, Apple’s App Store & Google Play. For this article I reviewed it on Linux. The game was released cross-platform at the end of February. The one-man development team, Orange Pixel, has a track record of creating simple cross-platform action games. This game is similar to those in of its action-oriented screen shaking chibi-pixel style. It is unique, however, in of that it’s a turn based rogue like with a light strategy bent.

Like its predecessors’, Space Grunts is a straightforward game at face value, with three moderately unique classes to choose from, dropping you right into alien stomping action. As a full-on rogue like it features a wide variety of items, enemies, traps and variations on each. The dungeon is randomly generated, only saving your progress at the beginning of each level, but your ‘save’ is deleted if you die. Further, the current level regenerates upon loading a save. This means that save-scumming is pretty much impossible, which lends some credibility to the global leaderboard. If you can’t crack your way into that, there’s also a daily challenge with its own, daily, leaderboard. The game is glossed and polished extremely well, setting it apart from many in the genre.

In addition to the general polished feel, the game sets itself apart with the action heritage of Orange Pixel’s other games. While Pascal Bestebroer’s (Orange Pixel’s sole full-time developer) other games may not normally be turn based, they are all solid mobile adaptations of existing genres. Their past games have included Gunslugs, a run ‘n gun, Heroes of Loot, a twin-stick dungeon crawler & Groundskeeper, another run ‘n gun. All of these appear to have tapped the same team for art and music as well. Similarly, Space Grunts can be played quickly and is good for a jam session on the go. While this is unlikely to get you into high score territory, it’s fun and refreshing. The controls are simple, inventory management and character development are very light and mostly automatic. You can play with a joypad, keyboard, mouse and of course on mobile devices’ touchscreens. Played quickly, the game feels more like an old top-down shooter, such as Alien Breed, than a rogue like. Gameplay immediately reverts to a slower turn based rogue-like, however, when you’re faced with a challenging room.

Levels in the game are, thankfully, split into sealed rooms. Each room requires you to open the door before the monsters, turrets and NPCs come alive. This allows players to pace out the action and approach each room as its own unique puzzle to be beaten. A perfect puzzle-like assessment is impossible as a monster’s health is unknown at start and slightly random without an extra, turn limited, in game item. This means that there is an additional element of chance beyond just the loot drops and enemy movements, which I found refreshing over number-crunching.


Why not both? Poison and healing spores.

With perma-death and no saves for old characters, you’ll be starting fresh frequently. The game doesn’t make this difficult and accepting that is part of the fun. Each play through is a chance to get further in the dungeon, or see a new hidden area. There are plenty of types of areas too, each occupying several levels and having unique challenges to it. Some are hidden behind destroyable architecture in the game, others caused by activating a found item. Lots of things are breakable, dropping loot or exploding in unique ways, even rooms can be reshaped by explosions. Despite the wide variety, I’ve yet to see an area that is simply unbeatable. It’s conceivable you may find an acid covered floor you can’t cross without boots and be unable to proceed. Some destructible elements are fairly unpredictable too, such as crystal flowers that can either heal your or irradiate a room. That said, I haven’t seen an area which careful tactics, experience and critical thought can’t manage. This is a hard balance to achieve with random dungeons, and again that polish is where the game shines.


Exploration is a joy, taking things one room at a time. Some levels are fairly linear while others amble about with hidden bosses, and dead-ends. Some rooms seem to have pre-programmed archetypes. For example, there are rooms made entirely of flame grates firing in random sequences, almost always with an item in the middle. Being able to learn how best to navigate each room and when to use your items is essential. The items are almost never permanent, minus some stat upgrades and detectors. This makes almost everything ephemeral and takes some of the bite out of a character’s death, which in this case is probably a good thing. Characters dying so quickly, it’s reasonable that there’s no way to make permanent progress ‘developing’ them.


I’m not showing what level this is from, because it’s embarrassing.

There are, by the way, only three main character types. Each has a unique variation on three main attributes: strength, tech and luck. These are respectively the character’s brute damage and hit points, ability to fully utilize new items, and likelihood of finding items. The characters’ types of “captain”, “strongarm” and “techjunky” don’t quite translate into the rogue/fighter/mage roles you’d expect. They do come close, though. All character types start off with the same three weapons, but are able to use each to different effect. There’s only four main weapons in the game, the three starters plus a crowbar mostly good for opening crates you find later on. Weapons can be upgraded via random drops, and there are limited use weapons such as mines, RC robot bombs and flame throwers. Other drops run the gamut of possible upgrades, one off ammo-burners, regeneration items, time stoppers, teleporters, practically anything you can think of. Ammo packs and health packs are used immediately, so it’s sometimes wise to skip around the health packs for backtracking within a level.


Always wanted a Space Cube

There is some permanent progress to be made in the game. In addition to leaderboards and daily challenges, there are data cards revealing backgrounds on each enemy, a Moonbase Log updated as your characters proceed further into the dungeon and meet NPCs, statistics about your gameplay, three unlockable ‘skins’ that are actually more powerful characters, and plenty of achievements to reach. These synced across systems for me in Steam, I can’t vouch for Google Play but I assume it uses the cloud sync there as well. Proper support of ‘cloud saves’ has been on the uptake in games, and it’s lovely. I only wish there were ways to sync from Steam to the mobile app stores and vice versa with games like this. All of those extra numbers and items, in addition seeking the final boss of the dungeon, gives you plenty to rank your game mastery against.

The graphics are a solidly modern take on pixel art. Which is to say, pixelated but not retro. The effects and fog-layers are often high-resolution and 3D, glowing light sources and reflections abound. Your character even leaves little ephemeral foot prints. Effects and animations in the game run constantly, somewhat masking its turn based play. I see the style of the characters & mobs as anime influenced, with that big-headed chibi look to them. This look is in tune with the restraints of mobile screen sizes but still reasonably fun to look at on a bigger PC monitor. The music is similar, good, easy to listen to, but not overwhelming. A series of slick bubbly techno-ish tunes played over the ambient noises of machines in the dungeon and sound effects. The music neither grated on my nerves, nor made me pause to listen. I’d say only slightly better than average in this regard but it fits the game well and doesn’t sound like stock effects.


Glowing, reflective, shininess

Despite having a one-man development team, Orange Pixel maintains proper community forums. They are very active on those and release frequent bug fixes and updates to their games. I have to say I’m impressed. I’ve seen plenty of better funded developers not do nearly as well by their fans.

The game also doesn’t “feature” in-app-purchases. Once you’ve bought it, you have the full game, regardless of platform. Prices vary between mobile and PC, which is frustrating even if it is standard practice. The PC version is the most expensive, at $9.99, while the Android and iOS versions are $3.99. It is nice to see Android & iOS at the same price point.

Are you a fan of Nethack or Rogue like games? If so, are you looking for something mobile friendly, more accessible and modern? Then this is a fantastic choice. If you were let down by “Steam Marines”, or if you want more of the same, definitely consider this game. Space marine alien stomping is one of my favorite themes and Space Grunts pulls off the ambience of it well. The graphics are slick, the music fitting and the gameplay tight. It isn’t a rich, beyond-expectations game, but it is clever and well made. It feels absolutely worth the price. Especially if you like the genre or want to try something new on mobile. Orange Pixel has been around for a while now releasing these well packaged, small games. Their experience and style shine through.


Overfall Review, The world is alive

Posted on March 19, 2016 by Fionna Schweit

Reivew by: Brandon Hall

Overfall is a new game from Pera games. Funded by Kickstarter and currently in early access, the game released March 1st. The game features a mix of turn based strategy, roguelike elements, and adventure, packaged in to a 2.5 format with a lot of emphasis on exploration. Each time you play the world is randomly generated, so you get a lot of variety and re-playability.

You play as two adventurers who have returned from another plane on a quest for the disk of ages  for the Everking. You return home to find that in your absence three centuries have passed, and the Everking has gone missing. You are left with nowhere to go, and in your possession is the sought after disk of ages. With the beings that made the disk in hot pursuit of you and your comrade, it’s a race to save the world. Story thus dispenced with the player gets their first look in to the world of Overfall. What you see might surprise you the world of Overfall is a sea of islands, full of boats controlled by A.I.Read More


Game Reviews Done Quick: Crypt of the Necrodancer

Posted on February 19, 2016 by Kyle Scarboro


Crypt of the Necrodancer is *breathe* Hardcore, Turn-based, Rogue-like, Dungeon-crawling, Rhythm-based game. *exhaaaallleeee*

This game has you battling your way through a crypt full of smooth groovin, high flyin, street jivin, monsters ranging from skeletons, zombies, bats, dragons, and more.

Crypt of the Necrodancer is a game that clearly had a great idea for a game and then they tacked on a story. Usually that is not the way to go, but this game offers a lot in such a small package that it is hardly the focal point.Read More


Delver Has Been Updated

Posted on April 6, 2014 by Les Major

Ever played the first person rogue-like RPG Delver? Well good news! The early access game that’s still in beta just got even better. Since it’s launch Delver has seen some graphical changes and a good progression of updates. There’s still lots planned for the future but I couldn’t resist and got in on this title already. Going through the dungeon, leveling up, and wandering about is fun! Sorta like a simplified, cartoony, one quest version of Ultima Underworld if I had to put a reference to it. So what’s new?Read More


Cursed Loot Is A Treasure To Pick Up!

Posted on July 27, 2013 by Les Major

I’m always poking away at Xbox Lives indie section for treasures like Cursed Loot, and this is a fun title especially for such cost as a dollar (well 80msp). The game is at first just another take on the classic Rogue gameplay of searching through a dungeon, leveling your character, and fighting mosters most of the time by bumping into them to attack.

However, Eyehook Games adds multiple choice role playing moments and even a coin rush side scroller section that really add some extra fun to the original formula. There’s even a slot machine! The game consists of a randomly generated 50 floor dungeon and 6 playable character classes. There’s tons of loot to find, including as the title indicates, cursed loot that you need to use a scroll to remove from your character. The trick is too, just like classic Rogue, you only have one life! Read on for the trailer.Read More


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