IndieWatch Episode Five

What do rodents, insects, sea monsters, submarines and spaceships have in common?

Some fine Indie Games have gained more spotlight by the recent update of the Kotaku's Favorites list such as the highly addictive, hilarious platformer Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess, which was also featured on Episode 3 of GamePro's IndieWatch series on the Inside Xbox channel of the german dashboard. Episode 5 resumed highlighting quality XBLIG this week with the following lineup:

Gerbil Physics

Pew Pew Pod

The Shadows In The Underworld

Along Came A Spider

Here are my thoughts on the titles of this episode's selection:

As its name implies, Gerbil Physics is a physics-based puzzle game that requires players to bomb constructions of blocks containing cute, little rodents called Gerbils, collapsing the construction so that a certain amount of blocks fall below a red line on the screen. Starting out fairly easy, later levels require a lot of experimenting and careful planning of where to place the bombs to be successful. If you're into this kind of puzzler, this title will perfectly entertain you with 24 levels for only 80 MSP. I personally lost interest after finishing the trial, but was impressed by the high degree of polish, especially the beautifully drawn graphics and cute animations.

No gerbils were hurt during the making of this game.

So far, almost every episode of IndieWatch featured at least one twin-stick shooter, and this episode is no exception. Pew Pew Pod is a very solid shoot'em-up in the vein of Geometry Wars, but at the time of its release (about a year ago) I had seen way too many similar and better titles (such as the excellent Echoes+, Atomhex or the visually impressive Amniotic) to really care about it. Checking out the trial anyway, I couldn't discover any unique selling points. It's still a good shooter, offering 6 game modes for four players and online scoreboards for a mere 80 MSP, so if you just can't get enough of this kind of shmup, you won't be disappointed. But I just can't help and wonder why GamePro prefers rather generic titles over the ones offering little twists to the formula.

Basically, The Shadows In The Underworld is also a twin-stick shooter in which you control an armed submarine, exploring randomly generated levels in a sunken city populated with strange monsters that try to keep you from collecting artifacts hidden in the underworld. Both the exploratory aspect of searching the generally dark and moody environment with a searchlight controlled via the right stick and the survival-action component when suddenly surrounded by hordes of fierce underwater creatures create an atmospheric and intense adventure. Unfortunately, during one of the action sequences after just a few minutes of gameplay I discovered what I believe to be a bug that made the game unplayable for me. Enemy monsters would all of a sudden move ridiculously fast, depleting my lifebar within a second, making progress impossible and an all too soon "Game Over" unavoidable. Maybe I had simply encountered the "adaptive AI director" announced in the product description, but I don't think I displayed tremendous skills while playing that would justify increasing enemy difficulty to this degree. I restarted the game only to face the same problem again after just a short while. Slightly frustrated, I decided to erase the save game, hoping to eradicate whatever was causing the problem this way. Starting a new game, just a few minutes later my attempt turned out to be vain. I restarted the game once more, this time changing the difficulty to the lowest setting, but to no avail. So either I'm a complete wuss and the game has a serious balancing issue, or the title has a major bug. Either way it's a shame that I spent 80 MSP but couldn't fully experience what otherwise seems to be a great game, with atmospheric background music, comic-book-style visuals and a gameplay focused on exploration. Funnily, once more GamePro states a wrong price tag of 240 MSP (they already got some prices wrong in previous episodes) although the real price is hard to miss on the box art. I thought professional journalists get paid to do some research, and I don't believe they're doing games a favor claiming a higher price, considering that most people don't seem to be willing to spend more than 80 MSP for XBLIG.

We all live in a green submarine, green submarine, green submarine!
This episode of IndieWatch concludes with Along Came A Spider, and they definitely saved the best for last. At first glance, this 2D puzzle platformer might look a little bland as all of its 20 levels are made up of simple, mostly white lines representing spider's silk. But as soon as you start playing, this rather basic presentation will draw you in nevertheless. You will start your adventure with basic abilities like jumping and wallclimbing, but in the course of the adventure, the spider will learn new abilities by beating bosses. A skill earned early on enables you to attach silk threads to ledges and certain spots, so you can swing from platform to platform. This gameplay mechanic is what sets this game apart from other platformers, offering a very unique experience in an otherwise familiar genre. Its great soundtrack alone is worth the asking price of only 80 MSP, so make sure you check out the game and my review of it.

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