Delightful Distractions for Ten Bucks or Less

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I’ve been behind on writing for a few weeks, so the catalogue of games I want to talk about has grown a bit out of control. I saw a ton of fantastic games at PAX and played a ton at home. With AAA season looming, I know a lot of us tend to bide our time with smaller indie games, so it seems a good time to start catching up. Here are some of the most fun, most bite-sized, and currently available indies I could find for under $10.

Overload – Revival Productions – 2017

Developed by Revival Productions. Published by Revival Productions. Releases 2017 on PC. Demo currently available on Steam for free.

I enjoyed the hell out of the retro-styled, roguelike Descent clone, Sublevel Zero last year, and I thought it had satisfied my 6DoF (6-Degrees of Freedom) itch, right up until I saw the Overload booth at PAX. Descent, if you’re not familiar, was a 6DoF ship shooter from the early 90s, done in full 3D, which was a first. It’s sort of like a corridor shooter, but you’ve got an extra axis and no gravity, which adds significantly to the experience. I was in a rush to an appointment, so I only had time to say “hi” and grab a card. It was only later that I realized Overload is being created by founding members of the old Descent studio, Parallax.

The Kickstarter barely eked out its significant $300k goal, but it made it, and I’m glad it did. I still always recommend caution with any sort of pre-order purchase, but a good start to an informed decision is a hands-on gameplay demo, which is available on Steam right now. I’ve played a few hours now, despite it being a limited demo with only two maps. I found myself going back to the Survival mode repeatedly, aiming to one-up my previous best or crank up the difficulty a notch.

In my brief exchange with the Revival folks, they mentioned that they’re not interested in procedural generation. They’re sticking to the classic approach, designing every map by hand. While there’s something to be said for the replay value of randomized maps, a human touch can add depth to even 3D worlds.

As much as I enjoyed the retro graphics of Sublevel Zero, the original Descent pushed boundaries, so a graphical update seems wholly appropriate here. I’m not particularly tech savvy, so I can’t say whether or not Overload is pushing any technical boundaries, but I can say it looks gorgeous, the controls feel natural, and I had a ridiculous amount of fun in survival mode. I absolutely adore the fact there’s a free demo like this, as it harkens back to the time of Shareware, the early years of my gaming habit.

It’s free. Go play it!

Lichtspeer – Lichtund – September 27, 2016

Lichtspeer. Developed by Lichtund. Published by Lichtund. Released September 27, 2016. Available on PC(Played.), Mac, Linux, PS4, and PS Vita. Review copy provided by publisher.

I met one of the two Lichtspeer developers, Bartek Pieczonka at his station in a booth at PAX that was cooperatively procured by a small collective of Polish indie devs. (I’ve noticed this a lot recently. At some point, I’m expecting an internationally-unified indie conglomerate to emerge.) The game was exactly what it promised to be, and more fun than it had any right to be. You’ll be playing a “Germonaut,” which I gathered was some sort of Space German from an ancient future, armed with a “Lichtspeer,” literally translated as “Light Spear.” They obviously don’t take the story too seriously, in the spirit of the arcade games of yore the developers were trying to recreate. I don’t know that there was a lot of Pac-man canon in his heyday.

You’ll aim using a visible trajectory arc, charge your throw, and hurl the spear at incoming enemies. You’ll have a couple special abilities, like splitting your spear mid-throw into three spears, each ability being restricted by its own cooldown. You don’t move. You don’t jump. All you do is aim and throw, and it’s brilliant. The mechanic they use to prevent you from spamming spears is perfect, with an angry visage appearing on screen every time you miss consecutive shots, yelling, “NEIN” and stunning you for a moment.

Lichtspeer won’t be a 20-hour game for most people, though I can see why it would be for some. It’s likely that anybody will have some fun with it, though. The enemies are in theme with the story, which, as you can see from above, is a bit out there. Penguin vikings are just the beginning. The baddies are impressively varied as well, with each creature being quite distinct. Shieldbearers will block anything but a headshot, and even those have to be timed well. Some sort of evil jumping fish requires precise timing, and the massive cyclops take more than one hit to bring down.

The variety and replay value in Licthspeer is impressive, given the game’s simplicity, but it’s still limited to some degree. That said, it carries a $9 price tag, which is easy to justify for the fun you’ll definitely have.

Lost Castle – Hunter Studio – August 31, 2016

Lost Castle. Developed by Hunter Studio. Published by Another Indie and X.D. Network Inc. Released August 31, 2016. Available on PC and OSX. Review key provided by publisher.

Lost Castle didn’t even ping my radar until just prior to launch a few weeks ago, and I’m not sure how that is, since it integrates so many of my favorite genres and mechanics. I saw the word “retro” and almost skipped it – I’m taking a short break from pixel graphics – but I’m glad I took a second look, as they were apparently talking about the gameplay, rather than the graphics. Once I was in game, I realized just how special Lost Castle could turn out to be.

The cartoony graphics remind me a little of Castle Crashers, and the side-scrolling brawler gameplay mirrors the neo-classic closely. That’s combined with the go-to roguelite mechanics we’ve been seeing so much of in recent years, more or less in line with Rogue Legacy‘s progression and classes. It’s remarkable how nearly perfectly the mechanics mirror Rogue Legacy, while still managing to distinguish itself wholly from the beloved platformer.

The side-scrolling brawler gameplay is a huge help in making Lost Castle stand out, but the way each of the classes feel like a completely different game is what gives it the most value. It will be a serious challenge for most players, and there’s a class to match your preferred fighting style. It seemed to me that there was a distinct advantage for ranged classes, but when you spot a glowing fiery hammer, you’ll want to pick it up.

Lost Castle only supports two players, and right now, it’s only local co-op, but I got early access to the online multiplayer functionality, set to go live October 1, and it worked flawlessly in my short time with it. Online multiplayer is a nice value-add, but is completely unnecessary to make the $9.99 price tag seem like a steal.

Next week, I’ll have some digital CCGs for you, despite my vowing to never play another CCG.

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