indie bundle cruft death match: enter the sixth chamber

Yeah, that’s right, kiddos.

We’re back.

If you’re new to the game, it works like this: all those random gag games, indie bundle games, giveaways, game pass games, gold and plus free games I have, I put them all together in a room. I play a bunch, 20 or 30, and I play them long enough to determine whether I want to keep them on my backlog or toss them out the airlock.

I stopped writing these pieces ’cause they didn’t get many responses, but a little while back, a friend told me she loved them, and I told another friend in a “haha, wow, I forgot I did those” way, and he went “yeah, I loved those too. Do more.” So, hey, two people can’t be wrong, right?

Last time we played, we were on volume 5. I promised 20 games per article after that. I have changed my mind. Through five volumes of the ibcdm, we looked at 100 games and rejected 78 of them. A 78% rejection rate, in other words, because math is easy at 100. It won’t be so easy after today.

This is the bundle cruft deathmatch. Enter the sixth chamber.

ACCELERATION OF SUGURI 2 describes itself as a “lightning-paced, duel-style shoot ’em up from Orange Juice.” The store page talks about the “suguri universe,” which as far as I can tell, looks like fairly standard moe weeb shit. It’s basically like someone gave fighting game characters shmup weapons. I don’t personally enjoy fighting games, so I can’t tell you if this game is good or bad — remember, this isn’t a review, this is a “here’s my quick impression of the game and whether or not I will choose to keep it around” thing. What I can say is that I’m not interested in it enough to continue. DODGE THIS.

I’m not fond of the name: subtitle scheme, which is funny, because my favorite games are: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl/Clear Sky, Halo: Combat Evolved, and Shock: System Shock 2. This game is called AER: MEMORIES OF OLD. It looks gorgeous. I don’t like to talk about how a game looks when describing it, because visuals are self-evident, but wow, this thing looks pretty. I didn’t play a lot of it, but I was really feeling the vibes this game was laying down. It’s this third person adventure game where you can transform into a bird and fly around? Reminds me a lot of Abzu, but it’s got characters you can talk to and seems semi-open. I was flying around looking for secrets once I got out of the tutorial. It’s a keeper. WE SOAR.

ANNA’S QUEST is a point and click adventure game. That’s not a genre I really enjoy; the first one I remember playing was “Putt Putt Goes To The Moon” at the house of some random kid I didn’t know. My parents were thinking about buying the house, and the guy who owned the place and my parents sat me next to this random kid while he showed them around. Putt Putt seemed really cool.

I vaguely remember talking to my dad about those games once. He said the woman who made them was really rich thanks to her educational video games. That was the first time I ever got interested in making video games, I think. Shelley Day, the series producer, and presumably the person my dad was talking about, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for defrauding a bank.

But here’s the thing: Putt Putt was the only point and click adventure game that ever interested me. Anna’s Quest might be amazing, but it’s not really for me, you know? To the Z folder it goes! GET A CLUE.

I don’t know if this is a typo or not, but ASEMBLANCE has a weird name. Is it “A Semblance?” or “Assemblance” but without an S. I don’t know. It appears to be a walking sim, which has the advantage of being a first person game, and therefore inherently interesting, but the disadvantage of being a walking sim, a genre I’ve previously noted as lacking appeal to most gamers due to a lack of verbs. But… I’m curious. I want to at least give it a proper shot, so I’ve decided to keep it on the backlog. That 68% positive rating on Steam isn’t… super encouraging, but hey, my interest in games doesn’t always line up with the review averages. I WILL INVESTIGATE FURTHER.

At first glance, BATTLE WORLDS: KRONOS has that same annoying naming structure from Aer, but hey, I kept Aer. Will I keep Battle Worlds: Kronos? Uh… well, it starts at 1024x768. Not encouraging, but I mean, plenty of old games do that. The game settings let you change resolution, but there’s no scroll bar in the drop down menu, which seemed weird. The game also really wants you to register (why tho? I never understood needing to register software).

The game couldn’t display the first cutscene, which isn’t good, but I wanted to persist because the screenshots looked really cool. Isometric strategy games are my jam, broheim! Unfortunately… well, the game starts off saying “this game is hard, but that’s because you haven’t read the tutorial yet!” and gives me the option to say “why did you make the game hard?” in reply. Not having played the game, how would I know it’s hard? WHy would I ask why you made it hard? I don’t know anything.

It didn’t seem hard at first, but yeah, it got hard. Not hard in the “if I play well, I can beat this,” sense, but hard in the “uh, did anyone actually tune this game?” sense. It looks really cool, but it makes me put in so much work to just experience the damn thing that I’m kiiinda thinking I might just toss it in the dumpster. CONQUER SOMETHING ELSE.

BEAR WITH ME is a noir point and click, so like, points for being noir, but we just did a whole thing about adventure games, and honestly, Old Man Murray did a much, much better job. According to my notes, “mostly you just click through more dialogue than the intro to okami somehow,” which, hey, that’s not grammatically correct, but whatever. I also didn’t see the “new game” option in the main menu because the developers chose style over usability. I have one belief about games, and it’s this: usability should always come first. Always. UNBEARABLE.

The second game I played to tell me “this won’t be easy!” was a Punch-Out!! clone called BEAST BOXING TURBO. Now, I have never seen Punch-Out!! played. I knew nothing about it except that there’s a tiny guy and a Mike Tyson looking guy and it’s an old Nintendo classic. But hey, I had fun with this thing. I wish more games would let you change their settings before you begin playing the game. Please stop doing this, devs. I think I’ll stick it around. IT’S A CHAMPION.

My dirty little secret is that I don’t like sidescrollers.

Wait, no, everyone knows that about me. I wrote about why I love games as avenues to visit other worlds recently, and sidescrolling games just don’t do that for me. Hard games also don’t do that for me either, because there’s nothing more anti-engrossing (sorry its 2:43 am and i dont know what the opposite of engrossing is and im too afraid to google) than being ripped out of a game world by YOU DIED and being forced to go all the way back to a checkpoint. I just don’t find that very enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and appreciate the tension that difficulty provides, it’s just that games that relish difficulty aren’t providing what I value out of game experiences.

I’m reminded particularly of Limbo and Inside, two very beautiful games that had atmosphere out the wazoo but relished in their punishing difficulty and never really managed to draw me in on account of being games about exploring 2D space. I’ll be honest… I don’t really think these are deep or interesting games. If a fly on the walls of the studio told me that their games were a bunch of disconnected vignettes that just did whatever because it seemed cool, I’d believe that fly. They’re beautiful games, they’re okay puzzle games, and they’re not really what I get out of video games.

BLACK THE FALL is like that. Some people loved Inside and Limbo. Maybe you were one of those people. You might love Black the Fall too, because it seems like that. In fact, it seems smarter — I’ve read some people arguing the game deals with the absurdity of the Romanian (the team’s from Bucharest) dictatorship. It’s a game I’d love to love, but it’s not doing what I love about games. REGRETTABLY, ADIEU.

BLACKHOLE earned my respect almost immediately for saying “press almost any button to start.” I’m an average PC gamer, which means my right hand is on my mouse and my left hand is on WASD. Plenty of games say “press enter to start,” because the devs (or port studio) has ported the game from controller (where you press start) to keyboard. Nobody bothered to see if lifting your hand and moving it over to enter was comfortable, but when you type, your right hand is usually the one that presses the enter key. In most PC applications, when using a mouse, your right hand still does that action, just… well, using the mouse. So normally, the best way to get through this is by clicking on your mouse, not pressing enter.

Nothing happened when I clicked in BLACKHOLE.

Thankfully, I pressed W or Space or something with my left hand, and that worked. Alrighty then. Unfortunately, the game described itself as a hardcore platformer (so many of the games for this batch seem intent on telling me they’re hard! Okay, no thanks!!). And, I mean, hey, it’s a platformer, so ABORT! ABOOOORT!!

(also I couldn’t use my mouse to navigate the menus, so, hey, ew, gross)

The sad thing about multiplayer games is that I don’t really enjoy competitive games anymore. I’d rather just play games in co-op with my friends. BLACKWAKE is an intriguing-looking multiplayer ship game that very, very kindly let me mute my game while it was still loading (so many games ignore your settings until after you’re in-game, so this was appreciated!). After I loaded into the main menu, the game suddenly backed out of full screen, which is odd, because normally, I see games start in windowed mode and become full screen later, not the reverse. The resolution was like 720x576 or something odd.

Since I can’t get my friends to play Blackwake, I can’t really keep it on the backlog. Plus, multiplayer games leave the backlog anyways, since, well, you can’t really complete most of them. I have a ton of games that are in the mysterious “multiplayer” folder, like Warframe, that I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into. They’re not on the backlog, but they’re still fun. SAIL OFF INTO THE SUNSET.

I don’t really understand why Japanese games go for names like BLAZBLUE: CHRONOPHANTASMA EXTEND, but hey, if I ignored a game because it had a name I didn’t appreciate, I’d ignore lots of games. The localization isn’t great (“During an auto-saving, do not switch power off to the system…”), but the port is atrocious. How atrocious?

Well, after a great deal of experimentation, I discovered that the way to navigate this game’s menus was to use the arrow keys. Not great. Even worse, confirmation is done by pressing 7, and backing out is done by pressing 8. Changing the resolution literally does nothing, and weird, pink-red silhouettes constantly phase in and out of existence, blocking a lot of the game’s text. I found out that you have to reset the game to change the resolution, which is normal, but annoying. If your controller dies, you have to close and restart the game as well, which, hey, no thanks. Instead of auto-detecting your currently-used control scheme, the game just cycles text in and out for all control scheme, so good luck using, say, your controller when the keyboard text is showing! You’ll have to wait.

Lastly, the game crashed when I tried to load into the actual game experience, so like… yeah, with so many barriers in the way, and literally thousands of video games to play… why bother? I don’t know what BlazBlue: Chronophantasma Extend is, but I vaguely recall that genre being a fighting game, so yeah. If you love fighters, maybe you can put up with all these shenanigans. I don’t, so this was an easy K.O.!

CONFLICT: DESERT STORM needs to install DirectPlay because it’s that old. It’s so old, in fact, that you have to use a comma and period to rotate the camera instead of the mouse, apparently? I think? Browsing the Steam forums, it looks like the game just doesn’t play well with modern systems and could require a significant amount of work to fix. I’m not really that thrilled by what I played. I might dig it up later, but for now, DISHONORABLE DISCHARGE.

CONFLICT: DENIED OPS fares a bit better. I remember not liking it then. I… actually kind of liked it now? I don’t remember this mission I played at all — I seem to recall, like, maybe some snow or something, and this wasn’t that. I think from like 2001 to 2007, no one was really sure how to make first-person games feel good outside of super experienced studios making shooters for mouse and keyboard, so a lot of studios just kinda winged it and it didn’t play well. Denied Ops seems a lot like that.

Being able to switch between two characters instead of failing when one goes down, reviving yourself, is pretty cool. It’s a game that’s very of its time, not quite where it needs to be to feel great… but you know what? I’m interested. This is cool. I’m keeping this one on the backlog. WE BELONG TOGETHER.

I picked up DEFORMERS for free. Amazing art style, not really the kind of game I wanted, but uh… yeah, it doesn’t work at all online anymore. Kind of a bummer. GameStop experimented with publishing games, but they didn’t really want to go all in, it seemed, and most of the games they published died really quickly because GameStop didn’t push them as much as all the big games they were selling in stores. The games they were publishing worked best as downloadable titles, which didn’t work with GameStop’s distribution model well at all, haha. They accidentally released the game for $0 on a price error, a bunch of us just thought they’d decided to give it away for free, and Ready at Dawn moved on to other projects. You can still play it locally, but I have no one to play it with. ROLL OUT.

The graphics options for DIARIES OF A SPACEPORT JANITOR are “worse” or “bad.” It begins by telling you that nothing you do is incorrect. You are a garbage collector on a space station trying to earn enough money to leave it, or something like that. It looks great. It feels interesting. This is the first time since Bernband I’ve played a game that had a space that felt really busy and alive in a way that even the ultra-detailed Hitman games can’t match. I love it and I want to keep it alive. NO TRASH FOR YOU TODAY.

I don’t think ACT OF WAR: DIRECT ACTION supports modern resolutions, and the cutscenes are trying to be Command and Conquer but serious, but… I liked what I played. Eugen makes good strategy games, and I had a fun time with it. ENLISTED.

I remember, a very long time ago, going to a fellow homeschool family’s house. It was one of those things that the dad had probably expanded a few times over the years, and I’m not entirely sure it was up to code. My parents didn’t really care about socializing us, so other than the neighbor kids, we only really made friends with other homeschoolers, and they weren’t real friendships with us kids so much as homeschool moms getting to socalize and deciding we should too. There was this little toe-headed kid, about my age, and he showed me this computer game about a scientist who swapped brains with a hideous rat. I think it was a game about making Rube Goldberg machines. I remember being horrified at the thought of a man swapping his brain with a rat at the time. Just horrified.

Anyways, CONTRAPTION MAKER isn’t a horrifying game about rats and science, but it is a Rube Goldberg machine game. I just… don’t really feel anything when playing these games? It’s like eating a rice cake to me. I don’t get it. PUZZLED.

I don’t think I understand ELEGY FOR A DEAD WORLD, a beautiful game about poetry and exploring huge, dead worlds. I don’t really have anything clever to say here; I didn’t understand how to play the game. The art was gorgeous, but it’s basically a sidescrolling typing game? I always hate bouncing off a game, but I’m not really sure what to do. If someone takes me aside and teaches me how to enjoy it, maybe I’ll get something out of it? MOVING ON.

In 2008, I played Mass Effect for the first time. My most immediate response to it was… “I want to play this, but I want to be a poor person who has to perform odd jobs to get a ship, put it together, and explore the galaxy.” This is where I went from someone who played games from someone who wanted to make them. I loved Mass Effect, but space travel was abstracted, you were some super important space cop, and I really wanted a game that was more about earning your way in space.

REBEL GALAXY is that game. So is Freelancer and, I think, Wing Commander, but I didn’t know about those at the time. Nothing is quite exactly the world and story I imagined, but Rebel Galaxy comes real, real close. The music is amazing, the narrator is amazing, the gameplay is interesting — I’m not great at shooting enemy ships yet, but I only spent half an hour on the game before deciding that yeah, oh yeah, this one is staying on the backlog. I need to carve out the time to pay attention to Rebel Galaxy and nothing else for a while. COME FLY WITH ME.

CORTEX COMMAND starts in a tiny window, takes forever to load, screenshots don’t seem to work, and the game insists that it’s 1920x1080, but, I mean, hey, super tiny window. The game considers itself a great couch co-op game and recommends I plug in some controllers, but it was not detecting my Xbox One controller. The movement system is not my thing and it’s a sidescroller, so like… I am not qualified to judge it. I just know I won’t get any enjoyment out of it. PONDER SOMETHING ELSE.

So, for whatever reason, it was very easy to make decisions about a bunch of these games in short order. Take, for instance, FATE: THE CURSED KING, which… I think wants to be Diablo? But it’s not really fun or very good looking, so I didn’t see the point in keeping it around. SEE YOU IN HELL.

COPOKA was really interesting; it’s basically a walking sim, but you’re a bird looking for feathers for your nest. The city you’re in has just gone through a revolution, or is about to go through a revolution, or something. It’s got this very nice Eastern European vibe thing. I really liked it! But… well, after a while, I got the sense that I’d actually seen all there was to do. Exploring would take me to more stories I could listen to, but the narrative itself wasn’t super interesting to me.

Imagine, I guess, exploring a world and listening to audio logs of people talking about what’s happening to them, except, instead of audio logs, you’re just listening in on conversations as they happen. The value I get out of games is that I get to inhabit other worlds, like I said earlier. I can kind of inhabit this world, but I can’t really act upon it. Everything feels as if it’s at arm’s length. Look, but don’t touch, like a museum exhibit. While I enjoy the physical sensation of being in a museum, that sense of awe and wonder and holiness… there comes a point when you are done in the museum, because there’s only so much you can do. Once you’ve used up the sense that being there brings you, there’s nothing left.

So… I didn’t finish Copoka, but I didn’t really remove it from my backlog either. I played enough of the game to move on. BYE, PRETTY BIRD.

DWARFS?! is a hideous game. It’s very, very slow. The voice acting is not super great. I don’t have anything really good to say about it. What do you do? Well… I guess you build buildings and tell dwarfs where to mine. Maybe that makes it a city builder? I normally love city builders, but this one just… did not feel very good to play at all. It’s one of those games where you can tell, within just a few seconds, that the presentation and pace aren’t for you. BURIED.

If you’re trying to get me to play your game, the first and most important thing you can do is make it a joy to control. DRIFTMOON is not a joy to control because it wants you to hold click to go everywhere instead of just click once. Some pathfinding would have been nice. The reviews on Steam are really positive, so if you enjoy the physical act of playing the game, it might get really, really good! I wasn’t feeling it and it was causing me physical pain, so we DRIFTED APART.

If you want to win me over, one way to do it is give me a really, really cool experience. GENESIS RISING told me that I had living space ships that mutate new weapons by harvesting blood from other enemy ships. I do not know how much cooler a game can get than that. I had to wrestle with it to get it going — that’s why there’s no screenshot — and the fix turned out to be disabling the Steam Overlay, but I… like, I really enjoyed what I was playing. I wish whoever’s distributing it on Steam would patch it to work better on modern systems. It’s a bit rough around the edges, sure, but it seems like exactly my kind of sci-fi RTS jam. Do I wish it had Homeworld’s controls? Yes. Did I enjoy what I played? Also yes. EAT, DRINK, AND BE MUTANTS.

I don’t have a lot to say about the next two games other than that they provide exactly what I want out of an arcade experience. Disregard everything I said about immersion. Some games just feel too. dang. Good!

GEOMETRY WARS 3 and DOWNWELL are everything I want out of arcade experiences. HIGH SCORE.

My notes for DRAW A STICKMAN: EPIC are that it’s neat, but not the kind of game I’m interested in. Reminds me a lot of Scribblenauts, but you draw things with your mouse instead of typing in a description. I think it was a platformer? Definitely one of those “maybe great but not made for Doc” type of things. The reviews are mostly positive, and it got a sequel, so it might be exactly what you want a video game to be. I named my friend “Tits” which will never not be funny to me.

Some games are born with great names. Others achieve great names. DRUNKEN ROBOT PORNOGRAPHY has greatness thrust upon it. This is a bosh-rush SHMUP FPS, which is, yes, hey, everything I want in a shooter. I love SHMUP mechanics but don’t really love the 2D nature of SHMUPS. I love boss fights in shooters but most suck because you’re just jumping between invincibility phases and damaging the weak point. Not here. Oh no. This. This is good. This is very good. WHAT A HIGH.

I’m gonna be real with you, I have no idea how I obtained FAIRYLAND: FAIRY POWER, a game which didn’t even have text in its main menu. I have no idea how to play it. I clicked on a checkmark and it led me to its gameplay, which I thought might be like some kind of Bejeweled clone, but… I don’t think it is. Elegy of a Dead World is a game that was so beautiful I wanted to understand it more. Fairyland: Fairy Power has no such hold on me. OFF WITH YOU.

So, well… there you have it! That’s 30 games. Of those 30 games, we’re getting rid of 19. That’s 63%. Lower than our average of 78%, but there was some really, really good stuff here, especially Rebel Galaxy, which I will definitely be playing to completion. Out of 130 games, we’re getting rid of 97, which means we’re at a 74% rejection rate now.

Get ready for the Seventh Edition, coming very soon to a blog near you.

I do some freelance work, game design consulting, and I’ve worked on games Hardspace: Shipbreakers and created games like Adios and Paratopic.