Tag Archives: indie

Flashing Lights – Early Access Review

Flashing Lights is an open-world emergency services simulator from solo Latvian developer Nils Jakrins. With the ambitious goal of offering not just one, but three fully fleshed-out simulators in one neat inter-connected multiplayer package can Flashing Lights provide an experience a cut above its competitors in the genre, or is the almost £12 asking price highway robbery?

Jack of all trades:


One of the most compelling draws of Flashing Lights is its versatility. As the game’s subtitle indicates: “Police, Firefighting, Emergency Services Simulator”, Flashing Lights isn’t just a police simulator. Rather, it offers players the opportunity to dip into the roles of a police officer, firefighter or medic and experience a whole new set of scenarios whilst trying to master a whole new set of skills.

The open world design helps make switching roles a breeze. You start the game with the option to start in the service of your wish, but from then on changing jobs is as simple as walking into the relevant building and hitting a convenient button. The online aspect of the game has different services interacting with one another, and this in conjunction with the plethora of mission scenarios that are selected at random and presented as calls for you to respond to, which helps keep things refreshingly different each time you play.

Crime and punishments:


Playing as a police officer in Flashing Lights is functionally what you would likely expect going in to any typical police simulation. Once you have created your character and chosen a your preferred vehicle, each with subtly different functions and aesthetics, you’re thrust into an open world town.

You can patrol by foot or car, looking out for erratic drivers to stop or waiting to respond to calls. Each call is entirely optional, handy as they are frequently repeated, and cover a wide variety of scenarios. From pursuing a speeding driver to a tense shootout with armed robbers Flashing Lights lets you simulate a wide range of plausible scenarios. You can approach the scenarios in any way you see fit, and have quite a few tools at your disposal.

Whether you want to professionally and calmly resolve a violent situation in a non-lethal manner by tazing and arresting wrongdoers or, in what some would argue is a more accurate depiction of the American police force, just simply mow down everything that moves with a shotgun – your specific play style is catered to.

It is worth noting however that good conduct is rewarded with reputation points which serve to fill a reputation meter in the top left of the screen. Conversely, bad behaviour causes points to be deducted. Whilst I haven’t suffered any repercussions for letting my reputation drop too low, it provides a nice incentive for those of us who like a score challenge.

Fire and rescue:


The game-play for the fire route is very similar, also centred around free-roaming and responding to calls. Of course, the equipment on offer for someone playing as a firefighter is very different from that of a police officer and the scenarios you tackle are based around extinguishing fires rather than catching criminals. In addition to tackling various types of building fire, you’re faced with vehicles collisions and of course rescuing house cats from trees.

The firefighter game-play is the most vehicle focused of the three, requiring mastery of various types of unwieldy fire-engine. Unfortunately, these vehicles are often a little too hard to control to be enjoyable. Whilst the engine’s various features, like ladders or hoses, are fairly intuitive, actually driving to a call-out is an absolute nightmare with plenty of winding rural roads and steep hills to get stuck on.

You are given the option to drive a small fire car but, unless you’re in a game with other players driving the large vehicles for you, it is woefully under-equipped. Although they may be annoying to drive, the fire vehicles stand out as particularly well modelled; displaying many small moving parts and little delightful details.

The doctor will see you now:


The medical simulation was a very pleasant surprise. Although it still has a foundation in the same call-based core game-play, a lot of effort has clearly gone into the individual scenarios which house the titles’ most dramatic and challenging game-play shift.

With a wide variety of medical equipment at your disposal, it’s your job to successfully diagnose and offer first response treatment to patients. Examining limbs, applying a neck brace or bandage while frantically running between your car and your patient for equipment is an awful lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the medical route is more linear by nature, with one correct “solution” for each scenario which causes it to suffer a lot in the replayability department. With little in the way of progression or an unlocking system present in the game yet, it’s quite hard to justify continuing to play as a medic once you have seen every situation the path has to offers.

Luckily, the games’ frequent updates are adding more and more scenarios and game-play features which should help to the great number of different mission required to rectify this in future.

A long way to go:


“In future” is really the core takeaway from Flashing Lights in its current early access state. The game manages to only just justify its current asking price by the sheer variety of simulation it offers and as a result has a surprisingly active community – with servers that are frequently packed – but things still feel very bare-bones. From the floaty vehicle handling to the visuals that can be described as “choppy” at bests, there’s a lot to improve.

Pleasingly, the developer is doing an admirable job keeping the game up to date, offering frequent Steam blog posts and even a content road-map. If you’re a die-hard emergency simulator fan, there’s a lot of to like in Flashing Lights and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it even in its current state. For the average player however, it might be best just to hold off a little longer and wait until the game has a few of its creases ironed out.

Want to pick up your own copy of Flashing Lights? You can click the link below to reach the store page.


Just so you’re aware! To aid this review a copy of  Flashing Lights was provided free of charge by Excalibur Games.

Contigo Games’ Francesca Carletto-Leon talks gaming, girls and the gender binary – Interview

StarCrossed is an arcade space shooter developed by Contigo Games and published by Whitethorn Digital. The game has two players dodging projectiles and bouncing a shiny star between one another, lining up shots to defeat wave after wave of enemies. It’s a charming mix of Pong meets Tohou Project, and certainly a breath of fresh air for fans of the bullet-hell genre. To learn a little more about StarCrossed before you read on, you can visit the successfully funded Kickstarter page or watch the trailer below:

Following the games’ recent release, I sat down with Francesca Carletto-Leon, co-founder of Contigo Games and narrative designer of StarCrossed,for a chat regarding the title’s stunning art-style, the influences behind her cast of diverse space-faring sprites, the impact of her work as an educator and her opinions on the current state of the games industry.

Fun with friends:

What made you decide early on to build StarCrossed from the ground up as a co-op title?

“The answer is pretty simple; we’re big fans of cooperative games and want to see more of them! Games made specifically for 2 players are quite rare. Personally, I find it quite difficult to find games to play with my partner. We love local multiplayer games but often feel like they’re designed to be played with a group of people and we’re not having the optimal player experience.

I believe there is something intimate about playing a game with someone. We’re sharing a goal and learning how to cooperate. Communication is important and we adjust our play to accommodate another participant. Our goal as a studio is ‘to create games and playful expereinces to bring people together’. StarCrossed was intended to fulfil this purpose.”

A story to tell:

Implementing visual novel style cut-scenes must have meant a lot of extra writing and with all those words, what kind of story is StarCrossed going to tell?

“During development, we actually cut StarCrossed’s Story Mode multiple times. As a part-time, self-funded, and remote team we were finding it difficult to create a large independent project. In our desire to have the game finished, the team had a lot of difficult conversations about scope and Story Mode, which was daunting and by far the more complex part of the game, was scrapped. However, as we began showing the game publicly, we realised the importance of including a Story Mode to explore the characters, their relationships to each other, and the universe of StarCrossed. It was a ton of work but I’m so glad we were able to make Story Mode happen and I hope our players enjoy it!

The plot of StarCrossed is what players have come to expect from the magical girl fantasy-genre; a group of chosen heroes must band together to defeat evil and save the universe. We wanted the story beats to feel familiar. What makes the story engaging to players is seeing the situation presented through the different lenses of each character. Each combination of characters has their own unique dialogues and, sometimes, additional scenes with our cast of supporting characters and villains. Each time you play, the dialogues change depending on the selected characters, so it ended up being quite a bit of writing!

The final StarCrossed script is actually over 20,000 words! It’s a novella!”

Eye candy:

The art-style seems to be a blend of fantasy and futuristic sci-fi. It’s eye-catching and adorable, but what ultimately do you hope to express with the way the game looks?

“Fantasy and sci-fi are both settings that our team really enjoys! We wanted the game to feel stylish and magical, but also contemporary and relatable to players.

If we’re digging deeper into our thinking, we see StarCrossed’s aesthetic as a reimagination of these established genres, which are often male-centric and standardised by cis white creators. Think about your favourite fantasy stories. What would they look like if marginalised people were involved in their creation? Just to state very clearly, I’m not saying these works aren’t vitally important and valuable, they totally are! But, we need to understand how much these genres could expand in the hands of different creators. There is no reason to not be inclusive in our design of fictional worlds.

Starcrossed‘s style and characters are cute and sparkly but the gameplay grows to be quite challenging. We’ve noticed that players make quick assumptions about the content of the game due to its visuals. Feminine games are often dismissed for being easy or ‘casual’. We hope to challenge those stereotypes.”

The aesthetic has also been clearly influenced by Japanese Magical Girls, what inspired you to bring this popular manga genre to a video game?

“Before we really solidified StarCrossed’s visual identity, we knew the game was going to be a cooperative local multiplayer game. When we began looking into designing the setting and context for the game’s mechanic, we were excited about the idea of making a game with feminine aesthetics. For many members of our team, Magical Girl shows and comics like Tokyo Mew Mew, W.I.T.C.H., and Sailor Moon were an important part of our childhoods. These are stories about young heroines who are tasked with saving the world, but are also growing up and dealing with the drama of being human! Between battling aliens and monsters they also deal with heartbreak and complex emotions.

The Magical Girl genre is centred around themes of teamwork and collaboration. In most examples, strangers from different backgrounds come together to achieve a common goal. These stories are about young girls being powerful and finding strength in being together. Anyone who has been a teenage girl knows that friendships at that age are terrifying and it’s common to feel alone. You’re also grappling with internalised misogyny that dictates girls are sneaky, bitchy, not to be trusted, so it’s so important to have media that shows girls uplifting each other and collaborating in positive ways!”

Following on from this, does the game aim to subvert the Magical Girl genre and, if so, how does it differ from other genre subversions we’ve seen before?

“We purposefully wanted StarCrossed to borrow common Magical Girl tropes, so we started from what we knew and expanded from there. It was important to us that we keep the playfulness of the genre and have our characters explore not only their new magical powers, but also their emotions. In Story Mode, each character navigates their relationship with their partner, with themselves, and with the universe.

We made it a goal to create an inclusive Magical Girl story, which includes people of colour, non-binary people, and body diversity. This is our way of subverting the genre and building upon the existing core themes.”

Star-crossed lovers:

Are the relationships between characters entirely platonic? To put it another way, can we expect to see some romance emerge as the story progresses?

“The romance in StarCrossed isn’t overt, we intentionally wanted there to be a bit of nuance to the relationships. If you’re reading the relationship as romantic, it’s definitely there.

We wrote StarCrossed to be a gay space romance!

This was actually something we struggled with, so it’s a good question! Our team had many discussions about how explicitly we were showing romance between characters, keeping in mind that these characters are representing players. Since this is a game about negotiation and cooperation, the consent of both players is important and we didn’t want to force a relationship the pair of players might ultimately be uncomfortable with.

When demoing at events we see lots of couples come to play, but we also see parents and their children, platonic friends, and strangers. Having the characters enter a relationship that doesn’t mirror that of the players, and which they did not choose, can create discomfort. At the same time, we absolutely love when players want to pair and ship our characters! The design of the game is totally encouraging that.

Ultimately, we didn’t want to make a statement that the height of all relationships is romance. Close platonic friendships are just as meaningful and powerful as romantic ones!”

2019 has been an amazing year for non-binary representation across the world of TV and gaming. It’s great to see that ​StarCrossed ​ will feature non-binary characters but do you think AAA developers should aim to be more inclusive in their projects?

“The obvious answer is yes, absolutely. There’s absolutely no reason to not be inclusive in our storytelling. We are designing fictional worlds of our own creation and they reflect on our values. If you’re not being inclusive in your cast/characters and worldbuilding, you’re blatantly saying you don’t care about certain people and their stories.

I believe the way we achieve this as an industry is to diversify our workforce. Offering opportunities to marginalised developers is immensely importan, but we also need to make sure they are thriving and supported once they are here. ​Harmful workplace practices like crunch​ are rampant in the games industry and ​are inherently ableist​. Developers of colour and marginalised genders also experience burn out and ​leave the industry more frequently due to inflexible work spaces​.

As consumers, we can encourage change by supporting the work of marginalised developers and games with inclusive content. Throw your dollars at these awesome people and projects!

What to take away:

Finally, you have a great deal of experience as an educator. Did your experiences influence StarCrossed – even though it’s a video-game, can players still expect to learn something from playing?

“I have to challenge the “even though it’s a video game” because I work in educational games as my day job! Interactivity and gameplay loops are extremely conducive to learning and I believe all games teach us something. Games exercise our brains, improve our reflexes, and provide players with a safe place to explore extreme situations!

StarCrossed is a game centred around collaboration. Players practice communicating and trusting one another. Frequently, we’ve astounded parents by getting two young siblings to play together nicely after a day of wandering an expo floor fighting over controllers and who was better at playing games. The parents look at us like, “How did you get them to stop arguing?”. Game design is so powerful! It can influence our relationships and communication styles.

We hope that StarCrossed can offer a playful space where people come together and feel good about collaborating.”

Where to play:

Grab your friends, team up and get sparkly!

If you want to help bring greater diversity to the world of videogames, and have some great fun with your friends while you’re at it, you can support StarCrossed by picking up a copy of the game on Steam using the link below:

SuperEpic: The Entertainment War – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of  SuperEpic: The Entertainment War was provided free of charge by Numskull Games


SuperEpic: The Entertainment War, an indie-developed sidescroller, successfully delivers a best-in-class Metroidvania adventure that confidently mocks the slew of AAA games it has managed to supersede.

In the world of SuperEpic, greedy corporate pigs (literal pigs might I add) have bought out every game developer and are now pumping out mass-produced highly-addictive mobile titles that have entranced the populace and are draining their wallets at about the same rate as a Steam Christmas Sale. The adorable raccoon protagonist Tan Tan and his facially deformed llama steed, Ola, must whack, slap and thwack their way through swathes of RegnantCorps’ evil employees to put an end to their vile videogames for good.

Conveyed through cutscenes of pleasing animated slides and walls of text, the plot is certainly not one of subtlety. Although it does little to reinvent the wheel in terms of its retro presentation and simplistic writing, the plot of SuperEpic provides a decent number of chuckles and more importantly creates a perfect unobtrusive skeleton upon which the game’s excellent gameplay can be hung.

A classic Metroidvania, SuperEpic boasts large hand-crafted levels that can be explored in a non-linear fashion. The handy minimap is an excellent addition, and one that would have greatly benefitted other games in the genre. Being able to avoid confusion makes exploring levels and finding the plethora of hilarious hidden secrets dotted throughout levels even more rewarding.

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Exploration is littered with enemy encounters and gripping boss fights. Revolving around three attacks – a quick attack, guard break, and uppercut – the combo-oriented combat is deceptively simple. Whilst button mashing may get you through most levels, far more rewarding is the intricate mastery of each induvidual move and learning of unique button combinations.

The combat is also extremely satisfying, largely due to the brilliantly meaty sound effects and neon hit indicators. Furthermore, the impressive variety of unlockable weaponry – raning from household cleaning tools to comedic hammers allows the combat to retain a fresh feeling throughout the game and leaves you thirsting for more by the time the credits roll.

Handily, SuperEpic also includes an unlockable “roguelite mode”, a procedually generated challenge which gives you an even greater opportunity to amass huge quantities of the coins dropped by every enemy.  These coins can be used to further upgrade your weaponry and armour and add an additional satifsying dimension of progression.

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SuperEpic is also jam-packed with minigames. Scanning QR codes scattered throughout levels opens webpages containing short flash games on your mobile phone. Tongue in cheek parodies of popular mobile titles like Flappy Bird, these minigames are presented in-universe and provide an awful lot of world building. The use of QR codes also ahad me surpsingly immersed in the games’ universe, although I can’t help but feel such technology would be of greater service to a more plot-oriented title. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend going out of your way to try and exploring thouroughly in order to experience all of these optional extras.

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In addition to your mobile phone, for PC players I would also recommend bringing a controller to your play session. Whilst the developers have done an adequate job of mapping the 4-button control scheme to your keyboard, a controller really helps recapture some of the button-mashing nostalgia of your childhood.

Alternatively, the Nintendo Switch version of the game works like a dream. Speedy loading times and smooth-as-butter performance make curling up in a warm bed with the switch in handheld mode and therapeutically punching pigs to a pulp an absolute treat. The handheld version also helps you to appreciate the sublime 32-bit sprite animation, which is beautifully detailed and clearly the recipient of a great deal of love and care.

It’s not just the animations that have recieved love and care either. Everything from the pause screen in which you can practise your combo attacks to the detailed and varied enemy designs seems meticulously crafted and as such can offer a game that has as much, and often times far more, polish than the majoirty of AAA titles. This sustained superiority helps emphasise the importance of the games’ overriding message.

SuperEpic is in its very execution a commentary on the modern gaming market. In an age of over-inflated budgets and multi-million pound videogames stuffed to the brim with predatory microtransactions and vicious payment models, it’s really heartening to see a good old-fashioned indie title that is able to so severly outclass its competition.

Overall, SuperEpic: The Entertainment War is able to comfortably fulfil its lofty ambition to deliver a satisfying parody of the modern games. Although its writing may be too on-the-nose for some, this is more than made up for in the game’s gameplay which is the absolute pinnacle of indie sidescrolling action.

If you’re interested in playing SuperEpic: The Entertainment War, the game will launch on the Steam Store later this month in addition to the Nintendo eShop, Microsoft Store and Playstation Store.

 

Killer Chambers – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of  Killer Chambers was provided free of charge by Village Bench


Killer Chambers is in many ways a wholly unique kind of bullet hell plat-former. Ditching the traditional sprawling arenas that have come to define the genre for minuscule micro-chambers, the levels force you to manoeuvre a highly claustrophobic environment, dodging a plethora of deadly traps as a timer excruciatingly ticks down to your release.

From a game-play perspective, Killer Chambers is relatively simple. You have the arrow keys that control your movements in the cardinal directions, including crouching, and a jump button. These help you evade everything from shooting projectiles to laser beams which are fired at regular intervals in patterns and combinations in each room. With practically unlimited lives (and extremely quick deaths!) the fun of Killer Chambers comes from learning the almost musical rhythm behind each set of traps.

Each stage offers three levels of difficulty which range from somewhat infuriating to downright impossible, and are sure to offer even the most hardened bullet-hell fanatic a tough time. There are five worlds to conquer, each with an incredibly difficult boss fight and a unique visual style.

The inclusion of shops in which you can spend your hard earned in-game gold is a nice addition, allowing you to purchase hats that drastically alter game-play to keep your experience fresh and often providing a slightly easier path to completing rooms.

Despite such items, you will still die. A lot. This is by design and the game deliberately punishes you for failure with a meter that increases each time you die. When full, you’re transported to a dark alternate realm with its own set of unique rooms to beat. Although this may sound particularly annoying, I often found this forced change of level very refreshing and kept repeating the same room over and over again from seeming quite so monotonous.

Further breaking up the experience is the story which is presented through delightful little dialogue boxes in-between levels. Entertaining writing with a cast of surprisingly developed characters and a lot of genuine laugh out loud moments make the short segments of story one of Killer Chambers’ best attributes. Seriously, the writing punches well above its weight and often the wish to see the next cut-scene gave me the motivation to keep going through the most difficult parts of the game.

The comic-tone of the dialogue and characters is complimented by the cheerful chip-tune soundtrack, which although somewhat repetitive at times is certainly satisfactory. It is nevertheless impressive that any music at all managed to be crammed into the game’s absolutely microscopic 85MB download size which, combined with its meagre running requirements, is sure to keep it a mainstay on all of your PCs.

With a great deal of replay value, a huge variety of levels and some of the best writing we’ve seen in an indie title, Killer Chambers is a game that despite its gruelling difficulty manages to be accessible, highly rewarding and extremely memorable.

Did we mention that Killer Chambers has a price of admission lower than your average sandwich? At only £3.99 on Steam, Killer Chambers is an essential purchase for anyone who wants a great value title which is sure to keep them coming back for years to come.

Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends was provided free of charge by Hendrik Felix Pohl 


Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends places players at the foot of an insurmountable mountain and has you both struggling to climb innumerable obstacles and battling a challenging set of deliberately obtuse controls all in an attempt to drive you to new physical heights and new emotional lows.

Pogostuck isn’t the first title of the rejuvenated mountain-climbing genre, taking clear inspiration from 2017’s surprise mountaineering hit Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy. For those who choose to abstain from being battered repeatedly by the latest online fads, or are otherwise just somehow unaware of its rise to fame, Getting Over It centred around a man stuck in a pot attempting to climb a mountain with the world’s slipperiest hammer, accompanied by an equally slippery control scheme. The game could potentially last forever, provided you could never master it enough to finish, and with no way to save your progress, it cruelly required completion in a single sitting.

Inevitably, the game was a huge hit with internet content creators with avid fans flocking to see their favourite YouTube-rs or Twitch streamers torture themselves with the impossible task. The game was after-all at its most fun when played with someone else; seeing the highs and lows of the journey but without requiring the commitment to sit down and finish it in one go. Not to mention that, despite the occasional bit of in-game narration, playing Getting Over It solo was a pretty lonely experience: just you and your pot for company.

Whilst it would be easy at surface glance to dismiss Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends as a meer rip-off, swapping out the pot and hammer combo of Getting Over It for a small man and pogo-stick, that would be giving Pogostuck a grave disservice. Pogostuck is actually more the natural evolution of Getting Over It‘s gameplay.

Pogostuck takes the original concept behind Getting Over It, first seen in an old gamemaker game entitled “Sexy Hiking”, and presents it with a new unique spin. Whilst you are still indeed scaling a mountain, you are doing so on a pleasingly springy pogo-stick which, when you get the hang of it, turn out to be far more fun to manoeuvre than the hammer ever was.

The game is easier than Getting Over It and Sexy Hiking although that’s not to say its “easy” per-se, and you’ll still be faced with a steep challenge (pun intended), but it certainly feels fairer and much more balanced. Although the difficulty curve is still practically as steep as the mountain, being permitted the ability to quit the game after a particularly annoying missed-jump and then relaunch it to continue seamlessly after your anger has deflated days later certainly makes the experience more relaxing. This sense of relaxation is further boosted by the cute, colourful art-style and soft cartoon-like sound effects. Although the ingame UI is at first pretty obtrusive, taking up most of the screen, it can thankfully be configured and disabled in the options menu.

The main draw to the game is of course the multiplayer. Pogostuck is inherently far less lonely than its counterparts. Even if you don’t have a friend with the game to connect to directly and try and race to the top, the game is always online – and you’ll constantly be running into other players who are too trying to make their way up the impossible hill. Whilst there is no way to directly interact with other players, it is always fun to run into someone, exchange a few courteous greeting jumps before starting a mad dash for the next disembodied ledge.

This multiplayer element also feeds into the excellent progression system, which grants XP for every inch of mountain you climb. This XP accumulates and unlocks various cosmetics. With plenty of sticks, trail effects, clothing and headgear to choose from, there are plenty of combinations which will both flaunt your progress and help you stick out from the crowd.

Although it’s certainly not as hardcore in its presentation or gameplay as other games in its genre, Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends, is still a good challenge. A challenge that is elevated by a solid progression system and the glittering potential for endless enjoyment in online gameplay creating an experience which is deeply rewarding. If you were a fan of Getting Over It or Sexy Hiking, or want a lighter introduction to the world of relentlessly hard games, Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends is an essential purchase.

If you feel like picking up a copy to torture yourself or some buddies (why not even both!) you can click here to visit the Steam page.