Running Down the Haul: Humble Indie Bundle 17

Although it’s uncommon that I do pick up a Humble Bundle, I do follow their offerings pretty religiously.  There’s two things that I really enjoy about the bundles.  One is picking up good games for dirt cheap.  I’ve noted on here plenty of times before that I am both cheap as hell and patient like a saint, and the bundles play on both of those measures.  Even without abusing the pay-what-you-want structure, you can’t get much better than the 7-10 games for up to $10-$15 they usually have on offer, and wouldn’t you know it, they also often have ready to go games that I’ve been waiting for a price drop on since literally forever.  Yes, literally forever.  Shenanigans, don’t ask.

The second thing I really enjoy about the bundles is all of a sudden owning games I have never heard of and know absolutely nothing about.  I’ve got plenty of games in my library that I would never have bought on my own, would never have even bothered looking into, but since I picked them up by way of picking up the games I actually care about, I give them a try, and hey!  Turns out they’re pretty good.  There’s something about going into a game completely blind and still finding quality there that is just so, so satisfying, and the Humble Bundles pave the way for that to happen.  They expand your gaming horizons on the way there, too, and even when that doesn’t always lead to a perfect experience, that’s still something I really value.

Anyways, the Humble Indie Bundle 17 they’re putting out right now is the most recent one I’ve added to my collection.  Which, you know, is not something worthy of much fanfare.  But I’ve done something I haven’t done before with a bundle collection.  Something perhaps nobody has done before, judging from what I see on the internet.  I have actually played all the games I picked up in that collection.  Well, all the games that have been released thus far.  Who knows what the “new games coming soon” expansion will bring.

In any case, since I have made this monumental human achievement for which I am undoubtedly due for years upon years of accolades, I thought to share some of the glory.  Specifically, let’s go through some quick reviews on all the games in the collection.  Now, although I’ve played these all, I’ve only sunk some real time into a few of them, so this is going to be some real surface level review.  First impression stuff for the most part.

And with that in mind, let’s get into the games.

Lethal League

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It’s Smash Bros. meets dodgeball.  That’s what you need to know.  And if the thought of that is giving you some happy, glorious feelings inside, you’ve got the right of it.  If not, well, then I guess you were one of those kids who just really didn’t have a good time with the latter game in PE class, and for that, I’m sorry.  You probably weren’t on my team.

Anyways, the game itself, the base mechanics are sound.  It’s fun and feels good to play.  Art style is mostly consistent and really fits, and the music is great.  It’s primarily a multiplayer game.  Feels almost entirely like a multiplayer game, but no, single player mode is there, they’ve just hidden it way down in the extras menu.  Single-player mode’s AI is actually pretty good, but the mode itself does have one small frustration in that it’s lives-based.  Screw up three games, and you’re out of there.

As for the multiplayer itself, well, I usually don’t like competing with people I don’t know, but I gave it a few goes and actually enjoyed myself.  Connections are a problem.  Part of it comes from living on a mountain and we just don’t get the greatest internet up here, but it doesn’t seem I was the only one facing that issue.  And I have to tell you, it is a whole new type of fear when a ball’s streaming towards you at a speed of 6500 while you’re trying to time your return strike, only for the whole game to hang just before it comes within reach.  It also faces a really odd bug, where randomly the game will decide to drop all connections the moment you start a match until you shut the game off.

Perhaps the biggest knock against it is the lack of content.  Six characters, a handful of stages and songs, you’ll be seeing it all before too long.  Doesn’t seem to stop people though, as there are plenty of die hard fans out there, and I never had a problem connecting with other players.  Players seem to be at the levels of those who just picked up the game to those who have devoted countless hours to it with no in-between.  The beautiful thing about the game, though, is that even when playing against people who are undoubtedly better than you, you can still hang.  One of those easy to pick up hard to master things that does a really great job of keeping the skill gaps down.  I didn’t win many matches, but even against the players who were over a hundred levels above me, I still had plenty of times where I was taking them to the limit.

The Beginner’s Guide

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The Beginner’s Guide is… interesting.  Really feels to be the odd one out on this bundle, being a purely narrative experience opposed to the gameplay-heavy drops we’ve been seeing otherwise.

The Beginner’s Guide is the newest effort from The Stanley Parable’s writer, Davey Wreden.  That pedigree is probably the main reason people have ever heard about this game, because it’s not very marketable otherwise.  Which is a little unfortunate, because other than being an environmental narrative game, The Beginner’s Guide is about as far from The Stanley Parable in tone, structure, and content as you can get.  If you go into this expecting another Stanley Parable, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

Davey serves as the narrator and primary character in this game, which basically just runs you through a series of simple art games a friend of his made between 2008 and 2011, while progressively delivering a story outside those games as you go along.  It’s a very simple story, but it does have some depth and room for interpretation on it.  No real interactivity, just you playing along the paths set for you.

I’m being vague.  It’s one of those tales that if you know anything about it, it’ll change your experience.

It’s also one of tales with a fair bit open to interpretation.  I caught a theme out of it that seemed very clear to me, but everyone I’ve been looking to since has found something different out of it.  Even so, it’s not all that complex, and I can’t see anyone giving it more than one or two passes before getting all they will out of it.

Galak-Z

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You know, I really dig the art style here.  Probably my favorite thing about the game.

Galak-Z plays a lot like if you had developed Asteroids into a 90’s space shooter.  It’s has some pretty reserved, slow-paced progression punctuated by quick bursts of combat, before you’re back to cruising slowly through space.  At least, the early levels are like that.  Didn’t play much farther than that.

Controls are floaty.  As you’d expect from space.  I didn’t play long enough to get good at them, but I can see there being quite a bit of tech there.  Already, I’d been getting my way past enemies by powering my engine one direction only to cut thrust and aim, letting my momentum take me out of enemy fire while returning with blasts of my own.  Felt good.  What didn’t feel so good is that there’s some sort of input lag on the controls.  For reasons I can’t comprehend.  The combat is quick and brutal, and having controls that don’t take effect until a second after you push them does not mix well with that.

Some other minor gripes, there doesn’t seem to be much design to the game’s space corridors and environmental hazards.  Seems the team just through those in there because they felt they were needed, and didn’t put much thought to actually making it work.  And both damage and expended ammo carries over from level to level.  Kind of an old school design, but I could see that leading to situations where it’s impossible to continue.

So yeah, wasn’t too impressed with the game.  Don’t get me wrong, it has stuff going on, plenty of which I only got to see the tip of, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

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This seems to be a multiplayer game without online multiplayer.  What, am I supposed to make friends in meatspace?  Pshaw!

It’s a very charming game.  One that I can see being a lot of fun with friends.  Basically, you get a small team of people taking command of a spaceship, with everyone manning different stations that each fill different, necessary functions.  One shoots, one steers, one mans the horrible death cannon, etc.  You hunt through space, rescuing cosmic bunnies in order to fight the forces of anti-love.  If you don’t have enough friends, like me, you get to take your space pet along.  Space pet is really, really good at whatever job you give them, to the point where I got through things a lot faster by putting my pig on the guns and just taking the shields while he blew everything away.

I don’t know if there’s any real strategy involved in this game.  I didn’t play far enough to run into any difficulties, although, to be fair, I’m really awesome, so a more normal person might have more trouble.  Had a decent time, not one I’m planning on picking up again anytime soon, but I could see it being a blast if you have some more people to play with.  So, if any of you want to hang around my place some lazy Sunday, maybe we can get something going.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch

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This was the choice game for me, the game that convinced me to pick up this bundle in the first place.  Glad to say I was not disappointed.

Octodad is a game about an octopus living incognito as a human.  So long as he’s in disguise and he acts human, nobody knows anything’s amiss.  Not his wife, his kids (he really ought to have a conversation with his lady about them), anyone he comes across, nobody.  Total incognito.

And you have to keep it that way.  Take him through a day in the life of the Octodad, taking him through his chores, shopping, and a visit to the dread aquarium, all while keeping everyone else in the dark.  He’s not easy to control, because, after all, that’s life as an octopus stuffed into a suit.  That’s where half the fun of the game is, though.  Similar to QWOP, although the controls are exactly as designed, you are given an absolutely ridiculous means of interacting with your environment, and it’s up to you to make the best of them.  The game’s forgiving enough that control challenges are rarely an issue, unless you’re going for the achievements.

The other half of the fun?  It’s the game world itself.  Living in the kind of place that would take an octopus in a suit as a normal human, well, you know something’s just a little off there, and the game milks that humor for all it’s worth.  I had a great time with it.  You would too.

Also, I just found out the game’s a sequel to a freeware release.  Think I want to check that out.

Super Time Force Ultra

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This is basically a multiplayer game with yourself.  Imagine you’re playing a really graphically downgraded Contra, except that when you screw up, or you need a buddy, you could rewind the game and play alongside your own recording.

That’s basically what this is.  And it comes together well!  The game has a lot of attitude, humor just resting on the edge of being a little too much without going over.  The gameplay is pretty solid.  You have a few different characters, each with their own roles to play in your little personal army and obstacles you have to overcome are varied enough that they all have a role to play as you get yourself through these challenges.

It feels like a very smart action game.  Success is more based on using the proper combination of tools and thinking things through than it is reflexes and lots of bullets.  Even just as far as I played through, there was a lot of strategy involved, and it feels like it’ll only be getting deeper and deeper.

Honorable Mention: Nuclear Throne

So, I didn’t pick up Nuclear Throne, the premium game of the bundle.  I was tempted to just complete the collection, but didn’t go through with it.  Nuclear Throne, the PC version at least, is very highly reviewed.

But two things gave me pause.  First, it’s an action roguelike, and I’ve already got like a half-dozen of those sitting on my shelf, begging for my attention.  And second, however good the game may be, they put together a horrible trailer.    Makes the game seem rather bland and uninteresting, the action shallow, and doesn’t demonstrate any real skill involved.   And the sound of the gun?  Which I hope wasn’t the main gun?  Man, it’s annoying.  Sounds lie someone hammering a nail into the wall, and I’m not willing to put up with it for hours on end.

So there.  That’s what I spent the weekend doing.  Six games, six short reviews.  Man, I rule.  Overall, good bundle.  Glad I picked up most of these, and even the duds still have plenty going for them.

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6 responses to “Running Down the Haul: Humble Indie Bundle 17

  1. I have seen videos discussing The Beginner’s Guide, and it does create an interesting commentary on the whole notion of fiction. However, it just doesn’t seem like an experience I’d get much out of. I fully admit I’m probably missing the point of these artsy indie titles, but I find without some kind of gameplay to keep me interested, most of these experiences go right over my head (it’s the same reason I haven’t tried out Gone Home). Maybe it’s just me, but I feel an underlying implication from this is that a lot of these developers go into their projects with the impression that fun somehow negates a game’s artistic merits. It’s sort of like the other extreme with AAA developers believing that video games can only become worthy as storytelling experiences by emulating what is perceived to be a superior medium by the general public. What both approaches seem to have in common is the creators believing that video games will never be considered art as long as they continue to be what they are. The reason I like Papers, Please and Undertale so much is because those games are profound artistic statements without sacrificing the fun or what makes the medium so unique. That is, rather than pushing away the medium’s conventions, those developers embraced them.

    Now that I think about it, I too am sitting on a small pile of indie games I purchased over the summer that I haven’t got around to playing such as Gunpoint and Limbo. I’ll definitely review them when I actually decide to give them a shot.

    • The Beginner’s Guide certainly occupies an odd sphere. Aside from being a story about games, I don’t think it actually gets anything out of being a game. I watched an LP of it long before this bundle came around, and I had exactly the same experience then as I did playing it now. The interactivity lends almost nothing to it.

      Which I think is where all these art games tend to lose me. I think that’s what separates out a game like Gone Home, which I really enjoyed even though it’s far from everyone’s cup of tea, and a game like The Beginner’s Guide. Gone Home used its interactivity. It really benefitted from you exploring the place, controlling the pace, and guiding your own enlightenment into these people’s lives. The Beginner’s Guide, and so many other works, are ostensibly games, but they don’t do anything with the game part of it. Their story has no room for the player, they’re just sticking you on the rails and make you ride along as they show you what they want. At that point, they might as well just be videos.

      I don’t require games be fun to deliver their narrative, although Papers Please and Undertale certainly are more powerful experiences than both Gone Home and The Beginners Guide because of it, and it’s almost always better to be fun than not. But they do need to make some use of the whole ‘game’ part of it. I play these games because I want to be a part of it. If I didn’t care about my involvement, I’ve got plenty of stories and videos at my fingertips that do a better job of getting at whatever the game’s wanting to, because they’ve taken the time to work with their medium.

      • Upon reflection, I do admit that a game doesn’t necessarily need to be fun in order for me to get something out of it. Planescape: Torment and 999 aren’t exactly what I would call fun, but the stories were so fascinating that they still stick out to me as highlights of their respective decades. At the same time, I feel they are exceptions that prove the rule. That is, if you’re going to sacrifice gameplay for story, you better make sure it’s nothing short of amazing – settling for being slightly better than the average AAA title isn’t good enough.

        I definitely agree with your point that these plots also need to somehow need to benefit from the player’s input. I’ve remarked in the past that when they don’t, it’s like watching a movie only for it to pause every five minutes and you have to complete a complex series of button presses on the remote just to start it again.

        Ideally, you want to set it up so that your narrative and game mechanics are not only telling the same story, but also actively supporting each other. This way, you won’t run into as many situations where you must decide on whether to sacrifice the story to maintain the gameplay’s integrity or vice versa. If it’s completely unavoidable, it’s almost always a better idea to sacrifice story for gameplay. It’s easier to write an instance where the game mechanics don’t support the narrative off as an oddity of the medium; when the opposite happens, it can cause the quality to become inconsistent.

      • Oddly enough, the Otaku Judge recently directed my attention to an old post of mind, where I wrote something that I had apparently forgotten since. Good story, but bad gameplay, really has a tendency to ruin the momentum of the plot. Any emotional currency the game’s story built up gets taken away if the gameplay doesn’t hold to it. Particularly if the gameplay is poor enough to take your mind out of the timmersion and into the mechanics, the plot’s going to lose a lot of impact.

        Or, even if the gameplay’s thus fine, but it’s going in a different direction than the plot, or actively runs counter to it, it’s going to do the same thing. I had that problem with Tomb Raider, where it went from “Lara hates killing oh isn’t she tragic” in the cutscenes to “super competent murder machine” in the gameplay. Completely dissonant styles, and it all suffered for it.

    • That’s the funny thing. I got shades of the difficulty, could tell that it had ways in which it could get hard. Didn’t play long enough to actually see any of that. Although the internet tells me it’s a rogue-lite? That could explain a lot.

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