In an early episode of South Park, Eric Cartman talks about how independent movies are “always about gay cowboys eating pudding.” The same can (almost) be said for Xbox Live’s Indie Games service—a service that allows anyone, anyone at all, to develop and publish their own Xbox 360 game. In “Minus the Pudding,” I plan to highlight the very best of what Xbox Live Indie Games has to offer, though, by “very best,” I actually just mean the games that aren’t Sudoku, fireplace simulators, or massagers for your private parts. Those are the pudding games of Indie Games, and I want to talk about the ones that aren’t.
Some of you may be familiar with the Game Developers Conference—that’s where developers from all around the world gather to build new friendships, share ideas with one another, swap war stories, and, in general, work together hand-in-hand to realize the full potential of videogames as an art medium. Hah-hah! I’m kidding of course; it’s actually just another way for people to promote and sell videogames. It’s like E3, only with more pretension; or, it’s like PAX, only with a lot more pretension. It’s not without its highlights, though, and one of the highlights of this year’s conference was a panel on none other than Xbox Live Indie Games. (At least, I assume it was one of the highlights. GameCola, as typical, didn’t get an invite, probably because we do things like call it pretentious.)
A number of different factoids came out in this panel, such as “if you want your game to sell, you should make up a press release,” and “you should also make up a trailer,” but one of my favorite parts was when the developers started talking about things that Microsoft doesn’t allow on its indie games service. To put this into perspective, I’d like to first give you a list, based on my own experience through the Pudding, of things Microsoft DOES allow on its indie games service:
2. Masturbation tools
4. Silver Dollar Games
5. Babies exploding out of vaginas
6. The exploitation of women
7. Shooting fat people for sport
8. The glorification of creepy stalkers
9. Silver Dollar Games
Now, based on the panel, here’s an exhaustive list of things that Microsoft doesn’t allow in its indie games:
I mean, I see their point. It’s cool to kill fat people, because they’re completely unsympathetic and everybody hates them; but once you start making games in which you kill Nazis, you’re going to piss somebody off. I get it. But what I don’t get—and what I think you’ve all been wondering, ever since you started reading this article—is…why the heck wasn’t I invited to participate in this panel?! I’m young! I’m handsome! I’m the winner of the 2010 award for “Connecticut’s Sexiest Beard!” I’ve played literally dozens of Xbox Live Indie Games, and I’ve been giving uninformed opinions on them for well over a year. Sure, I may not have published an actual indie game per se (…yet?), or participated in the indie game community in any meaningful way; but my review of Balloon Boy did earn me a free copy of the game from the developer, and where I’m from, that qualifies me as famous. What’s the deal, dog?
Anyway…where was I? Oh, right: videogames. Videogames! Where it’s OK to exploit, stalk, and kill people, as long as those people don’t actually deserve it. Let’s talk about a few, OK?
“Warning: Lighting yourself on fire may lead to severe burns and possibly death. It will probably not make you go any faster, either.”
You know you’re in for a treat when a game starts off with a warning like that. (Incidentally, it’s actually a pretty useful warning, too, since it’s a known fact that if you do something in a videogame, you automatically have to do it in real life, too. That’s just science.) Vertigo is an intense, pulse-pounding, groin-tingling game about running from left to right. It’s like Mirror’s Edge, if Mirror’s Edge were a side-scroller, and also fun. (Hate me if you want for that comment, Mirror’s Edge fans, but if the entire premise of your game is exhilarating crazy-person running, then maybe you should, I don’t know, let me actually run, instead of stopping me every six seconds to get shot at by people.)
You run, you jump, you slide under obstacles, and you wall-jump. (Fact: Everyone loves wall-jumps.) You also—and this is what sold me on the game—get to make combos. We learned last month that the quickest way to my heart is through combos (the second way, incidentally, is through asking me about my beard), and in this game, there are certain boost points you can run into, which add up to make you run faster and faster and faster! They also set you on fire, which I guess is why you run faster—YOU’RE ABOUT TO FRIGGIN’ DIE and you want to make the most of your life before you do.
In short, Vertigo takes the best part of the old-school Sonic games and makes an entire game out of it, which is great, because that’s like the opposite of what modern-day Sonic games do. This is an easy recommendation for anyone who wants to buy happiness for only a dollar.
Do you remember when fights used to break out at your house over who got to be the grappling hook guy in Trine? Of course you don’t. I’m the only person who actually played Trine. But if you had, you’d see GrappleBoy as a welcome respite from all the pain; after all, it’s a game wherein all the characters are the grappling hook guy. (Of course, there’s only the one character. And, in fact…it’s actually just a single-player game; so maybe it won’t be solving any of your problems. But let’s be honest—you don’t have any friends anyway.)
You play as a little blorpie thing who’s trying to get to the video store before it closes at midnight. (Man, remember video stores? I went into a Blockbuster the other day to see if they had any good deals on games, and it was like stepping inside a time capsule.) The video store is located on top of a mountain, and the way you’re getting there is, of course, via your tongue. That’s right—this game gives you a tongue button, and it’s not even one of those games that Matt Gardner likes to review. You’re also supposed to avoid touching the ground at all costs for some reason, though the game doesn’t seem to tell you why. My guess is that all the white tiles are hot lava.
Sure, your tongue doesn’t always go in the direction you’d expect it to, and sure, when I was studying journalism at the University of Maryland, I never thought I’d ever write a sentence like that; but the game’s fun, very much in a Super Meat Boy kinda way. Death is frequent, but your lives are infinite and the load times, thankfully, aren’t, so it doesn’t feel like a punishment. …That is, until you’ve been playing the same level for over 20 minutes because you keep getting hit by these stupid ceiling spikes, and your fiancée is starting to wonder just where you learned all these colorful swear words; but even then, there’s way worse things you could spend your dollar on than GrappleBoy. (Also: way better things, such as four months’ worth of daily advertising on GameCola.net!)
Yes, from the makers of GRRRRRFLGNRN and FFFFFGGGUUUUUUUUUNNNURGLR comes the latest in a long line of incomprehensible grunting noises. I mean videogames. This one, I’m pretty sure, is actually targeted specifically to fans of the Pudding. It hates the same things we hate; it stands for the same things we stand for. It’s also a steaming pile of dog crap, but it’s supposed to be, so that makes it OK…right?
Eh. SSRGFM runs into the same problems that all parody videogames do—since you’re mimicking videogames that aren’t fun, you, yourself, are also inherently not fun. The game’s terrible terrible name stands for its three different game modes:
- Surround Sound
- Remote-Controlled Gopher Farting
Surround Sound Mode lets you test your TV’s stereo system via piloting a farting gopher around a virtual living room, which I guess is supposed to be a parody of other XBLI apps, but to my knowledge, “parody” isn’t the same thing as “do exactly what the other guys are doing, but with gophers.” Masseuse Mode isn’t much better; like so, so many other XBLI games, it allows you to massage your penis with your vibrating Xbox 360 controller. As an added bonus, according to the story in this mode, you’re actually receiving your massage from a gigantic naked squirrel with big heaving breasts, because this just wasn’t creepy enough already.
But the heart of this game is Remote-Controlled Gopher Farting Mode. It takes the farting gopher from Surround Sound and…well…here’s the game’s official description: “Fart on other gophers until they explode from too much butt-hurt.”
You consume burritos to increase your fart meter, and you drink beer to reduce your butt-hurt. You can also I CAN’T BELIEVE I EVEN PLAYED THIS GAME WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME. It’s not funny. It’s not ironic. It’s not for us. It wants to be a game that’s making fun of all the other stupid games on XBLI, but all it ends up being is a stupid game itself. I can’t talk about this game anymore; here’s a gameplay trailer, so you don’t think I completely made it up:
On the plus side, SSRGFM has pretend Achievements that you unlock for doing things like visiting the menu and turning the game on. I’m pretty sure this is why XBLI games aren’t allowed to have real Achievements.
Cthulhu Saves the World
Cthulhu Saves the World is one of the games from the Indie Games Winter Uprising, but don’t hold that against it. It’s an RPG by the developer of Breath of Death VII and former “Versus Mode” participant Robert Boyd. It’s also probably one of the best Super Nintendo-style RPGs I’ve ever played, and I include actual Super Nintendo RPGs in that statement.
…of course, I have weird tastes. I’m not a fan of the dramatic; I’m not a fan of the overbearing. Right off the bat this eliminates nearly every Final Fantasy game ever made. What I do like, though, is comedy, and that’s exactly what Cthulhu Saves the World has. It’s actually funny; it’s actually cleverly written, and it’s not just some lame parody of other equally lame games. It also features the elder god Cthulhu in his best-ever appearance since he sat on my *NSYNC shelf wearing a suit and a pair of sunglasses:
In this game, Cthulhu has finally risen from the watery grave where he’s been for untold eons, only to have his powers immediately stripped by a mysterious wizard. The only way to regain his powers—as Cthulhu learns by eavesdropping on the game’s narrator—is to become a “true hero,” at which point he can get back to trying to take over and/or destroy the world.
Almost immediately you come across a helpless maiden beset by vicious monsters. You rescue her, of course (you’re CTHULHU, for his sake), at which point this little scene takes place:
GIRL: My hero!
CTHULHU: Hero indeed! Did you hear that? Do I count as a true hero yet?
The girl then joins your party (GIRL: “Does this mean we’re dating now?”), and you get to play through what is probably the most genuinely funny game on XBLI.
The battle system is standard turn-based combat, which I’m still not a big fan of, but at least it’s lightning-quick in this game, with no excruciatingly long attack animations (or really any animations at all) taking up valuable time that you could otherwise spend enjoying your life. It’s not quite as speedy as, say, Half-Minute Hero, but it’s actually bearable, for once. Also, the game lets you save anywhere. Also, while the game has random encounters, it turns them off after you’ve fought too many of them. I think I’m in love. The whole Winter Uprising could’ve been just this game, and it would’ve been a complete success.
Is it too late to add this to my list of the top five XBLI games from 2010? Moon Taxi seems much more like…like…like…I don’t know, Buffoon Taxi now. (That was a good one, right?) Cthulhu Saves the World definitely ranks up there with Pudding Hall of Famers like Office Disorders, Light’s End, War of Words and yes, even Excruciating Guitar Voyage. It’s so much better than getting a penis massage from a squirrel. Download it. Play it. Love it. If you don’t, we’re not friends anymore.
In conclusion, if you make good games, I will give you money for them. Even if they have Nazis.