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.
It’s pudding time.
The Fall of Gods
From the Darkness shall rise the Light,
From the Light shall rise the Darkness.
It’s no “time flows like a river, and history repeats,” but it’ll do.
One of the easiest (and laziest) ways I’ve found to talk about indie games is to just say that something’s a crappier version of some other game you’ve already heard of. (To be fair, the developers themselves tend to do that, too—although they usually omit the word “crappy,” for some reason.) Lootfest, for example, is 3D Dot Game Heroes on a smaller scale; Chu’s Dynasty is just Super Smash Bros., except without any characters you’ve ever heard of. (These are of course both great selling points.) The Fall of Gods, then, is Secret of Mana, only with no co-op and an even worse translation.
The gist of the game is that—you might’ve been able to guess this from the name—the gods fell, and one man alone has the power to bring them back, or whatever. (I’m sure the rambly intro went into a little more detail than that, but when I started to see Fantasy Proper Nouns like “Eloh” and “Ergia,” my brain instinctively went into standby mode as a defense mechanism.) You need to hit things with your sword, collect all the magical artifacts, and then defeat the Great Evil. I wish I could go into more specifics than that, but the biggest problem with The Fall of Gods is how poorly written (or, more likely, poorly localized) the game is.
Here’s how to tell if your game needs a proofreader: If you don’t think you need one, you need one. (This goes for all forms of writing, actually; I adamantly believe that you shouldn’t even be allowed to tweet without someone looking it over first to make sure you didn’t screw it up.) I was so put off by the game’s apparent Babelfish translation that I couldn’t take in anything else about it. Which is too bad—the screenshots had me hoping and praying that The Fall of Gods would be the second coming of Secret of Mana; instead, it just disappoints as much as the actual Secret of Mana sequels. It feels like I licked a penny just to talk about it; blech.
Finally: the crossover we’ve all been waiting for!
…no, it’s not Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright. We all know that’s never coming out in the U.S.
…no, it’s not Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters; that already happened.
No, it’s the things fanfic dreams are made of! Dragon Warrior meets, of all things in the goddamn world, Pong, in this soon-to-be XBLIG classic.
The big innovations that Wizorb brings to the (tennis) table are 1) enemies wandering around the field; 2) spells you can cast to do things like break blocks, and break lots of blocks; and 3) little towns you can explore in-between levels, wherein villagers ask you for all your money. It also has—just look at the screenshot!—great style. So many indie games today try for that stylized “8-bit” look, but they’re only just calling it that. What they actually mean is, “I made this in MS Paint; that’s what old Nintendo games looked like, right?” They hide their lack of artistic talent under a guise of it being “retro.” Wizorb actually IS retro; the graphics ACTUALLY look like a (very high-quality) NES title, and the music and sound effects bring back happy memories of Mario 3 and Punch-Out.
I do think the name Wizorb makes it sound a little like a generic puzzle game, instead of an awesome RPG/puzzle hybrid—but, then again, I could say the same thing about Puzzle Quest, and that game did just fine without my criticism. This game makes Pong engaging in ways not seen since that horrifying masturbation minigame in Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, and it shows that, with the right coat of paint, even the most dated of gameplay mechanics can be fun again. (Note: This trick does not apply to all forms of entertainment. I tried painting my cat once to make it more interesting, and after a very sad day I ended up having to buy a new cat.)
Also, while we’re talking about Pong fanfiction, here’s an excerpt from my latest romance novel: “The Passionate Paddles: Let’s Set a High Score Together!”
The ball came toward me.
The ball went back.
The ball came toward me.
The ball came back.
And then we made love for three days straight.
YES. YES. YES. It’s been literally months since my last FMV adventure…which, if you recall, had the unexpected problem of having only about two minutes’ worth of actual FMV footage. You’d push some buttons, watch a scene, and then push the same buttons and watch the same exact scene. It was as fun as…normally, I’d say it was as fun as playing an FMV game, actually, but I guess that won’t work here.
Hell’s House is different. Sure, you end up watching the same footage over and over again, but that’s usually your own fault, not the game’s. It’s kind of like Dragon’s Lair—you watch a few moments of a goofy indie horror movie, and when certain Xbox buttons scroll across the top of your screen, you have to press them in order to keep watching. If you mess up, you start over. It’s thanks to mechanics like this that the phrase “KIDNAPPED?! My Daphne kidnapped again?!” has become an irrevocable part of my mindscape.
The big problem with Hell’s House is that you can’t really tell what the buttons you’re supposed to press actually are. They’re the same colors as the ones on your controller, but the letters are obscured by these weird skull symbols—so unless you have the buttons memorized, you have to keep glancing down at your controller to remember what the hell one “blue” is. Looking away from the screen like that kind of takes some of the fun out the game, considering that its entire purpose is to watch it.
Don’t get me wrong—Hell’s House is actually pretty cool, for what it is. A literal interactive movie. A more sincere and less David Cagey Heavy Rain, perhaps. Don’t expect Silent Hill or Resident Evil, and you won’t be disappointed.
When you start off DLC Quest, you can only move your character to the right. There’s no jump button. There’s no animation, or music, or sound effects. You have a sword, but you can’t hit anything with it. Literally all you can do is more from left…to right. That’s IT.
Now, the developers could’ve just stopped right there, and they would’ve had a platformer that’s, if we’re being honest with ourselves, just as deep as most of the other platformers on XBLIG. But DLC Quest is no mere videogame; it’s a scathing commentary (or at least, a commentary) on the way today’s videogame publishers nickel-and-dime their own fanbase by cutting important content from games and then selling it later as “extra.” It’s a game specifically about buying downloadable content for itself.
…Not that you’ll actually be “buying” anything. All the so-called DLC packs are purchased through coins you pick up in-game. Want to move backwards? Purchase the Movement Pack, for five gold coins! Or, how would you like to pause your game? That’s another five gold coins, please! There’s also, of course, Horse Armor DLC, which costs a whopping 250 gold coins. (You get the subtle humor of that, right?)
I can’t remember the last time I had this much stupid fun with a game, without worrying if there were more productive ways I could be spending my time. It’s less than an hour long, and besides the gimmick, it’s a very basic platformer. But its cute jokes and clever critiques of the gaming industry still held my attention better than Skyrim, for godsake. DLC Quest may be a bit of a one-trick pony, but this horse of a different color never gets beaten dead, so don’t put it out to pasture just yet.
And now, another selection from “The Passionate Paddles: Let’s Set a High Score Together!”
The ball came toward me.
The ball went back.
The ball came toward me.
…But this time, the ball didn’t go back.
I didn’t let go. I couldn’t let go! Not this time. Not again.
As I held the ball tightly in my arms, I remembered her…her fine alabaster coloring, the sweet, sweet sharpness of her corners. She had four of them, just like me.
The pain of these memories was overwhelming…but the joy, even more so. It all came rushing back to me, like an unstoppable waterfall of pleasure through the cavernous hole that once held my yet-unbroken heart. A heart that beat only for her.
And then I noticed…something.
The ball I held so closely to my glistening chest…it bore a striking resemblence to my long-lost love. Or…at least it could, with a little imagination.
Why, yes. If I just squished it around in my hands (oh that felt good), and then flattened it out…the likeness was almost uncanny.
It only took me a couple of minutes.
Later that evening, as I turned the game off and settled into my warm bed with my pretend pixel maiden beside me, it was like she’d never really left me at all. And I didn’t even care who heard my passion that night.
At least I had something to live for now.