Review: Little Walker

 

Originally posted on indie-love.com

As a child of the 80s, classic platformer games represent my early years just as much as Star Wars, Big Wheels, and acid washed jeans do. And since I’m generally happy to relive these bits of my childhood (other than acid washed jeans), I was excited when I got a copy of a modern take on the classic 80s platformer to review.

Little Walker is the first game by InvincibleTime, the one man studio of Blake Fix. Described as being “a platformer taken from 1986 the next universe over,” the game immediately recalls the decade when video games cemented their place in homes across the world and countless kids agonized over Super Mario Bros, Castlevania, and other happily frustrating memories. The controls are super simple: hitting “Z” makes you jump. And…that’s it. By default, the game has your character autowalking, but after playing for a few moments, I decided I’m not good enough at platformers to deal with that. So I turned it off and used the arrow keys to control my movement instead.

With such simple controls, it’s easy to think the game could be a little dull to play, but there are some nuances there that make it fun. The jump is variable, so the longer you hold down Z, the higher and further you jump. You can double jump off walls, and use objects and enemies to bounce off of to make longer jumps. Throughout the game, you can put different objects on your head to change the way your character functions. So when you come across a winged boot and put it on your head, you can make much longer jumps and double jump in the air. Putting a boulder on your head allows you to sink below the surface of water (which you normally just walk across), giving you access to underwater levels. These little twists add some interest to what could otherwise be a very basic game. The levels are challenging, throwing multiple obstacles at you right from the start and not babying you with a “warm up” level to teach mechanics while you play. It took dying a few times, but I eventually got the hang of it.

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The art for this game is dripping with nostalgia. I’m not sure what the main character is supposed to be, but he’s cute enough to want to follow on his adventure. The colors and style of the settings and characters screams 80s gaming. Instead of retaining a simplistic 8-bit look, the backgrounds are actually rendered in a lovely way, adding a bit more visual interest to the game. Some of the levels have really nice color pallets that manage to capture the feel of 1986 while modernizing it. These were some of my favorite touches in the game.

As the studio’s first game, it’s not a surprise that Little Walker has some flaws. The game is buggy, which is frustrating and occasionally completely rage-inducing. I couldn’t complete the first level; My character walked off the screen, but nothing else happened. Confused, I thought perhaps the level just didn’t have an ending, so I went back out to the main menu and selected the second level, which didn’t load properly. I quit the game and went back in, and now when I hit “continue” it loaded me into the second level normally. Not completely game breaking, but it was a little annoying.

My bigger issue was later on. While playing the desert level, I died during a sandstorm, and when I restarted, I had a weird graphic glitch where it looked like the sandstorm animation was moving over the ground but nowhere else. Again, not game breaking, but annoying enough to make me need a break. Since I needed to take screenshots for this review, I decided to go back to earlier levels and return to the desert later. However when I tried, I wasn’t able to select the desert level, or the level before it. Instead, I was forced to play through two levels again before I could get back to where I had been. That was enough to get me to shut down the game and lose a lot of interest in it. There are enough bugs that the game feels unfinished. It’s free so I can’t complain much, but it’s still not a great experience.

Bugs aside, there’s room for improvement in other areas of the game. There’s not much of a story to speak of, just the little guy walking and navigating difficult obstacles. While I don’t think a retro platformer needs a deep story on level with a modern RPG, I do think it needs to have some sort of plot to give your character a purpose. A story as weird and simple as “on a quest to save kumquats from extinction,” would be enough. You meet other characters along the way who occasionally give you helpful hints or just say something completely esoteric that makes no sense. The random dialogue didn’t bother me that much, since it did feel very 80s, but I think it needed to be balanced by just a little bit of story.

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The biggest issue with this game is that it just doesn’t stand out amid the many retro platformers that have been released in the past few years. If the tagline for the game is that it’s “1986 the next universe over,” it can’t just feel like a slightly polished version of the games that I grew up playing on my Sega Master System. It would have been fun if there were some sort of mechanic in the game to play off the idea of modernizing 1986 gaming, Maybe the main character needs to bridge the gap between his present and the future, or maybe there could be something to switch between completely retro and the more modern graphics of the game. I think with a little more creativity, this game would have held my interest better.

In the end, Little Walker is cute and has fun moments, but it doesn’t offer a play experience that stands out as being unique. I probably would have enjoyed this more as a portable game for my phone or tablet that I could play when I had a spare moment, rather than being tied to my computer to play something that is just a bit too simplistic. On the positive side, the level design is challenging and it feels good to finally get past a difficult set of obstacles. I think there’s promise there for some strong games from this developer, and I hope to see more from InvincibleTime in the future.

Little Walker is free and can be downloaded from GameJolt.

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Preview: Exogenesis: The Perils of Rebirth

 

Originally posted on indie-love.com

Exogenenis – The Perils of Rebirth is a visual novel and adventure hybrid that is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter. From the Philippines-based studio Kwan, the game is set in post-apocalyptic Japan and follows the story of Yudai Sayashi, a former treasure hunter who seeks to bring his dead sister back to life. Kwan plans to have a six chapter story filled with numerous characters and choices that will affect how the entire story plays out. The game is inspired by Ace Attorney and Zero Escape and it combines some truly gorgeous artwork with puzzles, exploration, and storytelling that has the potential to be great.

I played through the demo that Kwan released for the game and overall I enjoyed it. While post-apocalyptic settings are quite common in literature and movies these days, the stunning artwork for this game made me eager to explore the world. The story follows a young man named Yudai Sayashi on a quest to revive his sister who dies in the first moments of the game. While I personally prefer for female characters to function as more than a plot device, I still think there’s some great potential there. Since the story is the most important part of a visual novel, I’m expecting a lot from it to provide me with characters and themes that are equal to what I would read in a book.

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The artwork is one of the greatest strengths of the game. Though the settings are mostly static, they are beautifully realized and drawn in a style that makes the world feel authentic. They make the post-apocalyptic Japan feel even more real by including real-life landmarks, which is an excellent touch. You won’t see a lot of animation from the backgrounds other than blinking lights or changes when you remove objects, but I had no issue with that.  The character design is solid, and I appreciate the fact that the characters themselves are animated when you interact with them. If anything, I would love to see the character design become more of a focus in the game, particularly in conversations.

Currently, conversations are  just a text box with the character’s name above it. Different beeps indicate which character is talking. I couldn’t stand the beeps, so I turned them off almost immediately. However, this made it more difficult to catch when the character changed. Something as simple as including a portrait thumbnail in the text box would improve on this greatly, and it would help bring the characters to life a bit more. If I hadn’t looked at some of the art outside of the game, I wouldn’t have a good idea of what the main character looks like. The developer has added voice acting as a stretch goal on Kickstarter, and if they can achieve this, I think it will be a fantastic addition to the game.

The gameplay itself shows promise. When you interact with some objects, puzzles become available to you. The puzzles both give you a break from reading text and help tell part of the story in their own way, which I thought was a nice touch. I assume the puzzles will become more difficult as the game goes on, and I think they make a great addition to the overall storytelling by making the world come alive.

There’s also an element of detective work in the game to figure out how to get certain characters to help you out. This offers backstory into the characters and gives you another sort of puzzle to solve. The demo mostly revolves around getting one of your old friends, Eiji,  to help you out with bringing your sister back. The friend is resistant, and you need to collect information to figure out how to get him on board.

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I like the idea of it, but at this point the execution felt off. You have to go back and forth between a bar where Eiji works and a base over the course of several nights because your friend keeps throwing you out. It was a bit more repetitive than I would have liked, but it could just be because it’s a demo and they don’t have all their assets in place that it was constructed in such a way. Also, I must not  have clicked on all of the conversation options with patrons at the bar. When I went to talk to Eiji at the end of one night, my character started asking him questions about topics that felt as though they had no context. It disrupted the flow of the story, and that’s something that I think needs to be addressed as development of the game continues.

Exogenenis – The Perils of Rebirth is an ambitious project. Kwan plans  to have over twenty hours of storytelling with multiple endings and story branches. I love the idea and I’m intrigued enough to want to play more. Check out their Kickstarter or Steam Greenlight page to learn more.