Hmmmmmm… Where have I seen a black, pixelated guy auto-running through a level while cool electronic music plays in the background before? Bit.Trip Runner? Yeah, pretty sure that’s it. So Voxel Runner doesn’t strike me as terribly original, but it still manages to stand out on the XBLIG channel. I’d rather play this than The Impossible Game, because it gives you more control than just jumping. You can slide, dash, block projectiles, and leap. I did find it a little confusing that jump and leap were assigned to different buttons, though, and it’s easy to forget which button does what when things get heated. But Voxel Runner recognizes that this is bound to happen and provides plenty of checkpoints and save points. The coolest things here, however, are the little black and white cubes that, when touched, alter the level. White cubes do something good (like opening a passageway) while black cubes usually do something bad (like creating a pit). It’s these little additions that help Voxel Runner rise above the games it looks like it’s copying.
Not to be confused with DK: King of Swing (though it would have made sense to clone that instead), King Swing for XBLIG is nothing more than an endless runner with a swinging mechanic. Let’s call it an endless swinger, shall we? And that’s really the biggest misstep the game makes. Endless runners need a lot of gimmicks to be fun. King Swing only has one: swinging. Well, swinging and not falling in the water, which will subtract a life. Sometimes, a bird will fly past, and if you can latch onto it, you’ll be able to cruise through the level for a few seconds. But that’s the only exciting part about the game. No coins to collect. No monsters to avoid. No power-ups. Nothin’! Even though the swinging works fine, and there are global leaderboards to compete against, there’s just no meat here. In its current form, the game should have at least been broken up into finite levels or had mini goals to work towards. As it is, this is a pretty simple and boring runner. I mean swinger. Whatever.
Pester is an extremely boring paint-by-numbers shmup. This game takes simplicity to whole new levels, as nothing really feels weighted properly, and all of the enemies are pretty much exactly the same. The graphics attempt to evoke a nostalgic feeling by mimicking the extremely simplistic look of most Atari 2600 games, but not only does it not look good, it just doesn’t work too well. Besides the normal Arcade mode, the game also offers up a surprisingly decent Tempus mode which requires you to kill as many enemies as you can to put more time on the clock. This can lead to some decently fun moments where you’re racing against time, but at the end of the level, it’s just not fun enough to keep you enthralled for long. There’s also a sweet Duo mode which allows you to pilot two different ships at once (each being mapped to a different joystick), but just like Tempus mode, it won’t keep you occupied, and controlling two different ships proves to be better in theory than in practice. If you want a good shmup, buy Beat Hazard instead.
Avatar Maze Game is exactly what it sounds like right down to the connotations that come with putting the word “Avatar” at the front of a game’s title. The only thing to do in the game is walk around large, spaced out mazes while collecting coins, stars, keys, and hearts that allow you to eventually exit the level. At first, the game’s environments really stood out, as some of the mazes are downright stellar looking. You quickly come to realize that they reuse them often, though, and they lose their luster very fast. Luckily, there are some gadgets and items you can purchase with your coins to help you better navigate the mazes, but they don’t actually do all that much in terms of gameplay. Things remain extremely simple and boring despite them being added to the mix. Just about everything in the game feels lazily done when it comes down to it. I mean, your avatars don’t even HOLD the keys they pick up! They just float around in the middle of their arms for some odd reason. The music is honestly the best thing the game has going for it, so unless you absolutely must hear some chill music, stay away.
Platformer From Hell is a punishing platformer in the vein of Super Meat Boy. If you’re not familiar with SMB, this means you will die often as you traverse the levels. The constant trial and error based gameplay would likely be annoying and nerve-wracking in other games, but in Platformer From Hell, dying and respawning comes extremely easy and causes no real problems. The pace that the game uses in introducing new obstacles is perfect, and the design of most of the levels, while simplistic, also has a sort of elegance to it. This left me admiring levels long after I’d moved on to another part of Hell. The story for the game is also a nice touch. I won’t spoil it, but despite its simplicity, I found myself getting pretty drawn into it and imagining more layers to the story. If you like sadistic platformers akin to Super Meat Boy or would just like to try your skill at a game that requires extreme finesse, then you should definitely give Platformer From Hell a spin.
Ultimate Dodgeball has a lot in common with all those other avatar sports games that seem to clutter up the Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace. The biggest similarity: pure mediocrity. Everything about this game just screams “bare minimum,” as you can’t aim and can only use your avatar in exhibition mode. The AI randomly swings back and forth from giving up on life (curling up into the fetal position) and ‘roid rage (our dodgeballs will blot out the sun). Another big problem with the game is that the dodgeball physics seem way wrong. While I don’t usually expect much from XBLIG games, I can’t help but think that this is the biggest deal breaker of all, since the game really revolves around the dodgeball. Now, none of what I said was meant to imply there are no redeeming qualities to the game. I had quite a time making up a story in my head of how this 1% inspired dodgeball team had to beat all of the other dodgeball teams to bulldoze their community centers to build new country clubs, which gave me far more satisfaction. In the end, though, stick to real dodgeball.