Monthly Archives: March 2014

Krunch Review 76/100

While the inspiration is clear, Krunch is unique enough to separate itself and stand on its own two…err, to suspend itself and float on its own.

There is some semblance of a plot, nothing is made very clear though. What is clear is the goal — to run away and escape from whatever hellhole the round protagonist begins in. On this journey, he’ll encounter plenty of obstacles and dangers whose sole purpose is to destroy him. The controls aren’t as tight as something like Super Meat Boy, but in this case it is intentional as the character is floating, not standing. There is an ever-so-slight drift to the character as you let go of a direction. It takes a while to get used to, but the skill in Krunch comes with understanding and controlling the character as finely as possible.

The character can boost by holding down the spacebar, but doing so will slowly reduce the character’s health allotted for that level. The health bar also acts as the time limit to complete the level, and is constantly depleting at a slow rate. Boosting is not always wise, either, since boosting around a sharp turn is sure to result in death. Boosting into a hazard is even worse, since both of those actions reduce the allotted health and, likewise, the amount of time left to complete the level.

There are four worlds to get through in Krunch, which will take a couple of hours to complete, though it is entirely dependent on the player’s mad skillz. For the record, it took me 94 minutes from start to finish. Though the timer will continually increase as you go through the game, it’s the orbs — or “Krebs,” as the game calls them — that you collect which will solidify your spot on the leaderboards.

The difficulty curve is spot-on, easing into new mechanics by introducing them gently. Not sure what the glowing square will do? You’ll find out real quick once you touch it and explode into pieces. Even during the fourth world, I found myself finding and working on intricacies in order to complete each level to the best of my ability.
Although completing the game without caring about collecting Krebs may prove to be an easier feat, collecting all or most of the Krebs provides an intense challenge. Some of them are so deviously placed that, at first glance, you may deem them impossible to collect — but the truth is you’re just not good enough to get them. Yet.

Perhaps the biggest game element to get used to is bouncing. After making contact with a wall or a non-lethal hazard, the character will ricochet off of it and lose any sort of momentum. Recovering from one of these bounces is often difficult and sometimes impossible. Any single mistake, depending on the level, could mean death. The obvious solution is “don’t hit the walls or non-lethal hazards,” to which I say GOOD LUCK! Sometimes it is possible to bounce on purpose and use it to your advantage. Sometimes.

There are a few boss levels throughout Krunch, which don’t overstep their bounds or feel out of place. They don’t change the formula at all — escaping quickly and efficiently is still the name of the game, and that’s a good thing. In fact, these few levels are probably some of the most well designed of the entire bunch and easily the most exhilarating.

Created by two guys, Krunch is an fun and exciting romp to escape from near-certain death. It’s short and doesn’t really entice the player to return unless they’re interested in leaderboard scores, but it is still a great way to kill an afternoon.

It isn’t perfect, as certain level design elements are a bit jarring and the lack of a quick-restart level option can make five seconds feel like forever. That being said, Krunch is a title that is sure to please anyone who stayed up late completing the Skyscraper Warp Zone in Super Meat Boy or ripped their hair out completing the Veni Vidi Vici room in VVVVVV. Fellow masochists, rejoice!

Krunch (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Developer: Le Grudge & Rugged
Publisher: Le Grudge & Rugged
Release: December 21, 2012 
MSRP: $9.99

Infested Planet 91/100

Infested Planet is a top-down game with more than just a hint of the tower defence genre about it, in which you take the role of a squad of mercenaries battling swarms of aliens. You start off with five marines, all armed with a surpisingly effective, if unspectacular, assault rifles and some rocket launcher rounds. The game’s single currency, BP, can be traded for further squad members, upgrades and building options, but to gain it you’ll have to take down alien nests scattered about the level. This typically involves selecting your squaddies and pointing them at the nearest hive, which constantly spew out enemies, then waiting for them to blow it up with a gratifying splat.

Of course, the game introduces a little more complexity than that. Like you, the aliens can build turrets and other buildings to defend their hives, which are also toughened against small arms fire. To wipe them out quickly you have to get close enough to fire off your missiles, but doing so leads you into the rapidly spawning swarm of aliens. Youneed to keep up a constant stream of fire, whittling away at the alien horde until you get enough room to really damage their defenses. And you need to keep an eye on the ammo counter. Missiles are your friend, but you’ll quickly run out and have to wait for your regenerating stocks to replenish. Bad timing here can get you filleted in short order.

While early story missions can be defeated with relative ease, most being little more than practice matches to get you used to the units and basic upgrades, the difficulty ramps up as you go on. By the end of the game the aliens respond with frightening speed to every lost hive, spewing out scores and scores of drones and bigger, elite enemies to test your defences. Infested Planet has a nice ‘mutation’ system whereby the aliens gain various evolutions with each defeat; you might see their structures form a spiked exterior wall that must be destroyed in order to damage the building, or the alien horde might start producing suicide units that spawn multiple mini-hives when destroyed. There’s several of these different modifiers, all of which make things increasingly nasty for your marines.

Some of the later missions became a frantic rush between objectives, with my troops fighting fires all over the map, constantly having to overcome yet more alien evolutions with each fresh victory. These moments are when the game shines, when you’re desperately waiting for a timer to run down as your guys get taken down one at a time. It can be tough, but you always feel like you’ve got the tools to deal with the situation. Upgrades include flamethrower, minigun and sniper troops, each of which have their own strengths and drawbacks. Flamethrowers are excellent against buildings, but have to get right up close before they can shoot. Protecting them from being overrun is key. Miniguns are devastatingly powerful, but pretty slow. More useful for holding points on the map than quick assaults or rapid responses. Snipers are good against enemy swarms, but can’t damage the main hives, so you need to keep them focused on clearing out enemies to make space for your big guns

The point is fun, and that’s something Infested Planet has in spades. Blasting aliens is inherently enjoyable thanks to responsive controls and some satisfying sound and visual effects. Rifles chatter away, shotguns boom and purple blood splatters all over the place, while air-strikes and helicopter attacks send all sorts of biological matter flying. The campaign might not occupy you for long, but it’s an enjoyable ride while it lasts, with some tough moments later on that really had me under pressure, but never felt unfair. Then there’s a simple skirmish mode if you fancy a more straightforward bout of Starship Trooper -ing, with the welcome addition of randomly generated missions. Blasting away at alien hordes does eventual get a little repetitive as you fall back into the same routine of building turrets to secure captured zones and slowly pushing forward into enemy territory, and enemy unit design is a little uninspired (they basically all look like blue and purple grubs), but all in all Infested Planet takes a simple concept and makes it into a satisfying and addictive experience. Well worth your time.

TowerFall: Ascension 89/100

TowerFall: Ascension is deceiving. It appears to be cute, pixelated and friendly, and it looks like something you would have played between rounds of Contra and Super Mario Bros on the NES as a kid.

In reality, TowerFall is a brutal bow-and-arrow brawler with vicious enemies that materialize from the ether in droves, heedless of whether you have backup or the skills to defeat them. You only have a set number of lives, limited ammo, power-ups that disappear the moment you’re hit, and hordes of enemies that demonstrate increasingly complex powers as the levels progress. It’s also local co-op only.
So, yeah – it’s basically the reincarnated amalgamation of classic NES shoot-em-ups and platformers, bred for a more technologically powerful world.


TowerFall’s charm resides in its twists on beloved platformers and shooters: Jump down a hole at the bottom of the map and re-appear at the top, dropping from a gap in the ceiling. Shoot a barrage of arrows and then jump down and collect them from the bodies of the slain. Challenge friends and choose big head mode, play with laser arrows only, play in slow-motion, turn on constant side-scrolling or a myriad of other game tweaks.
TowerFall rewards patience and calculated risk in both of its main modes, the multiplayer Versus mode and the solo or two-player Quest mode. The first level in Quest offers a fairly simple demonstration of what TowerFall has to offer, namely, piles of ghosts, slime balls, flying eyeballs and eventually, on stage five, another archer. It offers a balance, both challenging players and allowing them to grasp the simple controls – shoot, jump and dodge.

Luckily, it’s also a fun one. TowerFall mimics the frustration in games of yore, offering just enough hope that next time, you’ll be able to beat all of those nasty beasties. Or maybe next time. Well, maybe the next time. The mechanics are butter, allowing for rapid transitions among platforms and across the screen, all while flinging arrows at enemies or bouncing on their heads. It’s a game for a wide range of players, combining asset management and twitch controls with platforming and wonky physics. It’s superbly satisfying to launch a shot into an enemy’s back, jump to collect the arrow, leap down the gap at the bottom of the level and pop up at the top, directly on top of the boss enemy’s head.

It’s less satisfying when a rolling slimeball does the same to you, but it all shakes out in the end.
If TowerFall: Ascension had launched around the same time as Super Mario Bros, many of us may never have found the princess. It’s not just the pixel-art graphics, but the entire feel of TowerFall that makes it addictive. In every moment, you must gauge how many arrows you have, where the last arrow landed, where enemies (or friends) will drop in and how many shots it will take to obliterate the nearest threat. It’s a whole-brain game with minimal controls, and it’s the most fun I’ve had with a bow and arrow since The Year Of The Bow – or even the 1980s.

Banished 83/100

Banished is a series of small goals that feed into one ever-looming command: survive. Every game starts in the spring, and before winter hits, you need to get enough firewood, gather a decent supply of food, and build some houses to keep your citizens from freezing to death. Just getting enough food is tough, because you rarely have enough time or free land to get a proper set of crops growing. Instead, you’ll be chopping down as many trees as you can before getting a fishery going in a nearby lake or river. Then you hunker down and hope nobody dies.

People, more than anything else, are your vital resource. They need homes, food, decent clothes, tools, emotional support, medicine, and more. Every mechanic, every building you can place, and everything else you can do relates back to that central theme of survival. If you can’t gather enough food, your people die. If they’re stuck outside for too long, or don’t have warm clothing, they die. Each time you fail as their leader, you’re reminded of the loss with a grating sound and a yellow gravestone. These serve as a one-two punch to punish you for failure because losing citizens makes it that much harder to keep up the resource flow.

Like most games of its type, Banished has a number of natural disasters that strike your populace. In many ways, they serve as a kind of random “boss fight” in the sense that they will often test one aspect of your infrastructure. Diseases test the health of your population, fires your city planning, and tornadoes your ability to rapidly rebuild before winter comes again. With Banished already amounting to a desperate attempt to stave off death, disasters can be absolutely devastating for the unprepared. When pests hit your crops and you’re already barely squeaking by each year, you’re going to start losing a lot of people. Those kinds of cascading failures contrast with the almost hilarious scenarios that surround SimCity’s giant robots or aliens.

While the process of survival is never-ending, holding out against the elements amid the hostility of the untamed natural world is a small but powerful personal victory. Villagers have names; they’re born, grow up, and eventually die under your intense supervision. Banished reinforces the human drama with its brutal difficulty and negative feedback loops. It’s fertile soil for some of the most remarkable emergent storytelling around. With relatively few, well-designed mechanics, the game weaves a powerful tale of empathy and desperation and is a high-water mark for narrative elements that mutually reinforce mechanics. Even better, this is a very human story divorced from the Western tropes common in the loosely imperialistic messages of other, similar games. It’s just you, your people, and their strong desire to live.

Windforge 67/100

Windforge creates a large world full of treasure, temples, sky whales and bandits, but searching for those moments is long and difficult.

Snowed In Studios’ Windforge first hit Steam Greenlight about two years ago, and was explained as the love child between Contra and Minecraft. In order to fund the last phase of development the team turned to Kickstarter, and with the help of 700 backers, they got their chance.

The world of Windforge, Cordeus, is entrenched in a beautiful steampunk atmosphere; from the look of the customizable characters to the whale oil economy, and earnestly pulls the aesthetic off. Cordeus has fallen on some hard times due to their over-poaching of the sky whales, and the pursuit of other technologies are outlawed by the government. As a butcher, sailor, prospector or merchant, you uncover the secrets of the Aetherkin, an ancient race, who knew of another source of energy.

Everything in Cordeus is open to creation, destruction and customization. Character class choice is not as important as your choices with the air ship, which is the main mode of transportation in Windforge’s sprawling procedurally generated world. However, the world is too big and takes too long to get from point-to-point, especially since there are loading screens that separate the areas.

Windforge provides a lot of tools in order for the combat to run as smoothly as possible. The WSDA and mouse combination work for control when building an air ship or mining for resources, but fall apart in the combat scenarios. Switching between guns and keeping an eye on ammo is difficult and leads to a very steep difficulty curve, both underground and in the skies. When the shooting works, it is in small doses and feels more like glitching the game in your favor than a real achievement.

Windforge is not a full game. There are far too many bugs, such as a save corruption bug that personally plagued my progress. Character customization ultimately doesn’t mean anything because there is no online component in order to show off your cool loot grabs. The surface of Windforge is appealing – making an overused theme seem new thanks to the graphics – and the music fits the mystical, mysterious world, but there is not enough underneath. The game brings new ideas to this forming genre, and the intention is palpable, but falls short on execution.

Windforge was released on March 11th, 2014 for $14.99 on Steam, Humble Store, GoG.com and Desura.