While I hit something of a rough patch last time out, I didn’t let that hold me down. Oh no. In fact, time was my biggest enemy when it came to the Os. But some key suggestions pointed me in the direction of a couple great games. Read on.
Olu (Xbox 360, $3)
Up first is Olu, an Xbox Live Indie game that Twitter user Ind1fference recommended. Take one look at the screen and its description (“a rhythm-based rail shooter”), and your mind should immediately jump to the classic Rez.
And that’s not a bad comparison, but Olu has a nice twist to give it its own feel. When locking on to enemies, you can use either trigger: The left trigger represents “digital,” and the right trigger is your “analog” key. The enemies, meanwhile, come in either a wire-frame digital style or a more colored and fleshed out analog style. Opposite-style shots do more damage and fill up the corresponding meter for power shots. And so we have another mechanic that harkens to a modern classic, in this case the black-and-white-based bullet-hell shooter Ikaruga.
So how does this mix hold up? Well, I found the first three areas (of five total, another parallel to Rez) to build slowly. Rather than utilizing the digital/analog mechanic to great effect, Olu instead sends predictable waves of one-style enemies your way.
Besides making for a slow start, this also gives you time to focus on the inelegant reticule – it’s simply an off-color box that can actually be a bit intrusive.
And while I’m being harsh on these early stages, I did enjoy what I was playing. I just felt they lacked a quick enough progression and a cohesive strategy, as I just painted the screen with shots, with occasional moments of hectic, enemy-filled sections keeping me entertained.
That changes in the last two stages, though. Area four swaps digital and analog enemies on a regular basis, on an enemy-by-enemy basis at some points. This kept me on edge. An impressive goliath of a creature follows this up, which you need to take down seemingly one polygon at a time. An intense fight, for sure.
Also impressive: Seeing both wireframe and solid serpents undulating into and above the ethereal boundaries, as well as the solid techno music (natch), which takes on a gothic style in this level.
I found a lot to like here, making Olu easily worth the $3. What I want to know, though, is why stages end so abruptly before kicking you out to a menu. Why kill the flow, Olu?
Osmos (PC, Mac, $10)
Where Olu is a fun game with some rough edges, Osmos feels polished throughout. Despite focusing on organisms at the cellular level (but in space?!), everything looks sharp.
But let’s pull back for a minute: Osmos was another Twitter recommendation, but this one from many more people. And based on what I found in my searches, it definitely has a big following in indie-game circles. It’s easy to see why.
The game is simple: You typically want to become the biggest creature in your primordial pool, which you do by absorbing smaller organisms. Similar to games like Feeding Frenzy and Flow, you do this by running into them. To generate momentum here, though, you eject some of your mass. This makes for some interesting risk/reward scenarios. For example, if you’ve grown just a wee bit bigger than a nearby enemy, will you have enough juice to change direction to absorb it before shrinking too much?
Beyond this conceit, Osmos does a good job of keeping the scenarios fresh. Some stages will require you to take a methodical approach as you try to absorb one of a few ever-larger enemies on your way to the top weight class. Others feel like a cramped Petri dish filled with dozens of fast-moving amoebas.
Your spineless enemies themselves have some interesting permutations. A lot are simply reactive, mindless entities that suck up whatever bumps into them. But creatures like the nemocytes have evolved an eye and use it to employ a similar strategy to you. Others are behemoths who literally poop out blobs bigger than you. Finally, you’ll encounter repulsors, attractors, and antimatter, which behave just like they sound they would.
While I feel I’ve only made a dent in this one — I’ve played through maybe a dozen of the 40-plus levels — I’m impressed by the creative simplicity it has shown so far.
While I had time for only two games this week, I was pretty pleased with both, which counts as a win for me. The Ps are up next. Any suggestions, let me know below.