The Indie Scene

This week, I'm covering the the Ps and what I imagine are a couple games you've probably heard about. Let's jump right in and see if you enjoyed them as much as I did.


PixelJunk Shooter (PSN, $10)

A lot of what has made Indie Scene great — at least from my side — has been trying games I’ve never heard of before. A few of the games, however, have been ones I’ve wanted to play for a while and act as something as a reward when I reach its respective letter. PixelJunk Shooter qualifies as one of these.


When it came out last year, the excitement I heard from friends on podcasts and Twitter piqued my interest, and while I never got to the game then, I knew Indie Scene would eventually give me a reason — or would that be an excuse? — to make it happen.

Regardless, Shooter immediately felt good. While your ship has some momentum as it moves, it doesn’t go overboard trying to nail a realistic feel, making the multiple sharp turns an easy endeavor.

The subterranean setting offers up lots of environmental obstacles and puzzles. Bodies of liquid abound, containing water, lava, or oil. Break down barriers and the resulting concoctions produce different reactions (malleable soft rock, explosive gas), which prove pivotal in reaching and saving the enviro-suited scientists trapped throughout the caverns — and who happen to have the cutest screams when they do bite it.

I kept finding more to like about this game. After shooting through some of the soft rock and uncovering a treasure, for example, I couldn't help but clear out everything I saw before moving on to a new section, always hoping to find another treasure or unlock another hidden cavern. Also, the seemingly inconsequential ability to subtlety direct the flow of a liquid with a steady stream of shots can have huge consequences later on.

Funny enough, I've played many indie shooters throughout the Indie Scene's run, and despite its name, PixelJunk Shooter is the least intense shooter of the bunch. As an exploration adventure, though, it's aces.

PixelJunk Shooter

Passage (PC, Mac, iPhone, free)

Now we come to another title I had heard a lot about for the past year but hadn’t played. Passage qualifies as a more experimental game. You are given five minutes to simply explore its world before your blond-haired character pushes up the daises. Then you do it again.

To give you an idea of how my experience with the game went, here are some of my notes from the first few runs I took:

  • First run: Got the idea…but did I really get it? “Passage” is “of time,” obviously. Picking up treasure on my journey — some bright, some dark.  Maze in the middle. Died around 600.
  • Second run: Hung around the first maze rather than always pushing to the right, seeing how far I could go down. Found many more treasures. Got up to 800 before passing away.
  • Third run. Found a woman, a spouse at the beginning. She’s a companion on the journey, yet the companionship doesn’t necessarily make it easier. It’s nice having the company, but you’re limited in where you can go, as physically you take up three spaces instead of one. Having this companion, too, let my character live the longest so far, up to 1,000.

I played another handful of times, and it’s interesting just processing what’s happening. I have taken the spouse with me each time; I can't bring myself to leave her behind. Some runs end after just a couple hundred points (which are garnered by working your way to the right and by obtaining treasure), others after 1,000. The spouse always died first, with the then-hunchbacked, sad main character dying a few dozen steps later.

I imagine, though, that everyone will take something different out of the experience. Just to confirm this, I asked fellow Bitmobber and indie-game fan James DeRosa for his take on the game.

James: “Passage is a difficult title. While it's lost a bit of its luster for me since I originally played it last year, I think it is important because it challenges our notion of what a video game can be. Through a series of exceptionally clever visual and interactive metaphors, its creator, Jason Rohrer, shows us more about life than most games do with $10 million budgets and 40-hour plots.

"In Passage, you don't 'win' in the traditional sense of a game any more than you 'win' at life. Instead, you make choices, and during each play session, those choices reveal themselves to be as irretrievable as the decisions we make in real life. Passage's significance isn't about how well (or poorly) it plays or even what it does to advance the notion of interactive metaphors: It's important because unlike most interactive fiction, it is actually capable of eliciting as many responses as there are people who have played it.”

Well said, James. And I look forward to what the rest of you think of it in the comments below. Just what do the treasures stand for? How far can you get before passing away? Is your virtual life worse without a spouse? With no clear win screen, the satisfaction is more what you make of it.


We hit on a couple good games this week. Will the Qs be as generous? Find out next time, and leave any suggestions below.

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