The Indie Scene

In what started off as a tough letter to find games for, U ended up delivering a great trio of games…a couple of which I still can’t wait to jump back into. And really, that’s what I love about this series: going into a given letter with no expectations, simply hoping that what I find is worth reporting to all of you. When I come across a couple gems, like I did this time, it's a win for all of us.

U

Uberleben (PC, free)

I wholeheartedly endorse this game, and I haven’t even seen the half of it.

Uberleben calls to mind Canabalt, Bit.Trip Runner, and other run-till-you-drop platformers, and not just because it shares the insta-restart feature that smartly strings you along.

Instead of dealing with steady momentum that pushes you from left to right, you take things from a different perspective here: hurtling downward into the screen. As a freefalling skydiver, you simply want to reach the bottom of the stage, and in true gamey fashion, that means dodging tons of objects and inconveniently placed scenery.

 

The action and perspective remind me of trying to escape the second Death Star in Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, though it’s not as masochistic yet undoubtedly harbors a higher death ratio. Funny enough, among the multiple backdrops for your leaps, you can select “Death Star” — the rudimentary, cardboard-cutout approximation, however, won’t fool any true Jedi.

Tangent aside, the main thing Uberleben needed to nail was that freefalling sensation (on a screen, at least); as crude as the graphics may be, they pull it off, especially in full-screen mode.

As for that half I haven’t played? Well, Uberleben is a seven-player (!) game, all on a single screen. Provided yourself and company manage to huddle around a keyboard, mouse, and gamepads; enable the spin, blood, and fighting options; and then have at it, I can only imagine the chaos that ensues. And I stress the word “imagine” since I did not have any locally convenient friends during the jumping in this game.

Even going solo, I loved Uberleben. I have a feeling that if the developer created a browser-based version, the game would blow up in popularity.

Uberleben


Urban Space Squirrels (XBL Indie, $1)

For my next game, I went for the highest-rated U on the Xbox Live Indie channel: Urban Space Squirrels. It’s a puzzle-platformer with a lot of switches and careful jumps. It has some merit, but it also disappointed me in a couple key ways, which I’ll get to in a bit.

Among the good: Once you get the hang of shooting out bombs and using them to trip switches and assist your jumps, you feel empowered as you dart around the stages, collecting pointless knickknacks before exiting.

As such, I enjoyed the game for a while. It worked hard to keep the action fresh, introducing new obstacles, such as fans for wind-resistance puzzles, and a regular stream of new abilities. But back to those things that bugged me.

Now, I tend to be forgiving of hang-ups like basic animations and bleak backdrops in indie games, simply because those aren’t necessarily what developers are trying to show off. In fact, a lot of devs make up for graphical misgivings with charm. Games like RunMan: Race Around the World, Spelunky, and Cave Story all capture lots of character despite their simple visuals. By comparison, I found Urban Space Squirrels to be awfully sterile and quickly grew tired of its generi-lab background and soulless rodent

That may tie in with why, after two extended play sessions, I had no desire to go back to Urban Space Squirrels, even though about a quarter of the game remained. It didn’t pass that “I have to play again” test that’s key to indie games that catch on versus those that pass on by.

I have to give it props, though, that its main completion icon bears a striking resemblance to the Sly Cooper logo, which, given both games’ slinky, furry main character, I imagine is no coincidence

Urban Space Squirrels


Uin (PC, free)

On the other side of the spectrum, this week’s final game has me entranced. Uin starts off confusing and slow…and it pretty much continues that way throughout. To its credit, this didn’t stop me from playing. In fact, I want to dive back in to see what else it hides.

An action-adventure at heart, Uni provides little direction after it sets you free in its magical world hidden through a cupboard portal — which apparently is where our protagonist's family business resides. Needless to say, I’m still piecing together the story.

From the beginning, you learn that your character is quite fragile, and most of your defense is achieved through a good offense. (Part of me is disappointed that so much of the interaction is in the form of attacking enemies.) As such, this necessities stopping and charging a lot, since that queues up your energy shots. Relentless enemies quickly sop up your ammo, which tunes up the tension.

Shooting strange creatures isn't all of the game, thankfully. Puzzles comprise the other part of the journey, and they can be quite obtuse (this spoiler thread should help). But as you solve them, it starts opening up the world…a lot. The payoff for, say, figuring out how to procure and then crack open a giant egg can be quite bizarre.

Uin’s dream world contains plenty of interesting elements, including seemingly invincible foes, a stoic alien who wants to help, and an in-the-clouds afterlife where shadows of your slain enemies mill about. Cracking this game’s secrets isn’t always easy, but the adventure to do so has me hooked.

Uin


Thanks to IndieGames for pointing me in the direction of Uberleben and TIGSource for introducing me to Uin. Until next time….

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The Indie Scene Interview: The Odd Gentlemen