Indietail – Really Big Sky

When I created my Steam Account in 2014, I spent a lot of time playing a game called Really Big Sky. It came out in 2012 and since I was really into Indie Games at the time, I spent a lot of time with this game in particular. I only have fond memories of this title, hence today’s question is whether Really Big Sky is just benefitting from the Really Big Nostalgia or if it’s actually a Really Great Game! We’ll see!

Developer: Boss Baddie
Publisher: Ripstone
Genre: Shoot 'Em Up, Space, Bullet Hell, Action, Arcade, Indie
Release Date: February 24th, 2012
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC
Copy was purchased.

The premise is simple. Just like in other Shoot ‘Em Ups and Bullet Hell games, you’re aiming for the high score and nothing but the high score. Try to survive as you’re flying through space debris, planets and gas giants and basically upgrade your ship to the max while you face off against alien invaders.

I mean, it’s really just that. There are a lot of different variables to the game, though, like different boss fights and special events that include black holes, wormholes, and other things. The game is hard as it tests your reflexes and your decision-making. You’ll have to dodge bullets, enemies, asteroids, lasers, and other projectiles. It’s quite literally bullet hell, which is fantastic. There are powerups in the game as well as space bits that you collect to upgrade your ship. Upgrades include random shoots at various angles as well as shield, speed and weapon upgrades. It adds a little bit of extra fairness to the game as you can upgrade your ship more and more throughout runs if you need to… but you can also make it harder for yourself by playing without that. Similarly, different game modes disable these features or play around with other aspects of the game like unlimited lives and a timer to get as many points as possible… I used to love to do the boss rush mode and challenge myself to get better and further into the game…

And the environments that you see are unpredictable and nearly random. Every run is procedurally generated from the way you play the game, meaning that everything changes based on your playstyle and how you do. If you’re getting better at the game, the game will get harder as well. Similarly, there will be fewer enemies and projectiles early on if you’re still not that good at the game. Really Big Sky analyses your movements and adjusts the game as you move on, giving you a rather interesting experience. As I moved on and on and got further into my runs, the game adapted and it got a lot better, going from an easier to difficulty to a much harder and more challenging experience within minutes. Once I started to lose more runs, it started to adapt slowly and change back, which is quite nice. On top of that, you can check out your data yourself after every run and compare your last run to the ones before that. It’s super detailed and there is probably more data in there than you’ll ever need but it’s quite motivating to see small improvements along with your playthrough and it kind of makes you want to strive forward and reach new highs!

The boss fights and special events are a lot of fun actually. One of them is a huge ball inspired by the death star and you’ll have to activate your drill to get inside and shoot the core… meanwhile, there is a different one that is literally too big to fit on the screen while another fills the screen with bullets making it harder to decide whether or not you want to aim at him or rather watch your step and dodge stuff right now. It’s interesting and dynamic. It feels satisfying to battle against these foes and eventually bring them down… and every run feels unique with the different events and the changes in the environment.

Those environments are generally bright and full of life and colour. There are a lot of different filters and particle effects that work really well with the space-theme within the game and its levels. The issue is that the constant flashing and some other issues with the rapid changes between filters and colours could cause issues for people that are sensitive to flashing lights. This is bad. There aren’t even any settings for it. You can turn down the quality of everything which kind of has an effect on the brightness of these effects, but overall, I’d just recommend not to play this game if you can’t deal with flashing lights. Even for people that aren’t photosensitive, this can be problematic since it sometimes is a bit hard to see where you are on the screen or what is actually damaging you right now. Clarity is important in games, in my opinion, and in that regard, this game certainly is lacking. I’d like it if your space ship would always be in the foreground so that you can basically always see it and detect danger. With the fog and the clouds and all of the other filters in the game, it can get very hard to dodge everything, which can get annoying or even frustrating.

At the same time, the game seems to have some issues with the menus and the resolution. If you play in 720p/fullscreen, you should be fine, but the game tends to struggle in 1080p a lot, even if that’s your normal resolution. Despite that, however, I’ve really liked the game and I enjoyed playing it again. I last played it in 2015 and really liked it back then, and well, even in 2021, I really am enjoying it. It’s a great game to play on and off… Part of the enjoyment comes from the amazing soundtrack. It’s a bummer that it has all those flashing lights with nothing really to do against it but other than that, Really Big Sky is a Really Nice Game to pick up if you’re searching for a quick and challenging fast-paced bullet hell game!

Cheers!

This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken.

Indietail – Fishticuffs

I’m a sucker for interesting takes on the rogue-lite formula. Games that are like Rogue are roguelikes, so they’re basically turn-based perma-death Dungeon Crawlers, I guess? I mean, definitions vary but a lot of people go by those while others think of roguelites as roguelikes with permanent upgrades that persist through runs. So while roguelikes may be somewhat limited to one or the other definition, Roguelites aka Roguelike-likes have so much more freedom available to them. From mythological roguelites to metal roguelites there are a plethora of games out there with similar features that bring their own twist on the genre and give people joy with the differences. Celebrating the differences is a great mantra to live by anyways.

Today, I wanted to talk about Fishticuffs by Yokcos, a game that combines the roguelite formula with the bullet hell genre and… fishing!

Developer: Yokcos
Publisher: Yokcos
Genre: Roguelite, Bullet Hell, Fishing, Arcade, 2D
Release Date: December 21st, 2020
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC
Copy was sent by the dev.

In Fishticuffs you’re trying your best to get a high score and bring some fish back home to the dinner table… but sadly the fishes are fighting back. Play as a hook and embark into the depths of the sea where you kill enemies, dodge projectiles, collect powerups and money and become stronger.

While the chill tunes at the beginning make it seem rather harmless, appearances are deceiving! The game isn’t a bullet hell game for nothing, after all! Your only attack is your space/left-click ability that lets you dive a short distance downwards and strike one foe. This ability, however, goes on cooldown for a little while meaning that you may deal one damage point to an enemy but you won’t be able to spam it constantly. 

Enemies, on the other hand, shoot out missiles and projectiles in periodic intervals. From horizontal to diagonal shots to electric fields by electric eels, there are a bunch of different enemy types with all kinds of attacks to avoid. You only have three lives, so you’ve got try your best to, quite literally, dodge a bullet.

On your journey downwards, you’ll be able to collect money and powerups. Powerups help you in your runs by giving you a wider hook or giving you a chance to damage enemies when you collect money. A lot of the power-ups seems a tad underwhelming but once you get a bunch of them, you’ll end up with a nice build that works quite well. This has been quite pleasant overall, although I would have loved it if there had been some drawbacks to the perks you get. In other games, picking up one upgrade would, for instance, increase your damage at the cost of your attack speed while another would increase your defences at the cost of increasing your hitbox and slowing you down. In this game, you basically just have these minor passive upgrades that kind of add up and eventually feel good… but on their own, they aren’t that noticeable, which is something I would have loved to see.

At the end of each level, you can spend your collected money on items in the shop. More often than not, you end up with only enough to buy one of two options. There is also a mushroom-like fella that tells you to not kill him and to not go into the shop… as well as a bigger enemy that drops loot as well… and while these are neat ideas, they don’t really get explained anywhere and it can lead to some misunderstandings. At one point, I thought I got healed by the mushroom-fella so I hit him again in the next run and didn’t healed, so that left me confused. I would love it if there was more clarity in regards to where healing comes from or what certain things do.

Once you’re done with the area, you’ll go onto to the next area with a completely new theme, other enemies and other items. At different depths, you have completely new experiences and other things to watch out for, which makes the game quite challenging. What I loved about the second area, as an example, was just how ominous it was. From the soundtrack to the style of the enemies to the eyes that pop out in the background… it’s very dangerous and scary, all of the sudden, which is a welcome contrast to the bright and relatively friendly shallow waters that you were just in earlier.

As expected, killing fish also yields money. On top of that, some items are synergizing with each other better than others. This actually results in a bit of a meta that can be found in the game… So when you lose your run and see that graph of how far you’ve gotten compared to previous runs, you can actually think about it… but since it’s really challenging, I would have loved to see some options to maybe make it easier for people that aren’t that good at games. The furthest I’ve gotten so far was Level 2 and I’ve had a few runs behind me already and really enjoyed it but if I were to recommend this game to a friend, I’m not sure if they’d be too happy with it judging from the difficulty.

Options to make the game a bit easier, like giving you a “bomb” or whatever to clear projectiles, once per level, could make it already a lot easier. Adding difficulty settings like easy/normal/hard, giving you more damage/HP or less damage/HP based on the difficulty would be another way to add more accessibility to the game. I mean, you don’t have to make it harder or easier if you don’t want to but a lot of games have those options and they are more fun for more people. Apart from that, I would have liked it if there were some graphics options like the brightness levels or some sort of colour-options. But at least, you’re able to fully remap the controls!

The soundtrack is fancy, the art style is adorable, the game is quite enjoyable. For the price, you get quite the challenging experience for your buck and alas, I’d say I’d recommend the game. The game has some depth to it but isn’t the most complex and while it is challenging, it doesn’t feel too frustrating as you’re able to start up a new run in a matter of seconds, which is quite lovely. 

Hope you enjoyed the post! If you want to check out the game for yourself, you can find it over here. Make sure to check out the description for a lot of fish-puns! And take care of yourself!

Cheers!

This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken.

Indietail – ClusterFobia

There are all kinds of games out there with all kinds of presentations and premises. A lot of games in the Indie scene feature unique premises that may have not been explored all that much, just yet, and often also present us unique and interesting design choices that you either hate or love.

Today we’re talking about ClusterFobia, a puzzle-shooter by Ganin, that features exactly that: Interesting and unique design choices that are really hit or miss.

Developer: Kirill Azernyi (Ganin)
Publisher: Kirill Azernyi (Ganin)
Genres: Puzzle, Bullet Hell, Shooter
Release Date: December 10, 2019
Available for: PC
Reviewed on: PC
Copy is available for free.

In ClusterFobia you are some sort of creature that seemingly was drawn in paint and you shoot out bullets that travel from the left side of the screen to the right side of the screen. Your bullets hurt you. So do enemies… and walls. Hence you need to find a way to destroy walls and enemies with your bullets while dodging everything and surviving a bullet hell that you created yourself.

And that’s essentially all I can say about this game without getting into too much of a rant… which is ironic since there is more to this post than just that part, but uh… I tried to be friendly or just informational but I feel that I should rather be honest and give my honest review, listing the short-comings of a game that is… like this. The premise is interesting, I guess, but it’s really unripe and I’m still not entirely sure if the dev, who e-mailed me with a request to review his game, is serious about this.

But what’s the problem with the game?

Well, mostly it just feels like one big troll of sorts. You dodging enemies and your own bullets seems like an interesting idea. Hell, the concept is nice! It kind of reminded me of Gutwhale where you have to manage the space between your enemies, you and your bullets. While you have to recollect your bullets in Gutwhale, you’ve got to dodge your own bullets in ClusterFobia… but sadly, the execution is just a mess. It feels painful to play something where everything seems to work and not work as intended.

Not being able to aim all that well, results in you connecting events to the wrong cause like it did for me. I thought I killed an enemy with my bullets but it actually didn’t get killed by that but by the wall. It just touched the wall and the bullet at the same time. That’s frustrating. Some walls kill you upon touching while others require you to touch them to actually go away. It’s super weird and just annoying. I finished the first level. The second one is just annoying bullet hell… without the fun part of being a bullet hell. The third one? Didn’t bother with anything past the second level…

And I did boot it up multiple times. I really did. I did try to give it a second chance… and a third chance… and a fourth chance… and even a fifth chance, although I had to mute the game on the fifth attempt while blasting other music through my headphones to make the game at least a tad enjoyable. But no matter how many times I tried to play the game, I always ended up with the feeling of regret: Regret that I really did try to give this game a chance.

The game’s presentation is a mess as well. Objects that seem to act the don’t look the same. They change the colours on random, to the point that you might think that there should have been an epilepsy warning at the beginning. Nothing is polished. Everything seems to have been directly extracted from Paint. It’s hurting in your eyes.

Meanwhile, the soundtrack is so loud and noisy that your ears might as well bleed while playing the game. Shooting out bullets causes more noise on top of the noise while the whole presentation is just sad to look at. If you want to turn music off, you’ll have to use the audio mixer after all, your game closes when you hit Escape and the actual settings don’t provide you with anything to change.

Sometimes games fuck with you. Sometimes they really do. Sometimes games are made for you to figure them out and eventually get over the obstacles that are blocking your way. In “Jump Knight” you need to reach the top by jumping through a rather difficult parkour part starring some unforgiving jumps that set you back a bunch! In “Getting Over It” you also need to make use of a pickaxe to reach space and beat the game while risking to lose footing during all of those jumps, only to eventually get set back while the narrator makes fun of you in one way or the other.

The “Dark Souls” franchise or even the whole SoulsBorne genre is known for difficult and challenging but also frustrating gameplay that tests your patience and skill, and, well, it’s successful.

And I only just started to play the third game and died nine times at the tutorial-boss, the Iudex Gundyr, who taught me important lessons about the game that I probably will need in future boss fights! But I’ll post on that, too, so expect more Dark Souls in the future.

Meanwhile, ClusterFobia is just frustrating. You may consider it “challenging” as well but I’m not sure if there is a way to beat that level. I’m not sure if you can actually get past the first level and even if you do… there are apparently more levels to it and I’m not sure if anyone really wants to play through all of those as well.

Other games can be frustrating or challenging, too, but at least you see how you’re supposed to do it. At least you get to figure it out. At least it always seems “this close!!” so you try again… in ClusterFobia you just get tired of trying. You end up losing your nerves as you try more and more; as you try to not quit this game. I quit the game multiple times but always thought that I’d have to try again and get more info on the game for the sake of a review. “After all, the dev seems to be really proud of his piece here, so I should do my best!”

I’m quoting the dev here:
“ClusterPhobia is maybe all about figuring out where to shoot and how the objects relate to each other (…) and also about knowing exactly when and how to shoot so that you don’t get killed by your own bullets and don’t destroy something critical for solving a level. If ClusterPhobia had a philosophy, that would be: [The] player is not supposed to know much about how [the] game works beforehand, but rather understand it out of his or her own experience – and yes, at first it might be annoying, but once the connection between objects is understood, and all actions are smoothly performed, it might get satisfying.”

But here’s where the problem lies:
It’s not healthy for a game if you can destroy a level by shooting at something critical to the solution of said level. It’s not healthy for a game to have no correlation between different events in the game. If you shoot a wall or an enemy and it gets destroyed, you’ll think that all walls or enemies of that type would get destroyed… but if the game doesn’t stick to that, the game becomes stale, frustrating and painful to play.
If there is no pull for the player to keep on playing, they’ll stop playing. If you don’t give a damn about explaining mechanics and sticking to your own rules, then the player won’t play the game. “Trial and error” is not fun. It’s frustrating. Learning patterns of sorts while some game is shitting into the player’s ears is just bad game design.

In the end, I’d have to say that this is poor game design. When a game is so frustrating and painful to watch and play that you’d rather kill puppies than play more of it, then it’s a bad game. Hence I can’t recommend the experience, despite it being a free game…

Cheers.

(Note: The dev calls the game ClusterPhobia but the actual game is called ClusterFobia in the installer and in the URL to the gamejolt side, so I’m not sure whether or not it actually is spelled like this or that.)

This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken.