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PC Platformers: Game Opinion Summaries

But when you have a PC, why even bother with other computers? I have always owned only PCs so I'd have no nostalgia for other computer platforms, I love the PC as a gaming system (it's the best gaming platform ever for sure!), computers take up a lot of space and I do not have the space for an actual classic computer collection (having to have multiple PCs for various older games is bad enough, space-wise...), floppy disks (or even worse cassette tapes) are the worst, least reliable forms of game mediums that exist, going with emulation only is unsatisfying... and Amiga platformers usually make you use Up for jump! Heh.

That said, as much as I dislike Apple (and i do!), the one classic computer (other than PCs and, later, Macs once in a rare while) I actually remember using sometimes back in the '80s to early '90s is the Apple II, because like most American schools they had Apple IIs in our elementary school and one of my friends had one as well, so I have thought that it might be fun to try someday. But then again all of those issues I mention above really are big problems for most classic computers, so I'm not sure.

So anyway, with this update I get to the end of the alphabet for 2d platformers and start on the games I got since deciding to stop adding new titles to random updates, but instead to put them at the end of this section. So yeah, I'm almost to the end of 2d platformers now!

Table of Contents
Waking Mars (2012)
Word Rescue (1992)
Blocks that Matter (2011)
Curse of the Crescent Isle DX (2015)
HAUNTED: Halloween '85 (2017)

Waking Mars (2012, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Waking Mars is a nonviolent puzzle-platformer from a mobile and PC-focused developer headed by a guy who once worked for Looking Glass Studios. You play as an astronaut on Mars with an infinite-use jetpack, and have to get through many levels by growing life in caverns under Mars. The game takes itself seriously, and your astronaut guy and a woman who helps you out via communications act sort of like how you would expect astronauts to. You do also have an AI companion as well. The caves are segmented with living gates, and the only way to open them is to grow enough life for the gate to open. If you wanted to just blas thte doors open, go play a different game. The amount of life you need in an area to get the doors to open is measured by a level, and as you go the puzzles you will need to figure out in order to get that level high enough get harder and harder. There are two kinds of life, plant-like and animal-like. You grow plant-like life by throwing 'seeds' at certain points that have small grass-like plants growing on them. You can grow one plant on each patch of ground, but things are not so simple as just planting stuff randomly; the different plant types interact with each other, and you can also upgrade the patches of ground in various ways as well to affect how the plants grow. The game starts out easy, but figuring out what to do will get tricky later on.

Additionally, as you progress you will also start to run into Martian animal-ish life. Now, this is mostly a simple game, as far as the gameplay goes. It defaults to keyboard and mouse controls, but while I often dislike that, here, due to the slow-paced gameplay, it works fine. You move around the screen with the stick or keyboard keys, and throw things with a mouse button, and that's about it. It is worth mentioning that the game is also available on phones, which enhances that point. You do have a health bar, but most of the time the only damage you can take is when you fall too far. However, there are some threatening life forms you will have to avoid, so there is some of that element here even if it is not the focus. I like the calm style here and that you spend the whole game growing things, instead of destroying like usual. It can be frustrating if you're not sure what to do, and late in the game apparently it wants you to get all areas up to the highest life level in order to 'really' finish the game which is annoying, but still this is a good game.

Visually, Waking Mars uses a lot of sprite layers to make a pretty nice-looking image with a lot of parallax. Your character may be a vector or polygon-ish thing, I'm not exactly sure, but I decided to leave this game in the '2d' category anyway because everything else is obviously sprite-based, and he may be a sprite as well. The art design is good, and I like the various forms of life you can grow. The backgrounds are all types of caverns, but still wtih all this parallax it looks good. Aurally, the music is okay but not memorable. There is also voice acting for all the conversations, and it's decent. Overall, Waking Mars is a good, though not great, puzzle game in jetpack-platformer form. The game has a good difficulty scale as you progress and it is satisfying when you figure out what to do to raise the life level. This isn't a game for everyone, but it is worth a look. Also available for Linux and Mac on Steam, and also available for iOS and Android. The game is supposed to be the same there, but the controls are surely better on a computer.

Word Rescue (1992, DOS) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Word Rescue, published by Apogee and developed by Redwood Games, is Math Rescue's word-based predecessor. For anyone who hasn't, please go read my summary of that game, because this one is very similar, except you match words to items instead of solving math problems. Because this game released before Math Rescue, however, in a few ways it isn't quite as good as its successor despite both games releasing in the same year. In this game you play as either a boy or girl. The controls are simple, you just move, jump, and attack. You die if you get hit and have to restart the level, though you do have infinite lives. This is an easy game so that shouldn't often be a problem, though, and the game saves your progress after each level you complete.

The gameplay is also simple. In each level you can wander around collecting items, but your main goal is to, as described earlier, match them to the words which describe them. You touch a word box to make a word appear. Then, all other word boxes turn into pictures. Go find the item somewhere in the level that is of that word and it matches, and match all of the words and items in each stage to move on to the next level. You can also collect letters that make a word which displays on the bottom of the screen; you get bonus points for getting the letters in order. In the stages, the words and objects are scattered around each level, along with other things such as enemies, pits, and more. Yes, there are actual pits and enemies in this game, rare as they may be. Your attack button pretty much kills any enemy in sight when you hit the button so long as you have ammo though,; this is a kids' game and it shows. There are three difficulty settings, and there are more enemies and less ammo on the higher settings, but still this isn't a very hard game. The matching-based gameplay is the bigger issue though, as I don't find it as interesting as solving even easy math problems is, so I don't find this game as good as Math Rescue is. The platformer element is as fun as ever for an Apogee-published game, as like so many of their games the levels are large spaces for you to explore and collect things in. The game can be fun, as you run around collecting stuff and finding all of the items, but the matching-based gameplay holds it back.

Visually, Word Rescue is an okay-looking EGA game. The graphics look nice, though this game has simpler flat graphics instead of the slightly angled look of Math Rescue, and environments are not as detailed as they would be in that game either. Most levels have just one background layer, but some levels do pull off parallax backgrounds, which is somewhat impressive for the PC at the time; the PC has no built-in parallax hardware, after all. There is also Adlib/Soundblaster music present, which is nice for a time when quite a few PC games still had only PC Speaker support, though there are only a few music tracks. On the whole Word Rescue is an okay platformer for kids which teaches some basic reading and item-recognition skills in an okay platformer. It can be fun in short bursts, but the simple matching-based gameplay and low challenge mean this game is probably one of my less favorite Apogee games today, though it is above average even so. I like that Apogee tried to do some somewhat educational games, and Math Rescue is a good one, but this isn't quite on its level.

BLACKHOLE (2015, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Blackhole is a very difficult platformer by FiolaSoft with a gravity-flipping mechanic and mostly good, but very frustrating, gameplay. The story here is a sci-fi comedy, though. This game is set in the future, and you are the coffee guy on a spaceship that was going around closing black holes which were somehow threatening Earth. This black hole grew suddenly, however, and the ship was pulled in... but instead of being destroyed, you somehow find yourself in a weird space, all alone except for your irrevent female AI voice companion. Your guy does not speak, but the AI does, a lot. Some of her lines are funny, fortunately, and it does take your mind off of the very difficult stages at times. There are options to cut back or remove the cutscenes if you want, though. Blackhole is mostly about its difficult gameplay with gravity-flipping puzzles, though. The game has an overworld you can freely move around, and stages you access from warp points on that map. You have infinite lives here, but have to restart the stage you are in if you die, which will get frustrating. The goal in each stage is to get as many blue ball pickups as you can, of the ones in the stage, and then get back to the starting point. The game has a timer to keep track of how long each stage takes you as well. Stages are small and short, but quickly get crushingly difficult regardless. This game has over ninety puzzle-stages, and because stages are timed and you do not need all of the balls in order to move on there is some pretty good replay value here, so there is plenty of content here for people who like the game. Fortunately you can reset the stage at the press of a button.

The controls in Blackhole are simple. All you can do in this game is move around and jump, and the controls are digital-only, as usual in 2d platformers, not analog. You have no other powers; you cannot control the aforementioned gravity flipping yourself, but instead when you touch a platform emitting white light, you will flip so that that that direction is 'down'. This means that figuring out which areas you should attach to and which you should not is key to the puzzle design, as you might expect. I have issues with the controls, though. You move pretty quickly, but it's okay; the jumping is where I have an issue. It feels like you have minimal air control in this game and the physics are strange, so give the slightest touch and you go flying off to your certain doom, as you die if you fall too far or touch any obstacle. You must get your jump starting location, height, and length exactly right every time in order to make jumps, and with these controls that is harder than it should be. An analog control option might have been nice. and this game is almost entirely about hard jumping puzzles, as you try to either touch or not touch those gravity-flip areas while figuring out how to get to the blue balls. Trying to get a jump exactly right, in where you jump from, how much you are pressing left or right both before you jump and as you fall, trying to slide along a wall halfway down a fall after avoiding obstacles above, all while knowing that mess up and you start the stage again, is not fun after the thirtieth time... ugh.

Graphically, Blackhole has sprite-art graphics that look nice but not great. I like the weird, somewhat monochromatic environments and the strange maybe plantlike things growing around, and there is a parallax background, but the character sprites have a very odd art style to their faces that I do not like much. This is a gameplay-first game, but despite that it does look nice enough. There is also some decent music. Still, with how hard this game is due to its controls and level designs, Blackhole can be very frustrating. I'm sure that once you get used to the controls it gets better, but then the game just gets even harder, so that may or may not help. Blackhole does have some good stage layouts with many very tricky puzzles that will take creativity and many tries to solve and some decent graphics, but after a while I quit the game in frustration because of the controls and sometimes maybe too difficult stage designs. This game may call itself a puzzle-platformer, but this is no slow-paced puzzler, it is a test of precision platforming skill that often will be incredibly frustrating more often than it is rewarding. Overall, Blackhole is a decent to good game which can be addictive and fun, and it can be satisfying to figure out a stage and finally get through it alive. However, the game is held back by its weird physics and kind of awful jumping controls. The memorization-based design that requires you play every stage over and over and over and over until you get it right is also sometimes tedious, and I'm not sure if I want to play any more of it.

Blocks that Matter (2011, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Blocks that Matter is a puzzle-platformer made by Swing Swing Submarine that has an interesting block collection and building mechanic. In this game you play as a Tetrobot, a little robot that needs to save two game developers who have been kidnapped by a villain. I presume that they made the game. The story tires to be cheesy and amusing, and it is sometimes amusing, but I find the gameplay the main draw here, not the story. The graphics are decent but somewhat average 2d sprite art with a slightly cartoony look. It's good enough. Fortunately, the gameplay is pretty good.This game has both puzzle and platformer elements, but it is more puzzle game than platformer; you will do a lot of jumping here, but this is mostly a slow-paced game where the main challenge is in setting the blocks up right, more so than dealing with difficult jumps. That will be harder than it may sound though, as Blocks that Matter has good, challenging level designs that will take some thought to figure out.

The game has simple controls: you can move around, jump, drill forwards with the drill in the center of your robot, place blocks, and switch between block types to choose which one to place. You cannot drill while jumping, however, The environments are indestructible, but certain blocks can be destroyed either with your drill or by jumping up into the block from below several times to break it. When you destroy a block, you collect it in your block inventory. Then, when you hit the 'place blocks' button, the game pauses and you can place a block. You must place blocks four at a time, Tetris-style; the game explicitly references Tetris when describing the system, so the similarity is on purpose. Because different block types have different attributes, again, including whether or not they can stand on their own in the air or need support either below or to a side, depending, it is important to consider which block types you have and use the right ones in each spot. You can then destroy blocks you have placed, which is sometimes required, though remember that some of their rules hold regardless, such as sand blocks collapsing if they are not supported below. It's a good system which works well.

So, the challenge here is figuring out where to place blocks in order to get through the level. There are different block types, each with different properties, as well. The puzzles quickly get quite tough, but it's a fun challenge. In each level all you need to do is reach the exit, but there is also a collectible chest to get in each stage if you want some added difficulty. Figuring out what to do in each level in order to set up blocks to reach the end is pretty fun. Blocks that Matter is a simple, challenging, and fun game worth a look. The game also has a sequel, Tetrobot & Co., which I will cover soon.

Curse of the Crescent Isle DX (2015, WinXP+) - 1-2 player simultaneous (single system only), saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Curse of the Crescent Isle DX is a retro-styled pixel-art platformer by Adam Mowery with gameplay inspired by Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) crossed with a puzzle-platformer. You play as either a King or Queen of a somewhat fantasy-Middle Eastern kingdom, who has to save the day because your daughter the Princess and the Prince she was going to marry were kidnapped by a villain who wants to conquer the land, instead of allowing the peace that marriage would have brought. It's great that you can play as either gender in this game, that is somewhat uncommon. In this classic-styled platformer, you explore through mostly-linear levels, trying to go from left to right. There are the usual pits and such to avoid, but as in Mario 2, when you jump on enemies you are not damaged, but instead stand on top of them as they move around. From here you can either walk around carrying them over your head, or stand on them and move around holding them below you. When standing on a monster, you bounce upwards if you touch a spike, other monster, or breakable block. You can also throw the creature you are currently carrying. The controls are okay, though they are a bit slipperier and less precise than I would like. This is also another game you want an xinput controller or d-to-xinput emulator for, because it is harder with a keyboard. Still, the game has some good ideas. You have three heart-shaped hit points per try, and can refill them with heart powerups scattered around the levels. You have infinite continues from the beginning of each level, but there are no checkpoints within each stage so you need to learn each one to finish it. The game will save from the last level you reached, in the Continue option on the main menu, but it also has a password system for access to any stage, if you know the passwords. I don't understand why it is a password system instead of just a level-select which unlocks levels as you reach them, but it's better than nothing.

But returning to the gameplay, Curse of the Crescent Isle's unique element here is not just that you can carry enemies, as that has been done before. It is that each enemy type has a special ability that you will need to use in order to make it through the levels. So, one drill-like monster allows you to break through blocks, above or below depending on where you are holding it; another allows you to move along the ceiling or floor of the level, depending; another, made of ice, instantly freezes over enemies and water when you touch it to them; and more. This is where the puzzle element of the game comes in to play, as you play a level while trying to figure out how to use the monsters in order to get through the stage. It can be a fun challenge and there are some good puzzles here, but the game is frustrating at times, unfortunately, as it has many trial-and-error elements. You cannot look around the stage and pits are everywhere, but is that pit a bottomless pit, a way to get to the next part of the stage, or an optional area with a heart in it? There is no way to know without going down there and maybe dying, if it happens to be a pit. And even if it isn't a pit, it is easily possible to get stuck in levels in places you cannot get out of, if you fall down the wrong pit without the right monster that will let you escape. The developers knew this, so there is a 'restart level' option on the pause screen. That's nice, but it would be better if there weren't so many random traps like that. This is mostly a fun game, but due to the controls and level designs it gets frustrating at times.

Additionally, the game is not very long and has low replay value, as levels are linear and there are almost no collectibles to find. The only things in these stages to find, other than the monsters and scattered heart refill items are coins. There is one giant coin 'hidden' in each level, though early on they are easy to find. I know modern puzzle-platformers often don't have them, but it might have been nice to see more collectibles. Beyond the main game mode there are two other options, a boss rush and a speedrun mode with a timer, but they don't add much to the game, and this game is one that will probably take most only a few hours to finish. You could play as the other character, but they play the same so it is only a visual difference. Still, this is a cheap downloadable title, so for the amount it costs you probably get your money's worth. There is also a two player co-op mode, on a single system only, which could be fun to check out sometime, though this is mostly a single-player game.

Visually, Curse of the Crescent Isle DX has a nice, 4th-gen-style pixel-art look, with good, large sprites and lots of visual detail and parallax. The game doesn't try to specifically look like something from any one classic console, but it has a good look to it and the art is pretty good. The chiptune-style soundtrack is also very fitting for this kind of game, and there are some decently nice tunes. However, the menu presentation is extremely basic, as the main menu is a text-only menu with an extremely large and ugly block font with two columns of text options to scroll through. You can't press left and right to go between columns either, but have to only use up and down. It works once you get used to it, but the main game looks nice, so it's too bad the menus are so basic. And again that password option is odd; I see from the patch notes that the save-game features were added in patches, so I can see leaving this in after it was supplanted, but why not put in a level select menu too? It's a minor issue, but is worth mentioning. Overall, though, Curse of the Crescent Isle DX is a good game. It may have some flaws, including some control issues and short length, but the somewhat original and yet familiar gameplay mostly works quite well, and it's fun to play through this game, look at the visuals, and figure out the puzzles. This is an enhanced version of a game originally made for Xbox 360 Xbox Live Indie Games, where it should still be available. Also available on Mac and Linux on Steam, along with the PC. There also was a Playstation Mobile version, though it was only briefly available before PS Mobile's discontinuation and shutdown.
HAUNTED: Halloween '85 (2017, WinXP+) - 1 player, no saving, gamepad supported (xinput only). Haunted: Halloween '85 is a modern indie NES game that was first published as an actual NES cart in 2015, before also being released on PC here. Indie developers have been making new games for old consoles since the '90s, but it is rare to see one of those games also release on Steam like this one has. Because it is a real NES game, unlike most retro-styled indie games this one actually has to stick to the NES's limits, which is nice to see. The game was developed by Retrotainment Games and published by GamePump, a new publisher who were going to set up a subscription service, but gave up on that and started publishing games on Steam instead. Their first title was the puzzle game Lit, and this one is the second. Haunted: Halloween '85 is a sidescrolling platformer/beat 'em up, with beat 'em up-style combat as well as tricky platform-jumping segments. This is a nice-looking game with some good ideas and gameplay, but also flaws that hold it back. The story is that you are Donny, a boy in the year 1985 who is late to school. He rushes to school, only to find... zombies everywhere! So, you set off to find out what's going on and get past the undead hordes. It's a simple plot but it works, though the intro may be a bit more verbose than this game needs. You can skip it by hitting a button, though.

The controls are simple, as expected for the NES: one button jumps, and the other punches. If you punch quickly you will do a three-hit combo, and each hit of the three does more damage than the last, one to two to three. You can also do a four-damage strong punch by hitting down+punch together. Combat is simple but can be fun, as you punch zombies, ghosts, posessed objects, and more. You don't have a great deal of range, but if you keep hitting punch you usually won't take damage to enemies coming straight at you, though making sure to be in line with your foes is important. On that note, as for jumping, it has issues. First, when you stop pressing left or right, Donny takes a few steps before stopping moving, so the controls are not as precise as you'd like. You jump high as well, so while you do have air control while jumping, landing where you want can be tricky and you will often have to hit back in the air in order to land on a platform. Every level of the game requires you to get through platforming gauntlets made up of stretches where you have to jump between very small platforms over death pits, too. With a little practice you get used to the controls, but while not awful, they could be a bit better.

Levels are made up of two main elements, platforming parts such as described earlier, and larger open flat spaces where you fight enemies. Now, sidescrolling beat 'em ups can be too simplistic, and it's never been a genre I often love. Many sidescrolling beat 'em ups almost exclusively play on one flat plane, but this does not; instead, there are bumps, multiple platform layers, and more. The combat may be simplistic, but at least the level designs mix things up a bit. The platforming segments add to the variety too, and the tension. Part of that may be because of the controls, but with practice you can get through. Unfortunately though, to save cart space and cover for its classically-short length, this game has limited lives and continues and no saving, much like so many games back then. I have never liked this kind of design much and it's no better here, but at least you do get five lives per continue and three continues, and there are 1-ups available. Still, I'd really like some way to start from levels I have reached. The game is fun enough to be worth playing some of anyway, but it's worth mentioning.

Visually, Haunted: Halloween '85 is a decently nice-looking NES game. As with all NES games the title has tile-based graphics with a limited color palette, and fitting the theme this game uses a lot of black. The tiles and sprite art are mostly good. The music is, as expected, chiptunes, and they are solid compositions which fit the creepy theme. Overall, Haunted: Halloween '85 is an okay game with some okay combat and level designs. Movement and jumping controls could be tighter and you can't save, and the gameplay is very simplistic and can be repetitive, but still genre fans should give the game a look. Also available on a cart as a homebrew NES release.
The next update is done, and with this the 2d digital-download-games section is, for now, complete. Next I will move on to 2.5d games.

Insanity's Blade (2014)
JumpJet Rex (2015)
Mutant Mudds (2012)
No Time to Explain Remastered (2015)
Potatoman Seeks the Troof (2014)
Rocketbirds: Hard Boiled Chicken (2012)

Insanity's Blade (2014, WinXP+) - 1-2 player simultaneous (single system), saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Insanity's Blade is a pixel-art platformer by Casual Bit Games styled after classic late '80s to early '90s arcade platform-action games. This is a difficult but fun classic-styled platform-action game with a dark and bloody fantasy theme. You play as a barbarian-ish warrior guy, slaughtering legions of monsters, zombies, and more as you try to find and kill the demon who destroyed your village. And yes, as expected your village burns to the ground at the beginning, as usual in fantasy games. The very basic and predictable story is told with overlong cutscenes that are mostly lengthy blocks of text, but you can skip them if you want fortunately. Along the way, you will play main levels and side levels, which you select from a map screen. Player one is always the barbarian guy, while player two can play as whoever your companion is, first a dwarf warrior but others later on. The companion character is only there in cutscenes in single player, so you don't have an AI ally, and they do not have as many abilities as the main character, but still it's great that they put co-op into the game.

Gameplay in Insanity's Blade is simple, but has some depth in that classic arcade style. You move at a good pace, and the game uses three buttons, for attack, jump, and grab. Jumps always go the exact same height no matter how long you press the button for, but you can control your movement in the air so this isn't quite Ghosts n Goblins-like stuff, thankfully. Jump height control would be nice, but this works. The two attack types are the core of the combat system and are well thought through. Initially your main attack is melee-range, but you very quickly get a projectile attack and can upgrade your attacks with money you collect in the levels. You can also do some additional moves by combining button presses with directions. This way you can rip off an enemy's arm and beat other foes with it, though I find this move very hard to pull off; rip enemies in half; and more. The game is balanced well, as grabs kill most enemies in one hit but require melee range, while your ranged attacks let you hit them from afar but take more hits to kill enemies. Some enemies are also immune to one attack type or the other, so you will need to learn which attacks to use when as you play the game. You have a health bar, though there are also instant-kill traps that will kill you immediately. When you die you get three lives per try by default, and start from the last checkpoint you passed in the level. If you get Game Over you will have to restart the stage, though. This classic design works, though having to restart levels frequently when you die at a boss at the end too many times gets frustrating. If the game is too much for some there are five difficulty level options available though, including easier settings than the default. That's good.

The level designs here are straightforward, as expected from an arcade game-inspired title. Levels follow a linear path, for the most part, and enemies are always in the same place each time. This game is mostly about learning the jumps and enemy patterns in each stage, and it's fun but very challenging stuff. There is some variety here, though, as some levels have branching paths to add a bit of variety, and each level has a new setting and sometimes new enemies as well. This game does not feel quite as restrictively memorization-based as Volgarr the Viking is, but there is an element of that here, as you will find as you get farther in. Memorization is important, as those instant-kill traps, such as crushing ceilings, can be cheap sometimes unless you move slowly through new areas. This is a challenging game and it is easy to take damage quickly, but the fast pace, strategic elements in figuring out how to fight different enemy types, good visuals, and constant action make you want to keep trying. Those bosses take a lot of hits to kill, though. They are large and impressive looking, but drag on maybe too long. Still, the gameplay is mostly good.

Visually, this game looks reasonably good, and definitely has the look of a late '80s or early '90s arcade-style game. The sprites are well drawn, the art design is good, and backgrounds are varied and interesting. The game uses multiple parallax layers as well. The low budget of this games' two-person team does show, though. Coins flicker and then disappear in a somewhat glitchy way and sometimes are still collectible after vanishing but not other times; the level two boss's laser, when it hits the ground, causeds a large spark... which appears on the top of the cliff if it hits a wall instead of ground, because I guess they didn't do a horizontal blast. There are more examples of issues like those, too. For some other issues, there are also many foreground objects in some levels which only turn transparent when you are actually behind them, which is a problem because the designers like to put enemies there. That may be on purpose, but it still can be annoying. And this is about the controls and not the graphics, but in the main menus, with a gamepad A is accept and B is back. You can re-define the controls, and this reverses that if you switch Jump (back) and Attack (accept)... but this only affects the pause-screen menus once you are in the game. So, reverse the buttons as I did and you need to use A to accept in order to load up your save and such, then B to accept once you're in the game. That should be fixed. Still, the graphics are mostly good. The music is a solid but not amazing chiptune soundtrack. Interestingly it has both 8 or 16-bit styled variants you can choose between in the menu, though there is no similar option for the graphics.

Overall, Insanity's Blade is a good action-heavy platformer. This is a simple game, where you walk around levels killing enemies as you try to make your way to the end, and it looks and feels a lot like a classic arcade game. The game looks nice and plays fairly well. I would have liked a bit more jumping control and clear instructions for how to pull off the more advanced moves, and there are some graphical and interface issues, but for the most part the game is fun to play, or at least it is until you die deep in a level yet again and have to start it all over. But there are difficulty options to help with that if you give up, and this is the fun kind of challenge that keeps you coming back until you get through. Insanity's Blade has some flaws, but overall it is good and worth a look. This game is more obscure than it should be, but the developers' next and currently unfinished project, Battle Princess Madelyn, has gotten much more attention. Maybe give that one a look once it releases, but play this first.

JumpJet Rex (2015, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only, if you have a controller that works correctly with the game; mine does not). JumpJet Rex is a time trial-based flying platformer. The game has a pretty silly plot. Set millions of years ago, you play as Rex, a dinosaur astronaut who has been tasked with stopping an asteroid heading towards Earth. That's good stuff, and the game is okay though it has issues. The controls are mostly simple, though they have some oddities. The keyboard controls are reconfigurable, but by default you can move left and right, fly upwards with your infinite-use jet-boots, drop down quickly, do a spin attack to hit enemies though it has very limited range, dash straight forwards (with a separate button, not a double-tap), and jump. You can jump as many times as you want in the air, but why is there a jump button when you can also fly infinitely? Well, that's because the jetpack button is extremely sensitive, so you go flying up at the slightest touch of the button. The jump, which always goes the same height up, is thus sometimes useful. The keyboard controls work okay, though the too-sensitive controls can be frustrating and you need to use the mouse or gamepad in menus because while you can move the cursor around with the keyboard you can't actually select the highlighted item with the Enter key, only whatever the mouse is nearest. Ugh. Menus aside, gamepad controls are utterly broken, at least for me, unfortunately. On my xinput gamepad there is no way to fly upwards, the games' central mechanic. Additionally you can only move left and right with the analog stick and not the d-pad, and buttons rarely respond when you press them. That's unusable. Though it probably would still be very sensitive this game would be more fun on gamepad than keyboard, but a keyboard-to-gamepad mapper will be the only way to play this on a pad if you have this issue as well, and those are never as good as built-in gamepad controls. It's too bad, because there is a fun game here if the controls work.

This is a time-trial-focused game first and foremost, so levels are short and are timed. Each level has requires a certain number of stars to unlock, and has three stars to get, mobile-style. You get one star just for beating the stage, a second for beating a set time, and the third for either another time goal or some other objective. Additionally, the game keeps track if you collected the treasure in each level. Levels are usually only a few screens large but hard to navigate, so you can zip through them quickly if you dash regularly and learn the layout, but will require memorization as laser beams that turn on and off, floating mine-like enemies, spikes, and more abound. You will also need to hit switches to open doors and such. This is a hard game and you will need to memorize each level perfectly to get through quickly. In addition to the enemies there are also gates to travel through and gold bricks to collect for score. You usually want to either go for all the treasure or a fast time in a run, but not both at once, so the game has some replay value. When going for treasure, you need to look for each levels' warp, which sends you to a tricky bonus stage filled with more gold blocks and a gem. In the main level when you die you will respawn infinitely at the last checkpoint you activated, though the timer will keep ticking up of course, but the bonus-level warp is a one-time-per-run deal so be careful. On the whole JumpJet Rex can be fun, but the too-sensitive controls and tight, hazard-filled levels get frustrating after a while, particularly when you keep dying because of the controls as much as the stages themselves.

Visually, this game has a modern pixel-art look, with rectangular sprites that remind me of some other modern pixel-art games. Environments are tile-based, and are also nicely drawn and have a good cartoon style. There are only four environments though, so expect repetition. The music is okay but forgettable. Overall, JumpJet Rex is a frustrating flight-based time-trial game that looks nice and can be fun to challenge, but it would be better with more forgiving level designs, better, less twitchy controls, and none of the games' many control and interface problems. If it sounds fun despite that it may be worth a look though, there is a good game here if you get used to it. I don't know if I will play this again though.

Mutant Mudds (2012, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Mutant Mudds, from Renegade Kid, is a classic handheld game-style pixel-art platformer that originally released on the Nintendo 3DS eShop before being ported to the PC. This is a simple but fun game with a water gun, hover-pack, and some level design inspirations from Virtual Boy Wario Land, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately here on the PC the game doesn't run in stereoscopic 3d like it does on the 3DS, and I would like to play it on that console, but otherwise it is the same here and it's good. You play as Max, a boy off to save the world from the invading Mudds, mud-like aliens who are attacking the earth but are vulnerable to water. Considering how much water there is on this planet I'm not sure if attacking Earth was a good idea, Mudds... heh.

The gameplay here is as simple as the classic platformers it was inspired by. You walk around, duck, shoot, and jump. The controls are tight and responsive, and the game plays well. You can also hover with a second tap of the jump button. The hover is limited by a meter in the lower left of the screen, and you can expand it later on with an upgrade but initially it lasts a couple of seconds, Princess in Mario 2 (USA)-style. You do need to be careful to not hit jump twice too quickly as this will start a hover just above the ground, which can kill you at times, but it's a great mechanic which the levels are designed around. Combat is simple, you shoot enemies with the water gun. You can only shoot straight, while either standing or ducking, and enemies will sometimes be moving above you so avoiding them until you can shoot at them is necessary, and can make for some fun jumping puzzles. You get three hits per life, and there are no health pickups in levels but you do have infinite continues from the last checkpoint you hit, or the beginning of the level otherwise, so that's fine. If you are careful you should be able to avoid damage anyway, hits are your fault. There are a few upgrades to get in the game, but for the most part this game sticks to what it does, and that's fine as it's good.

The level designs are similarly classic assortments of platforms you will have to navigate. The main quirk is, like VB Wario Land, that this game has multiple screen layers that you can travel between at certain points. I'm sure that on a 3DS this would look pretty cool, but on PC it just makes everything larger or smaller, with a blur effect on the other layers. Like VBWL some enemies move between the layers, and again that'd be nice to see in 3d. Otherwise though this is a well-designed conventional platformer, with enemies that move around for you to shoot, gems to collect, and exits to find. On that latter point, each level has three objectives: get to the main exit, get to the hidden sub-land exit, and get all of the gems. The game has a map screen, and you unlock more levels there once you have completed enough objectives. There are 40 levels in the game, which is a reasonable number. Stage lengths are just about right, not too long or too short, and the sub-objectives, which are doors you need to find marked either G-Land or V-Land, add to each levle as well. As their names may suggest, G-Land stages have a mostly greyscale color palette, like the original Game Boy, and V-Land stages have a red and black palette, Virtual Boy-style. I like these touches, and it was great to see a platformer on 3DS actually take influence from VB Wario Land, the VB's great classic; Nintendo would later put similar dual-plane gameplay in their 3DS Kirby games, but this title released before them. The levels get harder as you go as well, though this isn't one of those crushingly difficult indie platformers, it is fairly balanced.

Visually, as mentioned this game has a nice chunky-pixel pixel-art look. The game doesn't try to look like a Game Boy game, as it does use a larger color palette, parallax scrolling, and such, but it looks nice. In 3d it's surely even better, since I do like 3d effects, but in 2d on a PC it looks good. The music is good chiptune-style music which fits well into this kind of game. Overall, Mutant Mudds is a pretty good game which I like quite a bit... except for one thing: there is also a Deluxe version of this game, available for various platforms including the PC... but I got this game on GOG, and for some very annoying reason the developers decided to not release the Deluxe version on GOG. Buy it again on Steam if you want the 20-plus added levels and other added content that version has. This is not the only time I've seen something like this happen, Blade Kitten (which I will get to eventually) did something similar, but it's always annoying. You shouldn't have to re-buy a game because it's locked to one store and the new version is on another one. That aside, though, really the only other complaint I could have about this game is that it lacks variety, but when the gameplay is as fun as this is I don't mind that. Mutant Mudds is a good game well worth getting, preferably in one of its Deluxe edition incarnations. The original Mutant Mudds was released digital-only for the 3DS eShop, PC, and iOS, and the Deluxe version (released in 2014) is available digital-only for 3DS, Wii U, PS3, PS4, Vita, and PC. The game has a harder sequel with the same core gameplay that released in 2016 called Mutant Mudds: Super Challenge available digital-only for the 3DS, PC, PS4, Vita, and Wii U. For all titles, only the 3DS releases are in stereoscopic 3d.

No Time To Explain Remastered (2015 remaster of a 2011 game, WinXP+) - 1-2 player simultaneous, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). No Time To Explain Remastered is a flinging-propulsion-based platformer from tinyBuild. Originally a Newgrounds flash game, this remaster expands the game somewhat and gives it better controls than it would have in a browser. The game has the mysanthropic humor and cartoony yet bloody art style you expect from Newgrounds games, and some decent ideas in its gameplay though it is not original. The story here is that you are a guy at home, when suddenly the wall of your house blows apart and a you from the future appears, gives you a futuristic giant laser gun, and promptly gets dragged off by a huge monster. Just about every stage in the game begins with one of your protagonists' versions, from some point in the timeline, being dragged off by whatever monster that levels' boss is, screaming horribly every time while blood flies out. Some of the lines are amusing and I did laugh a bit, though they repeat a lot after a while. The story is an intentionally complex and poorly explained, as the name suggests, time-travel story, but it's amusing and fast-paced, as most of this game is action and not plot.

The controls here vary from character to character as you move through the game, but all characters have normal movement, a low jump on a button, and a special weapon or ability that helps you move across the screen quickly that you aim with the right stick or mouse. The controls are reasonably responsive, though they are a little slippery at times, and a gamepad is highly recommended as aiming with the mouse isn't great. Your main character's is that giant laser cannon mentioned earlier. You can use it to shoot bosses or blocks, but more often you will be using it as a propulsion device, as you move in the opposite direction you're shooting it in. The key to the game is learning the physics of how the gun, and other characters' weapons such as a shotgun which tosses this other guy a certain distance backwards when fired while also shooting a short distance ahead as well. The physics are not realistic, and sometimes it can be frustrating when you can't figure out why your guy won't go up as high as you need, but it is internally consistent so once you learn how it works, blasting around the screen can be fun. There is even two player co-op support, though this kind of game is definitely best alone.

This game is made up of longer levels, each of which is broken up into many short, several-screens-long stages. Again sort of like other Newgrounds-based games like Super Meat Boy, the sprites here are on the small side but character movement is fast, so you can zip across the screen quickly with the right tactics. There are no breaks between stages in this game, but each level ends with a boss fight so you can tell when one ends. You have infinite tries for the sub-stages, usually from the last ground you touched instead of having to restart the level when you die as you will many times, but at boss fights you get only four 'lives' per try so you will need practice to get past them. The game is mostly fast-paced and fun, and it is hard though this isn't always Super Meat Boy levels of hard. I'm fine with that, though, and for those wanting a challenge there are downloadable user-made level sets available, beyond the default one. It is important to say though, unfortunately the save system only saves from the beginning of the level you are on, not the stage, so watch out for that. Your goal in the game is to reach the end of each stage while also optionally collecting a single item hidden somewhere in each one. The game will save each of those optional collectibles once you get them, thankfully.

Overall, No Time to Explain Remastered is a fun little indie game with some interesting and amusing ideas. It can be frustrating at times due to the tough level designs and how the games' physics and controls work, the games' Flash roots show in some ways, and this is not a particularly long game, but this is mostly a good fun game worth a look. The laser-jetpack based gameplay differentiates this from something like Super Meat Boy, and issues aside the game is fun to play, and the levels are fun to figure out. I like the pacing here, which is slightly slower than Meat Boy but still moves along well. And if the main game isn't enough, there are also user-created levels add a lot of replayability. This game isn't amazing, but it is good. Genre fans should try it. Also available digitally for Mac and Linux on Steam as well as PC.
Potatoman Seeks the Troof (2014, WinXP+) - 1 player, no saving, gamepad supported (xinput only). Potatoman Seeks the Troof is a short indie game by Pixeljam, and that indeed was made in a game jam, with a simple but nice 2nd-generation, Atari-like visual style and similarly simple but quite challenging one-button-and-a-stick gameplay. You are Potatoman, and you are seeking the Troof, whatever that turns out to be. You will learn at the end, but characters along the way tell you what their ideas of the Troof are. The story is simple but amusing, enough to keep you going through this little game.

The gameplay and controls are very simple as well, fitting with its early '80s-inspired look: your goal is to walk to the right in each stage until you reach the end, while jumping over hazards. Each level is a linear path that is the same every time, apart for variances from enemies that aim for you. You cannot fight back, so you'll just need to avoid everything. You just need to learn the patterns, avoid the numerous obstacles heading towards poor little Potatoman, and move on in your journey to learn the Troof! Each level in this game has a different visual theme and set of obstacles to avoid, from staying away from birds dropping mountains of eggs in your direction, to avoiding cars in a town, to dodging rocks as you climb a mountain, and more. If an obstacle hits you, you respawn before that section of the level. You have a limited number of lives for each stage before you have to start it over; the number of lives per level varies, but it is at least six. You can continue after a game over, though, so long as you don't close the game. Yes, as mentioned above this game does not save, so you have to beat this in one sitting, unfortunately enough. Potatoman Seeks the Troof is a fun game, and it is quite short, but it gets aggrivatingly hard at times and it would be nice to be able to break it up into multiple sessions. Ah well.

The games' visuals consist of single-color sprites on simple backgrounds. Background environments are made of multiple colors, but they have large blocks of single colors, as early '80s games would. Unlike a game from back then, though, this game runs in widescreen, has multiple layers of parallax scrolling, and can fill the screen with sprites with no slowdown. So it's hardly Atari 2600-accurate, but still I like the look here, and it's nice to see an indie platforemr which doesn't go for a 3rd or 4th-gen aesthetic. The simple but catchy chiptune music fits the game well, also. Overall, Potatoman Seeks the Troof is a fun but difficult little game worth a look if you like very short games which kill you a lot. It really should have had a save system, but give it a try. Also available digitally for Mac on Steam as well as PC.

Rocketbirds: Hard Boiled Chicken (2012, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Rocketbirds is a pretty mediocre run & gun action-platformer by Ratloop Asia... or should that be roll & gun, since you move faster while rolling and enemies often shoot over you? Whatever you call it, Rocketbirds is okay, but flawed in a lot of ways. This is a shooting-heavy platformer where you explore around levels, shooting enemies who all take way too many hits to kill with a variety of guns while you find your way through the stage. The gameplay is okay, but the presentation is maybe the most notable thing here. The game has very large graphics with some decent cartoony characters, all birds as the name suggests. But then, it places them in front of oddly photo-realistic backgrounds that look like they are either polygon models or photos of polygon models. Given the tech specs this game requires it's probably the latter. It is a distinctive look, particularly with the games' rotating camera that twists walls as you move towards them in a '3d' manner, but it looks kind of odd. The game actually even has 3d support, for anyone with a headset or 3d goggles for their PC, but I don't so I can't try that. Aurally, the music is maybe the worst thing about this game for me; Rocketbirds has a rock soundtrack with full vocals, and I do not like rock music -- or guitar music in general, in fact -- and this stuff is really bad. It's from some band I have never heard of called "New World Revolution". The music is really annoying and unpleasant and drags the whole game down for me, since it has a large place in this game: most story cutscenes have only that awful music and no non-musical dialogue, for example. The few voiced lines are done in accented English.

The gameplay is better, but it does have issues. You move with the keyboard or gamepad analog stick, and do have analog movement with the pad. You cannot move with the d-pad though for people who would prefer that, not unless you use a keyboard mapper program that is. You duck with down, and can then quickly roll along the ground. You can often just roll right past enemies, as you are not locked onto screens until the enemies are dead and only take damage from enemy bullets and not from their sprites themselves. You can also jump of course, though not very high; pick up items, which requires a button press for everything other than the mini ammo pickups enemies drop; change weapons, with the d-pad on a gamepad; and shoot your gun, straight ahead only; you cannot aim around in this game, unlike many modern games like this. Given how much I often dislike mouse aiming in platformers I am fine with that and the game is designed around shooting people in front or behind you and not above, but bizarrely, the default keyboard controls put shoot on the mouse, even though it has no other function. Uh, what? Why? Finally, you have health and ammo bars. Items will refill this as you go. For weapons you start out with just a pistol, but do get some more interesting weapons later, such as one which lets you to take over enemies and walk them around. Still, the gameplay here is mostly simple. The controls are okay but not tight, and rolling around through enemies or watching them jiggle around as you shoot them may be amusing for a little while but it gets old quickly. Enemies do get harder as you progress, but there are only a handful of types. If you do die you respawn nearby and have infinite lives, though.

The level designs aren't much of a help either. Levels in Rocketbirds are not entirely linear, so backtracking and exploration will be required as you hunt for keys or other items you can use. That's fine, but it can sometimes be hard to tell what you can interact with and what you can't thanks to the games' very high-detail environments. The game does scroll, but it often flips between screens, through many doors, elevators, and more. Enemies won't follow from one screen to the next, making that roll move even more useful. There are prompts for when you can pick something up, but still it is occasionally confusing. The huge sprites also mean that not much fits on each screen. In addition to the main gameplay, some segments have you flying around on your rocket jetpack. Here one button jets you forward, while another shoots. These parts are amusing, but simple and drag on a bit long at times. Hitting enemies can also be tricky, since the sprites in these scenes, opposite the rest of the game, are tiny. On the whole, Rocketbirds is an okay but below average game with very annoying music and decent but flawed and repetitive gameplay. It's not bad, but I don't like it very much. Some people will like this game more than I do, though, so check it out if it sounds interesting. Also available digitally for Mac and Linux on Steam as well as PC.
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