Rad Raygun

RR1Rad Raygun is nostalgia. It’s not merely nostalgic; it’s constructed top to bottom entirely from dewy-eyed longing for the sepia-drenched days of yore – ‘yore’ in this case being the 1980s. I know, that might not be yore enough for some of you, but considering there are documented cases of five year olds playing Call of Duty online, there’s a significant chunk of the game-playing audience for whom the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Roman Empire happened around the same time.

If you never played on Nintendo’s original green-screened Game Boy, the endearing charm of Rad Raygun’s visual style will probably be lost on you. I enjoyed it, but I harbour no illusions that it was down to anything other than the warm ‘aww, this is how I remember platformers’ sensation. For one cosy hour, I relived the days I spent playing Asterix in the back of my dad’s car. If you don’t have these fond memories, then Rad Raygun is already losing ground. Memories of your own, that is. I’m fairly confident that you weren’t in my dad’s car, unless…Dad?

RR2

Master Chief was having a bad day.

RR isn’t the first Xbox Live Indie Game to try its hand at Game Boy visuals. Punishment platformer Slick tried it too, as did teeth-gnashingly obtuse puzzle-platformer Treasure Treasure: FFEE. Recreating the style of yesteryear is one of the things XBLIG developers like to attempt, whether it’s bleaching out the colour to simulate a Game Boy, drawing the art in primary coloured blocks to mimic an Atari 2600, or making everything as monstrously hideous and cumbersome as possible to ape an Intellivision. The difference here is that Rad Raygun actually pulls it off. It reproduces not only the visual and audio style but also the feel of the gameplay, with a little bit of modern polish subtly applied in a few places so that it doesn’t play like a complete wreck. Make no mistake, most 1980s portable games haven’t aged well.

Some of these determined concessions to faithful ‘80s-ness stray beyond stylistic affectations to impact the gameplay. When Rad leaves a room, the action will freeze as the camera shifts over to the next area. While this sort of break in the flow wouldn’t be acceptable in a non-retro game anymore, it’s perfectly valid here and doesn’t cause any inconvenience.

RR3

“It’ll probably fit in if I give it a good shove.”

The same can’t always be said of the other conscious Game Boy-isms. The jumping in particular is a bane; rather than leaping with any kind of practical arc or sense of weight, Rad sharply twitches a mile upward at the slightest nudge of the jump button, and whatever you do you will never succeed in making the horizontal distance equal the vertical. The result is a jumping sensation that feels awkward and clumsy, not to mention frequently impractical as you find yourself brazenly stuffing your head right into overhead enemies’ lines of fire.

The other influence here aside from the Game Boy is Mega Man. Mercifully RR doesn’t even begin to approach classic Mega Man difficulty, but it’s full of nods to that series – the gun arm, the robotic main character (he’s actually a distorted Game Boy, but close enough), the slide ability, even the types of enemies. I loathe and despise Mega Man games for their cheap shots, but Rad Raygun mostly doesn’t stoop to that. In fact, it’s distinctly easy for the most part. All in all the game will probably run to about an hour of play time, maybe an hour and half, so it’s not a particularly enduring experience. Fortunately, this is one of those cases where brevity is a good thing.

RR4

Call the Daily Mail! Handheld video game console destroys White House!

Rad Raygun doesn’t just imitate the games of years past, it’s also crammed to bursting with humorous contemporary references, whether it’s jingoistic fear of Communism, Rad’s mission to bring down the Berlin Wall or Ronald Reagan’s gurning face giving briefings. 80s names and events spill out from Rad Raygun like Ready Brek from a Thundercats bowl. Dependent as it is on nostalgia and referential gags, it would be easy for the game to outstay its welcome, but the relatively easy level of challenge and the short overall playtime ensure that it all wraps up just before the gags start to grate.

That’s the key to enjoying Rad Raygun, really. The bold and ridiculous 80s-ness of it all kept me smiling most of the time, and I was able to forgive its couple of awkward gameplay affectations because I’m desensitised to them from the real 80s. If you don’t remember the 80s or have enough awareness of pop culture and world events from that decade, then the largest part of the entertainment value is gone. You’re left with just the gameplay, which is a decent enough but easy and unremarkable platformer with a jumping motion that might you grind your teeth down to stumps. Rad Raygun is less an 80s-themed game than a lighthearted nostalgia slideshow with some simple gameplay inserted to keep you occupied. That’s not to say the gameplay isn’t fun, but aside from the odd detour into impromptu Tetris it’s too short and too generic to be worth recommending to anyone who lacks glasses of a suitably rosy hue.

RR4

I’m sorry but building my name in the sky goes beyond fanboy into goddamn creepy.

If you do remember the 80s, though, Rad Raygun is an entertaining use of an hour. It avoided boring me by providing enough reference gags to prevent the gamplay getting tedious, and vice versa. I can’t complain at getting 60-90 minutes of “Ha! I get it!” moments stitched neatly onto a “Aww, I remember games being like this” backdrop for 80 Microsoft points.

If you’re Rad Raygun’s target audience you’ll like it, and if you’re not you won’t. You probably already know which category you fall into. If you want out, just follow the smell of broadband and dubstep to the exit. Otherwise, pull up a pogo ball and try to avoid making eye contact with Erasure.

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City Tuesday (Indie Games Uprising III)

Out of the entire Indie Games Uprising III, City Tuesday was the game I was looking forward to most. It seemed poised to do everything that the finest indie games on any platform often do – challenge assumptions about what can be done with games as a medium, express something philosophical or emotional, evoke a mood and intrigue the brain.

I tried to not to hope for all this when I sat down to play. I studiously avoid hype for anything that interests me so that I won’t be greeted with crushing disappointment when I experience the reality. That’s why I haven’t played Skyrim. It couldn’t possibly live up to the hype.

In the case of City Tuesday, it helped that the promotional material didn’t make it clear how the game would work. It could have been a platformer, a puzzler, a point and click adventure – there was no telling. As it turns out, City Tuesday is a game of two parts.

One part is a terrorist attack on the anonymous city, and this part reminds me of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask on the N64. Not aesthetically or in gameplay style, but in its approach to preventing the bombings. Streets, parks and buildings teem with people, all going about their everyday business. They walk the dog, go to work, eat, drive around and chat to each other. At the same time, terrorists move among them, planting bombs that all detonate at the exact same moment, wiping everyone out. The bombers are no fools; they hide their explosives in places that are hard to access: behind locked doors, buried under concrete, or stashed in someone’s car. If you don’t disarm these bombs by the end of the day, it all ends and…you start over. That is your power, and the reason that only you can save the innocent people of the city. You are unbound by time.

Including renting it from Blockbuster

On subsequent attempts, the day plays out the same as the first time. If you’ve ever played Majora’s Mask or seen Groundhog Day (or the earlier but more obscure 12:01 for hipster points) then it will make sense to you. You relive the same day, with the same people doing the same things, and through observation of their routines you can begin to work out how to tweak the pattern – and finally neutralise the bombs.

I love this part of the game. It’s a brave attempt to do something that isn’t often seen in games, and for the most part it does it well. I floundered around for a few minutes because the game explains very little about itself, but once I got a handle on how things work I began to really enjoy it. I can think of one or two changes that might be beneficial – in particular, forcing the player to disarm all the bombs in one go, Majora’s Mask style. Some events that occur during the day will make certain bomb locations inaccessible, but, once a bomb has been defused it remains defused even when the day starts over from the beginning. Personally I feel it would have been both more challenging and more interesting to reactivate every bomb upon restarting the day, so that the player has to not only work out how to resolve each individual threat but also slot them all together into an overall sequence so that all are disarmed in one flawless, heroic run.

But watch out for naked men on trains

I said the game is in two parts. The other part is the black sheep of the City Tuesday family. It’s not bad, not by any means, but it’s also nothing special. The whole of City Tuesday is divided into three stages. Stage 1 is a tutorial. It’s a short series of simple single-room puzzles; not particularly interesting or challenging, but that’s to be expected from a tutorial. Awkwardly, it actually doesn’t teach you very much, and at least one part is too cryptic to be helpful (a remark about security being unable to stop you that only makes sense once you already know what it means). We can disregard this tutorial as not part of the main game, leaving us with Stages 2 and 3 as the main body of City Tueday.

Stage 3 is the larger scale rewinding bomb hunt I discussed above. Stage 2, sadly, is basically a longer version of the tutorial. It is again a series of single-screen puzzles, most of which are very simple. There is one that made me think and actually forced me to go away and come back later, once I understood more about how the game’s concept works. The interesting ideas introduced in this puzzle, however, are never repeated. Standing alone it is enjoyable but too short and sorely under-used. The other screens in Stage 2 are pretty straightforward. Identify how to reach the bomb, then go and get it.

Museum terrorists are more sporting

This is City Tuesday’s big weakness. Two of the three stages are effectively little more than tutorial, then when the game hits its stride and begins to unfurl into something more majestic in Stage 3, suddenly it’s over. It feels like ­City Tuesday is a quarter of a great game. If there had been another two or three stages after Stage 3 that played in a similar way, and revisited or built upon some of the ideas introduced earlier on, this could have been one of the best games on the Xbox indie channel. As it stands, I really enjoyed City Tuesday once it got going, but was left hollow and disappointed by the whole thing suddenly jumping ship and calling a halt after what is, to all intents and purposes, level 1.

I still recommend City Tuesday. When it actually gets on with doing what it’s meant to do, it is a very good game that would stray into brilliance with a couple of tweaks. Even in its truncated form it’s easily worth 80 Microsoft points to get a glimpse of what’s possible in indie games. It’s just a crying shame that City Tuesday is content to remain only a glimpse – an introductory trailer for a grander project that doesn’t exist.

Let’s Play: Antipole

In case you’re not aware, staunch and faithful readers, I also have a YouTube channel. I’ve never tried a blind Let’s Play before, but Antipole‘s gravity-warping Michael Jackson antics made me reckless.

Episode 1: I Sack Newton

Episode 2: Mostly Harmless

Episode 3: Remember When?

Three episodes down, but the gravity shenanigans are continuing apace.

Watch the playlist for the series as it happens here.

Or snoop around my whole channel here.

New LP series

The new Let’s Play format for the Indie Ocean YouTube channel commences today. The plan is to Let’s Play one good game and one bad/frustrating game in tandem. When I’ve finished each pair, I’ll move on to another pair.

First up: Let’s Play Cursed Loot and Let’s Play Random the Dungeon. Guess which is which…

10 Amazingly Awful Games Vol 2

A title like 10 Amazingly Awful Games Volume 2 has to be a marketing ploy. I never played the original 10 Amazingly Awful Games because I had enough faith in its self-assessment to save my time, but I’ve heard that they weren’t actually bad. On that flimsy basis, I thought it was worth taking a chance on the sequel, Volume 2.

The game’s developer said recently that his aim was to parody old low-grade game collections such as the infamous Action 52. I’ll admit I was a little curious as to whether this worked as a parody or merely retrod the same ill-advised path.

As it turned out, the contents of 10 Amazingly Awful Games Volume 2 were quite variable in quality. In the interests of clarity and satisfying my neurotic leanings, here is a blow-by-blow account of what I found lurking within. Buckle up; it’s a rollercoaster ride. One of those rickety old rollercoasters that you find in dilapidated, windswept coastal resorts that are decades past their prime.

In the order that they occur in the menu:

Blobby Blobby is a very basic one-hit-death platformer with clumsy controls, unclear hit detection and bursts of unreasonable difficulty that seem to be designed to catch you out. Platformers live or die by their controls, and Blobby Blobby controls like trying to balance a blancmange on a tennis ball.

10 Amazingly Awful Games Vol 2 - Blobby Blobby

Fruit Defender has you pressing the face buttons to pop fruit that approaches from the corresponding four directions. It’s executed perfectly soundly but feels depressingly pointless. There’s just no incentive to keep going.

Grid Warrior is basically a monochrome Space Invaders. A few negligible additions, such as enemy turrets at the sides and the ability to move up and down the screen, fail to enhance the experience.

I Madez a Clone Wiv Zombies Innit is one of the better offerings in this package. It’s a vertically scrolling twin-stick shooter with a few weapon pick-ups. Its title parody of I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1 gave me a chuckle but after that the experience went downhill. It functions adequately, and when I was seven years old this would have seemed like the best game ever. If you’ve ever played a twin-stick shooter before, though, this low-rent, entry-level attempt will just remind you that you could be playing better versions. As a rule, a game that parodies another game has to be either at least as good as the original, or amusing enough to compensate. The gameplay here is very basic at best, and the only humour to be found is in the title. The eye-scouringly horrible visuals don’t help, with primary school character sprites and backgrounds that look like the contents of a dinosaur’s stomach.

10 Amazingly Awful Games Vol 2 - I Madez a Clone Wiv Zombies Innit

Lame Defenders 2 is a side-scrolling space shooter. You shoot things. It’s more challenging than it seems and, like the zombie/clone game above, could be fun for a child who’s never played anything like it. I had flashbacks to my dad’s Atari 2600, in gameplay style if not in aesthetic. It’s still sinfully ugly though, and your spacecraft moves woodenly enough that it can be needlessly frustrating to manoeuvre.

Nastyroids is the classic Asteroids with weapon power-ups, a larger arena and occasional targets that fight back. If you’re someone who still longs to play Asteroids, you might enjoy this. I never really liked Asteroids that much, but this take on the formula does the job perfectly well. It gave me some simple fun for a little while. The expanded arena helps the classic clunky control scheme (rotate your ship with the left stick, then propel it forward with the right trigger) feel less frustrating, and its basic visuals are an upgrade over the wireframe graphics of its predecessor. Probably the best of the whole batch, by virtue of being a decent enough example of its type.

Seeker is a 2D explorer/shooter. I don’t know if it’s based on an old template like many of the other games here, but the game it reminds me of most is the dreadful Bit Crunch. Fortunately Seeker isn’t that bad. You roam around a randomly generated maze of rooms, dodging obstacles and shooting enemies, looking for keycards and the route to a computer that must be destroyed. Your health (or ‘power’ here) depletes over time as well as when you take hits, so the pressure is on. Seeker actually has some potential to be fun. If it wasn’t for a couple of glaring problems, it could be something I’d choose to play, at least for a little while. Firstly, it’s very easy to get stuck on corners. When leaving a room, I got stuck more often than I didn’t, particularly if I was hastily fleeing a group of enemies. Secondly, you can only shoot left or right, despite the manifest need to at least add up and down to the range of fire. It’s infuriating losing valuable points from my power meter just because an enemy approached from above and I had to manoeuvre across the entire room to be in a position to open fire. I think the lesson here is that the developer should give up on making batches of ten lazy, poorly designed games and focus on making one decent game. If he’d devoted the effort from the other nine games in this collection solely to Seeker, it might have been worth playing.

10 Amazingly Awful Games Vol 2 - Stormwheel

Stormwheel is a driving/shooting hybrid that reminds me very much of Action Fighter on the Sega Master System. The objective is to get to the finish line within the time limit while dodging hazards, shooting other cars and making blind jumps that require trial and error. As an Action Fighter clone, it’s fine. It does pretty much what that game did. The problem is that Action Fighter wasn’t much fun 25 years ago, and age hasn’t improved it. It isn’t offensively terrible but there’s really no reason to play it. It’s just not a fun way to spend your free time.

Terror Tunnel is a watered down Missile Command. Use a reticle to direct your fire against falling stuff. Hold the right trigger and move the left stick around. At one point I realised I was daydreaming about walking to the supermarket to buy lunch, but still successfully playing the game. Skip it like a flat rock on a tepid sea.

Viper Wing is a vertically scrolling space shooter. Hold the right trigger while weaving around. So bland that even its own description of itself uses the word ‘generic’. Presumably that’s a chortling display of the art of high parody but, as I said about I Cloned a Clone with Clones In It above, a parody still has to be a good game if you expect anyone to play it, or else be funny enough that people will forgive the mediocre gameplay. Going ‘ho ho, my game is intentionally generic’ at the beginning doesn’t qualify.

10 Amazingly Awful Games Vol 2 - Viper Wing

All in all, 10 Amazingly Awful Games Volume 2 neither follows through on the grim threat of its title, nor really works as a fun parody. A couple of the games within are simple fun for brief periods, but there’s nothing here that can’t be found better elsewhere, usually very cheap. Admittedly you’re effectively paying a measly 8 Microsoft points for each game in the collection, but that doesn’t make it right. I wouldn’t forgo my lunchtime BLT in favour of munching down on eight boxes of toothpicks just because the price is the same, and you shouldn’t be tempted to buy ten games that occasionally manage to reach up and tug at the ankles of mediocrity. If you want all these games, it’s worth paying ten times the price for ten better versions.

10 Amazingly Awful Games Volume 2 isn’t amazingly, astonishingly, tourist-enticingly hideous. It’s just bad. I’d take one competent game over ten half-hearted ones any day.

 

[Originally written for The Indie Mine, using a review copy supplied by them.]

Flycatcher

I wrote this review for The Indie Mine, using a review copy they provided. Please take a look. Reproduced here with permission.

Flycatcher doesn’t leave the best first impression at a glance. Its title is hardly inspiring; while it certainly represents the core principle of the game, a title that sounds like budget domestic insect repellant doesn’t do an indie game any favors. Things aren’t quite that simple, though. Flycatcher is like a respectable city gent who dresses himself in the rags of a substance-addled vagrant for reasons best known to himself – its true strengths are hidden behind its offputtingly unhygienic exterior.

There’s no way to be circumspect about this and still get the point across adequately: Flycatcher looks bad. It also sounds bad, and quite possibly smells bad. I imagine if you were to lick it, it would also taste pretty nasty. It is a sensory tour de fiasco. Still, there’s wisdom in the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”, and Flycatcher embodies it.

The premise is simple. You are a spider, named Flycatcher by your unsettlingly literal-minded spider parents, and your job is to eliminate all the flies, wasps and beetles that are plaguing your fellow creatures. You can do this by either shooting them directly with a strand of web, or by snagging them with a strand that you’re swinging on. Later you can also spin enduring webs between trees, though I never found this particularly effective.

Catching bugs is the motivation, and meeting the required minimum to exit each level is the core principle, but it’s not really what the game is about. In practice, it’s about swinging exhileratingly around obstacle-filled levels, trying not to fall into water or set yourself on fire. Focusing on this aspect of the gameplay was a good choice, as this is where most of the fun comes from. Using this unusual form of movement effectively is both essential for completion of the levels, and surprisingly satisfying as you begin to devise and master more complex maneuvers. Oddly enough, I ended up feeling like Spider-Man.

It’s a simple thing, but I must emphasize how much the experience of swinging around obstacles, changing direction mid-flight and catching that elusive bug improved my opinion of Flycatcher. With a less carefully crafted swinging mechanic, like the infuriating Grapple Boy, the game would have foundered. Maybe it’s just me, but nimbly swooping around kept a smile on face.

There are also some nice little touches that add to the experience. Your spider has two additional powers; increased swing momentum is by far the more useful, enabling you to launch yourself further than usual, but even the largely redundant ability to slow time is a welcome option.

The swinging mechanic that provides the fun also provides the frustration. Aiming your web shots with the right analogue stick is an imprecise art, which can make it tricky to hit a knot hole or small ledge mid-flight. Worse, the web’s range is limited but its limit is beyond the edge of your view, so it can be hard to know whether you’re shooting anywhere near your intended target. You can zoom out to a more distant view by holding the left bumper but, like recent platformer A Voxel Action, Flycatcher has whole levels where this is constantly useful, forcing you to navigate tricky obstacles with your finger clamped to the shoulder. Good luck finding that comfortable. Why so many developers choose not to implement a toggle, I don’t know.

The nature of the web itself adds some additional inconvenience. It adheres anew to any surface it touches while you’re swinging, and while this is sometimes useful, it also means that when you’re swinging back and forth in one place you creep noticeably along the ledge as the top part of the strand brushes against it and sticks to a new point every couple of seconds. This sounds minor, but it can really mess up some maneuvers that would otherwise have worked out.

Where the hell is this garden?

It’s not an insurmountable oddity, though. For the most part, the swinging mechanic works well.  The game also benefits from some good design choices. The introduction of new mechanics – web-resistant beetles, waterfalls, knot holes, and more – is paced very well, and they all affect gameplay in ways that are distinct and well thought out. It’s clear that the developers took some care in designing and balancing their game, and for that I commend them.

On balance, Flycatcher provides some fun but I’m not sure I can go as far as to recommend it. I’m not someone who demands slick presentation in order to enjoy a game. I still play Pirates! on the NES, and that’s one of the ugliest things ever created by man or beast. Flycatcher‘s presentation issues do let down though, making it feel cheaper and more amateurish than it should. Its ideas and design, while not dazzlingly original, are fresh enough and thoughtful enough to deserve better clothing. I also feel that the game might work better as an iOS or Android release. I think it would come into its own with touch controls, and being played in short sessions of one or two levels on the bus to work.

Flycatcher, then, isn’t a bad purchase. I don’t think you’d kick yourself for shelling out a mere 80 Microsoft points to own it, unless you don’t like this type of game or you insist on pretty visuals. But would you sit down at your Xbox for a couple of hours and finish it? I’m not convinced. With  better presentation, some refinement of the mechanics and a release on a mobile platform, Flycatcher could be worth picking up to play on the go.

As it is, it’s worth playing the trial to see if you enjoy swinging around the levels. I know I genuinely had fun with it for an hour or two, and that’s what matters. If that doesn’t do it for you, though, then Flycatcher won’t hold your attention.

Oozi: Earth Adventure Ep. 1 (insert ‘Oozi 9mm’ gag if desired)

I wasn’t very optimistic when I decided, late one night, to try out Oozi: Earth Adventure Ep 1. I thought I’d gone off platformers with time. Whether it was because maturity had taken me beyond the simple pleasures of hopping from ledge to ledge, or because the more complex and gritty games of today make platformers seem redundant, or because people don’t make them like they used to (so to speak), I couldn’t tell. All I knew was it had been a long time since I’d last particularly enjoyed one.

Recently, though, a little thought had been nagging at me. It was a pink, inflatable thought that squeaked when prodded. No, not that (shame on you, reader!). This thought was Kirby. You see, some fifteen years or more after I first played it, I still enjoy Kirby’s Adventure. So one cold, windswept North Welsh night, as the clock ticked away the seconds to 8.17pm, I realised its battery was dead and checked another clock. As this second clock digitally pulsed away the seconds to 4.00am, I decided to try and find a good indie platformer on the Xbox.

Don’t say Super Meat Boy. That is exactly what I was not looking for. My theory was that Kirby’s Adventure retained its appeal because it was simply fun. It didn’t require pinpoint precision or split second timing, and it didn’t penalise me with every ounce of its might every time I was a millimetre off target. I hate Super Meat Boy, and the others that have accompanied it in the oily wave of so-called ‘punishment platformers’. You know what’s the key thing about punishment? It’s not fun. There had to be a fun platformer on the indie marketplace. There had to be.

My response to a glance at Oozi‘s info page was a wholehearted ‘oh go on then, it looks kind of pretty at least’. It was pretty much just the absence of affected 8-bit visuals or Atari 2600 pretensions that nudged me into downloading the trial. When the trial ended eight minutes later, I immediately hit ‘unlock full game’. I had already got 80 MSP of enjoyment out of it; I would certainly get more. At that point, I couldn’t have told you why I so recklessly splurged 50p. It’s rare for me to buy a game as soon as the trial ends. Usually, even if I enjoyed it, I play the trial another couple of times to be as sure as I can that the game is up my street. I can, and will, explain it now, but all I knew as I slumped sore-eyed in my chair that blackest of nights, awash with the green glow of Oozi‘s environments, was that I was having fun and wanted to carry on having it.

"A snail's pace" means something different in Oozi's world.

When I returned to the game the next day, I felt a minute tremor of trepidation. Had my enjoyment of Oozi‘s trial been late night delirium? Had it been merely relief at playing a more forgiving game in the wake of several puppy-kickingly brutal punishment platformers?

No, surprisingly enough.

I give Oozi zero out of ten for originality. It does nothing that hasn’t been done a thousand times before. Its levels are forested areas and well-lit, vaguely cave-like populated by cheery-looking snakes and spiders. Nothing to get excited about. The main character (presumably the eponymous Oozi, though that could instead be the world he’s stranded on for all I know) is distinctive but not memorable – a squat, vaguely humanoid creature with a big grin.

It doesn’t matter.

It does nothing new, but it does all the old things very well. In contrast to almost every Xbox indie platformer, it doesn’t look barely a step above a Game & Watch. I don’t like this word in reviews, but I can’t think of a more apt one, so: the environments are…lush. Warm, soft greens and enemies that are brightly coloured without being garish. There’s no murkiness either – every object is crisply distinct from the others. Perhaps most strikingly, the animation is excellent. There are small nuances in the movements of character sprites that add a warmth and life to the feel of the game. The gaming world has changed, but fifteen years ago this would have been professional-standard stuff.

Try not to get hit by angry nuts while sliding on the vine. .....sorry.

This extends to the backgrounds too. The leaves of the ferns that Oozi wanders blithely by during the forest stages wave minutely, and the ranks of trees that spread into the distance flaunt parallax scrolling that early-90s gaming journalists would have wet themselves over.

And perhaps that’s the key here. Where most Xbox indie platformers aim for an NES/Atari age that conveniently doesn’t require much effort on the presentation front, Oozi: Earth Adventure feels like a Mega Drive game. It’s a throwback to a time gone by, but not in a lazy way. It doesn’t even give the impression that this was intentional. Whether or not this is true, what Oozi‘s developer seems to have done is simply set out to make a fun 2D platform game. Nothing punishing, nothing complex, nothing that breaks the mould – just a game about jumping and collecting, that is gentle, pleasant and enjoyable to play.

The presentation is the most striking aspect, but all the glossy visuals in the world wouldn’t matter if the playing the game was a chore. Fortunately, Oozi himself handles very smoothly. Where almost all indie platformers suffer from jumping that has you either floating like a leaf on the wind or lurching like a crack junkie trying to climb up a downward escalator, Oozi stikes a balance. Similarly, the grinning little alien neither stops dead in an instant nor skids onward for half an hour after you release the stick. Whatever it is that other indie developers are missing, Oozi‘s developers have it. For once, jumping is actually a functional way to traverse the levels rather than an impediment that must be overcome.

I'm no geologist, but something isn't right about this cave. We'll find out for ourselves in episode two.

On the broader gameplay front, the level designs, like the rest of the game, won’t win any prizes for original thought, but should win some sort of accolade for doing something uninspired very well. The levels are quite linear, but there is room to explore isolated corners for extra stars (Oozi‘s collectible ring/coin substitute). The ‘normal’ difficulty setting shouldn’t give anyone with platforming experience too much trouble, but it isn’t a total cakewalk either. In the venerable tradition of 16-bit platforming, it’s on the easy side, but not laughably easy. I died a few times per level. Besides, there’s a ‘hardcore’ setting for anyone who feels insulted by ‘normal’, and there are challenge modes to keep you occupied once you’ve finished.

Having said that, you might well need those extras. The main story mode is very short. Not the shortest I’ve played in an XBLIG game (at this stage, that probably goes to The Adventures of Captain Becky) , but short nonetheless. You see, Oozi is episodic, and this is evidently episode one. Not a problem really, but whether the full game will be worth shelling out for each individual installment remains to be seen.

It’s also worth noting that the final (well, only) boss battle is unsettlingly silent. Music plays, Oozi grunts and squawks as usual, but the boss itself makes not the tiniest sound. Not a major issue, but worth remarking upon, since it’s a strange experience that I’ve never seen elsewhere.

All in all, though, whilst Oozi: Earth Adventure is in many ways unremarkable, its all-round competence lifts it a couple of rungs. Though its general design doesn’t particularly set it apart and its gameplay tries nothing outside the established platforming formula, the way it’s all executed makes playing Oozi a pleasant, welcoming experience. It could do with being longer and sorting out a sound effect or two for the boss, but I’d still recommend it for a gently fun platforming experience. You probably won’t revist it, but for 50p that’s not so bad.

Unlike Super Meat Boy, Platformance and many others, Oozi doesn’t hate you. It likes you and wants you to have fun. Playing Oozi is a scenic adventure with a friend. And it is fun, at least for its brief duration. What else do we need?