So, Humble Indie Bundle time is upon us again, the annual opportunity for cheapskate video gamers to grab a few indie titles for as little as a penny. Of course, if your moral compass doesn’t allow you to cheat up-and-coming game developers out of money, you can give them some if you really want (I gave them a fiver, I mean, how charitable am I?). In exchange for this, you get five quirky little time wasters and confirm at least five percent of your passage to Heaven. Probably the thumbs. Because that’s what everyone uses to play video games, I hear.
First on the list is And Yet It Moves, the debut title from Broken Rules, wherein you play a nameless 2-D man in a nameless 2-D cave. Charitably described as a “puzzle-platformer”, you have the basic run and jump and don’t fall too far rules, but you also have the ability to change the entire orientation of the level, being able to turn the level by ninety degrees at any point during the game. It’s a lovely concept, and used in a few mildly clever ways – coaxing bats to kill lizards is still my favourite – and the art style is bloody marvellous, but it got boring quite quickly for me. Although the sight of the player character separating into his various pieces after a long fall never fails to produce a chuckle.
Next up is Lazy 8 Studio’s Cogs, an all out brain-mashing puzzle game. Essentially, it’s a 3D simulation of those slide-panel puzzle things you used to play as a kid, with the focus moved from making a pretty picture to manipulating a series of cogs and wheels into position, either to make something fly, produce a short bit of music, or start up a Jack-In-The-Box. Completing the puzzle is only a part of the challenge, however – doing it quickly and using as few moves as possible is the only way to score the prestigious gold medals. Again, while the art style and presentation are fantastic, there isn’t too much to say about Cogs – it feels a bit like one of the millions of addictive puzzlers that populate free flash game websites, albeit with a bit more polish.
Crayon Physics Deluxe follows in the same manner in it’s puzzley nature. The objective is simple – get a ball over some obstacles, and reach a star. To do this, you have the ability to draw anything you want to help it on it’s way, be it a bridge, a box, or a rickety staircase. Again, the art style is particularly noteworthy, the whole game having a six-year-old’s-crayon-drawing-of-a-house-stuck-on-a-fridge-with-magnets feel, and it does have a few moments of brilliance in its puzzles. All in all, though, the game is a bit to easy for something marketed as a puzzler, but I think I’ve missed the point entirely there. The calming music and innocent graphics push this in more of a “Zen Game” category, a game you play to chill out after a hard day at the farm, or after tripping balls at a rave, not as a big challenge or a brain-breaker.
Next comes Hammerfight which…well, is very interesting, to say the least. You play a flying machine with a big mace attached, with circular motions of the mouse swinging it around you to defeat your foes. To be honest, there’s really not a lot I can say about this game. This, I suppose I’ll say, “innovative” control scheme, combined with an absolute Berlin Wall of a difficulty curve (makes sense really, since its developers are Russians) put paid to any attempts I had at playing the game through – I, in fact, couldn’t even best the first proper level, with the tutorial fights bringing up their own set of issues entirely. There could be a fantastic game here, if you give yourself a chance to get used to the controls, but it only took twenty minutes for my fun-stration to turn into frustration, so it’s something that should be approached with care.
Lastly, we have Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV. To put all my cards on the table very quickly, I had already bought this game at full price, and I absolutely bloody loved it. You play as Captain Viridian, who is lost in an alternate dimension, in search of the missing members of his spaceship’s crew. Billed as another “Nintendo Hard” platformer, along the lines of Super Meat Boy or Spelunky, you are given the ability to flip gravity, rather than jump, in order to navigate the fiendishly difficult obstacles of the unknown dimension. Don’t let that put you off, however – checkpoints are liberally applied, so your thousands upon thousands of certain deaths are really just a slap on the wrist. But, as I’ve echoed throughout this entire article, it’s the art style that truly brings the game to life. It’s retro enough that you could count each individual pixel of the levels, with a magnificient chiptune soundtrack that’ll cause wonderful flashbacks for anyone who owned a Commodore 64. Adding that to a free-roam(ish) map, and a bunch of hidden collectibles, VVVVVV is truly the star of the Bundle, but, to be honest, I never had any doubt about that.
Despite all I’ve just said, though, this review is quite academic. The nature of indie games is that you’ll either completely fall in love with them, or write them off as pretentious or artsy-fartsy, so no one individual can truly be objective about them. Coupling that with the fact that reviews are generally supposed to answer the question “Is this game/book/film/CD worth my money?”, and these games are on a pay what you like system, then the best advice I can give is this: give them a try. If you like little flash game time-wasters and don’t mind paying a bit of money for a modicum of extra polish and style, then you will enjoy these games, and when you can pay as little as a penny for them, there’s really no reason not to give them a try.
At the time of going to press, there are now a whole six more reasons to pick this bundle up. First of all, a free trial of Minecraft has been added to the bundle, so if you’re one of the four people in the world that hasn’t tried it yet, then you really ought to give it a try. And secondly, if you pay more than the paltry sum of $5.59 for your Bundle (at the rate the US economy is going, that’s probably equivalent to about 2.3 pence right now), then you get all of the games from the second bundle – including the stunning Braid – thrown in as well!