Steam has been a pretty big portal for indie games recently. I think part of the reason is that, unlike XBL where the indie games are hidden in a certain corner for the world, Steam’s indie releases are put right on the news page with the same text that would be given to any big release. Their recent summer contest even used getting achievements in indie games as contest entries. So in my time on Steam, I’ve picked up a few packs of indie games. Today we’re looking at two wildly different games, And Yet It Moves and A.R.E.S.
We’ll start with And Yet It Moves. I would normally take the time in this paragraph to talk about the game’s story, but honestly, it’s nonexistent. Which is rather strange since I’m pretty sure I got it in an Indie Story Pack. The only “plot” to speak of is that you play as a nameless guy, who ventures through a cave, out into a jungle, and then gets bitten by a snake and goes on a drug trip. If there is anything more than that, it was clearly lost on me. Now, if it had been released in an Indie Gorgeous Graphics Pack, then I would’ve understood. The graphics are one of the big features of this game. They all look papercraft. Your character is a sketchy drawing of a guy. Construction paper has been assembled to make the cliffs and trees of the world. The animals that you run into are pictures of real animals. It’s instantly unique and visually appealing.
The other big feature are the gravity changing mechanics. Besides running around and jumping, this is the only other action you can take, turning the world around either 90 degrees or 180 degrees. It’s the kind of mechanic I would expect to see in a flash game, but it really takes it to a great level through the various ways you have to use it. In one early level, you have to maneuver bats around to get to certain locations. Considering you fall down and the bats always fly up, it’s a really interesting puzzle. I did find the mechanics a bit hard to grasp at first, but after a while, I felt like a pro. Even with the many times I managed to collide into a wall, the game never got too frustrating. The biggest problem of it was that it’s short, with only 3 worlds and around 16 levels between them. It took me a hair over 2 hours to beat it, and besides time trials, there’s really nothing else to do in the game. But it’s the interesting twist on the platformer and the ways that it uses this twist that really make the game worth playing, and it feels like a true indie game. Not quite worth the $10 asking price, but a fun game.
I think I bring up this truly unique independent game first because A.R.E.S. is quite the opposite. The plot involves a space station which has had its human occupants taken hostage by robots, so Ares is sent in to kill the robots and rescue the hostages. It’s a plot that’s simultaneously simple and too convoluted. Thinking back on it, it’s like the game couldn’t handle something this simple. Most characters are dropped, there’s no personalities being passed around, there’s just nothing to it. And the villain is one of the most generic “HUMANS ARE DESTROYING THE EARTH” spouting robots I’ve ever seen.
But hey, the gameplay can surely match up, right? Er, no. It plays out like a side-scrolling action shooter, using your mouse to aim. It’s something that’s been done before, and there’s nothing about this game that does it particularly differently. It doesn’t help that the game really has balance issues. It gives you 4 guns, but as soon as I got the SMG, I just used that for the entire game and never saw any reason to switch. The upgrade system is the game’s biggest flaw. You’re given recyclable parts with red, blue, and yellow colors, which you use to upgrade your weapons. The problem is these are the same parts you have to use to buy health packs, which are probably going to be a much higher priority. But they use too many parts in an uneven way, by making you use 50 blue but significantly less of red and yellow. In other words, my red and yellow pools were in the 300s at one point, while my blue pool was struggling around 30. They really should’ve just made it one upgrade pool for everything. In the end, though, it really didn’t matter. I never had much trouble with any of the game, but I also didn’t really enjoy the game at all. It didn’t challenge my shooting skills or my thinking skills. It was just a game.
So there you have it. Two wildly different games, one that’s extremely indie and I love it for it, and the other that’s not and is downright forgettable. There’s ultimately nothing comparable about them besides being independent, but it really shows the significant difference between indie sensibilities.