Software, especially apps from indie developers, is finding its way into the marketplace in all sorts of inventive ways now. This is especially true for indie game developers, who are looking to self-publish their games or get backing from projects like Steam Greenlight or Kickstarter. I first downloaded McPixel via The Pirate Bay, a controversial bittorrent site that nonetheless receives special mention on the McPixel site as being an early (and, I stress, 100% legal) distributor of their game.
After playing McPixel, it’s not surprising they decided to release their game in a less than conventional way, because there’s nothing at all conventional about McPixel. Laid out as a series of minigames, the player has twenty seconds or so to defuse a bomb, or you’ll lose that stage. There is absolutely no clue as to how to defuse the bomb. It makes zero sense. That’s not really the point of McPixel, though. In adventure game style, you’ll click on everything in the stage until you hit on the one thing that works. The insane joy of McPixel comes of seeing the crazy things that happen when you choose wrong and the just as crazy things that happen when you choose correctly.
Just to be clear, the full name of the game is Tales of Game’s Studios Presents Chef Boyardee’s Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa. Just to be clear. Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden was developed by Tales of Game’s, a group of several members of an amateur game development forum. The year is 2053, and Charles Barkley, along with his son Hoopz, is a fugitive, on the run from Michael Jordan and the B-Ball Removal Department, as Barkley is suspected of being in violation of anti-B-Ball laws. That’s right, basketball is illegal, and it’s all Charles Barkley’s fault.
Ostensibly an unofficial sequel to the movie Space Jam and the SNES game Barkley Shut Up and Jam!, this JRPG-style game is everything you’d expect just from its amazing title. Not only can you play in English, but you can also play in Al Bhed, the language of the heretics in Final Fantasy X. And if you knew who the Al Bhed were without me telling you, we’re best friends now.
But the developers aren’t done, yet. They have a doubly funded Kickstarter to produce The Magical Realms of Tír na nÓg: Escape from Necron 7 – Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie – Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa. That’s right, there’s going to be a sequel about the kid, and it looks amazing.
Even before Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon had been officially ported to Mac and PC and was available in the Steam store, it had already been cloned by a teen developer and released as open source freeware. While indie developers are absolutely choosing indirect routes to get their games on players’ screens, usually they want some say in how it happens. There can be drawbacks to being too open, and when Cavanagh encouraged players to create their own games inspired by his, this was taken as blanket consent to clone and distribute his newest game.
Super Hexagon began as just regular Hexagon, an insanely difficult browser-based game release. Hexagon was created during a game jam, a creative weekend for game developers to produce as many complete and playable games as possible. That was about nine months ago, and Super Hexagon, the more fleshed out version, has just been officially released for Mac (and PC) on Steam, following an iOS release a few months ago.
The goal of Super Hexagon is to not die. That’s it. Death comes when some part of the hexagon closes in on the triangle, representing the player. If the triangle is caught, your game ends. Make it to sixty seconds without dying, and you’ve really hit a milestone. Super Hexagon is that kind of game. It’s not all painful and gut-wrenching setbacks, though. The pulsing graphics and colors are a perfect match for the action, and the chiptunes soundtrack is a work of art unto itself.
Runner comes right in the middle of the series, developed by Gaijin Games. Like all games, Runner is a rhythm game. If you can follow the rhythm of the music and the game itself, you’ll be just fine. If you lose the rhythm, you’re going to have a bad time.
In contrast to the other games, though,Runner is a platformer, meaning it’s a Mario Bros. style game, requiring the player, as Commander Video, to run and jump through a stage full of obstacles and other perils. Your character is constantly running forward; there’s no stopping in place or going backwards. All you can do is jump, slide, kick, and bounce. Miss a step, and it’s back to the beginning of the level for you, no matter how close to the finish you had gotten.
It’s all about the music, though, inRunner. You’ll hop and kick in time with the music, and as you move through the level, the music gets more interesting and more intense. This is another great chiptunes soundtrack, one that I was lucky enough to score for free with a download bundle. It’s stayed on my iPod, long after my most recent rage quit in Runner.
Super Meat Boy is another impossibly hard game, but it’s won the devotion of players who love retro platformers. Fortunately, the levels are very short, and after you’ve been through the same stage a few dozen times, you’ll pretty much have memorized how to make it back to the spot where you just can’t seem to not die.
There’s an incredible sense of satisfaction in beating a level, though, so while playing Super Meat Boy may seem like an exercise in masochism, or at least futility, there’s a big payoff when you do finally progress to the next stage. There are literally hundreds of levels, too, with increasing difficulty, so a really committed player can find good times aplenty in Super Meat Boy. It’s something I’ve put down and come back to over and over again, because I can play the game for hours and know that there’s still more to play.
Imagine if Breakout and a JRPG had a fantasy-based baby. That offspring would be Wizorb. The game starts off similarly to an old fashioned Japanese role playing game. Think the beginning of a Pokemon game, wherein something happens causing you to leave your home and set out on an adventure. In this case, the kingdom of Gorudo is threatened by an evil force, and the wizard Cyrus sets out to defeat the enemy and save the kingdom.
Cyrus, controlled by the player, uses a magic called Wizord, which is where the Breakout part of the game comes into play. Cyrus can cast spells using MP, magic points, a familiar trope of JRPGs. The spells are similar to power ups. There are flaming balls, blasts of wind, and you can even teleport your balls. Collect coins to purchase items such as keys, extra lives, and MP refills.
Wizorb manages to tick a lot of boxes for me. I’m a big fan of JRPGs close to the hearts of harcore gamers, but I also love casual puzzle games, too. Wizorb bridges that divide nicely. There’s also an element of absurdity, common to so many indie RPGs, that’s really endearing. Though Wizorb can be challenging, it’s hard to take a game that uses the mechanics of Breakout to save the world too seriously. And while this is the only game on this list available on the Mac App Store, like most wacky games in wide distribution, it’s also available on Steam.