My Humble Indie Summer
A blog of a computer scientist trying to document his spare cycles.

Watch as I flail to a commitment way outside what I am capable of completing: reviewing 131 games from the esteemed Humble Bundle in as many days. Progress.

Challenge 2? My efficient summer?

Contact: crhallberg at gmail dot com
Web site: crhallberg dot com
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My Humble Indie STASH Announcement

Hello hello!

I have an important formatting change to announce for this project, and it’s a doosy.

I can’t do this every day.

I have reasons, if you don’t want to hear them, skip to the next bit of bold-face. Ciao.

Now that we’ve divided the wheat from the chaf, hello brilliant and wonderful fans and friends!

I took on this project in a crucial moment in my life. I just graduated from a masters program and I’m finally out in the real world. Time to start a bold new project! I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time and am very proud of it and am thankful for your readershipness. But this is not the time to take up my new-found time digesting and consuming (poorly too, more on that). I need to capture this moment and create. I have a backlog of my own creations that have been put on hold for secondary education and now’s the time to strike.

Also, these games are excellent. They are the pride and joy of several developers and they deserve more than a quick swish on my critical palette. My harsh judgement is something I have to face when I release my games and I want to know that my critics took the time to invite my game to dinner and enjoyed a full course. An hour or two with these games is not enough and it’s all I can afford. So…

I’m scaling back the daily regiment. I will post more spaciously and hopefully once a week. I will post more thoroughly.

Yes, I know this means my beautiful calendar site is going to be torn apart, I know, me too. I’ve enjoyed and have been proud of my work the last few weeks. So I want know how to do this right. So let me know:

Do you want to hear about my own game development? and Are there any reviews you want me to spend more time on in a revisit?

Thank you! Happy Memorial Day!

Up next is TRAUMA.

Frozen Synapse - MHIS 22/143

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by Mode7

Intro

Frozen Synapse is a game that’s always been on the edge of my radar, never really sure what it was, just knowing it’s gotten some good reviews.

The Game in a Tweet

Frozen Synapse is a hard strategy game that is boiling hard against AI, but a blast against a friend.

The Review

The word “hard” above is in both senses: hard as on hard-as-nails and hard as in hard-sci-fi.

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This is a foreboding start.

To play Frozen Synapse, you guide individual troops through combat, giving them waypoints, telling them where to aim, when to run or shoot, etc.

The strategy involved in the combat gives you such granular control over your individual squad members, it plays more like chess than command-and-conquer. While the control is nice, it doesn’t feel like it makes the strategic possibilities much deeper. It also rarely feels like you have all that control. The terrain can be very hard to read, and I felt that without practice against a person, you could never succeed at the AI campaign. It has the same problem AI advantage problem as Cortex Command, which is odd considering it’s turn-based.

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How am I supposed to plan or even predict that this shot is possible?

The above moments are startling in single player, but surprising in multiplayer. The unpredictability of the outcomes becomes the delight of multiplayer.

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To be fair, they give you every chance to succeed by letting you run simulations on the enemies too.

I can see someone getting really into a strategy game like this. So maybe it’s not my cup of tea, but when you get a copy for a friend when you buy, it’s worth going through the excellent live multiplayer. Then maybe try the story.

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I think this guy is the same as the comic relief guy. You’ve been warned.

Verdict: Rent.- It’s dangerous to go alone, find a sale and enjoy with a friend.

And Yet It Moves - MHIS 21/143

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By Broken Rules

Intro

And Yet It Moves is another game I had the fortune of discovering early. I’m happy to report the game has come a long way since then!

The Game in a Tweet

And Yet It Moves is a gravity twisting adventure game with interesting moments and captivating sound and graphics.

The Review

It’s a simple concept: ASWD to move, arrow keys to spin the world. It takes a bit to get used to the controls, falling tolerance, and physics, but you’ll be twisting and turning in no time. The mechanic is well executed and works well, but the puzzles often fail to deliver. The game has some truly rewarding points, but a lot of the traversing feels repetitive very quickly.

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Especially when they throw breaking branches at you 10 feet past a checkpoint. Why???

Along side its spaced out well-designed puzzles, the game throws a lot of surprises and fresh mechanics at you, especially in the last third. Some of these ideas really add to the game, like the springboards, while some definitely detract. Some of them feel down-right unfair. Although the parts I found unfair in the demo all those years ago were smoothed over nicely.

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Hard to dodge fire balls that set you on fire for five seconds before dying? Oh, I can’t use those five seconds to get to the next checkpoint? Excuse me?

I think the problem is that the mechanic isn’t very deep enough to explore. There are a large variety of puzzles in this game, but a lot of them feel so similar. I spent the last half of the game feeling like it was running out of steam and was going to end soon. It picked up again halfway through the last chapter, but there was no mind-melting puzzle that challenges all the skill that you’ve built up along the way before the end game. Making it that far however, was very rewarding.

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The graphics in this game are a real draw and plus. The torn paper style is very well executed. It makes some corner spotting tricky in a few places, but over all our lead Jan here really delivered. A few elements seem out of place, but you have to remember that this pile of a level is all out of place visually and at least it’s not hidden away somewhere.

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The music and sounds in this game were the showstopper for me. Every sound in the game and the music is a human utterance, which is a treat to listen to. It makes the beginning mysterious, forest so organic, and the final chapter more powerful. The music driven sequences, though, were repetitive enough that they bothered my girlfriend and I had to tone it down. I almost wish they weren’t in the game at all.

Overall, it’s a little repetitive throughout, but the surprises (which become more and more frequent towards the end) keep things fresh and show a few moments of sheer, startling brilliance.

Verdict: Try - The game took an hour to beat, kind of short for $10, but if you love the demo, you’ll love the rest of the game.

Hammerfight - MHIS 20/143

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by Kranx Productions

Intro

Never heard of Hammerfight, but it sure sounded like a lot of fun!

The Game in a Tweet

Hammerfight is unique 2D swinging action game with a design, graphics, story, and sound so well polished, you won’t believe the gameplay isn’t.

The Review

And it is quite fun! The simple gameplay and tuned physics pave the way for the most ambitious story I’ve seen in the bundles yet. The graphics are highly polished and the sound is incredibly realistic and reactive to the gameplay. If only the gameplay were equally as polished.

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That’s straight forward. What could possibly go wrong?

I knew there was trouble when the initial tutorial duel took six tries to beat, and they never explained how my opponent could move so much more quickly and precisely than I could. I also had to accidentally discover why I kept detaching my swinging maul (which I unlocked not once, but thrice) and that the bad-ass spikes that pop out of my ship like a pufferfish when I click are useless.

The UI is never explained either. I had no idea how to read the rotating clock on top (which is more crucial than actually killing enemies) and it took me a while to realize the bar that pop up when you get hit is my enemies’ health and that mine was the fuel gauge in the bottom left.

Regardless of aggression and performance during the levels, it seems that you get the same flat amount of points based on level difficulty, earning Glory, whatever that is. I found no way to spend it or anything, but the more you play, the more your save icon gets pimped out. Your style of play also determines your nickname among the people.

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Swag.

The most fun levels were the hunting levels, and the creators of this well designed game recognized this and added an entirely separate mode where all you do it smack-down with worms, bees, and other baddies. Once you’ve satisfied each level’s thirst for blood, you move onto the next. You’d think being surrounded by five or six enemies would be tense, but it’s not as tense as being near your allies. There is friendly fire in this game (no self-damage though, thankfully) and it is the most dangerous thing out there.

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Also, coins, WTF?

So I, the great Worm Slayer, played as far as I could before the poor gameplay implementation took its toll in one of the early cut-scenes. The ship I’m assuming we were supposed to meet, kept crashing instead of flying onto the screen.

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MAYDAY! MAYDAY!

It was highly amusing.

Verdict: Skip - If you want hammer swinging physics action, buy 20 Games To Play With Your Mates for a dollar and get 19 more games on top of hammer swinging action.


PS. Happy birthday, NickyKnacks!

MHIS Bonus Round - New Humble Weekly Sale!

The Humble Weekly Sale is back! Pay what you want for Alan Wake: Collector’s Edition and Alan Wake’s American Nightmare!

VVVVVV - MHIS 19/141

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by Terry Cavanagh

Intro

VVVVVV is one of the first skill-based platformers I’ve ever played. I knew I had to play it when Notch (of Minecraft glory) and Jonathon Blow (of Braid glory) both turned out to be major fans of the game.

The Game in a Tweet

VVVVVV is a deceptively simple game that is so thoroughly explored and realized it deserves all the time it grippingly commands.

The Review

When I saw the pixelated screens and puzzle description for VVVVVV, I never expected a game of such depth. It wasn’t until I was a quarter way into the game did I realize how much more brilliant and massive this game is in everyway. I expected a linear progression but I was given an enormous space to explore. The exploration was seamless and there was never a single loading flicker.

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This may be the only downside: how much there is to explore.

The dungeons found in this dimension focus on a particular variation of the flipping mechanic: pressing the flip button reverses gravity for you and you can’t flip it until you touch the floor/ceiling again. There’s no jumping or anything besides walking and reading. In the dungeons, the game geniusly messes with the level wrapping, adds flipping lines, and constantly challenges your expectations of the mechanics.

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Nobody expects the gravitron.

The graphics are deceptively varied and beautiful in their simple elegance. That elegance also extends to the level design. Most games don’t have a single level their famous for, VVVVVV has the Veni Vidi Vici or the Doing Things The Hard Way sequence.

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Just gotta get over this tiny block.

Jonathon Blow hit the nail on the head when talking about this game’s completeness. The game lacks nothing as far as its mechanic is concerned. Every possible interesting variation is presented and executed gloriously. This causes a lot of lovely surprise and challenge, especially where the trinkets are concerned. The most frustrating one for me to get (even though I died exactly 100 times in the Veni Vidi Vici rooms) actually used the checkpoints in a brilliant way.

Be warned: this game is hard. I never 100%’d the game and I can’t imagine doing so. No deaths! I’m closer to doing that in Limbo!

Oh, and the official soundtrack, PPPPPP, is kickin’.

Verdict: BUY! - This game is a brilliant staple of any indie diet.

Cogs - MHIS 18/141

by Lazy 8 Studios

Intro

When I was 12 I was given a Fifteen Square. Within a week I was a sliding puzzle master. The problem is, all sliding puzzles are the same and they’re all easy to solve once you know the tricks. That all changed with Cogs.

The Game in a Tweet

Cogs is a brilliant and immersive steam-punk, sliding-puzzle game that is as brilliant to hear as it is to see and play.

The Review

Cogs takes the simple concept of the sliding tile puzzle and gives it an amazing twist. These 3D puzzles are so well conceived and themed, you’ll wonder why you haven’t seen them on the shelves. The steam-punk theme looks and sounds so incredibly good, you’ll be glued into this game for hours.

This is what it feels like.

The level rating system is also incredibly genius. You can earn three stars in each of the categories of completion, speed, moves. Getting 9 stars in one solve gets you the Master Mechanic tenth star.

Pictured above: puzzler and completionist crack.

Some of the later puzzles will test your mouse dexterity as you scramble to rotate the puzzle and move all the pieces correctly, but it never gets out of hand. Everything else outside (and including) the gameplay is pure magic. I could watch the menus all day. Solving a puzzle causes it to come to life which is just about the most awarding thing ever.

Here’s to victory! Onward to glory!

Where this award-winning game really steals the cake though is in sound. The soundtrack is brilliantly made up solely of noises from the game, and it’s no wonder why. Each click, whir, chime, hiss, and pop is filled with life and joy. This game will remain my favorite game to hear for all time. In fact, there are a few puzzle that require you to make music with bells, so the sound is perfectly crafted in every way.

You need to buy this game. Best game of the bundles so far!

Verdict: BUY!! - Spoiler Alert: the mobile edition is getting a BUY! rating as well.

Crayon Physics Deluxe - MHIS 17/141

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by Kloonigames

Intro

Crayon Physics was an experimental physics game (so many physics games) that was almost open sourced before the developer, shocked by the game’s popularity, decided to polish it up into the game we play today.

The Game in a Tweet

Crayon Physics is a delightful drawing puzzle game. Very unique, very cute, very fun.

The Review

Crayon Physics Deluxe has one of the more beautifully designed mechanics in physics games. You need to get a ball to a star and you so so by drawing shapes that become physical objects in the world. There is no limit but your imagination.

I must not have a very strong imagination because I was unable to beat every level of this game. Even with a plethora of phenomenal physical options!

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Boxes~!

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Lines~!

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Pivots~!

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Pulleys~!? Holy cow this game is not messing around. The amount of freedom in this game is substantial, and playing the game is quite a magical experience, especially with the childish graphics.

Lines are the savior of the game, most of the levels can be beat with them, but it’s not very creative. Creative solutions are much more fun to make and watch. The game is as fun as you make it. Literally.

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Don’t mind if I do!

There is, however, one last physical object that is the reason why I stopped playing Crayon Physics Deluxe: Rockets. This may seem like a good idea, but they require such precision, care, and timing that the game went from emergent and playful to very frustrating.

There are tons and tons of levels to play, spread out across several islands, so maybe you can skip the rocket island if mechanics are isolated. It was a pleasure to come back to this game, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

Verdict: BUY! - Trying the demo is like eating just one potato chip. 

Jack Claw - MHIS 16/141

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by Frozenbyte Studios

Intro

The final item in the Humble Frozenbyte Bundle is a demo and source for a game called Jack Claw. I’m so happy that this company is so generous with their incredible talent, they raised nearly a million dollars for charity. Verdict: Awesome.

The Game in a Tweet

Jack Claw is a demo for an open source engine that follows in Frozenbyte’s long line of gorgeous engines.

The Review

There’s really not much to review in this game for two reasons.

1) Frozenbyte’s detestation for reticles makes this game impossible to play with a mouse and keyboard. It was designed for a game pad, and it sounds like that might work, but the controls are a guessing game without one.

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A game I often lost

2) The entirety of the gameplay can be seen in this 3 minute video.

The environmental destruction, physics, and graphics are incredible as always. Frozenbyte decided not to move forward with this game, so they released the source code and assets to the community, which is awesome considering the quality of this studio’s engines. They seem to anticipate a community release eventually.

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This looks promising.

Verdict: Skip. - If you can get your hands on it, it’s free and short. What could possibly go wrong?

Splot - MHIS 15/134

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Intro

Unfortunately, the Splot demo was pulled in anticipation of release, so there will be no review from me. :(

The Game in a Tweet

Splot looks to be a playful platforming puzzle that probably has a twist related to the species of the main character?

The Review

Tried to find a video review for you guys, but they all fell flat of my expectations.

Verdict: ????