One of the great things about modern console gaming is the huge number of independent titles available to play at a much lower price than their AAA brethren. While the Zeldas and Animal Crossings of this world are fantastic to play, some of the best experiences come from playing those little-known gems that are hiding in the eShop.
Every month, we at Ultimate Gaming Paradise are going to do some of the hard work for you—sifting through some new titles and seeing what is (and isn’t) worth playing.
Here are a few of the indie titles that have joined the eShop in March.
Game Type: Puzzle / Adventure
Studio: Wild Kid Games
Date: 25th Feb 2021
Price : £3.59
Clocker immediately comes across as very strange. It begins with a slow and strange sequence of not-really-interactive conversation scenes and slowly unravels the mystery and the point of the game.
The game is all about manipulating time, and the mechanics of this are very clever and somewhat boggling, with the game engine and AI presumably having to do a lot of work in the background.
It seems simple; as the Dad, you can move a person backwards and forwards a little in their timestream, choosing where to leave them for when the daughter, Alice, plays through in a more normal way. You can make someone crash into someone else, for example, and when Alice gets there, they are entangled on the floor. Or you can choose not to, and the scene will unfold in a different way—the game works out what will happen and plays it through accordingly.
This leads to some very interesting puzzles, sometimes infuriatingly hard, sometimes obvious, but always a little odd.
It’s pretty to look at, with a cardboard cut-out look that’s quite appealing, but it is slow and not for people looking for an easy time. One for real puzzle fans only.
Dirt Bike Retro
Game Type: Arcade
Studio: Piotr Skalski
Date: 17th March 2021
Price : £4.49
Yes, that’s a ‘0’ in the verdict box! Sometimes there are games that you like the look of but find ultimately disappointing, and sometimes there are games that are basically unplayable. Dirt Bike Retro is definitely one of the latter.
On the face of it, it’s an 80s-inspired quick race game with a dirt bike on an earthy-track filled with ramps and bumps. In reality, it’s a frustrating experience that provides very little in terms of fun or enjoyment.
Graphically it looks like an 8-bit game from the days of the Commodore 64. OK, it’s got that in the title, and that was part of the appeal. Sonically, it sounds like that, too, including moments when the beeps all crash together and just make a loud noise you can’t turn off quickly enough. Fair enough, maybe we signed up for that, as well.
But the playability? The controls are unresponsive, it’s hard to even know which bike you are in multiplayer, and there’s nothing about the track to make it feel more than a single straight line.
And the overheating mechanic… oh, the overheating mechanic…
For some reason, the only additional feature in the game is a feature that means if you keep accelerating for too long, your engine cuts out. There’s no explanation for this, and it took a good few games to work out what was going on, but there’s no way to temper it either, so you essentially have no choice but to slow down and allow the bar to drop while other racers go past you. The end result of this is that it’s nearly impossible to win a race—not a great idea for a racing game.
There are so many better ways to spend £4.49 than buying Dirt Bike Retro: any of the other games in this list, a coffee, or a lot of chocolate. Maybe give the money to charity, or just throw it in a bin. Just don’t download this game!
In Rays of the Light
Game Type: Adventure
Studio: Noskov Sergey
Date: 17th Mar 2021
Price : £7.19
I really wanted to like this game. Something about the trailer with its haunting music and stuttering film-like inserts made it seem really appealing. I wanted to like it so much that I refused to quit until a long time after I probably should have done.
Sadly, despite all my best intentions, I found myself having to give up.
In Rays of the Light, you walk around an old demolished building, picking up clues as you go to fill in the backstory of what has happened. Some sort of nuclear disaster, perhaps? There are notes left on tables, strange photographs of the building in the past, and a torch that provides enough light to see even in the darkest locations, each thing tantalisingly suggesting more will be revealed.
But around all that, there’s not enough game to make the experience enjoyable. The graphics are out of date by a full decade, if not more, but that would be forgivable if it didn’t suffer from a lot of other bad issues.
There are very few objects to interact with. The items you can pick up or manipulate all highlight if you catch them in the right way, but most things are scenery that provides nothing more than a block in the way. Plus, as you don’t know what is scenery and what isn’t, you have to walk close to everything, hoping it lights up, making exploring a very tedious time.
The controls are poor. Movement doesn’t feel natural and, as mentioned above, you need to be in just the right place to see if something is scenery or an important thing to pick up. Often, you find yourself bobbing left and right trying to get the object in the right spot for the game to highlight it.
Going further, the collision detection is hideous. At one point, I opened a car boot to get to the things inside, only to find that the door I lifted was now hitting my head and making it hard to manoeuvre to the items. As for the enclosure, it is fine to put a fence around everything to stop you from going past it, limiting the game environment even if that fence looked very climbable, but when a group of grassy ferns offers an impenetrable barrier, it’s frustrating. Modern gaming simply doesn’t do things like that any more, and it was another factor that heavily aged the experience.
I am pretty sure that the puzzles and story in In Rays of the Light are interesting, but the laborious gameplay needed to experience it all isn’t worthwhile. Ultimately, the game is slow and boring.
And I did really want to like it.
Bob Help Them
Game Type: Arcade
Studio: No Gravity Games
Date: 11th Mar 2021
Price : £6.99 (currently on sale at £5.59)
It’s not all doom and gloom for this month’s selection. Out of the pits of despair comes the bright shining gem that is Bob Help Them.
One more game ‘inspired’ by retro graphics, Bob looks like another title that wouldn’t be out of place on a SNES. The gameplay, however, is fantastic.
It’s a simple concept – you are Bob, a helpful fellow who wants the people around him to be happy. So, when one man wants 10 apples, Bob is the guy to pick apples, and when another wants some wood, Bob’s gonna grab an axe.
This leads to frantic timed racing around the small levels, cutting down trees, baking pies, and petting pigs (the little pigs need some love). The first few levels are a breeze to get you into the concept, but it’s not long before the clock ticking causes you actual panic as you realise you’re not going to make it.
Only clever use of time management is going to keep you going. You can only put five apples at a time on the fire to make pies, and they take a few seconds each, so while they are cooking, go mine some gold. Need gold bricks? Put the gold in the forge and wait for it to be done, and in the meantime, better go fishing. The pies are now cooked, by the way, don’t forget to deliver them.
It’s simple, and it’s brilliant, with each level completed merely a gateway to trying the next. Before you know it, it’s been an hour, and you haven’t looked up. Your heart is pounding, your shoulders are tense, and you need to do more!
Bob Help Them shone as the most fun game in this month’s bunch by a strong margin. If you like to be put against the wall by a ticking timer and have the people watching you scream ‘he needs apples, get apples!’ at regular intervals, then Bob is for you.
A Glider’s Journey
Game Type: Arcade / Simulator
Studio: Emma Franklin
Date: 1st Mar 2021
Price : £6.90
The blurb for A Glider’s Journey on the eShop includes a little note from the developers saying it’s a ‘small and simple game with not many hours of gameplay’ made by a ‘pair of passion-driven indie game developers’.
Unless you are a practised demon at flying, there’s little chance that you’re going to complete this game in a couple of hours. It’s deceptively hard and brilliant for it. If you do think you have what it takes, you can always tweak the flying style from ‘arcade’ to ‘realistic’ and turn what once felt reasonable into a super-sensitive crash fest. But I get ahead of myself…
A Glider’s Journey is a straightforward game. You pilot a smooth glider and attempt to touch all the little glowing hexagons dotted above the landscape before landing on a pad and being transported to the next level.
So far, so good.
In reality, the skill you will need to get through each level is not small, making it all the more rewarding when you do. The controls are perfect, the collision detection is top-notch, and the game is beautiful. While the graphics are relatively low-res, they are delightful in their own way, and as you progress to new environments, you appreciate the aesthetics of each.
It would be easy to describe A Glider’s Journey as ‘calming’, and with the soft wind noise going past as you float over the green grass, maybe that is a feeling that it evokes. The truth is, though, that it becomes every bit as tense as Bob Help Them, with a slight missed touch on the controller turning a perfect flight, run into a painful collision and return to the beginning of the level. Your fingers stiffen, and you want to scream, but you breathe in slowly and just go for it again.
A Glider’s Journey is one of those games that’s probably unlike most of the rest of your gaming library (unless you are a huge fan of flight simulators), but it deserves a place there, reminding you that not all games have to be the same. There’s nothing here to shoot, nothing to puzzle out, nothing to race, and no long story. It’s just your glider, floating dreamily through the sky.
And the rest…
Selecting the games we spend time with is hard, and we’re bound to have missed out on some true greats. Why not take the time to let us know the new indie games you have enjoyed.
We’ll be back in a month with another selection to go through. Hopefully, by that time, I’ll have completed A Glider’s Journey…