One of the problems of being a Nouse gaming editor is the big pile of free indie review copies that we never get a chance to look at (I know, right? Where’s our remembrance day?). To ease the backlog, we decided to take six of the most promising-looking games and then subject them to a rigorous regimen of scientific, objective testing…or rather, to just sit around playing them for 15 minutes and see if we got bored. Which passed the test? Read on to find out.
Cardinal Quest 2 – Naveen Morris
After 15 minutes of CQ2, I’m incredibly fascinated by this game. I played as a mage, one of eight or so fantasy trope classes you can pick from, and my only starting ability was to throw fireballs at folks. The game is turn based, so my cooldown periods are not eight real seconds, but eight steps my character moves along the top-down tile-based map. The trick, really, is that enemies also move and attack during the time that you move. The game constantly rushes between frantic movement and cautious standstill.
So what’s legitimately interesting about the game, whether intentional or not, is that it is secretly a stealth game. Hold on, I know what you’re thinking: “why would that possibly be interesting to me? I hate waiting for guards to turn their back so I can sneak past rather than just blasting my way through hordes of low-level enemies!” It’s interesting because CQ2 manages to blend a very standard, top-down fantasy RPG into something very un-generic and exciting. As a mage, I soon found out that I couldn’t just rush through the level and take everyone on whenever they came. I had to skirt around the edges, be very careful about which enemies I aggravate, picking them off one at a time by catching them unawares. For the 15 minutes I played, I had a really good time, and would definitely play more of it.
Unsummoning: The Spectral Horde – Niall Whitehead
I’ll be honest – I picked Unsummoning solely based on its title. It’s a puzzle game at its core, in which you play as a necromancer being hunted down by the undead hordes he summoned, summoning increasingly more powerful hordes to try and fight them (and each time, suffering a sudden yet inevitable betrayal, in a ‘swallowed an undead legion to catch the fly’ situation).
You charge up your spells by stepping on coloured tiles. Different colours fight off different monsters, but if you mess up and step on the wrong colour, you have to charge your combo up again. Things are further complicated by the minions that pursue you throughout the rooms, trying to knock your health to zero.
Much of my 15 minutes was spent trying to relearn WASD controls while bumping up against ever-tougher enemies, which culminated in fighting a bad guy who could fire spells back at me. The difficulty curve was smooth, even if there was no real tutorial as such to explain spell mechanics. The graphics were as good as they needed to be, and the sound design was also solid (even if it was pretty much just cricket noises over and over again).
Overall though, I still wanted to play Unsummoning after the 15 minutes were up, so I’m officially calling that a pass.
Super Snow Fight – Adam Koper
As you may have guessed from the title, this one is about snowball fights. The aim is to deplete your opponents’ hearts until they’re knocked out – the player who has scored the most knockouts by the end of the round wins. A variety of different items pop up from time to time, from grenades to rockets to shields, in the hope of spicing things up. Unsurprisingly for a game set during winter you can choose to play as Santa Claus or any of his elves, but there are a few other zany characters as well, like zombies, aliens and knights.
It’s a decent game to begin with, but after 15 minutes of playing it was starting to get a bit dull. It all feels very basic and conventional, nothing stands out as particularly interesting. Turns out there’s only so many times you can throw a virtual snowball at someone before it gets boring. I was left longing for more intricate controls more than anything else. How I wished that I could curve a snowball, and duck or dive out of the way of my opponents’ shots – anything to make this game that bit more interesting.
Community College Hero – Niall Whitehead
Who here remembers the movie Sky High? It was a film about teenagers training to be superheroes while having to deal with the usual troubles of hormones, bullying and men in spandex trying to take over the world. If you like the sound of that, Community College Hero could well be the game for you.
You play as your very own superhero – or, if you play it like me, you start playing as your very own superhero and then basically turn into Batman – fighting crime in Speck, Nebraska.
The gameplay of this visual novel is the “click your choice” model that’s been around from the 1980s, with minimal graphical window-dressing bar a cool front cover. The game therefore lives or dies on the strength of its story, and what I played through in the first 15 minutes wasn’t that great. All choices got the same outcome, the outfit I chose was ultimately never mentioned again, and most of it was exposition about Zenith Shields, Grade Scales and Prestige University.
I might wait to see if the pace improves after 15 minutes – the opportunity to chase down a supervillain provided a flicker of interest – but it’s not on the top of my list.
Crashlands – Adam Koper
When your spaceship is torn to pieces by a giant alien and crashes down onto an unknown planet, what do you do? This is the question at the heart of Crashlands. And the answer to this question is clear: you hunker down and wait for everything to blow over. The rescue team will be here soon, right?
I’ve heard some people comparing this game to Don’t Starve, and while I have not played that game, I can see their point. But this doesn’t prevent Crashlands from being an enjoyable game, and at the end of my 15 minutes I was keen to continue playing. In both games your objective is to keep your character alive, but Crashlands seems to be the most forgiving of the two.
For example, there’s no need to worry about your character’s hunger in this game. In addition to this, Crashlands seems to have a greater focus on story and character progression. In summary, the visuals are bright and cheerful, the soundtrack is splendid, the banter between characters is amusing – what’s not to love?
Dungelot: Shattered Lands – Naveen Morris
Around 10 minutes into the game, when I was introduced to the game’s world map, I certainly got a shock and chuckle out of the climate change message. Mana has been drilled without restraint and now the people of these fantasy lands have found themselves with a shortage of mana.
This playful mix of real-world ideas, concepts and fantasy tropes, from the 15 minutes I spent with it, seem characteristic of the game’s humour. And it works pretty well, cow puns and all. In the game, you click (or tap, if you’re playing on a mobile) and fight enemies in dungeons in various ways. But the levels weren’t especially interesting, and the game was fairly simple. I don’t see myself playing it for any longer.