Steam Treasures: SteamWorld Dig Review

It’s time to bring back our Steam Treasures series.

With hundreds and hundreds of titles now receiving the all-important right to be on Steam – through Valve’s Greenlight initiative (that Gabe Newell now wants to do away with) – the idea of a “jewel” of an indie game somehow “making” it through to the service (against all odds!!) no longer carries the same much any weight.

Where Valve’s standards may have changed (for better or worse), ours haven’t: In this series, we review budget-sized, budget-priced, big-small games that deserve to be added to your Steam library, period – even, when they’re not currently in a bundle for beans! Our first new entry to the series, then, is none other than the aptly-titled SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt. SteamWorld Dig Logo

Curiously, the game’s developer, the Swedish Image & Form, actually did not target Steam first, as the game found its original home on the Nintendo eShop. Even on the Nintendo 3DS – a system I don’t currently own or have access to – the game immediately caught my attention due to its colourful look and feel, cute robot designs, and overall Steampunk shenanigans.

Ultimately, nomen est omen, and so forth, and we computer folks ended up receiving a full OS smorgasbord, from Windows to OSX to Linux, all via Steam. I was overjoyed to discover the game was to be ported so quickly over to PC – there still exist footage of me posting awful puns on Twitter. That’s how excited I was about getting to play the game.

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ReVVVVVView

Terry Cavanagh‘s seminal platformer VVVVVV dropped last January, and I gave a brief heads-up noting its brutal difficulty and audacious $15 pricetag. Since then the game has hopped onto the Steam bandwagon and has had its price slashed to a much more reasonable two-thirds less1, which makes it an irresistible indie option for platformer fans. And as I mentioned in my recent summary of 2010, VVVVVV turned out to be one of my favourites of the year.

You play as space Captain Viridian whose crew is scattered across a space station in a strange alternate dimension. The controls are extremely simple, you can move left and right, and switch the direction of gravity. There is no jump or changing direction in between a la And Yet It Moves – you can only either fall downwards or upwards. The mechanics don’t change or become more complex than this; within this basic framework Cavanagh pits you against the environment and enemies in ways that will test your reflexes and your muscle memory. The game is compatible with a controller, but the keyboard is absolutely sufficient. The acceleration curves may take a little getting used to; while the controls are responsive, your affable avatar carries momentum which may leave some players grumbling about his delayed stop.

The initial few minutes of the game have you negotiating a series of rooms with traps and creatures, but the game soon opens up and you are given much more freedom in your exploration and the order in which you rescue each crew member. In addition to the main objective, there are various trinkets placed around the world, requiring you to do the near-impossible to reach them. Believe you me, some of them are a downright bastard to get. Getting them all unlocks a postgame feature, but I suspect the self-satisfaction and bragging rights will be reward enough for your persistence. Every now and then you may encounter a computer terminal that will impart snippets of story or reveal a new area on the map. Talking to your crew once you have rescued them also expands on the story, which is surprising.

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  1. http://www.indiegames.com/blog/2010/09/vvvvvv_now_on_steam_for_cheap.html []

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Steam Treasure Chest

Over the past two weeks, we were able to highlight three fantastic budget-sized and -priced titles available in the massive Steam holiday sale. With one final day left of the sale, there’s still hopefully just enough time to recap these reviews and perhaps help you make that final decision to grab – or pass – a title or two! Below, you’ll find one-paragraph snippets from and links to our reviews:

Shatter

“Originally released on the PSN, Shatter is on the surface a high-definition rendition of the Breakout genre, perhaps resembling most closely the classic Arkanoid. Shatter’s claim to the throne, then, is its frustration-free flavour; where other games of the genre may have traditionally strained players with punishing difficulty, Sidhe have altogether subverted the problem by introducing a mischievous sucking/blowing mechanism for your bat, used not only for gathering shattered energy fragments that dissipate from broken bricks, but also allowing players to gently guide their ball’s trajectory curve both left and right.”

£3.49, $4.99, 3.99€ – read more on Shatter

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

“Published under the 2K Play budget moniker and developed by the aptly named the Odd Gentlemen, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is a story of the titular gentleman thief getting suckered into a paradox of time, place and the self. His strange-sounding shenanigans are dressed in lavish Victorian-style steampunk and early filmic elements, coated with a glaze of Edward Gorey – rated “E” for “Comic Mischief” by the ESRB – and finally capped by the swinging sounds of a boisterous backing band – sporting harpsichord, bassoon and all – not too unlike Tim Burton’s go-to Oingo Boingo man Danny Elfman’s gothic scores. All this in Adobe Flash!”

£0.39, $0.49, 0.39€ – read more on The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

Dark Void Zero

“The second aspect that makes Dark Void Zero stand out from the pack is its aforementioned fictional wrapping. Rather than simply giving the game a retro-style audiovisual coating, Other Ocean have gone so far as to implement in the game the aspects that define the games of the past, including their worst. Expecting the game to play like recent game, or say a forgiving rendition of the Mega Man topos, is a surefire path to disappointment. Instead, Dark Void Zero has been designed to leave a lingering taste of haemoglobin in your mouth – and in fact, biting through this all too-familiar a flavour of iron is one’s best weapon in soldiering through the annoyances of the game.”

£2.00, $3.34, 2.67€ – read more on Dark Void Zero

Giveaway

To roll with the theme, we have a budget-sized giveaway reserved for this occasion – you are eligible to win a digital download of the fantastic Shatter OST by the artist Module if you

  1. Retweet this tweet
  2. Follow @slowdownvg on Twitter.

Both requirements need be fulfilled when the contest ends Thursday, the 6th of January, 16:00 GMT. We will randomly pick a winner and direct message you the details.

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Steam Treasures: Dark Void Zero

No beating about the bush: First and foremost, Other Ocean’s downloadable minigame Dark Void Zero brings your inner AVGN to the fore, the game being above all a meticulous, studious replication (compared to a revision or a reimagination) of the features that often make older games so highly resistant to enjoyment, in turn rendering the game an easy target for naggish nitpicking.

Before its release, the PC and DSiWare title created a minor stir in the games press with its cleverly orchestrated marketing campaign, one that laid out for the game lavish faux origins, as Capcom claimed the game had started off as an ’80s Mega Man clone “locked away for decades.” All this served, of course, to drum up more publicity for its mothership, the triple-A Dark Void, which unfortunately flopped creatively and commercially, perhaps undeservedly banishing Dark Void Zero to the kind of, uh, dark void of infamy that its fictional trappings prophesied for it in the first place.

Indeed, Mega Man is the most evident point of comparison together with the first Metroid, though Dark Void Zero does replace Samus’ ball form for a jetpack, and allows players to shoot into eight(!) directions. Make no mistake, though, these features do not exist simply to make your life easier. In the game, you play as Rusty, a test-pilot sent into the Void, a galactic no man’s land between Earth and the homeworld of an alien threat known as the Watchers. These beings are ominously making their way to Earth by means of a series of portals, and it’s up to the player, with the aid of the great scientist Nikola Tesla, to gain control of these portals and put an end to the menace.

Dark Void Zero goes above and beyond in staying true to its eighties influences. This is evident chiefly in two major ways, the first being its level of difficulty, which comes in beautiful blacks, reds and blues – the hues of an ass-whooping, of course. With this I refer the very deliberate slipping of the player into molten rock articulated in a highly inaccurate, block-based projectile collision detection and exacerbated by a complex two-mode jetpack. The game also extends its sadistic tendencies to text boxes (see on the right) and alerts, which cover from a quarter to an entire third of screen estate, forcing you to slowly skip through information and wait for alerts to pass – or face the potential consequences of slipping into a pool of lava hidden under the box.

As you make headway, fighting through the controls, the collision detection, the alert boxes and the overall difficulty, you’ll eventually come face to face with the very first boss. More than likely, you’ll be on your very last legs, only narrowly edging out the Watcher beast and discovering in the subsequent level that Other Ocean have blessed you with a continue! But make no mistake, this is no ordinary continue, this is your grandfather’s continue had video games existed in the roaring twenties: Instead of awarding you a full set of lives, the game is content with handing out the exact amount of lives in your possession at the time of saving. In other words, to actually benefit from the continue, which is thus more of a save feature, you need to be able to hold on to your lives – otherwise, it’s simply easier to restart and replay the entire game… the tip, the point of this highly barbaric design, of course!

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Steam Treasures: The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

Published under the 2K Play budget moniker and developed by the aptly named the Odd Gentlemen, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is a story of the titular gentleman thief getting suckered into a paradox of time, place and the self. His strange-sounding shenanigans are dressed in lavish Victorian-style steampunk and early filmic elements, coated with a glaze of Edward Gorey – rated “E” for “Comic Mischief” by the ESRB – and finally capped by the swinging sounds of a boisterous backing band – sporting harpsichord, bassoon and all – not too unlike Tim Burton’s go-to Oingo Boingo man Danny Elfman’s gothic scores. All this in Adobe Flash!Did I yet mention pie, the strangest of McGuffins? There exists so much pie in the world of P.B., in fact, that it quite possibly takes the cake of having the most pie in a video game ever. Even the primary villain – a massive magical pie that has eluded P.B. W.B. and ultimately led him to his ponderous predicament – counts for this quota! It is fitting, then, that the game has been rendered with plenty of piety (as you could hopefully gather from my description above), going further than most in its reappropriation of its influences, like the silent filmic era, by using as condiments for instance title cards for explicating plot and having pun-filled subtitles for level names.

As peculiar and confusing as the backdrop sounds, the game establishes its various concepts kindly, one at a time, and lays down a foundation for the core mechanics in a more narrative-oriented, playable introduction at the very beginning of the puzzling adventure.

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