Indie Video Game

Early Impressions: Adventures of Pip

Adventures of Pip shirt from Tic Toc Games

Adventures of Pip shirt from Tic Toc Games

PAX South came and went. It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget. One game out of the hundreds that were there left a good early impression on me: Adventures of Pip.

Adventures of Pip is a Kickstarter game made by Tic Toc Studios. The game centers itself on nostalgia, which is not a bad thing. We have Shovel Knight that reminded us what it was like to play as Scrooge McDuck again, we have Broken Age that takes a point-and-click adventure game to the next level with two protagonists, and Amplitude which is the successor to the first Amplitude released back in 2003.

Pip’s Three Forms via Kickstarter

Adventures of Pip is a side-scrolling action platforming game with a twist: a character that can evolve/devolve. There are a lot of inspiring games within the Adventures of Pip such as the Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, and even the Legend of Zelda. The story is very basic, where a princess gets stolen by an evildoer and she must be rescued. However, the gameplay is what makes this game stick out from other indie games out there.

The Demo

I was surprised to see the game I backed on Kickstarter at PAX South. On the last day of the convention, I gave the demo a try. The Adventures of Pip demo was short, but that did not take away from my experience. The controls were solid. The running and jumping mechanics responded well with the Playstation 4 (PS4) controller (this was also the first time I ever used a PS4 controller). Since the expo was so loud, I could not hear much of the music or sound effects.

Pip as Gif via Kickstarter

The Gameplay

Pip has three EVO forms: 1-pixel, 8-bit and 16-bit. Pip can traverse tiny hallways and jump on creatures that can carry him across spikes when he is 1-pixel. Also, this tiny, red pixel can jump higher than the other forms. While in this form, Pip is very responsive and easy to control.

1-Pixel Pip via Kickstarter

Pip’s 8-bit-self was my favorite of the three forms. 8-bit Pip has the agility of a gazelle and can wall jump like Samus. He also has a short jab, but I did not use it in the demo since the enemies were sparse. There was a tiny problem with this form; Pip attached to walls like scotch tape. I spoke with the publisher, Shereef Morse, about this problem and he assured me that it will be fixed by their next demo at PAX East.

8-Bit Pip via Kickstarter

Pip’s final form is powerful with all his 16-bits. He is a bulky, tough and wields a champions sword. Pip can slice through bricks, push over blocks and destroy enemies with ease. During the demo, there were not many chances to play as this powerful form. After watching many videos (and gifs) and demos of 16-bit Pip, it is easy to tell that he will need to evolve into this form to take out the most powerful adversaries.

16-Bit Pip via Kickstarter

The Environment

After watching the demo played by other PAX participants, the environment never ceased to amaze me. The colors and detail in textures made the demo ‘pop.’ There are not many games that fully capture an environment like this (unless your name is Shovel Knight). There were hidden areas within the demo with chests and villagers aplenty.

Part of PAX South Demo via Gamers in Beta

The demo was based on a portion of the game within a Temple. The mechanics of the game were easy to pick up from the start. For example, the demo taught me how to jump on enemies heads to reach higher areas. If I jumped on enemies heads that had a blue glow, it would give Pip the power to evolve/devolve. Thankfully, if I accidentally jumped on their head and missed a secret area, they would respawn later (I am not sure if that was for demo purposes or that is a game mechanic).

Near the end of the demo, I felt anxious and excited. Walls were closing from all around and I had to run as fast as I could. If blue blocks were in the way, I had to evolve/devolve to break them. There were walls that were too high, so I had to evolve/devolve into my 8-bit self and wall-jump as fast as I could. The ceiling and ground level were about to flatten me into no pixel Pip, but was able to evolve/devolve into 1-pixel Pip to fit inside a narrow space from harm. This entire scenario is what made this stick out from side-scrollers without time limits. Adventures of Pip could be one of my favorite indies this year based on this demo alone.

Pimping Pip Art via Nintendo News

Conclusions

Overall, Adventures of Pip has great ideas, amazing controls, and needs little tweaks. Each time I would pass by the booth, two people were always playing with smiles on their faces. I remember hearing from onlookers the phrase, “Awe, he’s so cute.” And I mean, look at him! That tiny, 1-pixel Pip is cute. I have a good feeling about this game and cannot wait to see the final results later this year. Adventures of Pip releases in May 2015 for the PC, Mac, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

Wait, who is this Pip? via Amazon

Early Impressions: Invisible, Inc.

Invisible, Inc. Logo

Invisible, Inc. is a turn-based stealth game where you are in control of a group of lethal, high tech spies capable of hacking anything. The game features randomly generated levels of all sizes, “permadeath,” turn-based strategy, and an active security system. You have 72 hours to build up your arsenal before your final mission. Can you bring your A-Team?

The A-Team via Hulu and IGN

The A-Team via Hulu and IGN

Klei Entertainment released Invisible, Inc. on PC as an early access game. Early access games are the new craze in the video game industry, which are early builds of the game where update after update comes out before the full release. Steam explains it best:

Get immediate access to games that are being developed with the community’s involvement.These are games that evolve as you play them, as you give feedback, and as the developers update and add content.

I am not a fan of early access games, but after watching one of my favorite YouTube channels, Northernlion, play the game, I decided to give Invisible, Inc. a try.

Pick Your Team

Before starting the first mission, you must choose your two-person team. Each character has the same set of skills, but some skills are more useful than others. The key differences between the characters are the items they carry, and their abilities. Choosing characters that work well together is the best way to complete your missions. The first two characters that are readily available are Deckard and Internationale.

Deckard and Internationale via Indie Game Insider

Deckard looks like your typical “cloak and dagger” detective (movie reference, not comic). He has a long face and wears a brown fedora and a dashing trench coat that makes it look as if he hovers off the ground when it moves around. He carries a taser and an invisible cloak. The taser is great for knocking out enemies for a limited number of turns, but it has to cool down after it is used. The invisible cloak is great to use when you are about to be caught, but you can only use it before an enemy sees you. Deckard has a stealth ability which gives him more movement points. Moving around in the level is important, but there are some more useful abilities from other agents, like Internationale’s “wireless interface” ability.

Internationale reminds me of a character from an old noir film, but with huge headphones over her ears. She is the hacking phenom in the game thus far. Like Deckard, she has a taser, but nothing else; her ability makes up for not having a second item. Internationale’s “wireless interface” ability allows her to interact with electronics from a distance, even through walls. This ability compliments Deckard’s enhanced movement, which makes the two of them a great starting team.

Based on my limited time playing Invisible, Inc., I found that there are two other unlockable characters to choose from. The first character unlocked is Shalem 11. This tall-looking, suit-wearing, hair-slicked-back professional is equipped with a rifle and larger inventory. He is also equipped with a taser, like most of the characters.

Shalem 11’s Complete Arsenal via Klei Forum

Banks is the other unlockable character in Invisible, Inc. She looks very similar to Deckard, sans-fedora. Not many people who play the Early Access unlock her since she is the last character to unlock and the game can be cruel at times (the difficulty was turned down in the second update though). Banks can bypass any red security doors and holds a unique tranquilizer that knocks out guards for longer periods of time.

Note: I highly recommend anyone trying this game out for the first time to dabble in the tutorial first before actually playing the story mode.

Stealth is Your Friend

Stay Out of Sight via Inc Gamers

When you first start a mission, you are always in a room with your other agent. It is good to plan where you want to go first before opening any doors. I usually split my characters up so I can cover all the rooms before the security level gets too high. The security level rises with each turn, killed guard, virus, camera, etc. There are tons of things that can go wrong to make this game increase in difficulty.

Before walking through any door, peek first. The peek option is very reliable and will save you a ton of hassle later on. By peeking, you can set up easy ways to knock out guards with your taser, find out if they are patrolling or stationed, and even spot hard to find cameras.

It is worth noting that you do have a limited number of AP (Action Points). Once you move a certain number of spaces, use a weapon or even peek through a door, you lose an action point for every little thing; you use no AP for hacking.

What a Hack

Hacking is one key to victory. You must use PWR (power) to hack any devices. To gain more PWR, there are terminals around the mission you can hack which can be done by closely standing next to one or using Internationale’s skill which can hack terminals from a distance (you do not need to use PWR to hack terminals); some skills may also help you gain PWR as well. When you obtain enough PWR, you can hack nearly everything in the mission.

The Red Can Be Hacked via Steam

Before you can hack anything, you must find or see those devices first. Cameras are the first things I like to hack because if you are seen by one, the security level rises and guards know where to find you. You can also find camera terminals to hack, which show you the location of all the cameras in the entire level. After you hack a camera, you can also see the entire room the camera is overlooking.

The third thing I like to hack is the safe. Each mission usually has one or two safes. Some big, some small, but all will give you something of value. Most of the time, you will obtain credits to help purchase more items, ammunition, and upgrades.

When I say there are a ton of things to hack, I mean it. Cameras and safes are the two most common, but you will also find turrets, motion sensors, robots and even security lasers. The possibilities are seemingly endless, but remember your PWR. Once it is all gone, it is not easy to find.

Drone Hack and Kill by Kotaku

Your Mission

The large mission map gives you tons of places to visit. Invisible, Inc. gives you an idea of each mission, but most are random. The main things you need to focus on are the time it takes you to get to that mission, and how well guarded it is.

Mission Map via Steam

Time plays a big factor with missions. The typical mission lasts 5 hours, so if it takes 9 hours to travel to a mission, you may only have time to do 3 missions in one day. Remember, you have 72 hours until your final mission. Each mission that leads up to your last mission prepares your characters with greater resources and upgrades. I like to pick the missions with the lowest travel times, and I try to ignore the guarded situations.

However, when you first start out, I advise that you choose the least guarded missions each time to get a better hang of the game. As you progress, it becomes unavoidable to choose from the most guarded missions. Developing your skills, purchasing useful items and maintaining you sanity will help you succeed in late game.

Jackpot via Indie DB

Conclusions

Even though this game is in early access, it has a lot of potential. If you are a fan of turned-based strategy games like X-COM, you will love this game. It is not as easy as X-COM, but it is easy to master once you get the hang of it.

I will leave you with a video from Northernlion, who inspired me to pick up this wonderful stealth game. Also, it is worth noting that I beat the first build of the game where there was no difficulty choice. I had to play it as is, and it was harder than most games should be. I am currently playing it on easy, and it is still difficult at times. Gamers can expect a challenge from this gem.

Hotline Miami: From Timid to Confident

Hotline Miami Logo by New Gamer Nation

Video games are not meant to be intimidating, they are meant to be inviting. When I sit down to play a new video game, I feel timid and excited at the same time. I have no idea what the controls are, but I am anxious to start playing like a pro immediately. After I go through the tutorial phase, I feel confident that nothing can defeat me. However, there was one game that did not fit this criteria: Hotline Miami.

I wrote about Hotline Miami on Polygon last year. I explained how I played Hotline Miami timidly at first, until I progressed through levels and became more confident with the gameplay and controls. Although, every now and then, something would happen to destroy that confidence, and I would be timid again. In this post, I will expand on the progress I made from being a timid player to a confident one within the game of Hotline Miami.

Hotline Miami is a top-down 2D indie video game that involves massive amounts of blood. The character is an amnesiac who is doing what he is told to do by three masked people. He does not have a name, but people refer to him as “Jacket.” Jacket is a lost soul who is trying to make sense of it all.

Timid – Do I like hurting other people?

A Question for Jacket via Theology Gaming

When I first stepped foot into the world of Hotline Miami, the tutorial was slim. I performed a few actions as a hobo told me I was doing a great job. A hobo taught me how to kill people.

Thanks for the training, hobo via Gamer Assault Weekly

The following scene pushed me to the ground and beat me with questions. Three people wearing animal masks sat down in front of me after I finished the tutorial. Suddenly, the interrogation started and I was lost for words. Why were three animals asking me who I was?

The Horse: Oh, you don’t know who you are? Maybe we should leave it that way?

The Chicken: Look at my face, we’ve met before… Haven’t we?

The Owl: I don’t know you. Why are you here?

I had no idea who I was, or what I was supposed to be doing. What I did know was that something happened on April 3, 1989. On that fateful night, I was told by a stranger to open a package with instructions to throw a briefcase into a specific dumpster once I obtained it from my first destination.

Hotline Miami would finally test my skills when I arrived at my first destination: The Metro. After choosing an animal mask to cover my face, I walked through the door, knocked a man unconscious and killed him. I bashed his head into the ground multiple times; it was very disturbing. After my first kill (not some tutorial), I felt like I could beat this game easily, until I walked into the bathroom.

I was confident, and knew this next guy urinating in the bathroom would be an easy kill. I opened the door and then… BOOM! I was dead. I asked myself, “What just happened?” My reaction time was slower than usual, so I blamed the controls, of course. Hotline Miami was one of the first video games where I had to use the keyboard instead of a controller. I am not a PC or Mac gamer, so this was all new to me. Every time I entered a room, I felt cautious and timid. The levels progressively got harder and I died far too often. Whenever I died in Hotline Miami, I restarted the entire level in my head. I asked myself, “What could I do differently?”

Acceptance: I’ve done terrible things

I know I have, horse via Counter Attack!

After an unfathomable amount of dying, it occurred to me that I was gaining more confidently and felt less intimidated. Each death taught me what I did wrong and how to fix it. I became faster and more agile. Hotline Miami was taking over and I no longer had to be forced to kill; I enjoyed it. The chicken asked, “Do I like hurting people?” Yes, yes I do.

Finally, I accepted my true calling: hurting people. My recklessness could be seen all over the levels. I killed human beings in ways I never thought could be done. There was an Uzi on the ground, a knife in the bathroom, a door where someone’s head should be, and more countless ways for me to kill.

Still, every time I entered a new environment, I felt timid, but quickly adapted. I had to kill to gain more confidence. The best part was that the controls became second nature after a few levels. I was moving around quicker, reacting faster to oncoming shanks, guns and dogs, plus I was having fun.

Confidence: I’m here

Pizza is my joint via PC Gamer

The closer I got to the final level, something clicked. I could pass through levels with ease, kill on command rather than taking my time, and I stopped feeling timid. My confidence level was through the roof and I did not plan on stopping.

I killed in ways that I never imagined when I first started the game. I went into rooms with four enemies and destroyed them within seconds. Hotline Miami did a great job making me believe the unbelievable. I was speechless after leaving a room filled with blood covered walls. I was no longer planning my kills, because I knew what would happen. I have always been told to think before I act, but Hotline Miami taught me act without thinking. Why? Sometimes there is violence without cause. Sometimes there is mindless violence. Either way, once I got to the ending, everything made sense. I knew why I killed.

A Perfect Run via Retro Nuke

It took a long time for me to gain the confidence I needed to succeed in this video game. More than halfway through the game, I was no longer intimidated by the controls or gameplay, when it would take much less time to do so in any other game. In fact, I wanted this game to last forever. One great thing about Hotline Miami was its replayability. There were tons of masks to collect and I wanted to get a better grade on each level. This grading scale made me plan my attack, but with confidence.

Hotline Miami is an intimidating video game. It takes time to perfect the controls, but it is well worth it in the end. Discovering how to adapt to this oddly disturbing video game with inadequate tutorials convinced me that confidence can and will prevail, even if I am timid. Each death in Hotline Miami serves as a constant reminder of this. I strove to be great at this game, and it paid off. I recommend this game to anyone who wants a challenge.