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A comparison of indie platform games

I've been playing quite a few platform games of assorted different stripes recently. Thus, I've had a chance to realise what kinds of thing I like and dislike, by seeing assorted different takes on the genre.

Cave Story

Thanks to l_the_fangirl, I went and downloaded Cave Story and its English translation patch.
What's good: The plot is impressive, if rather bleak. The difficulty level scales pretty smoothly. There are lots of different weapons, each of which is useful in different circumstances. And the plot branches and the game has several endings.
What's not: The game apparently has lots of secrets, but they don't seem to be the kind of secrets I'm good at finding. (By comparison, I found every secret coin and star in Super Mario 63 below.) I found a number of difficult-to-access regions, but the rewards were minimal to nothing: mostly empty rooms or strange creatures who won't talk to you. Also, for a MetroidVania which is hyped for nonlinearity, it seems pretty linear.
Rating: I think I'd need to play it through a couple more times to be able to say.

Super Mario 63

An Flash game which makes unlicensed and thus illegal use of lots of Mario graphics and sounds from his assorted 2D incarnations. Play it online here.
What's good: Highly nonlinear: there are 64 stars and 64 coins to collect, spread through 12 worlds and the castle, and you can do them in whatever order you like. The gameplay is classic Mario in the best way, with the FLUDD from Mario Sunshine back-ported to 2D style. The level names and themes are mostly homages to levels from Mario 64, but the puzzles and specific level designs are new.
And the game's absolutely brimming with secrets, from obvious ones to really tricky and subtle ones. The difficulty curve is great as well: by world 3 things are getting a little tricky, Bowser's worlds are nasty, but the fun-to-frustration balance is very nicely done. (Okay, apart from the route to the very final star, which took me 50+ lives to beat. But that was a fitting conclusion to an excellent game.)
What's not: Not much to say here. The bonus for getting all 64 coins would have been rather more useful at 63. There are one or two glitches, but they're extremely rare.
Rating: Almost full.


Found this one following a link from Vitenka on the ToothyWiki FreeGames page. It's a big explore-the-map affair.
What's good: The regions of the map are pleasingly diverse. And the map is pretty big.
What's not: There's nothing to do. Really. The only tasks are explore and collect 20 items, which do nothing. Which is fine as far as it goes, but... I'd much prefer it if those items did something, or if any of the people you find could be interacted with, or if there was any kind of plot, or... I thought I liked exploration games, but it seems this game is too pure exploration even for me. The map is very large, but there's nothing to stop you going straight from one end to the other: no regions inaccessible without a given item, no jump upgrades, not even any doors and keys.
Rating: Quarter-jump.

An Untitled Story

Another link from Vitenka on the FreeGames page, but this one's a lot more to my taste.
What's good: This game has properly nonlinearity: there'll be at least 3 or 4 open areas at any given time, and if you find one of them too tricky, you can easily head off to try a different one and maybe get a couple more powerups to help you in that one. The characters actually talk (once you get the right powerup), the regions have names and distinct flavour, and there are a huge number of powerups, most of which open up either new areas, or new sections of old areas. The bosses are tricky, often taking 2-5 tries but rarely more than 10, which feels about right to me. The automap shows your percentage completion of the whole thing, and lets you warp between save points (once you get the right powerup), which is an excellent feature. There's a nice helping of secrets and rewards for doing certain sections flawlessly. And everything just flows smoothly: it's quick to teleport around to the areas you want to try, it's quick to restart when you die, and the game gets out of your way and lets you get on with playing it.
What's not: The graphics seem pretty MS Paint-y, particularly at first. There's not much of a plot.
Rating: 880.


"A cute platformer with a dark secret".
What's good: I really like games which have multiple versions of the same level, each of which behaves subtly differently. This is the central conceit of this game, and it does it well. The spoof of the happy platform game is funny, and it gets nicely creepy as the game goes on. The final level is a puzzle masterpiece of weaving the seven different depths together.
What's not: It's basically a light piece of Lovecraftian fluff (and there's a sentence I've never written before). Don't expect too much.
Rating: Three tentacles.


What's good: It's a comedy tweak of the platform game with a very interesting twist. Most levels are pretty easy to reach the end, but most of them are startlingly difficulty to get every treasure.
What's not: Like Eversion, it's just a simple fluffy free game; don't expect too much.
Rating: ZZA


Well, I have been playing Portal as well, and it is clearly a platform game. But it's not free (although thanks to a link from robhu I got it for £3), it's 3D, and it's generally sufficiently different to the others above (and probably doesn't count as "indie" any more either) that I'm not going to try to compare it. Nonetheless, it's very cool, and I love the sense of humour. "The Enrichment Centre would like to remind you that the Weighted Companion Cube will never threaten to stab you, and in fact, cannot speak. In the event that the Companion Cube does speak, the Enrichment Centre urges you to disregard its advice."
Rating: 83 mph.

Does anyone have any recommendations of other games I should try? I'm probably planning to try Braid at some point soon.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 6th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
I like your rating system!

I don't even remember sending you a link for Portal!
Aug. 6th, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC)
It was one of those random deals you email round now and then. Early January, I think. It's the only thing I've ever bought from one of those emails ;)
Aug. 6th, 2009 10:47 pm (UTC)
But ... the pool!
Aug. 7th, 2009 08:55 am (UTC)
I... won't claim we weren't tempted by the pool ;)
Aug. 7th, 2009 09:07 am (UTC)
Then perhaps I can tempt you further?
Aug. 6th, 2009 05:07 pm (UTC)
Any more? Portal was developed by Valve from start to finish.
Aug. 6th, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)
That's superficially true.

It was developed from start to finish once Valve hired the entire indie development team of Narbacular Drop, which is the forerunner to Portal.
Aug. 6th, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC)
you could try Trine? its a 2D platformer which uses 3D assets, and a physics system. you play 3 characters in one: a wizard, a theif and a (rather overweight) knight. each character has different abilities: as the wizard you can levitate things and draw boxes on the screen which will appear as physical boxes that drop down, as the theif you have a bow so can swing from things, and as the knight you have a sword and shield so can fight enemies. each character can level up their skills too.

the demo is free on Steam and is nice and long so you can decide how much you like the game.

downsides are:

-its by a small-time company so the game is relatively expensive to buy the full version (i think £20), i guess so they have more of a chance of making back the cost of putting it together? ^^;
- apparently its quite easy
Aug. 6th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, yay. Like the Lost Vikings series? They had levels where you control 3 different characters, each with different abilities, and you needed to combine all of them to complete the level. No levelling-up or drawing though. I might well try the Trine demo - thanks!

...Wait - "a bow so you can swing from things"? Not the most conventional use of a bow that I can think of... I'm sure it'll make sense when I play the game tho :)
Aug. 6th, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
lol! i'm so great at explaining things XD you can shoot arrows into things like branches to swing across gaps etc.

erm...i've not played the lost vikings series ^^;
Aug. 7th, 2009 08:57 am (UTC)
Aha - like a Batrope / Worms Ninja Rope ^.^
Lost Vikings were classics of the 2D platforming era. I actually only played the first one on my Amiga, but one time my company flew me to the USA a few years back, the seat-back entertainment had Lost Vikings II along with the usual 20 dire games, and I spent about 4 hours playing it there; it's just as good as the first one :)
Aug. 6th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
Given your preferences, Braid would be perfect for you. I've recently beaten it and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Cave Story does have a lot of, how you say, Guide Dang It moments.
Aug. 7th, 2009 04:52 am (UTC)
Cool reviews all. :) There's a couple there that I'll definitely try out.

Personally, I'm a huge fan of Cave Story (note the icon ^^) but it does get pretty hard in places. The empty rooms and / or critters that don't talk to you could be connected to your weapon choice (depending on how far you got). Not taking an offered weapon upgrade often means a different one will be offered by some later person. For the most powerful gun you have to carry the most basic one for quite a lot of the game (that said, the first upgrade offered has a nice side effect when fired downwards). It is pretty linear but I really like the story, especially when you find out more about what's going on.

From your complaints on Knytt, I'd highly recommend Niflas' other games: Knytt Stories and Within a Deep Forest. The former includes an editor and has quite a lot of user generated levels out there (of very varying quality). Both are challenging and (IMHO) fun.
Aug. 7th, 2009 04:57 am (UTC)
Oh, also, and purely for amusement sake: You Only Live Once (play in Japanese with English subtitles for full effect!) and You Have to Burn the Rope (play with sound on).
Aug. 7th, 2009 08:30 am (UTC)
I discovered the machine-gun hovering before I got the jetpack; it was how I assumed you had to get to the too-high-to-reach places, but almost none of them seemed to have anything good in. After reading the game's TVTropes page in frustration I was musing that they miiight all be related to having chosen to upgrade my weapon once.

It's a weird kind of difficulty. To progress along the main path isn't too hard, though some of the bosses were quite tricky. To get the bonuses seems to be where all the difficulty is, which... I guess is as it should be. The same is true of many of the other games I listed, in fact, and I view it as a good thing there.

I think it was more that the game didn't seem to have secrets in any of the places I thought to look for them. Along the ceilings of rooms once you had machine-gun-flight, invisible passages, trying to use/talk to/go through any slightly unusual bits of scenery, invisible passages behind invisible destructible walls... there was one such but that turned out to be part of the main plot.

I'd heard the game hyped as having loads and loads of secrets, and I was just startled to not find any where I went looking. I think I found a couple of heart containers and one weapon.

I guess I should find some hints and give it another go.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )