Indie Excavation: The Semi-Glorious Return
Digging for more indie gold on Steam
After a brief hiatus (and perhaps in advance of another one), the excavation of Steam returns. This time, it's a mixed lot - we'll be fighting off aliens in an arcade environment, but not before hunting down a historical villain.
As always, if you want to clue me in on an overlooked indie title, you can leave a comment on SUPERJUMP's Twitter or send me a message on my site.
Watch the games in action:
Wallachia: Reign of Dracula
Migami Games - 2020 - $9.99
A bit of background: Wallachia was an independent principality in modern-day Romania which existed from roughly 1330 to 1859, when it merged with Moldavia. It is perhaps best known today as the home of Vlad III Tepes, a.k.a. "Vlad the Impaler," the historical Dracula. Held by the Ottomans for years to enforce his father's compliance, Vlad eventually found his freedom and, in 1456, invaded Wallachia with Hungarian support and claimed the title of voivode. This is also where our first game, Wallachia: Reign of Dracula, begins.
(Incidentally, since I can't seem to get away from Europa Universalis IV...if you choose to play Wallachia in that game, you can get Dracula as your ruler after the first voivode dies. So there's that)
The game puts the player in the role of Elcin, a young noblewoman who's entire family is wiped out during Dracula's 1456 purge of the boyars. Six years later, Elcin is drafted into a plot by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II to assassinate Dracula and install his brother, Radu III, as voivode. If that's too much to take in, the shorter version is thus: Dracula bad, kill him.
Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is meant to be based more on history than mythology. Not too close, mind - I'm pretty sure that the real Dracula didn't have access to a hallucinogenic mist that let him turn into a dragon, although I may have missed that reference. Nevertheless, you will encounter levels drawn from historical events, such as the night raid on Targoviste (in which Dracula narrowly missed capturing Mehmed II) and the infamous "forest of the impaled" that greeted the Ottoman invaders.
In terms of gameplay, Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is an arcade-style sidescroller in the vein of Ghouls 'n Ghosts or Magic Sword. Elcin comes equipped with the standard suite of abilities any arcade hero might possess - eight-way chargeable shot, double jump, slide, and screen-clearing super moves - along with a few novel tricks such as an arrow-destroying sword. The game is challenging but fair, with the difficulty coming more from the need for fast judgments rather than fast fingers.
BitBull Ltd - 2020 - $9.99
For all of the "spiritual successors" to NES games, it's remarkable how few upgraded versions of golden age arcade games exist. Enter our second game as one of the exceptions. It's called Jetboard Joust, but a more descriptive title might be Defender: The Next Generation.
...Oh, did you think it might be based on Joust? Don't be silly.
Right from the start, there are several points of comparison with the Williams arcade classic. Each stage takes place on a horizontally looping planet with little alien civilians on the surface. Enemies spawn in and attempt to carry those little aliens to the top of the screen, at which point the enemy turns into a faster, more aggressive threat. All of this should be familiar.
So what's new? For starters, there's more than one level, and the player has to chart a map through each planet. Each level features new enemies beyond the standard abductors; fortunately, the player can also acquire a wide range of secondary weapons to deal with them. Naturally, there's an upgrade system as well - your little jetboard riding defender can get a range of offensive and defensive upgrades. This is accomplished either by summoning and fighting miniboss-type enemies at the end of each level or by purchasing them between levels with points earned by protecting aliens. Oh, and there are bosses now - big ones.
While there are a few less-than-desirable quirks, Jetboard Joust is overall a very fun little throwback shooter. Defender with upgrades is, it turns out, a worthy idea, and the aesthetic (which manages to capture the feel of the 80s without being Yet Another Generic Pixart Game) is certainly charming.
Kimeric Labs - 2016 - $4.99
You know how it goes: It's been a long day at the office, just one thing after another. You're on your way home, just hoping that nothing else goes wrong when out of nowhere you're abducted by aliens working for the galaxy's most popular reality TV show/bloodsport. Okay, so maybe that last part isn't universal, but you get the gist: Satellite Rush is the story of the worst, weirdest day of your life.
Satellite Rush is a lightweight twin-stick shooter with a few little quirks to distinguish it from its competition. The most significant distinction is in the interstellar audience cheering the player on. This audience is the source for all of the power-ups acquired - keep them excited, and they'll throw you a steady stream of weapons. Since your default pea-shooter is pretty unimpressive, you will want those weapons, and that means playing a little more aggressively than in some other twin-sticks.
All in all, Satellite Rush is a short game, but it can also be deceptively difficult. There are three arenas that can be cleared in any order, and while the first one is generally pretty easy, completing one of them adds additional challenges to the game that make subsequent arenas significantly more challenging.
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