One of the games featured at the Sense of Wonder Night, a showcase for indie games at the Tokyo Games Festival, Nanosmiles is a 16-level little arena shmup with interesting gameplay and control scheme.
Your ship has no weapons; instead, on each level there are a number of subordinate ships you can take over by moving into them, beginning near your initial position. You move with the arrow keys, and the subordinates move with you, circling you when idle. Holding down the Z key (also used for select in menus) sends a radar ping out from your command ship, and when it intersects an enemy, your subordinates converge on and destroy it.
Asp is, fundamentally, an exploration of the limitations and advantages of AI opponents.
Each level, you control some number of 'alien' ship squadrons, opposed to some number of 'human' ship squadrons. Their AI is this: turn to the closest opponent and shoot. Your AI is different: move to the next waypoint set by the player, and shoot if the enemy is in the 60 degree arc of fire to my fore.
In other words, the enemy AI is actually superior, except that you get to set the waypoints. At least initially, before you get the hang of the game, the enemy is shooting, and destroying your ships, more often than the reverse, because they don't blindly move to the next waypoint, even when it's irrelevant, and always turn to face the next foe.
And yet, you do get to set those waypoints, and you know and can utterly predict the actions of the enemy AI (albeit looking too far into the future becomes increasingly difficult). Thus, if you are clever, you can out-maneuver them -- helped by the fact that, at least in earlier levels, you have superiority of force.
Asp is not a polished game; it's a student project, and it's entirely silent -- no music or sound effects, which are sorely missed. It does have a fair number of levels in a campaign game with a notional story attached -- but what's interesting, really, is the way it pits predictable opponents against only slightly less predictable ships controlled by the player -- the limits as well as the advantages of AI.
You could almost see this basic structure being elaborated upon and becoming a commercial game, with different AI behaviors for opponents and more sophisticated player squadrons introduced over time. But it's worth playing even without that for its originality and focus on one particular design issue.
The Last Ace is another one to chalk up to nostalgia. It's a side-scrolling shmup with 16-color pixellated graphics -- early arcade, or perhaps NES-level. Four lives, no additional ones ever, no continue. Your score depends partly on killing enemies (of which there are a variety, with different attack patterns), and partly on survival -- you earn 5 points/second for being in the lower half of the screen (which is generally modestly safer), and 10 points if in the upper half.
Shooting Star is munge between a space shmup and a mouse-avoidance game. The position of your ship is determined by the mouse; it shoots continuously (no button-mashing), in the cardinal directions simultaneously, then at a 45 degree skew, and repeat. Call it a "no-button game," in fact.
Submitted by Richi Hurtado on Mon, 07/28/2008 - 03:01.
The game that inspired Battleships Forever. If you enjoy space shooters, you will probably agree with me their most fun element is fighting gigantic, badass, fire-spreading bosses. Well, in Warning Forever, that's what you will be doing from beginning to the end.
Everyday Shooter is the ultimate genre orgy. We see a lot of stuff that subverts or explores the mechanical design space of a specific genre, particularly in the realm of shmups, but this here is the king crab of shoot-em-ups, the Kermit the Frog of shmuppery.
Singularis is a sort of shmup for amoebas. You play Proto, a protozoan with the unlikely ambition of becoming the most powerful being in the universe. Initially, you can do nothing more than move (which, in the default control scheme, you do by choosing direction with the mouse and pressing the Up arrow to move forward, or the Back arrow to move back). Later on, you gain additional abilities, including cilia to let you row yourself forward more quickly, and -- I did call it a shmup -- a gun. Or if you prefer, the ability to shoot destructive viruses at enemies.
Cactus is, it appears, unstoppable. He's a craftsman, and a living testament that it only takes a short time to design a game. In the indie game community, the 22-year-old Swede is looked upon as the gold standard of agility and style, with many being periodically infected with a disease known as "Cactus Envy". Now is an interesting time to review his work in that light, since a wave of content creation engines will allow less multi-talented designers to be cured of their Cactus Envy, and make similarly idiosyncratic games on similar time-scales.
Clean Asia! is a hardcore shmup that consists wholly of boss battles, carried in what appears to be vector graphics. There are three levels (called Thailand, New Korea, and China, hence the title), with different boss behaviors for each. What's unique and original about the game, however, is that your objective isn't so much shooting enemies as smashing enemies into debris, and then collecting that debris magnetically.
Battleships Forever -- a finalist in the "design innovation" category at this year's Independent Games Festival -- is billed by its designer, Sean Chan, as a space RTS. Actually, it's real-time tactics rather than strategy -- no diplomacy, no resource extraction or building construction, and here at PTT!, we are nothing if not anal in our identification of (and support for) obscure genres.
It's also very nice indeed, despite the occasional crash bug (but it's not yet up to version 1.0, so we may hope these will be taken care of).
Escape Goat is an excellent little puzzle platformer with a sort of NES sensibility and well-crafted levels. About the only bad thing I can say about it is that it's too short -- if you're a skilled platformer, you can get through it in under two hours -- but that is, in its own way, praise.
You play a purple goat who, according to what passes for a story, is attempting to escape from prison, which evidently involves getting through a set of platform levels. The challenge of the game is less in the platforming itself than in puzzle-solving; the controls are crisp and responsive, there's no combat as such, and the main challenges navigational.
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