Friday, March 22, 2013

Demo Friday: Flattery will get you everywhere

There is no shortage of one hit death side scrolling platformers on XBLA. How does one stand out from the crowd? Will anything ever compare to 'Splosion Man? No, but one of these two could be mentioned in the same sentence as Rayman Origins without a hint of sarcasm.

Let's count the games that this looks like.
Off the top of my head, Limbo crossed with Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, but it's Friday, which means I don't want to think very hard.

What Alien Spidy really looks like is a browser based flash game. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Alien Hominid started out that way and its jump to a retail release worked very well. This one, not so much. All the  good game parts are there in roughly the correct ratios. Interesting art style, cute protagonist, levels filled with bits of junk to collect, quick re-spawns to make death less painful. All the check boxes are filled but the game still doesn't quite work. It only take one twist or interesting mechanic to stand out from all the other platformers. 'Splosion Man had 'sploding. Rayman had being impossible beautiful.

Alien Spidy chose a swing mechanic in conjunction with a fidgety physics engine. There are two ways to use it: either take your thumb off of the jump button and stab the right analog stick in the direction you what to shoot webbing or just hit X and hope it hits the target you want it to hit. The first way is physically impossible and the second leaves too much up to chance, the end result being swinging around is just not much fun. Missing a target means falling and almost everything kills you. Letting go at the wrong time also means missing your target because the way the spider falls never feels predictable. More time with the game would have probably helped but I lost interest before I finished the demo. One too many errant swings sent my spider flailing to his doom and I decided he deserved the rest.

...

I had never heard of the Giana Sisters games before.  I never owned a Commodore 64 or Amiga, either, and those were among the only systems to see them. There were, to be blunt, Super Mario Bros rip offs. Look at this:


Yeah, that's pretty blatant. And there was a DS version that didn't look much different.

Flash forward a few years and Spellbound Entertainment is gone. A few of the key developers took out a kickstarter, got it funded, and put out Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams. This is the result:

This is something worth looking at
I was not kidding up above when I said there was going to be a game that could be mentioned unironically next to Raymen Origins. It gets better: every level is actually two levels. As you switch back and forth between sisters the level changes as well, both visually and physically. I don't care about the story and I certainly don't care why these two girls inhabit the same body. What matters is this switching mechanic creates incredibly difficult and fun obstacles.

The two sisters have different abilities: the pink one above can twirl in a cute way, slowing her fall. The red one has an explosive 8 way dash that kills enemies and smashes blocks. You can switch at any time and in a brilliant move it can be done with either the right trigger or the dash or float buttons. This allows the game to throw puzzles at you that require incredibly precise timing. It the last demo level I had to switch back and forth, dashing and floating while avoiding mine carts full of spikey crystals. It was excellent because it made sense. When I died I knew why I died and it was not due to the fickle mood of the physics engine. I died because I missed a jump or a dash. That made trying it again less of a chore and more of a challenge.

I spent forty five minutes on the demo and would have bought it if I had nothing else to play. Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams stands out both in how it looks and how it plays. Its spotted history of ripping off Nintendo just makes it more interesting.

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