There are a whole lot of games out there which, to one degree or another, can be described as “indie Dark Souls” and, to their credit, a surprising number of them are quite good. But none are as deserving of that title as Salt and Sanctuary. The methodical combat, the perpetual gloom, asynchronous multiplayer elements, and just about everything else is all right here. Ska Studios doesn’t just stick with the familiar though as this action RPG takes full advantage of its 2D perspective with plenty of platforming. Various other original touches, such as a rather literal skill tree, blend together with familiar features to create one of the best indie games out there. (more…)
If you had a computer in to 90’s, you probably also had at least one CD with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of shareware games on it. Sure, these types of CD’s are still around, but back in the day the games on these CD’s were pretty much the only commercial indie games around. Buried between hundreds of chess, mahjong, and tic-tac-toe clones, these obscure games are truly hidden gems.
Coming from an era where the term ‘indie game’ didn’t even exist and the expected method of payment consisted of sending money in the mail to a P.O. Box and hoping the developer 1) still lived in that area and 2) bothered to send you the password to unlock the full game, many of these gaming relics have been buried deep beneath the sands of time, lost and forgotten. God of Thunder is one such game, now free on Steam, and it contains all the cheesy humor, rad tunes, silly sound effects, and somewhat clunky combat you might expect from a 1994 shareware game alongside some design decisions which feel surprisingly ahead of their time. (more…)
Nuclear Man is a level with a solid theme, but it also doesn’t play around with it enough. This fire-filled level combines multiple red tiles and backgrounds to create a suitable aesthetic which gets varied up as you progress. The beginning is also strong with Mets and Hotheads placed alongside pits and vertical fire pillars for a fun, reasonable challenge. Unfortunately, this level’s shortcomings start to appear once you reach the first checkpoint.
The second portion of this level consists of climbing up and down ladders while stopping between horizontal fire traps. You need to be pretty careful while ascending since getting hit will force you to fall down a bit, though letting go of the ladder and taking a hit saves time while descending. Climbing is a somewhat slow process since you need to stop so often to avoid the traps, but it’s a decent room all the same and you even have a choice at the end between taking a shorter ladder to the exit or a longer ladder to some E-Tanks and M-Tanks. The issue here is that this ladder gimmick doesn’t just end with a single room.
The third section is overly similar to the second one. Instead of climbing up and down long ladders, you are now hopping between short ladders to avoid a health draining laser on the ground while also dodging horizontal fire traps and a few vertical fire pillars. Sure, it’s a bit different, but at the end of the day you’re still spending most of your time waiting for the traps to finish shooting, climbing a bit, and then waiting some more. Hops you need to make near the ceiling also feel oddly overly precise and the only way I was able to consistently make them was to use the reduced gravity of Star Crash. The tedium is broken up by a fun and unexpected water segment involving big robot fish and ceiling spikes, but the final section of the level goes back to the almost the exact same thing with a few minor changes like some fire traps being replaced by electric traps.
Your weapon selection and ‘Nuclear Man’ himself are largely underwhelming. You have a massive selection of weapons, eight total plus the Mega Buster and Rush Coil. Of these, only three are ever all that useful. I already mentioned how the reduced gravity of Star Crash helps with some of the jumps, but Plant Barrier and Perfect Freeze are also handy for absorbing or freezing the fire pillars (though most of the fire is horizontal and immune to these weapons). As for the other weapons, there are so few enemies in this level that there’s not much point to having them and I have no clue as to where Rush Coil is meant to be used; Silver Tomahawk can make some of the Hot Dog minibosses a little easier, but that’s about it. As for Nuclear Man himself, it’s just Bomb Man in a completely empty square room and Perfect Freeze obliterates his health.
With all this, is Nuclear Man a bad level? Not really, it’s still decent enough and even with the repetitive mechanics it’s on the shorter side. But it is a disappointing level. With a more unique boss room, a more carefully curated weapon selection, and a bit more willingness to experiment with its core mechanics it could have been fantastic. As it stands, Nuclear Man is decent, nothing more, nothing less.
The Palace of Nightmares is aptly named as it is filled with all sorts of challenges designed to seriously put your skills to the test. This is the most difficult Mega Man Maker level that I’ve completed, or at least the hardest one that remains (mostly) fair throughout, and some people may very well find it to be less fun and more frustrating. It begins with a makeshift elevator descending through groups of spikes while Killer Bullets (those Bullet Bill ripoffs from the original Mega Man) fly in from the sides and it only gets crazier from there. What separates this level from so many which feel too unreasonable is the fact that its creator has bothered to supply players with the tools they need for overcoming its challenges.
In addition to the default Mega Buster, you have the Skull Barrier, Magnet Missile, and Rolling Cutter at your disposal. I didn’t find much use for the Rolling Cutter outside of the boss fight, but many of the challenges here are crafted with the Magnet Missile and Skull Barrier in mind. For example, that initially elevator segment is much easier when you can just walk on the spikes with Skull Barrier, though getting hit by a Killer Bullet while on a spike would still be deadly. As for Magnet Missile, it’s invaluable against the many enemies placed on platforms above or below you which relentless lob projectiles. Of the two, Skull Barrier is slightly more useful. In addition to a mandatory spike-walking section, Skull Barrier can be used as a safety net in a room with disappearing blocks and its low energy cost means it can be employed to block projectiles if you want to save Magnet Missile energy.
The variety on display here is impressive and much of it shows a thorough understanding of Mega Man Maker’s mechanics. Pixel-perfect jumps between ladders, three rooms with disappearing blocks, and some Skull Barrier spike walking while dealing with projectiles and flying enemies are just some of the challenges that await. Perhaps the most mechanically interesting one of all is an enemy gauntlet near the end where you face off against some of the more defensive enemies. What’s special about this gauntlet is just how carefully all of the enemies seem to be chosen and placed; you need to constantly be careful about how you dodge around because walking backwards even slightly is often enough to result in a previously defeated foe respawning.
Checkpoints and, to a slightly lesser degree, weapon energy refills are spread about liberally so you’re never losing much progress if you die, which goes a long way towards cutting down any sense of frustration. This level’s appearance is also as varied as its challenges with the main ‘palace’ mainly being a combination of Pharaoh Man’s and Snake Man’s tiles while warps take you to places with distinctly different tilesets.
As for negatives, there are two places where the level design could be brushed up. The biggest issue is this level’s tendency to place Big Eyes right before checkpoints. These stomping behemoths are always a nightmare, but they are especially difficult to dodge around or defeat here because you are rarely given much room to fight them in. Getting hit even once is enough to take off at least half of Mega Man’s health and there’s little enjoyment to be had in getting crushed to death by a Big Eye after completing a difficult challenge.
The other issue involves the boss fight against Pharaoh Man and it’s far less concerning, though it is an issue all the same. Pharaoh Man’s arena is an interesting concept, but it doesn’t really work out in execution. To begin with, you’re given plenty of weapon energy before the fight because Pharaoh Man is immune to the Mega Buster; this is the one point in the level where Rolling Cutter can be rather useful. The arena in question is three screens wide and Pharaoh Man starts on a platform above Mega Man’s head. Other than the center of the arena, there are springs everywhere, spikes on the ceiling, Skeleton Joe’s ready to toss bones down at you, and some weapon energy refills on the far sides (right next to some Big Eyes, of course).
The enemies feel like overkill in what would already, presumably, be a tough arena for fighting Pharaoh Man, but that’s a potential issue which is negated by the more pressing issue. Basically, there is no real reason to use most of this elaborate arena unless you are in desperate need of weapon energy. You can just stay on the nice, flat floor near the start without worrying about enemies, spikes, and springs and still kill Pharaoh Man without much trouble. Custom boss arenas that go the extra mile are usually nice, but in this case a more standard single-screen arena would have worked better.
Aside from the slightly excessive number of Big Eyes, Palace of Nightmares is a great level which provides some very tough challenges while remaining entertaining.