Ice Fishing V
Possibly the most surreal experience I’ve had without the aid of a corrupted graphics card driver. A contender for videogames’ 2001, it marries striking visuals with a heavy soundscape into a unique world that not even a crowded and noisy Rezzed floor could impinge upon.
Offering very little explanation, this first-person adventure drops you into a world of red, white and black geometry, your only aim to move towards a white lift that transports you to further bizarre settings. From planes scattered with ice shards to floating in a void filled with six large eye balls, you are left to wonder and ponder your way through this abstract maze taking in the sights as you go.
The only interaction with the world that’s open to you is through red beams fired with a click of the mouse. They glide away into the distance, bouncing off surfaces until the world is a series of geometric noise. Most progression is triggered by cannoning this ability off of the various white objects in the world, turning them red in the process, and unlocking your exit. At least this is what I believe I’d gathered but given how little I understand about the rest of Ice Fishing that could have been pure coincidence.
Taken at a glance it could be easily be dismissed as a piece of performance art, but the puzzle nature of your progression is intriguing. If it keeps on layering on the interesting locks between worlds then it could prove as much substance as style.
Whereas many dungeon crawlers offer elusive suits of armour, magical weaponry and fantastical buffs as loot, FranknJohn offers but one simple upgrade path: find better heads. You see your skull is your weapon of choice here, capable of being swung away on a chain and whipped at your enemies to do damage. It starts off as a simple wrecking ball but as you delve deeper into this rogue-like it can be swapped out for anything from spinning blades to fire balls.
Though not on show, those were just two example offered to us by developers bitsmith who have only been shaping the game for a matter of weeks. It’s a definite work in progress but already they’ve managed to fashion randomly generated levels and a very Torchlight-esque art style that takes the dungeon setting and puts a characterised slant on it. Impressively, at this early stage, you also get to see the lower floors sitting underneath your current floating room, offering an insight as to what faces you on the road ahead.
Rather than being a straight slog through the underground corridors however, the world of FranknJohn is separated out into arena battles. Here the combat shows potential as you mix the right-stick driven physics of your bonce attacks with a myriad of traps that litter each room, allowing you to coax evil spellcasters and monsters to a spikey death. My one criticism would be that in its current guise the combat could become repetitive. The nature of your attack, though seemingly projectile, feels more like a brawler due to its limited range and not all the enemies on show felt complementary to that style of fighting.
Anyone who has an ounce of understanding as to command lines and programming will no doubt have seen at least a dozen movies in their time where Hollywood makes it appear as though all you need to do to crack the Pentagon’s security net is to type fast. Really fast. Hacker takes that ludicrous concept and runs with it.
A simple interface reminiscent of old DOS shells of the past and heavy in ASCII symbols it challenges you to “type” as fast as you can, filling up a hack meter before a brutal time limit expires. Extra points are rewarded for varying where you type on the keyboard but any sense of finesse should be forgotten.
Further challenge comes when certain characters are banned, but this is a simple premise executed very knowingly. It’s lifespan on your screen will no doubt be short but that’s probably a good thing if only to avoid RSI.
Touch screen controls have always been very subjective. One man’s love of a virtual joystick is another’s idea of hell. And so to see such universal praise amongst all I saw share and compete on Helix’s high score table was something quite novel.
A single screen game, you control a sprite that must avoid being touched by any of the host of other sprites that begin to invade the screen. To do so you move your finger about the screen but rather than being obscured under your digit it permanently hovers away from it. Initially this leads to a sensation that it’s attached to your finger by an elastic band, as though you’re sling-shotting it across the surface of the tablet, but before long it becomes incredibly intuitive and you find yourself weaving in and out of danger despite lacking any direct control, and your movements being nowhere near the action itself.
Its core mechanic is very much like Geometry Wars’ Pacifism mode except with an art style that reminds me of 80s graffiti, decked out in neon colours. Unlike Pacifism though it is possible to dispatch the other sprites who are intent on crowding you out. Moving about will start to draw a circle around them and should you complete that circle then they explode earning you some points in the process. It’s a wonderfully fresh approach to a genre that has been around almost as long as the pastime itself, and for extra difficulty there are those that need multiple circles or circles drawn in specific directions.
For many games it’s all about the ‘feel’, and Helix managed to capture that perfectly. It could be a wonderful new take on an old favourite.
With all the bright colours on show at Rezzed, it was curious that the first game I was drawn to displayed such a muted palette. The sepia tones gives this 2D dog fighting game an aging look, yet what is rendered is anything but; dozens of pixelated planes crowd the screen, all firing oversized bullets towards your tiny craft, whilst on the sea below enemy ships alternate between launching aerial reinforcements and homing missiles.
Though never quite “bullet hell” the action on-screen is non-stop as you pirouette and dive through the gaps in the enemy waves before firing back on them as you drop towards the sea. It has the feeling of a manic Asteroids or Solar Jetman to it. As you release the throttle your highly manoeuvrable aircraft uses any momentum it has to continue gliding forward whilst you rotate freely firing back on your pursuers.
There’s more than simply a high-score challenge too as plane parts can be swapped out to alter not only handling and weaponry but your objectives. Furthermore they take advantage of the environment as with the right engine or fuselage you can take a quick dip in the drink to avoid an incoming volley of fire before resurfacing unscathed and continuing the aerial duel.
It’s the arcade fluidity that proves Luftrausers’ strongest facet, with your movement through the sky as graceful or jarring as you want. Though there is a free flash version online it does not do justice to the frantic nature or variety available in the forthcoming release.