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The Complete Indie Platformer Marathon

The Indie Platformer Marathon is finished! Featuring fifteen games (although one of them turned out to technically not be indie and another turned out to not be a platformer) and lasting a whopping four months (with a vacation in the middle, admittedly), it was exactly equivalent to a real marathon. Here are links to each entry in one handy place:

Thomas Was Alone
Celestial Mechanica
Intrusion 2
Mark of the Ninja
And a very special bonus post highlighting some indie platformer classics.

Time to play something else.

Indie Platformer Marathon: Fez

Having decided that I couldn’t rightly end the marathon with Mark of the Ninja, because it may not technically be an indie game, I looked for another fitting finale. And what better choice is there than Fez? As one of the three games profiled in the documentary film Indie Game: The Movie, Fez is about as indie as it gets.

Actually, that first paragraph is a lie. Partly because Fez spent quite some time as an Xbox exclusive, and all games on Xbox must have a publisher, putting it in the same boat as Mark of the Ninja (although I didn’t see any Microsoft Studios logos in Fez, so it may have a more legitimate “indie” claim). But mostly it’s a lie because that’s not really the reason I decided to end the marathon with Fez. I’ve wanted to play Fez since I first saw its brilliant rotation mechanic in a video years ago, and when it released on PC as the marathon was winding down I knew I had to squeeze it in.

Technically Not Indie Platformer Marathon: Mark Of The Ninja

You can click on images to see larger versions.

The release of Mark of the Ninja way back in October was what originally inspired me to do the Indie Platformer Marathon. It reminded me that I’d been collecting quite a lot of cool-looking indie platformers, but hadn’t actually played them yet. So I figured I’d play through a bunch at once, with Mark of the Ninja as the finale. It wasn’t until after the Marathon was underway that I learned that Mark of the Ninja is not actually indie — it’s published by Microsoft Studios, and Microsoft are kind of the opposite of indie. But then I learned that it isn’t that simple. Apparently if you want to release your game on the Xbox 360 (or the upcoming Xbox One), your game must have a publisher. Microsoft does not allow self-published games on their consoles. That means that, since I’ve defined “indie” as “self-published”, there are no indie games on the Xbox. But there is an “Xbox Live Indie Games” service, so what does that mean? Apparently, if you’ve got a game that you self-published, and you want to get it on the Xbox, then you sign a deal with — surprise surprise — Microsoft Studios.

So how much involvement did Microsoft studios really have with Mark of the Ninja? Did they just act as the distributor on Xbox, or were they actually funding (and influencing) development? Developers Klei Entertainment have a strong indie track record, from their early title Eets to their latest title Don’t Starve, but they’re most famous for Shank, which was actually published by Electronic Arts (possibly also as a bid to get on the Xbox). So is Mark of the Ninja actually indie? I don’t know. To be safe, I’ve decided to extend the marathon to one more game (OK, I was actually going to do that anyway, it doesn’t really have anything to do with whether Mark of the Ninja is indie or not), making this the penultimate entry. More importantly, though: who cares? Let’s talk about how excellent Mark of the Ninja is.

Indie Platformer Marathon: Unmechanical

Please remember that you can click on images for larger versions. It’s worth it for these, trust me.

So, it turns out that Unmechanical is not really a platformer. I knew it was about a little flying robot, but I thought it would be similar to Nimbus in that the robot would constantly be fighting against gravity as it navigated through the areas in the game. This is not the case; the robot is happy to remain perfectly stationary in mid-air when I stop pressing the arrow keys. The only similarity with a platformer, then, is the side-on viewpoint. I didn’t let that stop me, though, because Unmechanical charmed me from the get-go, and didn’t stop until I had finished the game.

Indie Platformer Marathon: Intrusion 2

Here are some things I did in Intrusion 2:

  • Got punched by a hoverplane sporting giant robot arms
  • Blew a hole in a mountain with an over-sized laser cannon
  • Hijacked a mech suit and got into a swordfight with another mech suit
  • Shot at giant robot snakes while snowboarding down a mountain on a piece of discarded armor plating
  • Fought flying robot squids while riding a giant wolf
  • Blew the thumbs off of a truly enormous robot

Intrusion 2 is awesome.

Indie Platformer Marathon: Vessel

Please remember that you can click on images for larger versions.

Games have always had a certain obsession with water. Water is notoriously difficult to model, so game designers have sought all sorts of tricks to make it look more realistic. Early attempts were often simple flat planes, with a change of the color palette (and sound effects) to indicate when the player was submerged. Later, pre-made looped animations could create impressive waterfalls or rivers, but these failed to respond believably when the player or another object interrupted the flow. Even modern games like Skyrim use different methods to make the water look and feel realistic with varying degrees of success; advanced mathematics determine how the liquid surface reflects light, which looks stunning, but most bodies of water are still flat planes with canned wave animations. Water that actually behaves realistically is virtually unheard of in games.

Things are moving ever forwards, of course. From Dust has some pretty cool water and lava physics, and fancy new graphics tech can render some fantastic-looking water in real time, although it’s not in any games yet. But while realistic water in a three-dimensional environment may still be in the early stages, some two-dimensional games already offer real fluid dynamics. Vessel is such a game.

Indie Platformer Marathon: Barbarium

Unlike the rest of the games in the Marathon, Barbarium was actually released after the Marathon started. That was still over two months ago, however. This is why I used the word Marathon for this series. Anyway, Barbarium is the first game from Hypnohustler Games, which is actually a single person with no prior programming experience. It’s quite impressive, considering, and I’m not surprised it took two years to make.

As the title suggests, it’s a game about a barbarian. By which I mean a huge, hulking man wearing nothing but a fur speedo, carrying a big sword in one hand and a laser pistol in the other.

Oh yeah, there are laser pistols too.

Indie Platformer Marathon: Snapshot

The next game in the Marathon is Snapshot, by the two-man team known as Retro Affect (and otherwise known as Kyle Pulver and David Carrigg). Kyle Pulver has been developing indie platformers for some time, starting with Bonesaw: The Game which got a brief mention in my round-up of indie platformer classics. But he’s better known for his later work, including Jottobots (with J. Otto Seibold) and Offspring Fling. For David Carrigg, however, Snapshot is (I believe) his first platformer, as he was previously working on MMOs (that’s Massively Multiplayer Online games, for those who don’t know; think World of Warcraft). And apparently there was a third member of the team, Peter Jones, who has since departed but did some art and animation work for Snapshot.

Snapshot’s premise is simple and immediately intriguing. The player character, a small robot named PIC, has the ability to capture certain objects by taking a photograph of them. It can then drop these items again in a different location, sometimes after rotating them first. The early stages start with simply moving boxes around, as any good platformer should, but things quickly become more complex as the variety of objects (and creatures) that can be captured grows. Springboards, projectiles, doors, flying platforms, magnets… all of these things can be captured and used in interesting ways.

Indie Platformer Marathon: Nimbus

The next entry in the Marathon, Nimbus (also available on Desura), was originally released back in 2010, but I didn’t pick it up until it appeared in the first Indie Royale bundle the following year. And, before I go any farther, let’s get this out of the way: many people will not consider Nimbus to be a platformer. The playable character in the game is some sort of flying craft, and it tends to avoid platforms rather than jump on them. While it’s tempting to respond to these people by stating that this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, in this case I think I’m legitimately justified. Nimbus really does feel like a platformer, even if it doesn’t play like a traditional one. Levels are brightly-colored, physically impossible configurations of floating platforms, peppered with bounce pads, color-coded switches, keys that must be collected to open doors, and rotatable cannons for propelling the ship, just like the barrels in Donkey Kong Country. Oh, and spikes. Lots and lots of spikes. Sound like any platformers you know? The levels are even connected to one another via a map that’s straight out of Super Mario World, complete with level names like “World 1-4” and “World 3-3”. And of course there are secret exits in certain levels leading to bonus levels or alternate paths. Even the (extremely limited) story recalls the Mario games: a big evil thing kidnaps your spaceship friend! Go rescue it!

Essentially, Nimbus asks a question that we have all asked ourselves at some point in our lives: what if Mario were a spaceship?

Indie Platformer Classics

The next game in the Indie Platformer Marathon is taking longer to complete than expected, so I figured I’d tide things over by covering some other classic indie platformers you might be interested in. Some I’ve already posted about on this blog; be sure to read about LIMBO, Trine (actually this may not technically be indie), Spelunky (the original freeware version), VVVVVV, Stealth Bastard (which recently got a fancy new for-sale version), Treasure Adventure Game (which has a semi-remake called Treasure Adventure World in development), Noitu Love 2, Poacher, You Have To Win The Game, Moustache King Adventure, Red Rogue, and Endless Forms Most Beautiful, if you haven’t already. And don’t miss my previous round-up of super-hard platformers, if you’re into a bit of challenge. But there are many others that I haven’t posted about, or have only mentioned in passing, and I figured they deserve highlighting as well. Click through to read about some of them.

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