And so the third Indie Uprising ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Barely even that, really. The Uprising ends in a kind of void. In a black space where nothing exists but the lost souls of videogame potential. Good ideas turn into bad games, and their souls linger here in this void where they must remain for eternity in a reality where E.T. on the Atari 2600 should have sold gangbusters.
It started so well. Week one gave us hit after hit. qrth-phyl was followed by Diehard Dungeon was followed by Gateways was followed by Smooth Operators, and we have the vaguest notion that there was something else in there too but we can’t think what it might have been. Four fantastic games though. Four of the best this year on any platform. Week two then, gave us the poor Entropy, the criminally short City Tuesday, and then followed that with Xenominer.
Xenominer, as its name may imply, is a clone of Minecraft. “Wait!” said the developer. “I see a gap in the market here! With only 712 Minecraft clones on Xbox LIVE Indie Games, surely there’s money being left on the table?” and thus was born their Minecraft clone. This one is set in space; you crash land on a planet and must use your P.I.C.K. (hilarious) to move blocks around. It’s just phenomenally pointless. If it took part in a quiz show with Alexander Armstrong, it would perform so well that there would be accusations of cheating. “Nothing can be that pointless,” they’d say, but they’d be wrong because Xenominer really is that pointless. Nothing it tries to add to the genre affects gameplay in any positive way, such as its bot system which, in theory, allows you to program a bot to build structures for you. In reality, the interface is so inept that its literally impossible to use. The games ugly, it’s boring, and most of all it’s annoying – forcing the player to mine in the dark because when the sun comes up its radiation will kill you. If you want to play something like Minecraft then just play Minecraft, because anything else is just an absolute waste of your time.
Pixel was supposed to be the saviour. A puzzle game in a first person view, and so almost similar to Entropy in a one sentence description – except this one could have been good. You’ll note the unfortunate use of the word “could,” there.
The idea is sound enough. You start at one end of a map and have to reach the exit at the other end. There are moving platforms to navigate, and your gun can aid you in doing so. It fires an electric charge that can extend platforms or complete circuits to extend other platforms. It fires a beam that can slow down the movement of a platform, and it generally offers the potential for some interesting puzzling. Combine this with some green jump-blocks which launch you far into the distance and theres additional potential for some excellent platforming, too.
It never matches this potential however, being blighted by issues. The biggest issues are with the platforming, and the biggest issue within those issues is that it’s very difficult to judge where you’re jumping. Platforming is usually terrible in first person games, but games like Mirror’s Edge manage to make it work with shadows and visible feet. No such luck here and, with the entire game awash with white, it’s very difficult to know where you are in relation to the ground, so the inch perfect jumping the game often requires only results in frustration. Then there’s the times where you simply don’t jump at all, the A-button completely unresponsive as you just run off the side of a platform no matter how far from the edge you were when you pressed it. If you’re lucky you’ll glitch up to where you were jumping but it’s a poor thing to have to hope for.
The puzzles are an issue as well, because too often they can be bypassed with the minimum of fuss. Some levels contain buttons to press to extend bridges, but you can simply jump over the gap and clear the level in seconds. Other levels have other quirks to exploit and they’re never tough to spot which is the key, really. Having alternate solutions is one thing, but having alternate solutions so obvious and easy to carry out that it renders the actual solution completely obsolete is another thing entirely.
While the game feels lengthier than City Tuesday, its 25 levels don’t take much longer to beat than half an hour, even with multiple deaths and restarts, because the only challenge comes in fighting the games flaws. It seems designed to be speed run but with no “total time” and no leaderboards, it’s not something worth doing. Once you reach the end, the chances that you’ll ever want to go back are slim.
And so the Uprising ends as others before it. The bad games outnumbering the good, and those good games having their reputations tarnished as a result. Still, the Uprisings gather little mainstream press and so the damage is minimal when set aside the damage done to a game’s reputation simply by virtue of it being on Xbox LIVE Indie Games.