At what point does a knowing tribute just descend into a brazen rip-off? We see a lot of titles in the download and mobile scene that sail perilously close to the wind, at times, but there's a big difference between being 'inspired' by the mechanics of another game, and just lifting them wholesale.
Twisted Pixel had a justifiable pop at Capcom recently for Maxplosion, and this week we've several more examples of games that don't even bother to disguise what they're ripping off. In the case of Explodemon, though, the similarities are purely coincidental, and, indeed, the games are actually very different.
But even when games are basically identical, most people might not even realise how much of a direct copy they really are – as is the case with Boulder Dash clone Digger Dan. Fortunately it's a pretty decent evolution, so you can leave us granddads to mutter about the good old days when everything was original...
Tales From Space: About A Blob
- PSN - £9.99
Some annoying individuals – like Pac-Man – can eat all they want and never seem to put on an ounce. Others only need to glance in the direction of a mince pie for the buttons to start straining.
It's a condition that the stars of this enjoyable platformer can certainly relate to as they try get off Planet Earth the only way they know how: by consuming everything in sight.
Like a gluttonous LocoRoco on a Katamari kick, you flibble and wobble your gelatinous form around a series of familiar locations, starting off small and gradually ballooning in size as you chow down every last object that will fit in your gaping maw.
What the blob lacks in grace he more than makes up for in versatility; he can squeeze into narrow gaps, bounce between walls, and use his mighty behind to butt-stomp destructible objects. He's also not averse to gobbing out undigested chunks as makeshift missiles, which is pretty handy when you need to activate an out-of-reach switch or smash up a projectile-spewing sentry.
Like all the great games Drinkbox Studios riffs on, About A Blob has that happy knack of introducing fresh ideas and powers that evolve the gameplay at the right time, and sets them in levels that you'll rarely fully explore or complete at the first time of asking. That urge to go back and ace a level is a definite plus in a compact game like this.
Less convincing, though, is the option to play co-op. The ability to suck up each other's ammo and damage one another or knock each other off course means you'll frequently wind each other up – (usually) without meaning to. With few, if any, tactical advantages to co-op play, you'll quickly revert to solitary pleasures.
With a loveable art style and knockabout humour adding gloss to its warmly familiar gameplay, Tales From Space: About A Blob is the perfect platform snack.
- Xbox Live Indie Games - 80 Microsoft Points
Imagine the fun we'd have with seven fingers on each hand. Imagine the guitar solos. Perhaps we could have a bonus thumb while we're at it. It would certainly make playing Dot Zo Games' hand-mangling platformer a fair bit easier, that's for sure.
As in his previous 2D platformer, the similarly taxing Ninja Bros., the idea is to get a cute little cluster of pixels to an exit. This time, though, it's basically up to you to turn the platforms on or off to create safe passage for your cute little cat-girl-thing.
But what starts off as a simple exercise rapidly builds into something of a trial in dexterity, as the game often requires the player to hold down several buttons at once during their platform negotiation.
You might, for instance, have to hold down LB to switch off a platform, leap up and then let go of LB to make the platform solid again. No sooner have you got your head around that idea, the game swiftly raises the stakes by ensuring that the jump button also doubles up as a platform switch. Before long, you're using your index finger to jump so that you can also keep Y and X held down at the same time.
Nothing in the game is designed to feel natural – and that's part of its genius. Whatever combinations of buttons will make you feel most uncomfortable, Nyan Tech has them, and negotiating its twisted obstacle course is a masochistic dream. It's almost a relief that there are only 30 levels. Any more, and it might not have been possible to write this review.
Digger Dan & Kaboom
- DSiWare - 500 DSiWare points (£4.50)
"Digger Dan has always loved digging. That's probably how he got his name although nobody knows for sure." Nobody? I can give them a clue To be fair, Ocean's Digger Dan was 28 years ago. I should probably get over the name and get on with reviewing the stupid thing.
But as as soon as you find out that the game is a basically a (horribly) reskinned Boulder Dash, you feel your hackles rise again. Alternatively, you stop being a grumpy old retro purist for a moment and get on with enjoying Casual Arts', ahem, loving 'tribute'.
As with Peter Liepa and Chris Gray's 1983 classic, the idea is to burrow through an underground lair, scoop up all the gems and reach the exit within the time limit. Along the way, you have to push boulders out of the way and try not to get squashed/eaten/generally killed to death.
Eventually a sleepy squirrel called Kaboom enters the fray and adds a welcome tag-team element to the gameplay. Although he can't push any blocks out of the way, his ability to squeeze into small gaps makes him a useful ally in your gem-hunting quest.
Viewed without the surly baggage of a retro purist, you'll take it for what it is: a jolly old-school throwback with dozens of dastardly levels to mine and a hideous art style. Can you dig it?
- PSN £7.99
I could bang on about the torturous six-year saga that Curve endured in getting Explodemon! made. Luckily for you, I'm in the mood to cut to the chase.
Only a matter of weeks after the magnificent WiiWare puzzler Fluidity/Hydroventure (which, if you haven't already bought it, is essential), Curve delivers another fine reason to bore your friends about the merits of 2D platforming.
Despite the obvious similarities with a certain Twisted Pixel game that also happens to be based around a man with an unfortunate penchant for blowing himself up repeatedly, Curve's take on the whole thing is altogether less frantic.
For a start, the unfortunate star of Explodemon! has something akin to a monumental hiccup. Leave him alone for five seconds and Boom! Off he goes, rupturing several vital organs in the process. Being a platformer, this is either hugely inconvenient, or rather useful, depending on how you look at it.
Fortunately, the ability to let rip on a regular basis provides not only a rather manic combat mechanic, but a chance to barrel around the levels, smashing up fragile scenery and boosting yourself to otherwise inaccessible areas. With so much of the game dependent on timing, the stop-start formula can become as much of a curse as it is a blessing – especially when it comes to blowing boxes up onto higher ledges.
As is seemingly the law with platform games, new abilities get bolted on, the challenge becomes more multi-faceted, you go blue in the face, forget to breathe, and pass out in front of your PS3 from platformitis. It's a common condition. Look it up.
I Must Run
- PSN Minis - £2.49 (Free to PSN Plus subscribers)
- Also available on iPhone (currently free)
- Coming soon to Android and iPad.
- PC demo (available here)
I Must Run? I Must Come Up With My Own Ideas, more like.
When this Mini raced out of the traps before Christmas, the name alone conjured up visions of a depressing Canabalt knock-off, where some bloke has to scarper across rooftops for as long as possible before inevitably plunging to an agonising death. How disappointingly correct we were.
Being a blatant clone doesn't preclude I Must Run from being enjoyable, though, especially now you can pick it up for free (assuming you're a PlayStation Plus subscriber or iPhone owner).
As usual, it's a case of timing jumps and avoiding obstacles, though Gamelion extends the concept by allowing you to double jump, punch obstacles and slide underneath narrow gaps, Mirror's Edge-style. It's superficially prettier than its inspiration, but rather too sensible for our liking.
Death is, of course, final, with the whole premise based entirely on how far you can last out. There is, apparently, an ending, but it's more likely to be your sanity that cracks before you ever get to the underground station and construction yard.
The iPhone version, incidentally, adds lives (with a further two available for 59p in-app, micro-transaction fans), but if you're going to go down that road, you might as well go for Canabalt or the majestically insane Robot Unicorn Attack. See: spirit and invention.