This week saw the release of the amazing Humble Botanicula Debut from the fine folks who bring us the Humble Indie Bundle. To be honest, there have been quite a few Indie Bundles released lately, but in my humble (bundle) opinion, the release of Botanicula warrants celebrating. Does that make it this week’s Indie Darling? Read on, true believer!

1) Unnecessary Violence (XBLIG) is a fast-paced, action-driven racing/shooter hybrid where the player is put behind the wheel of a James Bond-esque supercar equipped with machine guns, missiles, mines and other assorted goodies. The objective is simple, eliminate certain marked vehicles on the road while also destroying slow-moving sedans driving in the fast lane. The action was fantastic, and the light narrative was enough to keep me playing. Totally worth it at 80 Microsoft Points (a whopping dollar), I couldn’t possibly recommend Unnecessary Violence more.

2) Windosill is a flash-based puzzle game included with the Humble Botanicula Debut, should those who pick up the bundle be ever so kind as to donate more than the average (which, as of this writing is $8.83) price. While I’m not one to shy away from a game that’s entirely flash-based, I know quite a few gaming snobs who are, but trust me, if you avoid Windosill, you’re out of your mind. Delivering solid puzzles in the vein of Portal 2 (without quite the frustration and infinitely more cuteness), this “simple flash title” is probably my favorite “bonus” since the Humble Indie Bundle gave away Braid to those who donated more than the average price. You play as what looks like a toy truck/train traversing from room to room, obtaining cubes to open doors to the next puzzle. Incredibly simplistic, but challenging in design.

3) Botanicula is the biggest release on this list, however; it narrowly missed being my Indie Darling for the sheer fact that it doesn’t deliver the laughs that my Indie Darling choice does. Botanicula is the story of a group of nature-based critters (leaves, mushrooms, etc.) who attempt to save the last seedling of the tree they live on from a terrible parasite that has invaded their home. Along the way, the player must utilize each character’s unique abilities (one character, for example, can slip passed enemies by walking upside down on the branch beneath them in order to reach distant items). A brilliant soundtrack, along with sharp visuals that reminded me quite a bit of Limbo and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Botanicula is definitely worth a look.

Indie Flop:

It feels wrong to declare Machinarium the “Indie Flop”, however; it is, in my opinion, the weakest game in this latest Indie Bundle. It was part of an earlier Humble Indie Bundle, and while I certainly enjoyed the game, I just feel it suffers from a lot of the standard tropes of adventure games, something that Botanicula does not (obtuse puzzles, lots of hand-holding, etc.). Obviously, a developer is only going to get better with each subsequent release, so Amanita Design has certainly learned quite a bit since the development of Machinarium. Again, not a bad game, but the weakest indie I played this week, for sure.

Indie Darling:

Oh, Kerbal Space Program, I never thought I would fall in love with rocket telemetry, but you’ve done it. You’ve awoken that love deep down inside me that twenty plus years of watching Star Trek never did.

Kerbal Space Program, developed by Squad, places the player in charge of developing and putting together a solid rocket ship in order to get the adorable Kerbal astronauts to space, to the moon, and back down to Earth, safely. While this sounds like the simplest of tasks, in reality, it’s a nightmare. I’ve lost over a dozen brave Kerbal astronauts, three at a time, for different reasons (one time I forgot to deploy the parachute on their module and they slammed into the Earth, their smiling, goofy faces now only memories). The game is deceptively deep and difficult in that the player must balance fuel, stages of liftoff, as well as various other intangibles all mapped to the player’s computer keyboard using the standard WASD command setup.

While one should feel a little bad every time a Kerbal meets his (surely) explosive demise, the evil maniac in me giggles like a schoolgirl. Maybe because I played it for a while after seeing Cabin In The Woods and my sadism level was already high, but watching as the Kerbals’ faces go from terror upon liftoff, ecstatic glee upon reaching the atmosphere, to sheer confusion as everything goes awry is absolute gold. I’ve only been playing the free demo, but the actual game itself has been modded beyond belief, with talented garage developers remaking actual pieces of NASA and Russian space instrumentation and tech. I plan on picking this one as soon as possible, as it’s relatively cheap (considering the amount of fun you’ll get out of it) at $15.00, you can buy the “full version” as it exists now. It’s not dissimilar to the Minecraft way of doing business.

This week you, dear reader, have plenty of options for great indie titles. For the PC gamer, you’ve got the delightfully sadistic Kerbal Space Program and the Humble Botanicula Debut. For the discerning Xbox Live Indie fan, you’ve got the surprisingly fun and fast-paced Unnecessary Violence. Give them all a whirl and hit up the comments to let me know what you think!

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