Sorry for taking a week off from the Indie Round-Up folks, with E3 basically dominating headlines and individual pieces written on the few indies that were announced/teased at the expo, I felt it was okay to take a week off.

That said, this week’s edition will be what I like to call “Double Stuff’d”, as there are quite a few indie bundles currently available (one in particular I’m excited about), and two amazing titles currently available on the XBLIG Marketplace. Also, the Shit Taco Award recipient!

Adamant Ants is a mashup of the legendary Worms franchise and the less-than-legendary Lemmings franchise. While, on paper, this is an exciting combination of games, the execution leaves little to be desired. The game quickly falls apart upon being presented with various obstacles. The idea is to equip your ants with the right tools for the job, however; the point and click style gameplay is imprecise and just plain fails. A certainly honorable attempt at combining two concepts, however; a little more fine tuning would have done wonders. 80 Microsoft Points.

Oh, Crystal Skies. You came so very close to being my Indie Darling this week, but there was one game that edged you out (more on that in a minute). Remember those levels in Sonic The Hedgehog where Sonic is spiraling through a psychedelic maze collecting crystals and rings? That’s what Crystal Skies is, only you play as a fish who’s been flushed, lingering between life and death.

Not choosing Crystal Skies as my Indie Darling this week was the hardest decision I’ve had to make so far in writing this column, for the sheer fact that I’ve yet to hear anyone recall (with fond memories) the beauty and fun of those early Sonic levels. I love the spirit of Crystal Skies, as well, with the funny, charming story of a half-dead flushed fish spiraling through these portals and otherworldly hallucinogenic realms. The visuals are absolutely stunning and crisp, the power-ups are varied, the music is fantastic (reminds me of The Orb, an ambient group out of the UK). 80 Microsoft Points. Only a buck.

Shit Taco Award:

Superdimension Iliad is a failure. A failure on so many levels it boggles the mind. Now, I’m never a fan of when games ape the classic Nintendo structure of level design or overall design, in any way (only a few games get a pass in this department, including my Indie Darling, read on). To ape someone’s aesthetic is perhaps the laziest form of flattery. It’s like when all those piss-poor Tarantino wannabe films popped up (I’m looking at you, Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead) with shitty dialogue and bad storytelling.

Unfortunately, Superdimension Iliad is one of those games. A platformer looking to utilize everyone’s affinity for Nintendo and classic gaming as a way to take a slipshod trip down memory lane. If the game was executed well (the game Plague did something similar and far better than Superdimension Iliad), this could be forgiven, however; awful anime-inspired character design (not unlike a 14 year old’s after seeing Ninja Scroll for the first time), bad music and shoddy level design do nothing to save what could have been an interesting, hard-science fiction story about a goddess utilizing her avatar to experience the first fifteen years of video gaming. 80 Microsoft Points. Use it to buy something else. Anything else.

Indie Darling:

The very concept behind an indie game getting a sequel means that the original game made enough money to warrant said sequel. I’ve worked on two different series of games in the indie space that have both sold remarkably well, but other than my two franchises, there aren’t many others. That said, I’m glad to see the return of My Owl Software’s Apple Jack to the indie marketplace.

Apple Jack 2 is one of those games I mentioned earlier that gets a pass for aping other franchises or IPs. Mostly because Apple Jack 2 not only improves on those concepts, but elevates the indie game artform in so many ways. The game even has the guts to use Super Mario Brothers 2’s cover as inspiration for its own cover art. That takes balls. Especially when I personally, consider the second Mario entry to be the best (I know, it’s not even a real sequel, but whatever, it rules).

The game’s set up is basically this: Apple Jack, having had such a beautiful and epic adventure in the first game, has settled into a horrifically boring life of working in an office. He’s berated by his bosses, doesn’t particularly spend much time with his coworkers, and yearns for adventure in the beautiful, rainbow-hewn world just outside the window of his cubicle.

One day, he tears off his clothes (he is, mostly fruit, after all), and jumps through that window on a quest for adventure. Anyone who works in an office knows this feeling. I hate wearing my khaki pants and polo shirts to work. Office casual is a term for slavery in my mind. I stare out the window, even at the treelined parking lot, wanting to explore and experience the beauty of the summer. I don’t care about my day job. Not many of us do. It’s just a way to pay bills and enjoy our hobbies (in my case, buying video games, Watchmen and Peanuts paraphernalia).

Apple Jack 2, I’m not afraid to say, is an absolute masterpiece. While for a long time, I was touting Botanicula as my indie game of the year, as of right now, this writing, I’m jockeying for Apple Jack 2 to maintain the lead. The game utilizes brilliant platforming aspects from classics like Prince of Persia, Braid and of course, Super Mario Brothers, but it uses them in its own way, daring the player to explore the often vast levels, filled with colorful (and ridiculous) enemies like panda bears, washing machines and pigs wearing tutus.

Apple Jack 2 might be the finest platforming title on the indie Marketplace. That’s saying a lot. There are an insane amount of platformers on the XBLIG Marketplace. Sometimes, they’re overwhelming. Most of the time, they’re simply terrible. Apple Jack 2 is a game that can stand side by side with the giants whose shoulders it once stood upon. At a paltry 80 Microsoft Points, you would literally be an idiot to pass this up.

As I mentioned previously, there are a slew of great indie bundles out there for you to check out. Here’s a list:

The Milkstone Studios Bundle – These guys do a lot of XBLIG, but the games being offered are all PC ports of those Xbox titles. I can vouch for Zombie Football Carnage, it’s a lot of fun, so, three games for a buck? Totally worth it!

The Lunar Pack – A pair of games and a soundtrack sampler with a pay-what-you-want model (minimum of $1)? Looks like a solid deal, in my opinion.

The Indie Facekick – Disregard the stupid name, the games being offered are pretty great. Paying more than five bucks gets you Depth Hunter (the game I bought the bundle for), along with Tompi Jones, Arkhelom 3D, Alien Hallway and Alien Shooter 2 – Conscription. Depth Hunter alone, to me, is worth five bucks, so the others, I look at as a bonus.

The Indie Underdog Pack – This particular bundle of games is near and dear to my heart, as a percentage of the proceeds goes to the ASPCA. I’m a huge animal lover, so I’m happy to shed as much light on this one as possible. Personally, I’d rather see all of my money go to the ASPCA, however; I’ll take what I can get.

I’m very pleased with the offerings, as well, the games are Tesla: The Weather Man, Drains, Ichi, Clone Wolf and 48 Chambers. All fantastic titles.

Before I go, let me share a videogame anecdote about my dad. He’s not the most coordinated dude. He’s a former disk jockey (pretty famous one around these parts), former educator, and current public address announcer for a few local sports teams, professional and collegiate. He’s always been supportive of my video game habit. He’s basically bought me every console up to the original XBOX, which I bought myself. We used to play Hogan’s Alley on the original Nintendo, along with Duck Hunt. He’s a crack shot, I must say. In the arcades, he used to get me a milk crate to stand on so I could play Double Dragon at the tender age of five. I never forgot that I ran to get more quarters while he saved Billy and Jimmy Lee’s girlfriend at the end of the game. I’ll always hold that against him.

He still digs arcades, even though “real” arcades are a thing of the past, we still hit up Dave and Buster’s (if you’re lucky enough to be my friend on Facebook, the one video of me is of me and my Dad playing a game together there) from time to time, where he engages in some serious zombie hunting in the House of the Dead games (I even bought him Overkill on the Wii, which he loves).

Our favorite though, will always be the Terminator 2 machine. For years, we’ve been trying to buy one. One day, I’ll get it for him. Happy Father’s Day, dad!

Support some indies! You have far too many excellent options at your disposal here, so, do some good! Buy your dad Apple Jack 2! Buy him the Indie Underdog Pack! Not a tie! He won’t want a tie! I know your dad! He won’t want that, either! He wants indie games!

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