Time for another Indie Roundup, in which we take a closer look at two recent indie releases. Up today are Octonaut from EastAsiaSoft and Evan’s Remains, published by Whitethorn Digital and developed by Maitain69.
EastAsiaSoft has been putting out a steady flow of retro arcade-inspired titles lately, and Octonaut fits rights in. Originally released on Steam for PCs under the name Takotan, it’s a horizontal scroller in the arcade shoot ’em up genre that was made popular by the likes of R-Type and Gradius, but features cartoon-like graphics not too unlike those we saw in shooters for the SNES and Genesis consoles.
As is the norm in this genre, there isn’t much of a story, and the one in Octonaut is pretty silly – you basically play as a flying octopus who is humanity’s last hope against an onslaught of alien invaders. Definitely one of those cases where it’s a good thing that you don’t have to spend too much time thinking about the plot and can just focus on the gameplay at hand.
Octonaut plays exactly like you’d expect, with waves of enemies that come at you through predefined patterns waiting for you to take them out. Every level also ends with a big boss fight, most of which require you to learn their attack patterns and figure out when you can hurt them – and you need to do so before they chip away at your last remaining shield/health bar units. Along the way, you can pick up alternate weapons, health upgrades and diamonds – which add to your score while also counting towards a few trophies that unlock over time.
What’s nice about Octonaut is that its difficulty level seems to hit that sweet spot between “this is tough!” and “I know I can do this!”, where you often beat a level on your second or third try. Besides the basic arcade mode you can also play “panic” for a “low health” kind of survival scenario, or create your own custom experience by tweaking some of the difficulty parameters – an option that unlocks upon completing the game.
If you enjoy arcade shooters, then Octonaut is a fairly generic but solid example. It’s available now – we played the PlayStation 4 version for our playtest.
Despite the slightly macabre title, Evan’s Remains is not a horror title. It’s a puzzle platformer with a big narrative element, with the gameplay emphasis firmly being on puzzles and very few moments where precise jumping is the key to success.
The story in Evan’s Remains is an unfolding mystery surrounding a missing boy who’s a bit of genius and went off in search of a mystical island said to hide an artifact of immense power. The narrative quickly turns into a bit of a thriller that jumps forward and backward in time, but later turns out to have a bit of an anti-climactic ending. And no, you don’t actually run into Evan’s remains at the end – I’ll leave you to figure out the story on your own.
The puzzle concept itself is deceptively simple – in every (one screen) puzzle you need to overcome a pillar on the ride by jumping in between platforms. The trick is that after jumping off a platform, it disappears – possibly making a future jump impossible. To work around this, you can hit trigger buttons, which turn invisible platforms into visible ones and vice versa. Later on, buttons/platforms are introduced that change the position of other platforms, let you teleport between two spots or change the way certain platforms function. One particular favorite is a platform that you can land on, only to have it shoot you back up in the sky to the height you jumped from – forcing you to find a high spot to jump from if you want to get past that pillar on the right.
If you take away the narrative, Evan’s Remains is a very short game for those comfortable with its puzzles, featuring no more than 25 levels or so. They’re well designed though, with about half of them being quite easy and the rest giving you a good mental workout without ever becoming frustrating. There’s a lovely learning curve as well, with new puzzle elements gradually being introduced without a need to explain them.
The puzzle levels are actually so much fun that the story elements feel like they provide too much filler in between, especially when some levell take less than a minute to solve. I would have preferred the narrative as something more interwoven with the puzzle gameplay (perhaps through voiceovers) rather than break up the flow of the puzzles – though I suppose the somewhat anti-climatic nature of the story doesn’t help there either.
The visual style of Evan’s Remains is lovely though, with various areas of a mysterious island forming the backdrop to some lovely pixel art that’s accompanied by soothing music. Get it for the lovely puzzles, and maybe skip some of the dialogue – especially on a second playthrough.