It would feel like a oversight if we didn’t highlight a couple of excellent new indie games for you this week, so here are our thoughts on Team17’s Narita Boy, the just-released PS4 version of UnderMine and Eastasiasoft’s Squad Killer.
When you think of Team17, you think of all the Worms games they’ve developed, or games like Overcooked and (for the older generation) Alien Breed. Their publishing arm has been consistently putting out excellent indie titles as well though, and Studio Koba’s Narita Boy is another testament to that.
As the titular Narita Boy, you’re the hero in a side-scrolling adventure filled with neon-infused graphics. The narrative backdrop is a version of the 1980s in which a fictional game console and game get interconnected with the world of reality and its creator – an epic quest in which you have to save the digital world you were created in. For what appears to be an action adventure, there’s a surprising amount of dialogue, and a lot of work went into the narrative.
The bulk of the game is still platforming and combat though, with the occasional puzzle to get by. Progressing is often a case of finding the next key, which means there can be a bit of exploration and backtracking before you move forward again. Luckily, the game world is visually captivating with plenty of creativity poured into the detailed and well animated pixel style graphics. This synths and electronic music that back all this up are a great fit for the 80s vibe as well, and deserve a special mention.
Since it’s a digital world you reside in, your opponents are often computer programs – there’s a bit of Tron in here, for sure. Narita Boy gradually uncovers more and more combat abilities over the course of the adventures – and enemies often match your current skill set. There’s a nice rhythm to how things unlock and challenges present themselves, and this holds true for the game’s boss levels as well.
Despite the platforming and occasional puzzle, Narita Boy feels mostly like an action adventure, thanks to its fun combat mechanics and engaging storyline. Another great example of Team17’s ability to pick hit titles to publish.
UnderMine’s been out on PC and Xbox One for quite a while, and more recently received a Switch port as well. Thorium Entertainment’s well-received roguelike wasn’t available for PlayStation though, but that just changed with a version for PlayStation 4 that’s also compatible with the PS5.
In terms of its premise, UnderMine is fairly simple and can be summarized as you trying to get deeper and deeper into a mine to uncover its riches. Along the way there are bosses to fight and NPCs you need to save, but although there is lore to uncover this is a game that is primarily driven by its roguelike mechanics – and they’ve been implemented very well and will keep you coming back for that one additional run to see if you can make it just a little bit further.
Progression is rather gradual and steady, to the point where it almost never feels like a grind. Death isn’t the end, but rather a restart in which you keep half of your possessions while letting you use the other half to upgrade your stats permanently before your next run. These upgrades can apply to you personally, but also the effectiveness of the various items and weapons you use. You might have a bad run here and there (layouts are randomly generated), but there’s always a sense that you’re getting further and doing better as you push on.
These pushes are further aided by the NPCs you save and subsequently help you, as well as the various magic items you can find during a run – the effects of which are diverse and often surprising. It’s all part of why UnderMine never starts to feel like a grind as you tackle the mine again and again, because level layouts change, the upgrades are different, and so are the challenges – yet you still feel like you’re progressing towards a single goal.
This is one of the more addictive roguelike we’ve played so far, and we can see where the positive reception on other platforms came from. There were times where we wished for tighter controls when we felt those could have prevented a frustrating death, but ultimately this was always forgiven and the desire for another run would prevail.
Eastasiasoft’s string of fun little budget-priced indie titles continues with Squad Killer, which is out for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 – while also being compatible with next gen consoles. Unlike recent Eastasiasoft, this one wasn’t released on PC first and is a brand new console-first launch that was developed by Wazungdev.
What’s similar to many of the publisher’s recent titles, however, is that it’s heavy on the “retro” influences, with inspirations from the 8-bit home computer era that spawned classics like Lode Runner while also adding arcade influences into the mix. No story, pure gameplay, and plenty of pixel artwork.
At first, Squad Killer will appear overwhelming, as it doesn’t ease you in with a tutorial or a gradual learning curve as you approach its 17 levels. Instead, the order in which you tackle these levels (and the game’s 6 bosses) is randomized each time you play, so not until you learn the patterns and intricacies of each level will things get easier for you.
Luckily, once you get comfortable with the controls, you’ll start pushing on. Jumping and climbing across the levels while firing at enemies and sliding out of trouble is what you do in the game’s single screen levels. And although things get challenging, the attached trophy list is extremely manageable and the platinum trophy popped up well before an hour of play was completed.
Luckily, there’s more to do past that point, as mastering all levels and bosses will take time and the game also offers two additional modes with Boss Rush and Stacked Deck – the latter being a version where you are granted multiple upgrades at once instead of choosing and unlocking them gradually during a regular run.