Humble Indie Bundle 7 Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: January 2, 2013
Hey, I'm back for more, but this time instead of reviewing a big name title like Borderlands 2, my critique will be of the indie titles Closure, Legend of Grimrock, Shank 2, Snapshot, and the Binding of Isaac. Some of you may recognize these titles as those in the Humble Indie Bundle 7 when it launched, which makes sense as that is how I got the games and why I am reviewing them.
For those of you who do not know, Humble Bundle is a company that typically offers bundles of games from independent developers. Occasionally the games come with soundtracks, are ready to play on Windows, Mac, or Linux computers, and more often than not, DRM-free. As impressive as that combination is, what makes the offerings from Humble Bundle always interesting is the company's 'Pay-What-You-Want' model. Even though all together the Humble Indie Bundle 7 contains around $140 of content, you can get most of the games for just one penny. Pay over $1 and you get Steam keys for the games. If you beat the average of current sales, you get all $140 of content. To top it off, you decide where your money goes. When you purchase a bundle you may indicate how much of what you pay goes to the individual developers, to Humble Bundle itself, and to two non-profit organizations; the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child's Play Charity.
Some of you may also realize that two titles are missing from the list: Indie Game: The Movie and Dungeon Defenders. The reason I am not giving Indie Game: The Movie as much attention as the games is because it is a movie and not a game. The reason I am not reviewing Dungeon Defenders is quite different. I have had the game for over a year now, so I have experienced all of the changes it has undergone and my first impressions of the game are of it without DLC. Also I am friends with a number of the developers and other staff who made, and still support, the game. I do not believe I could give an unbiased opinion of the game due to these factors, which is why it too will not receive much focus in this review. I will mention it later on though, but only to describe it; not to review it.
Along with reviewing the games, I will also speak of their soundtracks, except for The Binding of Isaac soundtrack because, while I have it, it is not included in the bundle.
Another note I need to give is that I am not playing these games to completion for the simple reason that I want this review to be out before the sale is over. However I will not stop playing until I am comfortable that I can write an informed piece on the games, if not a complete piece.
With the introduction done, let's get to the games and see if any one title makes the bundle worth buying!
(This review was written before The Basement Collection, Offspring Fling, and Cave Story+ were added to the bundle and, due to the holidays, there was no time for the reviewer to play them before it was published.)
To call Closure an odd game is almost an understatement, but it is also, with few but notable exceptions, an excellent puzzle game. The puzzles themselves revolve around the classic mechanic of needing light to shine on a path to be accessible. The developers took this mechanic further than just having a kill-box where the light does not fall as nothing exists unless it is illuminated. Without light on the ground, you will fall through, and without light on a wall, it is not there to impede your progress. Even water will disappear due to a lack of light, which has some interesting results in a few levels.
The game is broken up into three main stories, with a fourth shorter story that is accessed after completing the other three. All three stories are accessible once you reach the hub world after the tutorial levels. So far I have done the three stories.
The first story, from left to right, has you assume the identity of an engineer going through a factory. The second story is that of a woman travelling through not only a forest but also a hospital. The third story has you play as a young child who escapes her home to go to the circus. The fourth story lets you play as the spider-like demon you are, and consists of only 10 levels, instead of the 24 each of the other three stories. Throughout every story though, the environment and atmosphere is eerie, but I would never describe it as creepy, except for perhaps one moment in the second story.
The graphics are a stylized black and white, which definitely fits the atmosphere of the game and the light mechanic. The environment is not often animated though, but whenever you fall into water there is a rush of bubbles around you. Also when you are in water, the audio is distorted to match the liquid in your character's ears.
Occasionally I enjoy thinking of myself as an intelligent person so I will always enjoy a good puzzle game, and Closure I very much enjoy. The puzzles are almost always challenging, but not difficult, which is an important distinction to me. A challenging puzzle is a work of art to me, where the means to overcome it is accessible, if you can identify it. A difficult puzzle on the other hand is a source of frustration as the solution may be obvious or not, but its execution is tedious, or demanding of perfection, or both. A difficult puzzle can result in 'cheap' deaths where you were just too slow or miss timed your jump. The only reason you should die in a challenging puzzle is because you made a stupid mistake or the puzzle is more complicated than you initially thought, and never a 'cheap' death.
Oddly the difficult puzzles seemed to only exist in the second story as the puzzles in other stories were not necessarily simple, but failing them was not as frustrating.
There is definitely some replay value here as hidden 'Silver Moths' can be found in some levels and can require some ingenuity to catch, while still completing the level. To indicate the moth's presence in a level, there is a chime that plays along with the music.
The soundtrack is… different, but in a good way. My tastes are more for classical music (specifically the romance period and some modern, for those who know the distinction) but I do also enjoy rock, which may be part of the reason why soundtracks, as a genre, I often enjoy. Closure's soundtrack I definitely like but it is hard to say how much I may listen to it in the future. I do appreciate it but it is not my first pick for 'working music,' though I am writing this section of the review with it playing. It does somewhat defy description, beyond saying that while it is not eerie like the game (to me at least) it fits the game environment very well.
Now, would this game alone make the bundle worth buying? Probably not, unless you are a major puzzle-gamer or simply enjoy artistic games. I'm very confident I am near the end of the game with not even four hours invested in it. True there are some levels left and the Silver Moths to collect, but I would still estimate a completion time of under 10 hours. Closure may not be the one game to make the bundle worth buying, but you will be glad to have a game as excellent and as near-flawless as it is. Truly the only negative to purchasing the game is its relatively short length, but beyond that, it is a great game, in my opinion.
Legend of Grimrock Review:
Before going too far with this I want to admit that I have looked into purchasing Legend of Grimrock previously and at the time, based on what I saw and read of it, was not interested. Now that I have played it though, things may have changed. What? You didn't really think I was just going to say what I feel in the first paragraph, did you?
Legend of Grimrock is a curious amalgamation of genres as a First-Person Role-Playing- Point-and-Click Game with a decidedly old school feel to it. I actually appreciate this old school feeling as the classic RPG Castle of the Winds still has a place in my heart (though sadly not on my computer as it cannot run a 16-bit program). Immediately upon starting a game I am reminded of CotW by the character creation screen. Here you are able to control race, class, portrait, apportion free stat points, select skills, and choose traits for your characters. Yes, characters because you crawl through this dungeon as a band of four prisoners who remain in a square formation throughout the game. Placement within the square is easily changed at any time.
Once in Grimrock your group will explore its grid-like map one square at a time and never along a diagonal. You are able to look in non-cardinal directions, but that is all you're able to do off the axes. This movement works though. It does mean you go a little slower than if the movement was continuous, but you do not want to miss anything in the dungeon, as secret rooms hide valuable gear. One thing worth noting about the map and the entire environment though, is that it seems to have been made from only a limited number of elements. Walls, doors, and more all look the same because they often are, though maybe with some dirt or plant life on them; at least in the early levels. There may be more variation later on, but even then, I'm fine with the same elements being used so long as the game itself is solid.
Combat is a little awkward but you get used to it quickly enough. Due to the formation of your company only the two characters in the front are able to use melee attacks, while those in the rear must rely on ranged weapons, reach weapons, and spells to deal any damage. To have a specific character attack, you have to click on the weapon you want them to use, which is somewhat cumbersome as you must move the cursor to the different weapons to initiate different attacks. Also there are cooldowns for the attacks, even the melee ones, so you will be moving the cursor back and forth a lot. Fortunately you opponents also have a cool own on their attacks, so you are going to be attacking more than they are. Still, that does not prevent waiting for on cooldown from being annoying. Overall though, you do get used to it.
After combat you must rest to heal, but you can wake up before your party is completely healed. In fact you will not automatically wake up when you are at full health; you must wake yourself up. You also have to feed yourself because hunger is one of the game's mechanics. You do have plenty of room for food and loot though as each character has their own inventory, which helps with sorting.
The soundtrack is a little hard to discuss simply because it is just the theme music that plays at the main menu. There is no music in-game, just sound effects for a dungeon buried deep in a mountain and your own actions. Makes sense though because what are the chances an orchestra has been trapped in Grimrock with its instruments?
Does Legend of Grimrock make a good excuse for purchasing the bundle? Actually, yes. I would recommend this game to anyone who is nostalgic for the classic RPG video games they used to play. It has some new twists to it but the classic feeling is still strong. There is some replayability as you hunt for all the secrets and try different party configurations. Also there is a map editor I have not explored yet which could add hours of gameplay, depending on how you take advantage of it. Even if you only play it once, the fight to escape Grimrock while keeping your party alive is a fun one.
Shank 2 Review:
According to Steam I have only put 1.6 hours into Shank 2 thus far, which may not seem like much, but aside from going in depth on the story (which would be silly to do for this game), this is enough to give one a good sense of the game. Simply put, Shank 2 is an action game. It has a story but that is not why you, or most anyone else is going to play it. You are going to play it to crush enemies beneath shipping containers and rip jaws out of sharks in a cartoon animation.
Naturally there are different kinds of action games and this one is something of a side-scrolling brawler. From left to right you traverse the terrain to pick up supplies for the fight you are about to walk into. Initially you see just one kind of enemy armed with a melee weapon, but soon you will find enemies with guns, grenades, and skills that prevent you from just button-mashing them to death.
In your armament, which quickly grows to keep pace with your adversaries', are heavy weapons such as a machete and chainsaw, and ranged weapons including throwing knives and guns (with unlimited ammo). Of course it would not be an action game without grenades, and in this game you can also equip Molotov cocktails and mines, depending on your mood. Don't worry if these weapons are not enough to interest you because most enemies so far drop their weapons upon death, which you can then pick up and use until you kill the next enemy for its weapon.
Shank is not just a weapons master though as his dodge and jumps will have him crossing the battlefield quickly, while avoiding attacks and closing distance. Once close enough to an enemy you may grab that enemy to attack or throw at others, which can be amusing as the bodies bounce around causing a chain reaction. Alternatively you may use a well animated counter attack when near your opponent. Counters can have you kicking bats through heads or shooting heads off, depending on the enemy and their weapon.
I would never describe myself as an action gamer, so my judgment on the difficulty of the game may be skewed, but that is not going to stop me from telling you what I think. Except for some boss fights, the difficulty balance seems pretty good, with perhaps a bias above my skill level. During boss fights though it can be quite hard, but that seems to mainly depend on two things: the number of other enemies to fight and the availability of alcohol to heal with. At least if you die the game is actually quite forgiving. Checkpoints are pretty frequent and you always respawn with a grenade, so you don't have to walk far to blow up your enemies.
Along with the Campaign mode, is a survival mode where you protect piles of munitions from being destroyed by an enemy that puts bombs on them. If you cannot disrupt the enemy as he installs the bomb you are able to disarm it, but this requires you are not hit and interrupted by an enemy. Good thing there are three piles. There is also online and local co-op play for survival mode and, unlike in the campaign, you have access to all of the weapons you can equip from the loadout screen. However, what skins you can use are limited and must be unlocked, just like in the campaign.
There are a variety of collectables including character profiles and memos, as well as a leaderboard for your score, to keep you coming back for more (as well as the gamer that beats your high score). Of course if you enjoy action-brawlers, you will probably come back anyway to pass the time with blood and gore.
The soundtrack is very fitting for the game with its brisk tempo constantly driving the music forward, at one layer or another. At times the layers sound like the composer was trying to give it a more epic sound but ultimately kept it more reserved, which is fitting for the intense but straightforward gameplay. I do enjoy this music and could work to it, but I have other music I would listen to first. It is good but my collection has better.
Does Shank 2 alone make the bundle worth it? Hard for me to say, given my lack of interest in action games, and not yet knowing how long the campaign lasts. Of course this game was obviously designed with replay in mind given the collectables and survival mode. Overall though, if you think you could enjoy an action-brawler and are on the fence about getting Humble Indie Bundle 7, you can let this game sway you to spending the money. It, at the very least, is a good blood-soaked diversion, though probably not something to play at the office.
A second puzzle game in the bundle, Snapshot can be briefly summarized as 2D Portal where the Portal Gun is a camera and there are no self-portraits. You play as a robot with the ability to run, jump, duck, and take pictures that literally capture whatever non-environment element you focus on, but never more than three pictures. Blocks, balls, springs, and even elephants can be caught on film and released anywhere on the map that it will fit.
Obviously the camera mechanic is at the center of the puzzles, but just how well done are the puzzles? The pure puzzles are quite good and challenging, but not difficult, following the definitions I gave in Closure's segment. The non-puzzle gameplay though can be difficult, but if there must be difficult elements to a game, that is where it should be.
Along with the puzzles are a variety of side-quests such as completing the level so quickly, collecting every star on the map, and finding an item hidden somewhere. Once found you must take a picture of the item and carry that with you to the goal. Getting to the item or some stars can be quite difficult though as in at least one puzzle, if you do not perfectly execute the jump to reach them, and snap a picture of the spring that launched you, you will be stuck and forced to restart the level. For regular puzzles the only difficultly I have thus far found deals with momentum.
If an object is moving when you take a picture of it, there will be a blur effect in the picture, indicating the direction of the momentum when you release it. This can be difficult to manage though as at least I cannot read how much momentum an object will have when released. Occasionally when I released a moving object it would quickly plummet to the ground, missing what I was aiming for, because there was just not enough speed for it to move as I wanted it to.
Regardless though, the stages fairly well identify what you need to do, both in the level design itself and even the name of the level. Just don't expect an abundance of advice on how to get to the hidden items and some stars.
The soundtrack has something of a techno sound to it, which fits the robot character. Also at times it has qualities from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of video games, which is definitely not a bad thing.
Should you pay-what-you-want for Snapshot? If you want a puzzler that offers both a straightforward gameplay experience and likely many hours of effort for the perfectionist in you, then you will very likely enjoy this game a great deal. Perhaps a good way to describe it is that a mobile version of this game would be great. The mechanic could easily be translated to a touchscreen and I personally feel that the 'pick-up, put-down' nature of a mobile device would be an ideal way to experience this game with its relatively short, but interesting puzzles.
The Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb Review:
The Binding of Isaac is a challenging game as it is without the Wrath of the Lamb DLC adding new enemies and new bosses. I should know since I also have the base game in my Steam library. For this review I am playing the version you may download from Humble Bundle, which includes the DLC.
In this game you play as Isaac, the young child of a mother so obsessed with God that when she hears a voice telling her to punish Isaac and even kill him, she is willing to do so without a second thought. To escape, Isaac hides in the basement of his home where a myriad of dangers and demons exist, including other hideously malformed children that serve as bosses. Don't worry though, you will become hideous quickly enough as power ups change your appearance, to indicate their presence.
The game itself is what some may call a hardcore RPG or even arcade RPG as you only get one life and no saves. When you die you have to start over from the beginning. Fortunately, reaching the end is not supposed to take hours upon hours, but I wouldn't know because I've never made it to the end. Each time you play you can expect a different experience, as the maps are randomly generated for each session. Sometimes you will start with a treasure room right next to you, where you may find an awesome power up! Other times you will have to battle through the level to find the treasure room only to find a decent, but not great, power up, or that the door is locked and no keys remain. Even the bosses will be different from session to session.
So we have a randomly generated, challenging game, with one life and no saves. What's the point of playing if you can't be sure you're going to win? For one thing you will not know what your chances of winning are until you start playing, thanks to the random maps. Also victory is not the only thing to try for as there are unlockable characters with different stats that may make your next attempt more successful.
Should this be called the 'Humble Bundle of Isaac' instead of the Humble Indie Bundle 7? That is hard to say. The game is definitely fun so I suspect any gamer comfortable with the graphics and story of the game will find it enjoyable. The catch is I cannot say that everyone out there who will enjoy the game also needs to have it in their library. None of them will regret having it though; that I am quite certain of. You don't have to beat the average to get The Binding of Isaac though, so if you have no problem paying less than that, go ahead and get the bundle, if only for this game. It is a solid game that simply may not be for everyone.
Dungeon Defenders Description:
As I said before, I am not certain I can give an unbiased review of Dungeon Defenders so I am not going to try. This section is just to describe it, so you know what you are getting when you beat the average.
Dungeon Defenders is a combination RPG and Tower Defense game. As you play you gain experience to level up and find gear to put on your characters and further enhance their stats. This gear includes armor, weapons, pets, and accessories. The pets have different attacks and abilities, such as the Tiger which does physical, melee damage, and the Seahorse which does poison, ranged damage. Some pets have no attacks though, such as the Genie, which supplies mana, the in-game currency, and the Pet Rock, which gives a big stat boost but sets your run speed bonus to 0.
Along with the levels from the campaign there are also challenges and a survival mode. The challenges are typically set on the campaign maps and can involve protecting your crystal from hordes of suicide bombers called Kobolds, or defending an ogre, the largest non-boss enemy in the game, as though it were your crystal. Through new DLC a second campaign has been added as have new challenges and many new maps. New characters have also been added such as the Summoner, which cannot attack but brings forth minions to do his bidding, and the Jester which can use any weapon, move towers around, and has other random effects.
While it is possible to play the game solo, co-op play is encouraged by the design of some maps and challenges, as well as the fact that more players means more loot.
Since release, the game has received Steam Workshop support and the Dungeon Defenders Development Kit is free to download and create your own content with. Just do not try to take custom content on to the Ranked servers. If you are caught with such content, you will be banned. Anything goes in the Open matches though, but you will not receive any achievements for what you do in Open.
With the individual reviews done, it is now time to review the bundle as a whole. Is the Humble Indie Bundle 7 worth purchasing? I can only say yes. You have two very good puzzle games in Snapshot and Closure, with Closure, in my opinion, being a great game. Shank 2 is not my particular style of game, but I can definitely appreciate it and if you enjoy action-brawlers, you will want this in your library. If you enjoy arcade-style games that are a real challenge, you will enjoy The Binding of Isaac.
Those games are ones that if you pass on the bundle, you may not regret missing, but Legend of Grimrock is different. If you fondly remember classic RPGs you will more than likely enjoy this game and what it brings to the table. Dungeon Defenders though is possibly the crown jewel of the bundle. At the very least, if you are judging exclusively by value, it is a steal to just beat the average to get this game with all its DLC. Play with friends and you should easily be able to get over a hundred hours out of this one title.
Buy the bundle for one game, or for them all, and you will not be disappointed. These games are solid and fun experiences, deserving of your time and money. And don't forget, Indie Game: The Movie is included too, as are most of the games' soundtracks which will add even more hours of enjoyment.