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Summer Uprising III Review Roundup | Week One: Genetics, Gateways, Dungeons & Call Centres

Jonathan Lester
Diehard Dungeon, Gateways, Hermit Games, Heydeck Games, Indie Games, MichaelArts, Qrth-Phyl, Sententia, Smooth Operators, Smudged Cat Games, Summer Uprising, Tricktale, Xbox Live Indie Games

Summer Uprising III Review Roundup | Week One: Genetics, Gateways, Dungeons & Call Centres

If Summer Of Arcade 2012 left you with crushing disappointment and a fat stack of Microsoft Points, the Xbox Live Indie community are on hand with a promotion of their very own. The Summer Uprising has entered its third year of championing quality XBLIG development and the latest selection is already very tasty indeed.

After kicking off last Monday, Summer Uprising III has brought us Qrth-Phyl, Sententia, Diehard Dungeon, Gateways and Smooth Operators: an astoundingly varied selection of different genres, art styles and gameplay concepts.

The silly season may almost be upon us, but there'll be plenty of time to deal with the oncoming AAA tidal wave soon enough. For now, here's a rundown of the first week of Summer Uprising titles, complete with links to the marketplace and brisk micro-reviews for your purchasing convenience.


Developer: Hermitgames

Get Trial/Buy Now: 80 Microsoft Points

Half Snake, half Blockade and half history lesson, Qrth-Phyl is another astoundingly deep title from Hermitgames. Matt James (Leave Home & Frenze) has proved to be a master of layering deep metaphor and meaning into mechanics and art direction, and this is no exception: an addictive and evolving experience that serves to educate players about classic arcade games and hereditary genetic code.

Of course, I should probably mention that Qrth-Phyl is also a seriously fun game. It's a gorgeous evolution of Snake (or its predecessor) that adapts to suit your skills, delivering a hectic arcade-style experience brought to vivid life by gorgeously vibrant art direction and crisp graphics. For 80 Microsoft Points, you should immediately drop whatever you're doing and get involved.

Or, at least, finish reading the roundup first. Because we're far from done yet...


Developer: MichaelArts

Get Trial/Buy Now: 80 Microsoft Points

Sententia is a great idea. Playing as a growing child in a colourful dreamlike world, you have the power to manifest words as physical weapons and create objects by connecting dots with the power of your mind. Exciting premise, no?

Sadly this hasn't translated into a particularly good game. Finnicky and imprecise controls (both for jumping and the aforementioned dot-joining mechanic) make Sententia an absolute nightmare, exacerbated by continually-respawning enemies and a horrendous learning curve. Plus, to be blunt, it isn't a looker.

I always hate to slate indie games, especially those that try to push the boundaries of what the medium can do, but the fact of the matter is that your points are better spent elsewhere.

Diehard Dungeon

Developer: Tricktale

Get Trial/Buy Now: 80 Microsoft Points

Summer Uprising III returns to form by taking us to familiar territory: the real-time roguelike. Diehard Dungeon delivers a randomly-generated multilevel demesne to explore, hack, slash and loot your way through; facing off against an array of fearsome monsters for fun and profit. A seriously hardcore challenge curve (it's all in the title, really) will usually result in a swift death, but the personality-laden visuals and addictive recursive nature of the experience will keep you coming back for more punishment.

Instead of traditional experience-based levelling and inventory systems, Diehard Dungeon features a helpful chest who tags along for the ride and gobbles up loot you find, frequently allowing you to delve into a selection of minigames for extra health or permanent perks. It's a nifty new take on things that provides plenty of variety, even to the point of offering a surprisingly fully-featured dualstick shooter with its own leaderboards.

If you're a fan of Rogue, Spelunky, Dark Souls, Zelda or The Binding Of Isaac, you'll find a lot to like here. And you'll love the price tag.


Developer:  Smudged Cat Games

Get Trial/Buy Now: 240 Microsoft Points

Billing itself as an Xbox Live Indie alternative to Portal, Gateways is one of the most outrageously ambitious titles I've ever seen on the service. Not only can your portal gun create holes in the fabric of space, but within a few hours it can also change your size and even send you back in time. Throughout a meaty campaign with a compelling Metroidvania-style structure, your brain will either implode under the immense pressure or expand to unprecedented size, shattering your skull as you begin a transformation into a being of pure intellectual energy.

That said, Gateways does have a few rough edges. The aiming mechanics sometimes feel a bit off and perhaps some of the puzzle solutions aren't telegraphed properly, but I can't recommend it highly enough considering that the whole thing costs a trifling 240 Microsoft Points.

Go get it. I'm being so sincere right now.

Smooth Operators

Developer: Heydeck Games

Get Trial/Buy Now: 80 Microsoft Points

Smooth Operators is a call centre simulation that feels a little like Theme Hospital, Tiny Tower, Dungeon Keeper and similar management games. Starting off in a single-storey office, you'll micro-manage your employees and fine tune your operations to expand into a monolithic telephone empire.

Being the boss is rarely an easy task, and Smooth Operators does its best to simulate the trials and tribulations of managing a real workforce. You'll need to provide your staff with bathrooms, canteens and facilities, not to mention enough money when pay day rolls around. Floors need sweeping, so you'll have to hire janitors. You'll need your own personal IT crowd on hand to fix your unreliable server infrastructure. Things start out hectic as you continually expand to meet your increasing demands, but the more you play, the more the office becomes self-sufficient and the experience assumes a hypnotic quality; much like staring into an ant farm.

This might sound like a lot of hard graft, but as with the best sims out there, the hilarious and personable animations of your minions make it easy to emotionally invest in your new workplace. 80 Microsoft Points is an absolute steal for a game of this quality and ambition.

Stay tuned for the Week 2 roundup over the weekend: featuring Entropy, City Tuesday, XenoMiner and Pixel.

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