Developer: Brightside Games
Labour of love or dastardly cash-grab?
That's the question surrounding Team Indie, a new platformer from Brightside Games (who previously brought us the solid if underwhelming Zeit² back in the day). The enterprising studio managed to convince fellow indie developers to lend out their characters, meaning that what would have been a decidedly generic platformer now boasts one of the most incredible playable videogame casts since Super Smash Bros. CommanderVideo, Tim from Braid, Dustforce's Dustgirl, Awesomenauts' Clunk, the Super Crate Box Guy and more share the billing and bring their signature mechanics to the table.
It's a tempting prospect for indie gaming aficionados, but also sounds too good to be true, if not a barefaced attempt to separate fans from their money. So I'm delighted to report that there's a decent little puzzle-platormer in here, even if it doesn't come close to making the most of its source material.
The story sees Marvin The Cat sucked into a videogame for reasons so dull and uninteresting that I can barely remember them. Perhaps in an effort to avoid overshadowing the guest stars, Brightside have managed to create perhaps the most cripplingly tedious non-entities to front a game since Call Of Duty: Ghosts, and even they had a cute dog. Marvin is visually uninteresting, mechanically vapid and bereft of any personality whatsoever, to say nothing of his stereotypically "nerdy" handler, and the plot is as nonsensical as it is clichéd, simplistic and impossible to care about. You'd expect that the ultimate indie game team-up would deserve an equally legendary storyline, but no, they're basically shoved into the game to help Marvin in what amounts to lazy amateurish fanfiction.
There was an opportunity to do some fantastic fourth-wall breaking continuity-creating stuff here. We didn't even get some vaguely amusing jokes.
Team Indie's world is equally lacking in personality, imagination and flair. It's an amalgamation of every overused platforming cliché you've ever seen, admittedly crisp and colourful from a graphical standpoint, yet failing to give you anything much to look at when it comes to the art design itself, which often feels like disconnected collections of art assets rather than holistically-designed stages (see the screenshot below). There are some mushroom things. Some green platforms. A bit of wood here and there. Some caves. Again, the guest stars deserved better.
Sorry if that sounded harsh, but the fact is that Team Indie seriously trips up when it comes to personality, art design and soul. A crying shame, because its gameplay is rather ingenious.
We're first introduced to Marvin, who can jump and not much else. The first level introduces you to the controls and handling, which are pleasingly responsive for a game of this calibre, and makes it clear that Marvin doesn't have what it takes to survive in this dangerous world. Thankfully his owner manages to hack characters from other games into the experience, all of whom become playable at key points throughout the levels and can asynchronously cooperate with each other .
Each level is effectively a gauntlet with sections designed for a specific character and their unique skillset. CommanderVideo, for example, can slide under obstacles but has to keep sprinting in the same direction, allowing him to reach otherwise inaccessible switches. DustGirl can sweep and stick to ceilings. Super Crate Box Guy has a gun. Sadly you can't pick and choose your own characters at any time à la Super Time Force, but instead you're issued with them at checkpoints or via pickups, allowing you to take control and full advantage of each.
However, like Super Time Force, the end of each run resets time back to the checkpoint and casts you as a different character, while your previous attempt then plays out in real time. You're then able to interact with your past selves and literally cooperate with yourself. As a basic example, you'll clear yawning chasms by creating gelatinous platforms with J. Jitters (from The Great Jitters), then revert back to Marvin and hitch a ride. It's intuitive and convenient to do so thanks to a handy fast forward mechanic, and a blast to see how these diverse characters interact in the same world, even if it's in different timelines. As the goodly number of levels become increasingly more complex and host a wider variety of nefarious hidden collectibles, you'll have to bring a satisfying amount of brainpower and experimentation to bear.
My only major beef on the gameplay front is the over-reliance on trial and error mixed with the one hit kill difficulty. Respawns are infinite and iteration time is pleasingly low, but you'll have to replay large chunks of level several times over just to explore the stages and concoct a plan, let alone execute them. It can be a real pain, especially if you have to then redo past efforts because your timing was slightly off. At least, in sharp contrast to the much more ambitious yet flawed Concursion, characters all share the same basic handling so you can concentrate on the big picture rather than fiddling with the controls.
As such, Team Indie isn't the ultimate indie crossover many were hoping for, but once you look past the hackneyed presentation it's a worthwhile and enjoyable platformer that has a lot to offer if you've played its inspirations to death.
- Challenging one-player cooperative puzzling with legendary guest stars
- Controls and handles well
- Graphics are basic, but crisp, clean and colourful
- Storyline, main characters, art design and world are painfully generic and unmemorable
- Trial & error gameplay sits awkwardly alongside instant death
- Awful music
The Short Version: Team Indie is a reasonable puzzle-platformer that falls flat in the personality department, wasting its legendary guest stars on a limp story, forgettable protagonist and derivative art design. Thankfully the ingenious singleplayer co-op gameplay is worth checking out if you've already exhausted the games it cribs from.
6 – CAPABLE: The key thing to remember here is always try before you buy. There'll likely be some rather glaring flaws or perhaps a distinct lack of imagination, but games that earn a 6 will generally be very capable indeed and probably still provide a good deal of fun to genre fans.