The upcoming annual Dream Build Play competition, coupled with the fact that pesky triple-A coverage from this year's E3 trade show has been monopolising most of my time, means that we have a lot of catching up to do. This week we have two headline games to bring to your attention that are entirely different in scope yet equal in quality... and thus, it's time for another joint award. Not only that, but our third title might actually teach you something. The horror!
So... in alphabetical order... let's go!
PLATFORMANCE: Temple Death
After Castle Pain received numerous awards and accolades, Magiko Games are back to present another microcosmic masterclass. PLATFORMANCE: Temple Death is a respectful homage to classic platformers from the golden age of 8-Bit gaming, and thanks to its rock solid mechanics and imaginative level design, is set to become an instant hit.
And yes, it's going to kick your arse.
"Respectful" and imaginative" are certainly appropriate descriptions of Temple Death's gameplay... but right off the bat, it's worth mentioning that "punishingly difficult" is also right on the money. Each PLATFORMANCE game offers a single sprawling level packed with precision jumps, spikes, traps and innovative obstacles that mesh like an intricate clockwork mechanism; with different zoom magnifications letting players understand how each individual element fits together. Temple Death's Peruvian labyrinth demands cat-like reflexes and extreme patience from its players, but rewards them with an orgasmic rush of endorphins and sense of self-satisfaction.
One level might not sound like great value (though, you know, it costs 68p), but the three difficulty modes literally offer three different games. As the difficulty increases, so do the number of traps, pitfalls and spikes - and as before, a relentless ghost will eventually spawn and chase you around the level. Dying from jumps and falls is absolutely fine thanks to considerately-placed checkpoints, but you'll eventually need to outrun your nemesis. PLATFORMANCE: Temple Death rounds out its package with a selection of unlockable achievement-esque rewards for skill and failure alike.
Finally, of course, we need to talk about the visuals. Temple Death is a colourful and eyecatching throwback to the days of classic sprite-based platformers. It doesn't look like a parody or homage, rather, it feels like a lost classic that you've found buried deep within your childhood possessions. While there's admittedly a strange graphical glitch that causes the player character to shudder uncontrollably when hugging vertical surfaces, Magiko Games' latest offering is a feast for the eyes that's arguably a bona fide piece of pixel art in its own right.
PLATFORMANCE: Temple Death is another brilliant and brutal reminder of why we fell in love with the platforming genre. Download it, assume the position and prepare for equal doses of pleasure and pain!
Some idiots pundits believe that Xbox Live Indie games are limited in terms of size and scope... but Solar 2 begs to differ. Leveraging a powerful physics and gravity engine into every aspect of its gameplay, this amazing Indie gem allows us to accomplish the most incredible feat imaginable: creating and destroying the entire universe.
Forget zombies and avatars. Solar 2 offers you the galaxy.
You'll start out by controlling a tiny asteroid that can increase in size and density by ramming into its interplanetary neighbors. After a few minutes, you'll accrete enough material to become a fully-fledged planet - at which point your gravitational pull will attract moons and asteroids. Eventually your planet will be large enough to support life, complete with tiny civilizations that build spacecraft and defences to protect their new home. Other sentient asteroids are aggressively attempting to do the same thing, and the overall goal is to grow large enough to drag them into orbit (creating complex binary systems in the process) or subsume them entirely.
But Solar 2 is just getting started. You'll eventually become dense enough to trigger nuclear fusion, at which point your planet becomes a star that can support its very own solar systems. And, of course, the largest stars are destined to become black holes powerful enough to consume the entire galaxy. There's even a step beyond, though I won't spoil the surprise.
Solar 2's galaxy is a physics sandbox that throngs with subquests to complete and awards for skilful play. Coupled with a soothing ambient soundtrack and crisp visuals, it can be played either as a relaxing casual experience or tense tactical battle - and literally offers something for everyone.
Regardless of whether you choose to buy Solar 2 on the Xbox Live Indie marketplace or on Steam, you absolutely must buy into this epic universal sandbox. Miss out at your peril.
Competitive puzzle games are ten a penny, but Sum Fighter eschews traditional colour-matching gimmickry in favour of something much more substantial. Set in an American high school, players engage in tense puzzle battles that require a basic knowledge of mathematics, quick reflexes and iron will to win.
The premise is fairly familiar. Constantly-rising blocks fill each player's game grid, and the first player to fill their board loses the match. Bombs and charging special character-specific powers provide you with ways clear space and inflict extra hurt on your opponent, but the meat of the game revolves around adding numbers together. For example, combining two "1" blocks creates a "2" block -and so on and so forth. These blocks disappear from the board when placed next to the same number of adjacent pieces, i.e. two "2" blocks or five "5" blocks will create a match. Responsive controls allow you to combine numbers with ease and precision - and though the premise is initially confusing, the experience becomes extremely rewarding after a few minutes of play.
A sharp, personable art style and capable sound design elevate what could have been a boring and dry title into an enjoyable puzzle romp - and one that I'd recommend to puzzle fans without hesitation.
Sum Fighter is a slick and cerebral take on the classic duelling puzzle formula. Definitely download the trial and experience it for yourself!