April 7, 2012 12:00 PM | John Polson
[Colin Brown of The Backlog Journey profiles the currently running April Fools Bundle, from the IndieGames' co-created site Indie Royale. Next up are Alien Zombie Megadeath and Astro Tripper developed by PomPom Games.]
Next up in our look at the Indie Royale comes a pair of old school influenced arcade style games: Alien Zombie Megadeath and Astro Tripper. We'll start with Alien Zombie Megadeath, which is the newer of the two titles and probably the more accessible one. Sure, the name could use some work, but the underlying game itself is a great throwback to a simpler era. You'll pretty much know right away if you'll like Alien Zombie Megadeath based on how much you like older coin-op arcade games, because the title is basically a flashier, updated arcade platformer shooter.
You are an astronaut, just chilling and travelling through space when alien zombies begin to attack you on a series of thin platforms that can be easily and conveniently passed though. Using your gun and a wide array of power-ups, you must blow them up before they overwhelm you. Adding to the formula is the scoring system, which scores you points and increases your multiplier. In a twist, you don't score points by bringing megadeath to alien zombies, but instead from collecting the crystals that fly out from their exploding bodies. This creates a risk vs. reward system, as it's easy to kill the alien zombies from the other side of the map, but doing so loses you a lot of potential points and hinders your multiplier. However, getting up close means it's easier to find oneself surrounded and on the receiving end of a hot plate of megadeath. Each level has four medals to earn based on a variety of goals, and the medals are used to unlock future levels. You'll need to brush up on those chaining skills if you want to earn these medals, as the prerequisites for some of them can be sky high.
There are a ton of levels on the world map, and even though each one operates on the same basic scheme (bring megadeath to alien zombies), there's a lot of variety in the various missions. Some missions include extra objectives like space babies to protect and ferry across the battlefield, while others feature bombs to dispose of before a short time limit. My personal favourite levels were the ones with the jetpack, which frees you from the earthly chains of the platforms and allow for a rampage from above.
It's certainly not a very hard game, and none of the levels will particularly challenge you for the bare minimum goals. However, the medals do require a lot of skill to snag, making the game extremely easy to pick up, but fairly challenging to master.
In this game (and Astro Tripper as well), I much preferred using an Xbox 360 controller. The game seems designed with a controller in mind, and supports the 360 pad without any further tweaking. It also comes with local shared keyboard co-op, which was actually really enjoyable. Alien Zombie Megadeath is probably not going to wow you, but as a fun little distraction it certainly has a great old school arcade charm.
Astro Tripper is the second of PomPom Games' arcade inspired titles, this time a polished remake of their original PC (and later iOS) game Space Tripper. Out of the two, it's hard to say which one I liked better. Both have great, tight controls, both rely on scores and combos and both involve an awful lot of shooting. Astro Tripper is definitely the better looking game, but it's far less forgiving than Alien Zombie Megadeath, which can be frustrating. But hey, Indie Royale includes both, so you can decide for yourself and let me know in the comments!
Astro Tripper is a horizontal scrolling shooter with a few important twists. First of all, you can move in any direction, but you always face the side of the screen. Secondly, you have a button to slam on the air brakes and flip your direction, so you can quickly turn around to face sneaky attacks from behind. Thirdly, you've got two weapons you can change to at will: a straightforward blue laser, and a double laser that fires above and below you, but leaves your middle exposed. These lasers can be upgraded with drops, but they upgrade on separate tracks allowing you to pick and choose which setting to boost. Lastly, each level takes place in one arena. You can move anywhere as long as you aren't blocked by a wall, but falling off the edge is an instant death.
Speaking of instant deaths, there are plenty to be had. The time limit alone was the bane of many a boss fight for me, but it's hard in traditional ways as well. The game operates on a one hit equals one death policy, which is pretty reasonable. Except dying restarts the entire level from scratch. And you only have three lives. And losing all of them boots you back to the main menu. Ouch. Sure, you can restart at the beginning of a chapter, but each chapter encompasses multiple levels and some of the levels are just really tough to get through on their own, let alone sandwiched between two other tricky missions. Even playing on easy won't save you since the setting only affects your laser's power, not the sheer volume of enemies. It's a fair challenge of course, and it never really descends into cheap death trickery. The game just demands a lot from your twitchy skills.
In terms of controls, again the gamepad was the superior choice. I left the firing key on a face button, but remapped the flipping and weapon switch controls from the buttons to the triggers which seemed like the ideal control scheme. It's definitely a challenge, and even a bit frustrating at that. But ultimately it's also a rewarding challenge for those who can best it. It's a visually stunning game with beautiful effects, great enemy design and some very fun levels. Just make sure you don't go in expecting a cakewalk.
[Alien Zombie Megadeath; Astro Tripper; Hack, Slash, Loot; Defense Grid and Explodemon are available now in The April Fools Bundle on the IndieGames' co-created site Indie Royale.]