Jun 3, 2014
Kero Blaster's chiptune soundtrack is a perfect analogue for the game itself: effortlessly upbeat and cheery one moment, dramatic or laid-back the next, but always sounding like it could've come from an NES if a composer had spent the past 25 years mastering its sound chip. Kero Blaster is a throwback 8-bit shooter without an ounce of waste: its minimalist story sends a hardworking frog through a viney forest, a tumbleweed-swept mesa, and other charming levels filled with somehow more charming enemies.
I wouldn't call Kero Blaster a love letter to the simpler games of the past, because it doesn't wink at you with its pixel graphics and old-school Japanese platforming. Kero Blaster just is one of those games, an NES shooter that happens to run on modern PCs. When I wasn't running out of lives and stuck replaying levels, I was having a great time.
Kero Blaster is Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya's take on NES classic Mega Man. Pixel's last big game was Cave Story, a brilliantly designed shooter every bit as good as its inspiration, Super Metroid. Kero is a far humbler game, carved up into compact levels with none of Cave Story's exploration or hidden backstory. But the link between the two is obvious: the same purity of jumping and shooting is intact, and Kero Blaster ties its levels together with story vignettes focused on a cast of four nameless animal characters. Together they run the business Cat & Frog, which oversees teleporter nodes scattered around the world. When mysterious creatures disable those teleporters, the frog gets stuck with the field work of repairing them.
The Kero rhythm
As Kero Blaster's silent amphibious hero, I blasted my way through a half dozen levels, picking up three new weapons along the way and money to upgrade those weapons and expand my lifebar. My lifebar needed serious expanding. Kero Blaster is not an easy game: every enemy attack takes off a full heart, and with the initial three HP, I died quickly. But Kero Blaster never feels unfair or overwhelms the screen with bullets like Contra: enemies move and attack in learnable, predictable ways.
Some touches of modern design also ease the difficulty. A generous invincibility period after taking damage keeps enemies from killing you with awkward sprite-on-sprite bumbling. The shop allows you to extend your lifebar to survive half a dozen hits. At one point, you get a coat, which Kero Blaster's frog hero wears. It lets him take one hit without damage.
The coat is a big deal.
I was grinning ear-to-ear when I picked up the coat. It's seriously dapper Resident Evil 4's Leon S. Kennedy rezzed down into an 8-bit frog. I immediately stepped on something spiky and lost the coat. That made me sad. The coat isn't a big deal because it looks cool, though it's a big deal because Kero Blaster is so deliberately designed that every powerup is a hard-earned addition, and every platform and enemy placement is carefully calculated.
Money accrues like a gold IV drip at first, so I chased every single coin to upgrade my weapons. The frog moves slowly, like a hero of the NES era, and he can't shoot diagonally. Horizontal and vertical attacks require precise positioning to hit enemies and dodge their attacks, which often travel in a straight line. But there are clever ways to avoid those attacks: the bubble powerup reminiscent of Mega Man 2's Bubble Lead shoots a stream of watery orbs that bounce around and roll off ledges.
The enemies are all weird and silly and creative and attack in a fun variety of ways. One hid in a trashcan until I got close. I had to jump to trigger his attack. Another threw coins at me to lure me in, then pelted me with books like the world's lumpiest demon librarian. Each level is short they took me 10 or 15 minutes when I was playing slowly and none of them waste time with repeated enemy encounters or drawn-out boss fights. Bosses die quickly to powered-up weapons, and it feels good to kill them without taking damage after a couple pattern-learning deaths.
It's not easy bein' green
I died an embarrassing number of times in Kero Blaster. Enough to feel like I wasn't as good at the game as I should be, since I conquered Cave Story with little difficulty. As much as I appreciated the deliberate pace of progression, I found myself playing through a few levels far too many times. The same thing kept happening: I'd make it most of the way through a level without dying, then get stuck on one particularly hard part (why am I so bad at killing those birds?) or die three times to a boss, which meant starting the level from the beginning. I didn't mind going through a level twice I was eager to do it better. The third or fourth time, I got a little frustrated.
Around the fifth level, I got over that difficulty hump by grinding enough gold to buy hearts and upgrade my primary weapon. As distinct and potentially interesting as each of Kero Blaster's four weapons are, I stuck with the basic rapidfire gun about 80 percent of the time. The others I only found useful in sporadic situations, and the starter weapon consistently dealt more damage much more quickly. I could have used the other weapons more often, but they rarely seemed like the best tool for the job. In a game that feels so thoughtfully designed and balanced in all other aspects, I was disappointed by how seldom I used Kero Blaster's full arsenal.
I enjoyed Kero Blaster enough to blast through its first few levels a second time in New Game+, and like he did with Cave Story, Amaya's hidden some secrets for that second playthrough. Speedrunning levels in New Game+ with powerups intact is a fun reminder of how far you've come in a few hours, and there's an air of mystery to the story and its characters that sticks with you. Just don't go in expecting Cave Story's grandeur Kero Blaster is an intentionally short, straightforward game. While dozens of Kickstarters use nostalgia as a selling point, Kero Blaster unassumingly shows how to make an 8-bit platformer for modern PCs with a light contemporary touch. It's refreshing to play a game with such mechanical purity, even if it doesn't do much we hadn't seen by 1993.
Studio Pixel's Cave Story was a pillar of the formative indie scene - and now a follow-up of sorts has emerged in the form of his sidescrolling platform shooter Kero Blaster, which releases today. It's a momentous, nostalgic and slightly melancholy occasion - how much has changed in the world of independently created games in just six or seven years. I can't say if Kero Blaster is any good or not yet - its free prologue Pink Hour was too brief and too difficult to really get to grips with - but a recent trailer hit all the right notes, so I'm hopeful that the old Pixel magic is there.
After Cave Story, and the many games inspired by it, you might be expecting another interlocking, sprawling Metroidvania, but with Kero Blaster billing itself as a "classically-styled 2D side scrolling action game packed with adventure", I'm expecting a more guided, action-heavy experience from this one. There appears to be a huge focus on collecting, and upgrading, crazy weapons, before its froggy hero uses them to blast adorably evil enemies to smithereens.
Kero Blaster can be had for $7.99, or in a bundle with its soundtrack for two dollars more. The following video offers a preview of all the smooth and catchy chiptune noises we can expect to hear in the game.
If this trailer for Pixel's long-awaited follow-up to Cave Story doesn't lift you up, then I'm sorry but you might be a soulless husk - either that or you aren't overly fond of platforming, chiptunes, or Pixel's expressive yet simplistic art style. One of the two. We've known about Gero Blaster for a while now, but it's recently been renamed Kero Blaster and been given a brand new video, which affords us our first proper gawp at the soon-to-be-released sidescrolling platform shooter.
Is May 11th good for you? Well that's a shame, because that's when it's releasing - for $7.99, no less. Kero Blaster, by the way, concerns a gun-happy frog whose monster-killing job takes him to a variety of nicely pixellated locations across the globe. Expect weapon upgrades, giant coins, and barely any travel allowance, as that big trailer up there makes pretty clear.
Aug 2, 2013
Announcement - Valve
Nothing says “indie” quite like breaking down the walls of copyright and adding a bunch of characters from games you had no hand in making. And wouldn’t you know it, Gaijin Games is doing just that with their cardiovascular improvement simulator, BIT.TRIP Presents: Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien or "Runner 2" for those who need to work on their lung capacity.
Those who drop $3 for the “Good Friends Character Pack” will have access to Psychonauts’ Raz, Cave Story’s Quote, Machinarium’s Josef, Super Meat Boy’s Dr. Fetus, Portal 2’s Atlas (who’s Steam exclusive), Bit.Trip’s invisible Commander Video, and Spelunky's, er, Spelunky Guy.
We’re a little bummed that the DLC doesn’t offer new levels of some kind, but it’s hard to complain about anything when it’s a paltry $3, which, as developer Dant Rambo notes, is less than "a bag of hot dog chips." Still, here’s hoping we get some new levels to break in this new cast somewhere in the near future. In the meantime, why don't you watch these character introductions narrated by none other than Charles Martinet, aka, the voice of Mario. Yes, that Mario.
Apr 29, 2013
Announcement - Valve
Dec 27, 2012
Now there's even more reason to use that holiday cash Aunt Myrtle sent you on something charitable. The ongoing Humble Indie Bundle 7 has just expanded its indie game offerings to include The Basement Collection of Flash games, the action puzzle platformer Offspring Fling, and the retro 2D platformer Cave Story. The original bundle was packed with indie hits Snapshot, Closure, The Binding of Isaac and its Wrath of the Lamb DLC, Shank 2, Dungeon Defenders and its DLC, Legend of Grimrock, and the documentary Indie Game: The Movie. So, for the next six days, you can snatch up nine full games and one movie for a price that's absurdly close to free.
If you haven't done a Humble Bundle before, here's how it works: You can donate any amount of money and receive Snapshot, Closure, The Binding of Isaac, Shank 2, and Indie Game: The Movie. But if you pay more than the average ($6.41 as of this writing), you'll also get Dungeon Defenders, Legend of Grimrock, The Basement Collection, Offspring Fling, and Cave Story. The folks at Humble Bundle estimate the total value of this collection at $170. You can even choose how you'd like to have your payment divided between the developers and the two benefiting organizations, Child's Play Charity and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
For more information on the games included in the bundle, check out the trailer for Humble Indie Bundle 7 here.
Good news, everyone! Steam, Amazon, Blizzard, and more have kicked off Consumer Season by booby trapping the web with potent spending bait such as 33% off XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 50% off The Walking Dead, and 66% off StarCraft II. We spent the morning stumbling through the minefield to compile a list of some of the best seasonal discounts, but stay vigilant: more surprise server-busters are bound to go live as we approach the spendiest weekend of the year.
Steam: Like the Summer Sale, the Steam Autumn Sale rotates deals daily, with even more fleeting Flash Sales lasting only 10 to 15 hours, so serious shoppers should check in at least twice a day. As a bonus, you get to follow Steam's adorable doodle story: currently, it seems a turkey is being forced to enter a Felix Baumgartner-inspired high diving competition.
But don't just look at the front page: Steam isn't promoting most of its deals, so scan the full list now and then. Here are some of the better discounts at the time of writing:
33% off XCOM: Enemy Unknown - $33.49 / £20.09
50% off The Walking Dead - $12.49 / £10.49
25% off Borderlands 2 - $44.99 / £22.49
75% off ARMA II: Combined Operations - $17.99 / £14.99
25% off Dishonored - $44.99 / £22.49
50% off Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - $11.24 / £8.99
33% off The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - $40.19 / £23.44
75% off Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - $2.49 / £1.74
75% off Limbo - $2.49 / £1.74
25% off Torchlight II - $14.99 / £11.24
75% off Cave Story+ - $2.49 / £1.74
More Steam Deals
Amazon: (Some deals are region-specific) Amazon hasn't been quite as liberal as Steam with the big games, but it has conjured a storm of Lightning Deals on desktop PCs, components, and peripherals. The scattershot selection below should give you an idea of what to expect.
17% off iBuyPower AM699 Desktop - $579.99
18% off CyberpowerPC GUA890 Desktop - $499.99
39% off Dell S2330MX 23" Ultra-Slim VGA Monitor - $139.99
40% off Samsung Series S24B30BL 23.6-Inch Screen LCD Monitor - $119.99
33% off Corsair Vengeance C70 Mid Tower Case - $97.45
31% off Logitech Optical Gaming Mouse G400 - $34.49
19% off Logitech G600 MMO Gaming Mouse - $64.62
50% off The Walking Dead - $12.49 (Steam code)
80% off Dungeon Defenders - $2.99
10% off Hitman: Absolution - $44.99
75% off all Assassin's Creed games (excluding Assassin's Creed III)
More Amazon Deals
Blizzard: Blizzard has joined the party with Diablo III for $40 / £33 and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty for $20 / £17.
GOG: GOG's current sale nets you five games from a list of 20 for a mere $10 (just over £6). The list is loaded with some great indie adventure and puzzle games, so if you don't already own them, now's a good time to prepare for that "it's cold outside, so I'm going to drink tea (whiskey optional) and not leave my screen for the next forever hours" feeling.
Green Man Gaming: While Green Man doesn't celebrate consumerism with a morbid-sounding Friday, it is offering its usual voucher code. Enter GMG20-1FYLZ-EDG8R when purchasing a PC download for 20% off any game, except those already on sale. At the time of writing, GMG's daily deal (North America only) is Mass Effect 3: N7 Digital Deluxe for $15.99.
Newegg: (US and Puerto Rico only) Newegg has taken this whole "Black Friday" thing awfully far. Not only has it preempted Black Friday with "Black November," it's re-preempting it with a Pre-Black Friday Frenzy sale. How about a 500 GB Western Digital WD Blue hard drive for $50? A Samsung B350 Series LED monitor for $180? Keep in mind that if you visit Newegg from now until December 1st, you should not expect to then purchase other things, like food.
If you find any great deals as the weekend progresses, we'd love it if you shared them in the comments. And if all these sales combined with a poorly-timed lack of funds has you feeling down, remember that buying stuff is only briefly thrilling, while instead you could be continuously thrilled by PlanetSide 2, MechWarrior Online, Tribes: Ascend, or many of the other new free-to-play games we're thankful for this year.
Dec 13, 2011
After peeking out from behind Steam's registry files earlier today, Humble Indie Bundle 4 has made its official debut. And yes, it's everything you hoped for. I mean, if this is what happens when the Bundle Wars heat up, I'm all for it.
To start off, there's Jamestown, Bit.Trip Runner, Super Meat Boy, Shank, and NightSky. I know, I know. Your piggy bank just let out a frightened squeal and then exploded. But there's more. If you beat the average price, the masters of the not-so-ancient art of indie bundling will throw in Cave Story+ and Gratuitous Space Battles. As of now, said average is just a spec over $5.00. So yes, take your piggy bank's charred ashes and make with the spending.