Updated: March 18, 2011
A few weeks ago, we reviewed the first Humble Indie Bundle, which offered six game titles, including World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish, Lugaru HD, Penumbra Overture, and Samorost 2. Overall, I was quite pleased with the Bundle. It more than justified my investment, giving in return a plenty of fun, including some surprising delights. While some games were better than others, they were all quite good.
Today, we will take a look at the second Humble bundle, which comes with five more games. So please, join me for another compilation. Let's see what the second project has to offer. Again, this is your opportunity to learn more about the Humble Indie Bundle, as well take a look at another collection of multi-platform games. Like the last time, tested on a 64-bit Ubuntu gaming rig, dedicated specially for gaming tests and reviews.
Braid is a Super Mario style 2D puzzle/arcade game. However, it's a complex puzzle game. While most arcades feature a linear left-to-right progress with only minimal obstacles, Braid has a tricky time-dependent gameplay. In some levels, you can rewind time backwards and undo your actions, especially the bad moves. In other levels, only certain objects and actions will obey the reversal of time. A third type of maps yet introduces time flow that depends on the user's movement.
On top of that, you need to solve jigsaw puzzles, by collecting pieces scattered across the level - and different levels. You can move to new maps without having completely solved previous parts, but this will leave you with missing pieces. Throw in Prince of Persia obstacles and you're in for some special relativity fun. If Einstein were a happy mushroom kind of guy, he might have invented a game like this one.
The game has a surreal, psychedelic plot, where he is both the hero and the villain of the story, separated by the reversal of time. The atmosphere feels like a dream, after you inhaled some gasoline fumes. If you like arcades, you'll like Braid even more. It's an atypical puzzle challenge, with a whole new dimension of unknown, which has not been previously used in these kinds of games. It's Memento meets The Fountain. Not bad at all.
Cortex Command is a beta. It says so on the website, it says so in the game. Unfortunately, it also shows in the game. I was unable to get the game working. Oh, it did load and everything, but I wasn't able to start playing. Either I'm an idiot or something did not quite work as expected. Whatever the reason, Cortex Command would not cooperate. Hence, I was unable to give the game a proper review. A shame, really. From reading online, this looks like a new Liero slash Worms kind of game, with realistic physics. Well, there's a challenge for the future.
Machinarium comes from the same developers like Samorost. If you're familiar with the latter, which was also included in the first Bundle, then you'll know what to expect: exquisite, detailed art, a very personal, touching atmosphere, a challenging puzzle-solving gameplay.
Machinarium ups the ante with even better graphics and a much more in-depth plot. It's 2050 as seen in 1950, with an Asimovian mood that really gets to you past the simple 2D screen action. The game is all about a robot called Josef, who's on a quest to rescue his girlfriend. The plot is generic, but it works. There's something special about Machinarium. It feel homey and good, unlike most commercial titles. Then, when I think about it, some of the best games are Czech; Operation Flashpoint, ArmA II, there's a definite pattern there.
I've only started playing. I'm stuck at the second level, near the bridge. I know I need to somehow get the blue paint spilled over the cone, so it looks like the city guard robots uniform in order to gain passage across, but I have yet to figure what to do. It's looking good, though. Machinarium is a delight.
And do read the review on tuxmachines.org.
Osmos is a physics game. You play the very singular character of a single-cell organism. Your goal is to move around and gain mass by absorbing other organisms. You can do that only if they are physically smaller than you, otherwise you perish. You move around by expelling mass, similar to what some bacteria do. Due to the conservation of momentum, you will lose mass when trying to maneuver, much like a space rocket, so you must be careful what you do.
Your goal is to understand the forces at hand and take advantage of them. Some levels feature attractive and repulsive forces, gravitational pull, orbital physics, inertia, and more. It sounds geeky, but it's rather fun, especially some of the more advanced levels. When things start to spin fast and you get thousands of organisms floating around you, the simple task of not being devoured becomes a tricky challenge. You will have to put your best understanding of physics to work. As such, Osmos is ideal for education, especially children interested in physics and biology, as it teaches the chaos of micro-life fairly accurately. It's surprising addictive and a joy to play.
Revenge of the Titans is another game you may shrug off because of its simplistic premise and seemingly bland graphics. The Earth was laid waste by a digital apocalypse and now the world is infested with titanic robots, sort of like what happens in The Terminator. 2D map, woo-hoo, what now?
Well, a lot actually. Revenge of the Titans may not have Shakespearean graphics, but it does have a very deep, complex and engaging gameplay, similar to Command & Conquer. You have to defend your bases from titans, while mining oar for funds, building defenses and researching technologies. Levels get progressively more difficult, even as you gain ranks, medals and more money for your achievements. Each challenge begins with a short lull, during which you get a moment or two to erect your defenses, by building turrets and placing barricades as a delaying action against the invading horde of metal monsters. Then, the battle begins.
You will need to repair your buildings, collect money from your refineries, pick odd money gifts on the map, call in nuclear strikes and whatnot. Sounds busy and panicky and chaotic and it is, completely unexpected from a simple 2D game. And yet, Revenge of the Titans is as compelling as Yuri's Revenge, even though the reasons for your excitement and frustration are completely different.
There's something morbidly fun about little Pacman-like blobs that go nyam-nyam-nyam as they slowly advance toward your base, the piles of ruined barricades, the smoking ruins of buildings, the lasery discharge of weapons from your turrets. Quirky and erratic, addictive beyond measure, a sweet surprise, and the jackpot winner of the entire collection.
I must admit this is the best game of the bundle. It's an excellent tactical real-time strategy. Revenge of the Titans promises hours of great fun defending Earth from monsters. Don't expect it to be easy. You'll see yourself replaying levels over and over again as you try to figure out the precarious balance between defense and industry, life and death. Extremely recommended.
Like the first project, the second Humble Bundle is a nice collection of games. Comparing the two, the first six games seem a more balanced choice. The second Bundle feels a little premature, with some beta quality slipping into the package. For instance, Cortex Command did not really work. On the other hand, Machinarium and Revenge of the Titans are top notch choices. Still, if I had to choose, I'd go with the first Bundle, as it has more variety. Luckily, no such choice needs be made.
The second Humble Bundle is a very decent pack, somewhat more arcade and puzzle oriented, with Revenge of the Titans at the far end of the spectrum, complementing Lugaru, Penumbra and World of Goo as the leading choices from the first collection. This is my personal opinion, after all, the mileage may vary.
Regardless, looking back, I think my investment in the Humble Bundle was too humble. The collection of these eleven games is more than worth its weight in digital code. This means my contribution will be much larger when the third bundle is released. Meanwhile, spread the word and help raise awareness and support for this tremendous project. And if you're into gaming, you have a whole new bunch of games waiting for you.
That would be all for today. Enjoy!