The boxiest of all the bundles is back and I have dragged myself out of bundle-based retirement to cover it. Not like I used to mind you, with an ill-informed, rushed and relatively lazy new post, but with insightful (hopefully) and worthwhile (probably a bit of a stretch) reviews of the games. Think of it as something akin to my coverage of the very first Bundle in a Box – where I reviewed the debuting (and incredible) The Sea Will Claim Everything - but with a slightly less penetrative, far more promiscuous gaze.

Let’s begin with the five ‘failed to beat the average but paid more than $0.99’ (FTBTABPMT$?) games of this delightfully eclectic bundle:

Shadows on the Vatican; Act 1:

As listeners to the podcast will know, I don’t often agree with Jeff, however, his review of Shadows on the Vatican; Act 1 (as part of his IndieBundle.org coverage) pretty much nails it. The story is engaging and compelling enough to overshadow some of the slightly strained solutions, but the rough animation and occasionally poor voice acting undoubtedly undermine some of the experience. It is still a narrative worth point-and-clicking your way through, with moments of genuine intrigue and a backdrop that has been researched into believability, but its pace sometimes slips over to the wrong side of slow despite its relatively short length due to a few unfortunate shortcomings.

Shadows of the Vatican

Delve Deeper & DLC:

My pick of the bundle. This Dwarf-themed strategy title is appropriately deep and manages to distinguish itself through its tone despite adopting many of the stereotypes of the Dwarven race.

The concept is simple enough – you can dig out one section of any tunnel on the map each turn and move all of your characters who, if left on a mineral deposit, will mine it – but some clever decisions elevate it into the realms of a really successful strategy title. Firstly, there are different classes of Dwarf (some with greater movement, some with greater carrying capabilities and some made for fighting) that mean you can make a team bespoke for the level at hand or your preferred tactics. There is also the requirement to turn your goods in before garnering points. This combined with the enemies (both Dwarven competitors and just purely evil goblins and the like) and the ability to take a slight hit on points by selling items and relics from within certain areas of the mine – meaning you don’t have to go all the way back to your base – means each move must be carefully considered. The relics themselves are always humorous, but with a chance to get worthless or even harmful items even opening a treasure chest can turn out to be a bad decision.

Fighting occurs at the end of each turn and striking order is determined by the characters agility. Knock down an enemy in possession of valuables and they pile up on the floor ready to be picked up and deposited, but be wary of waging war as the same fate awaits your jewels should you lose. The goblin team are out for nothing more than Dwarven blood (though losing all your health actually only incapacitates you for a turn on the default setting) but the fact that they always move towards/attack the nearest player allows you to sabotage your rivals in a most satisfying way.

This game is a great example of accessible strategy done incredibly well. It alone makes the bundle worth picking up and the inclusion of all of its DLC simply means it will delve even deeper into your free time.

Delve Deeper

War of the Human Tanks:

Beneath the rather lengthy, rather odd and very anime dialogue is a fairly simplistic, but satisfying, strategy game based around the concept of… as you may have guessed… Human Tanks. This name is apt in terms of the story but unusual given that neither yourself or the enemy have any durability whatsoever and will die immediately upon being shot. This fragility makes for a enjoyable game somewhat reminiscent of Battleships but with considerably more depth.

Uncovering where the enemy is – through moving characters around the grids, surveying the area or simply taking a hopeful shot – before they find you is the crux of the game, but the different classes are cleverly designed and keep things interesting. For example, both teams have a commander whose death will end the battle regardless of the current strength of the opposing side. This lead to some tense, one-man remaining search and destroy missions that remain the high notes of my time with the game. Other ‘classes’ can launch attacks at long range, or have the ability to explode destroying the enemies in their immediate vicinity. Tough to utilise well but incredibly satisfying if you manage it, these ‘Shock Tanks’ became my favourite class and, more often than I care to admit, my customisable team was made damn near untenable due to their excessive inclusion.

The narrative seems to take up the majority of the games time and is somewhat of a struggle to get through. But the fact that the mechanics managed to engage me in spite of this speaks to how surprisingly addictive the game can be.

War of the Human Tanks

Eversion:

A deceptive game in numerous ways, Eversion begins as a cutesy platformer with the familiar focus of collecting gems and avoiding/jumping on enemies but soon decays into something altogether more sinister. The platforming, which feels fluid and accurate, is retained as is the adorable animation and graphic style, but they find themselves sharing the stage with increasingly intricate puzzles and nightmarish ‘eversions’ of the first world. Nothing is as it initially seems, with endings that… well… aren’t the end, and constant surprises and scares.

The eversion mechanic that switches from one world to another is limited to certain areas of the map. It is a necessary restriction and the puzzles wouldn’t be nearly as effective without it, but you can’t help but wonder if the same game built around the ability to freely switch would have been slightly more satisfying to play. That isn’t to say the game is bad, it is far from it and actually represents one of the surprise hits of this bundle, but it is something one can’t help but wonder when forced to backtrack.

The game isn’t overly long but revisiting the last level upon completion and collecting all the gems will ensure that you get to experience all that it has to offer –  something you most certainly shouldn’t evade.

Eversion

Fibrillation:

Once couldn’t have a collection of indie games without at least one of them being of the first person horror game persuasion. It isn’t a genre whose current prevalence I understand or enjoy, and whilst there are shades of Dear Esther here in terms of the lack of interaction and focus on atmosphere for me there was none of the engagement.

Darkened corridors, walls of static, birds and black fuzzy masses that I couldn’t help but label ‘passive Langoliers’ simply failed to elicit a response of any description. My apathy slipped occasionally, a seemingly endless staircase briefly turned it into annoyance, the interminable and poorly voiced monologue promoted that to anger and the blinking mechanic garnered a nodding and pouting combination that I can only assume meant I was impressed and intrigued in equal measure. The blinking is never used for anything remarkable, but the screen flickering to darkness every so often and your ability to control it via a mouse click makes it a constant, niggling element that works very well within the genre.

The game has divergent endings, despite its linearity, but one 45 minute playthrough was enough for me. People more prone to this type of horror may enjoy their time with it, but my heart rate remained steady throughout.

Fibrillation

It is, as I am sure you will agree, already a rather eclectic bunch of games but it doesn’t stop there. Pay over the average (currently just shy of $3.00) and the following games will also be included:

The Adventures of Shuggy:

I reviewed this upon release and found it to be an incredibly well paced and varied platformer with a challenging, but in no way sadistic, difficulty and a delightful aesthetic. The titular Shuggy is capable of many things, and his quest to fix the haunted house he has been left will see him having to master them all. Flight, time-based puzzles and some interesting (read laws of physics breaking) rope tricks made me recommend this title at full price… so as part of this bundle Shuggy is an undisputed sensation.

Adventures of Shuggy

Stay Dead:

Each year developers strive to add the most realistic graphics to their games by upping the polygon count and finely tuning pieces of code. Stay Dead kicks such practices firmly in the bollocks by revisiting the 90’s world of the FMV (Full Motion Video) game, and it is all the better for it.

Though the fighting style most assuredly isn’t Capoeira, the game is actually fairly analogous to it with its mix of martial arts and rhythm based fighting system. One limitation of it being actual video footage of people fighting is that the variety of moves and fluidity isn’t there, however, the ‘deplete your enemies health by 10 points within 10 rounds’ system and the three available moves (Simple Attack, Combo, Defence) serve the game surprisingly well. Hitting the button prompts quickly enough proves to be a rather strenuous reaction time test and the decision between the three moves is harder than you may think. A successful simple attack in each round is enough to defeat your foe, but the allure of the more damaging but more difficult combination attack is hard to resist and adopting a defensive stance can notably shift a battle’s momentum.

The style may be unusual and the characters rather laughable but the game as a whole is as impressive as its graphical fidelity.

Stay Dead

The 4th Wall:

Where Fibrillation fails The 4th Wall, which comes from the same, seemingly in-vogue genre, succeeds – it maintains ones interest. You do nothing more than walk around, but there is a compelling air of mystery and a surprising amount of variation within the navigational puzzles you must overcome. It isn’t psychologically affecting – staring eyes, blood and static are a bit too clichéd to be chilling – but the jump scares it contains are well paced and cleverly conceived. With three walls surrounding you and a worm-like creature squirming above, the game manages to make an impact. It doesn’t last long, but it’s tempting (and rewarding) to play through it a few times.

The 4th Wall

Flibble:

Flibble is a 10 level retro-styled adventure game that sees Captain Dirk British, and his rather wry computer companion Clive, stranded on an alien planet tasked with freeing the Flibbles so they can once more Flibble their way through their Flibbley lives.

The levels are increasingly complex mazes with ever more menacing foes whose exits unlock when enough Flibbles are freed. It is a familiar concept, but there are a couple of novel mechanics that make Flibble almost as fun to play as it is to say. The ability to place breadcrumbs to mark where you have been proves damn near indispensable towards the latter part of the game, and you have a limited amount of bullets that cleverly promotes avoidance rather than attack. More importantly though, if you get somewhat bored during the text laden cutscenes you can make random explosions occur… so why wouldn’t you?

Well, because the writing is witty and engaging enough to negate the need for such additional excitement. There is an unmistakable hint of Douglas Adams here in more than just the characters first name. It delivers it’s silliness with the same degree of sincerity, the interplay between man and machine has that same amusing antagonism and it all fits perfectly with this Flibble-freeing adventure.

Those who can’t help but click through dialogue will fail to appreciate it, but everyone else should find it to be an hour well Flibbled!

Flibble

The ‘Just Added Yesterday In An Attempt To Sabotage My Review’ Games:

Thankfully, there are only two of these and one is an non-reviewable pre-order for Shadows on the Vatican; Act 2. Despite some misgivings with the first instalment  I look forward to seeing how much more the premise can deliver in terms of mystery now that the introductions are out of the way and some of the problems have been discovered.

The second, playable, addition is Skylight – a rather simplistic 3d Doodle Jump with an impressive soundtrack and one of the most relaxing atmospheres I have ever experienced. It is fairly shallow, you simply have to guide your auto jumping robot to the end via intermediate platforms, but to its credit variety is garnered by more than just the randomly generated levels. For one, the platforms make different sounds when you land on them, including piano platforms that play a few consecutive notes, and the platforms are also in various states of stability which affects both your jump height and momentum.

It isn’t a game you will play for long, but you may very well find yourself returning to it should you want to simply unwind with a casual game and the music and appealing minimalist aesthetic makes it a solid choice for such moments.

Skylight

Extras:

If games aren’t enough for you, well this bundle also has you covered with OST’s for War of the Human Tanks, The Adventures of Shuggy, Shadows on the Vatican and, as a rather lovely exclusive, the upcoming stop-motion arcade puzzler Droidscape: Basilica. Throw in a The Adventures of Shuggy Comic as well as a focus that is both charitable (with 5% of the money going towards The Hellenic Centre for Mental Health and Treatment of Child and Family – which diagnoses and treats children and adolescents with autism or psychosis while simultaneously supporting their families) and supportive of the wider indie community (via the Indie Dev Grant) and you have a rather robust bundle.

Conclusion:

As one would expect from an eclectic bundle, it is a rather mixed bag (or box for you lovers of shoddy wordplay). There are definite high points – I still can’t believe The Adventures of Shuggy is included and I am far from through with the incredible Delve Deeper – some middling efforts more than worthy of your time and perhaps one, slight disappointment in the form of Fibrillation – though I suspect others would actually respond rather favourably to it. Quite simply, bundles don’t get more bargainous or unmistakably indie than this.

If your interest is at all piqued, then get on over to the Bundle in a Box website and treat yourself or a loved one to 11 games for less that $3 (paying more than that is of course an option) – it is such a ridiculous offer that it felt somewhat bizarre typing it out, but it feels damn good to play through it.

Giveaway Now Closed – Winners Announced Below

Having plied our resident randomiser with a rather worrying amount of eggnog, it eventually spat out 5 names for me to award the bundle codes to and then slurred something mildly offensive and went to sleep. The winners of this brilliant bundle have already been contacted and are:

From the Comments:

Crudgeon

Kelsey

From Twitter:

@SGspace

@RaulMarq

@randomwolf

For the rest of you, I can only once again urge you to treat yourself to these eclectic games and delectable extras. You have a good couple of days to do so.