A while ago Parasitus: Ninja Zero by a team called Heart Attack Machine caught my attention on the XBox Live Indie Game marketplace. The screenshots promised a great 2D action platformer experience a la Castlevania, with some gorgeous sprite work for an indie game. Unfortunately, the game was not that great. The controls were awkward and the pacing was off. The game runs very fast overall, feeling like those old Chaplin movies run in 30fps. Furthermore the mostly fine dot graphics (with some lazy elements here and there) were spoiled by superficial hi-res CGI effects. So after going through the trial I passed on buying the full game.
Now recently HAM put out a prequel to their first game, dubbed Invasion. It was clear that it used many graphics assets from Parasitus, but it at the same time it looked more polished, as if some of the more unfitting background elements were phased out. I was hopeful to see my complaints rectified, although the new game was in a different subgenre.
At the place of the swordfighting in Parasitus stands a run 'n gun experience. But the controls are just as bad, if not worse. The games have that weird uneducated jumping mechanics where the character stops rising into the air the exact instance one lets going the button. Also in Invasion one shoots diagonally up by holding the left or right shoulder bumper, respectively. Holding both fires straight up, but when you press the left bumper while running right, nothing happens. Worst of all, doing any of this may lock up the fire button for seconds, resulting in many cheap hits because you simply can't fire.
Then there's this:
Seriously? You put that in the same game with the best pixel work on all of XBLIG? Are you quite insane?! One good thing about Parasitus besides the graphics was the fact that it didn't try to tell much of a story (at least not in the trial). Well, their first game didn't do so good on the marketplace, so they probably looked at hits like Braid and thought: "Lots of text equals success!" Needless to say, the writing is as abysmal as can be, with more pathetic, forced innuendos than Magna Cum Laude, and the crappy mugshots kill whatever cozy Amiga atmosphere the CGI effects left over.
OK, I might be a bit hard on the games. After all, they're not actually that bad, just alright homebrew games, with really really bad writing in the second, but I guess really really bad is the standard for writing in indie games, anyway. It's just that they hold back one of the more competent pixel artists in indie gaming today, while fun and even publisher-backed "2D" games often have to be covered in drab shadow figures or insipid flat-shaded "newgrounds" shapes. So, how do we tell this artist what could be accomplished with a team that knows to design (and write!) a great game around those great pixels?