So I've been playing Ms. 'Splosion Man on Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) for the past few days now. I've been wanting to mention it earlier, but the embargo was pretty specific about not saying anything, whether positive or negative. Thankfully, that embargo ended, so now I can spill…

As you can tell from this review, I was pretty high on the first 'Splosion Man, and for good reason—it was a fantastic game. When I heard that Twisted Pixel was going back to that well with a female twist, I have to admit that I groaned a little bit. I was having a hard time imagining how such a revisiting could be as interesting or fun as the first one was, but… although I haven't completed the single or multi campaigns, I think they pulled it off.

I'll save further discussion for my full review, but from what I've seen of the game, this is easily an instant-purchase. New mechanics, new music, genuinely funny bits and a co-op campaign that's totally different from the single player… some of the checkpoints are a *wee* bit too far apart, but that's really my only complaint up to this point.

If I was to give it a score RIGHT THIS SECOND, it would be getting pretty great marks.

When I haven't been 'sploding, I've been putting time into Knights Contract on 360. (There's no apostrophe anywhere in the title? Really?)

I know that the game has been panned almost universally, but I was still intrigued enough to check it out. Although I'm not a fan of escort missions per se, I did like the idea of being an immortal bodyguard tasked with keeping a mortal person safe in a fantasy-styled adventure.

At a point maybe a third of the way through, I can see that it's heavily flawed, but I'm not ready to call it the train wreck that others have.

Knights Contract Screenshot

As a way of explaining its problems in just a few words, it's important to know that the title was developed by now-disbanded Game Republic. If you're familiar with their games (Genji, Folklore, Majin) that pretty much says it all.

To be honest, that studio has always fascinated me because they come up with some brilliant ideas, yet they always managed to completely bungle some aspect of them every single time. They screw up so regularly and so consistently, in fact, it's as if they are intentionally sabotaging themselves. That is certainly the case here.

The good: great concept, fun and powerful magic system, some neat bosses.

The bad: simplistic melee, mazelike levels with maps so bad they’re insulting, frequent load times.

Apparently things get worse as you get further in the game so my opinion could certainly degrade over time, but right now it's just another one of those "almost really good" Game Republic titles. It's a shame, really—with just a few different design choices, they could have had a string of hits. Instead, they're not even a studio anymore.

PAX Prime 2011 is just around the corner, and the annual picks for the PAX 10 indie competition have been announced.

I think it's fantastic that Penny Arcade takes the time to put such a spotlight on Indies, and it seems like they've got some really good ones this time around. (Like they always do…)

A Flipping Good Time, Digipen Institute of Technology, PC — Players will have a flipping good time in this fast-paced free-flowing 2D platformer as they flip and fly through an expansive underground world using the fluid nature of gravity to avoid hazardous terrain.

Antichamber, Alexander Bruce, PC — Journey through the depths within a non-Euclidean labyrinth where geometry and space follow unfamiliar rules, and many obstacles are a matter of perception. Players must create, destroy and manipulate matter in this mind-bending psychological exploration game.

Antichamber Screenshot

Atom Zombie Smasher, Blendo Games, PC, Mac, Linux — The zombie apocalypse is upon us! Take strategic command of mercenary forces to conduct massive rescue operations using military forces such as snipers, artillery crews, and orbital bombardments to hold back the undead while the civilians escape.

Fez, Polytron, XBLA — Guide Gomez, a 2D creature, on a voyage of discovery into the mysterious 3rd dimension. Change his perspective and look at the world in a different way.

Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony, Final Form Games, PC — A neo-classical top-down shooter for up to 4 players set on 17th-century British Colonial Mars with a new twist on the genre. There are no shared pools of health or lives; so long as any player survives, the team can be brought back from death.

Snapshot, Retro Affect, PC — Pic, a robot camera, can actually absorb objects into photographs, removing them from existence! By pasting pictures back into the world, captured objects – everything from doors, light, even copies of yourself – can be used to solve puzzles.

Solar 2, Murudai, PC — In this open-world, sandbox game set in an infinite abstract universe, players are the planets. Play constructively: grow your system, nurture life and attack enemy life in huge battles. Play destructively: crash into objects and cause chaos, use orbiting objects like wrecking balls and steal planets.

Splatters, SpikySnail, PC — You play as a group of semi-suicidal, liquid filled Splatters that get their kicks by igniting in colorful confetti bombs of liquid. Crash into spikes, ride the slides, Air-Strike into bombs or do just any stunt-combo you can think of. With every new maneuver learned, each show becomes more spectacular.

Vanessa Saint-Pierre Delacroix & Her Nightmare, Bad Pilcrow, PC — Standing between Vanessa and freedom are platforming mechanics. The twist? Her two-dimensional world lies on the surface of a three-dimensional cube, and players must rotate each face to find clever solutions to a wide variety of problems.

Word Fighter, Feel Every Yummy, iOS, Android — A one-on-one word battling game that mixes rules from popular word games like Boggle and Scrabble and wraps them around a competitive fighting environment.

Word Fighter Screenshot

Think "Street Fighter" meets "Words with Friends", or word games mashed together with "Super Puzzle Fighter".

Brad Gallaway
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