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IMG's uDevGame Picks of the Litter
December 3, 2002 | IMG Staff
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Galen Wiley
Galen Wiley has worked at Inside Mac Games as a news writer for almost four months, and has enjoyed every minute of it. His favorite genre of games are FPSes, and his current favorite games are Jedi Knight II, Soldier of Fortune II, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein.

Black Shades
While Black Shades is in fact, the token FPS of the uDev Gaming realm, its similarities to popular shooters such as Quake 3: Arena end there. Instead of just a mindless "blow enemies' heads off with napalm grenades and god-like weapons with three letter anagrams for names" sort of game, Black Shades strides for a purpose. As a psychic bodyguard, your mission is to protect your target at all costs whilst traveling around the city on a busy day. In the game, your target is marked by a white figure, and other civilians are marked with various other colors. What the game doesn't tell you is that some of these civilians are in fact assassins out to get your target by either shooting him or stabbing him in the back. You must stop them for as long as you can. Simple, neh?

The game plays out much like any typical FPS. You strafe with the keyboard and look and fire with the mouse. Aside from the other essential moves (running, jumping, crouching, etc.), Black Shades also boasts a few unique moves of its own. By running and jumping at the same time, you can dive onto your target, getting him out of harms way. Also, by aiming and unaiming your weapon, you have the option of whacking or disarming your opponent rather than firing at him.

Of course, there will be those times when you're just so overwhelmed with foes that no normal human being could stop them. Lucky for you, you're a psychic body guard, with well, psychic powers. You'll get two special abilities that you can use at any time when you think you're going to need some help. The first ability is called soul release, where you actually leave your body to travel in a pseudo-negative dimension. Here, you can explore the city in its entirety, and search for potential threats by identifying figures in red. Once you return to your body, you can stop a threat before it even becomes one. Your second ability is one fans of The Matrix will love, psychic aim, which allows you to temporarily slow down time, giving you a chance to quickly dispose of your target's assailants before they dispose of him. Both abilities are extremely helpful, especially when your target is pinned down with hostiles.

You're given a slew of different weapons, including pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, grenades, and of course, a trusty knife. Your primary weapon depends on the current level, but you can also pick up your enemies' weapons, assuming you've killed them first.

Black Shades's graphics, while certainly not on par with such modern games as Soldier of Fortune II do boast a solid 3D-feel, even at an extremely low polygon count. Models are sharp, blocky, untextured, and sure to bring gamers back to those Spectre Supreme days. Still, the game's looks hardly degrade the gameplay experience, and considering its from a one man operation for an independent game developer competition, expectations aren't that high to begin with. Personally, I thought the game's graphics were great. You can judge them yourself in the attached screenshot. Sound is fairly typical. There's your usual techno/house remix soundtrack to get you in the killing mood, and the generic "gun firing" and "gun reloading" sounds that I'm sure we're all aware of by now. Again, the game's chief strength is in its gameplay, so I wouldn't take sound into too much account when playing it.

Overall, Black Shades delivers a solid, fun, experience for FPS fans and general gamers alike. It takes the widely-loved FPS formula and adds a psychical twist. A very solid entry into the uDevGames competition.

Kiki the Nanobot
I must say, in all my gaming years, I've never come across a game quite like Kiki the Nanobot. Combining a mix between action, puzzle, and adventure, the game tells the journey of a small nanobot named Kiki who must restore balance back to his maker after a mysterious disaster that has caused his fellow nanobots to become brainless and violent. The game is seperated into different levels, where you must reach the goal (represented by a spinning icon) by solving progessively difficult puzzles that test each and every one of Kiki's abilities. The puzzles can be as simple as pushing a few blocks away to create a path, or as complicated as stacking two blocks on top of eachother, crawling against the wall, jumping at a 90 degree angle from the blocks, landing on them, hitting a switch, jumping to another block, and well, you get the idea.

Each level takes place inside what appears to be a giant cube with 8 walls. As a nanobot, the player moves alongside the inner walls of the cube, neglecting gravity. The player can escape from the walls by jumping onto suspended cubes, which then act as their own "walls" that Kiki can travel around. The general idea is that Kiki is basically a mobile magnet to all objects in his world.

Besides being able to move, Kiki has three other key abilities, jumping, pushing, and shooting. Jumping, as explained earlier, can be used to leap from one object to the next, with a maximum of two spaces a time. Pushing is used for moving blocks around, while shooting is used to activate switches. The earliest levels of the game only require one skill to be used, but as the game progresses, you'll have to use every one to pass a level.

Speaking of which, I was very impressed by the game's variety of levels. For example, the first mission "Spikes", features four walls of spikes that intrude and extrude in a continuous fashion. You must leap from wall to wall, making sure not to get your health knocked down, until you reach the game. A later mission "Gold" had an entirely different premise, where multi-layered wall of blocks is blocking the path to the goal, and the player must make a path of his or her own through the wall and to the other side. Every single level was completely different, something that really gave the game a fresh feeling every time the player reaches a new level.

The game is rendered entirely in 3D (which, I might add, really makes the game a whole lot more challenging). Kiki, while still not composed of many polygons, appears smooth and polished looking. The game doesn't have much in the texture department, but the contrasts and mood of the colors in the game are very suitable. Kiki lacks a soundtrack (besides the ambient beating of a heart that plays continuously), but has appropriate sound effects, even though there are not many to begin with.

If you're in the mood for a good, challenging, puzzle game, I urge you to give Kiki a try. The game is absolutely free, and is sure to delight any kind of Mac gamer.

AstroSquid
This year's uDevGames contest brought quite a few arcade shooters, but my favorite by far is AstroSquid from Lost Minds. In it, you take on the role of a purple alien spacecraft with an incredible resemblance to that of a squid. You travel through space in a side-scrolling Galaga-esque manner, annihilating anything in your path. And, even despite its ridiculous name, the game is a blast to play, literally.

Any self-respecting arcade shooter features at least some sort of powerups, and AstroSquid is no exception. There are four different weapon systems, anything from a plasma ray to a laser beam, four upgrade levels per system, and a special attack that eliminates everything on the screen, totaling to 17 different weapons in all. There are also two special defensive powerups you can pick up, increased shields and even an extra man (life) in case you happen to get yourself into the wrong situation.

AstroSquid just oozes variety. The game spans across 16 levels, each more difficult than the next. Levels range anywhere from a field of space junk to a secret military base. Along the way, players will encounter numerous bosses as well that I found to be quite challenging. There are also a numerous amount of regular baddies, such as homing bombs and gun emplacements, just to name a few. When you first play the game, you won't think too much about them, but later on, they become yet another challenge.

From a graphical standpoint, AstroSquid has a very sharp, clean look that even rivals that of today's commercial 2D shooters. The game runs very smoothly on my G3 600 MHz, but for the slower computers, there is an option to degrade the visual value for speed's sake. The soundtrack has all the sci-fi techno music you'll need, even though I could have sworn I've heard some of the sounds before in a Metroid game. Sound effects are as expected, your typical, nothing special, but still very suiting blasting/exploding noises that will take you back to your college days spent at the arcade.

In closing, AstroSquid is the Mac's answer to a good, solid old-school arcade shooter. The game has great graphics, suitable sound, and of course, great gameplay. If you like it a lot, do a favor to the author and register your own copy for just $10, so that we can see more great shareware titles like AstroSquid come to the Mac.



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