Nicalis’ New Lineup Feels Underwhelming

Considering some of Nicalis’ tastes when it comes to choosing what indie games to develop and/or help release for various platforms, such as VVVVVV and Cave Story, I was excited to have a chance to check out some of the new and upcoming titles that they would be releasing. And when I finally saw what they had to show off…I couldn’t help but fill a bit disappointed. Not there was anything bad there, per say, it’s just that after playing a part in helping some real classics reach even more audiences, what they had to show off here felt like a bit of a step down from what was expected.

First, we had The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth , the latest expansion to the Rebirth remake of the ever-popular roguelike game. Unsurprisingly, it still plays superbly, the 16-bit graphical overhaul is still a delight, and it still puts up a fine challenge. But save for a general time attack mode that I was playing, it got to the point where I couldn’t tell what parts of this expansion were actually new to the game (except for the Lil Monstro familiar, which was admittedly neat), since nothing stood out beyond the usual insanity, and even the bosses were just yet even more re-skins of existing ones like Monstro and the Duke of Flies. I’m certain the final expansion will still be a hoot, and will introduce more content that’s a blast to experiment with…although on the other end, piling on yet another “true” ending and win condition is still getting a bit annoying (I already had to beat the first game ten times, for crying out loud…). Still, more Binding of Isaac is never a bad thing, I suppose.

Then we had Creepy Castle from developers Dopterra, a 2D action RPG that’s meant to be an ode to the days of more retro games from the 8-bit era and prior, down to the somewhat-jerky animation. There are more than a few people excited for the adventures of Moth and their metroidvania-esque adventure into the titular castle, but I admit I had some trouble getting truly excited. Maybe it’s just because the retro style in this case leans more towards a Commodore 64/ZX Spectrum/et cetera look and feel, which is a point of gaming history I don’t have any particular nostalgia for, unlike NES-inspired games. It also doesn’t help that the Paper Mario inspired combat consisting of different types of mini-games and quick-time events got a bit vague at times, and made it a bit hard to figure out what to do to successfully land or avoid an attack. That being said, the game still looks incredible and makes great use of the limited color palette, has a nice emphasis on exploration, and still plays quite well, so it was easily the best and most promising game of the lot. We’ll see if it can impress us further when it comes out on October 31.

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In a sharp contrast to all of the other games on display being inspired by retro gaming one way or another, Dimensional Intersection was a virtual reality game Nicalis had that was developed by DNV, and is available right now. It’s described as a unique new way to experience music as you experience the trance-like interactive visuals of…oh, who am I kidding, it’s a glorified kaleidoscope.

Sorry, I consider myself to be quite optimistic when it comes to a lot of video games I see, both released and in progress, especially on the indie circuit, but I really did not like this game. Mind you, “game” wouldn’t be the best way to describe it. You pick a track, zoom down through a tunnel of fractals and 3D models, occasionally press a button to change your view, and move an invisible sphere around to alter things, but basically you just sit there, listen to the electronica music, and watch pretty colors. That’s it. And after one-fifth of a song, it feels like you’ll have experienced all it has to offer. Maybe an option to bring in your own music like in AudioSurf, to name an example, would have been neat, but otherwise this is basically a tech demo, and sadly not an impressive one at that.

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Ittle Dew 2 was the next offering, acting as the sequel to the Zelda homage from a few years ago that as a surprise hit among gamers. Again, I admit that I wasn’t that big a fan of the original, though. It was pretty good, but didn’t really bring anything that exciting to the table. And so far, it looks like the same goes for the second game as well. Ittle and Tippsie once again crash land onto another mysterious island, and set out to retrieve the pieces of a raft that they need. The top-down gameplay is still fine, the upgrade to 3D graphics makes everything stand out more, and there are some cute bits of humor, such as the pillow fort-themed enemies that make up the tutorial, but otherwise I didn’t see anything that unique which would hold my attention, and the enemies oddly felt a bit too aggressive. Still, there very much is potential here, so here’s hoping developers Ludosity make good use of it before the game comes out soon.

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Finally, there’s Tiny Barbarian DX from StarQuail Games, where Nicalis is handling the console versions of the game after a successful release on Steam. It is…a retro arcade 2D platformer. And what felt like an extremely basic one at that. It was still pretty good, but I never came across a single part in it that felt impressive or noteworthy. You jump, you advance, you slash things. That’s it. It may feel like an authentic arcade platformer, but it had nothing that really stood out.

And looking back on it, that sums up Nicalis’ lineup here perfectly: a lot of decent old-school video games, but nothing that stands out. There’s some fun to be had here (well, not so much with Dimensional Intersection), but in contrast to a lot of other indie publishers, it doesn’t feel like there are any real chances being taken, no big twists on these sorts of games. Again, most of them are or will be good games, but I just feel that Nicalis could do (and have done) better. Hopefully, that will be the case down the road, but at least something like Creepy Castle can still make for some decent entertainment until then.