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Indie games, like other independent art forms, aren’t subject to the requirements of publishers to recoup large development and marketing budgets. These games can be made for a smaller audience or even with no concern for any audience beyond the developers themselves. They are often little more than an example of a neat concept, but can be very original and unique. For gamers, these slivers of new ground are refreshing, sometimes fascinating, examples of what games can be when they aren’t required to meet a bottom line expectation.
Two indie games that stand out as original and enjoyable twists to the games we usually play are Blueberry Garden and Tag: The Power of Paint. Blueberry Garden is a platform game that removes the linearity so common to this genre. Tag is a first person puzzle game, which we have seen in Portal, but the puzzles are of a very different nature.
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First Person Puzzles, Platform, and Paint
Imagine your thesis at school was a really fun video game. A team of students at DigiPen did just this with Tag: The Power of Paint, picking up a Best Student Game award at the Independent Games Festival. Tag is a first-person perspective puzzle game. Portal is as well, but it’s not like there are tons of first person puzzlers out there. And Tag has a totally different mechanic to its puzzles.
You spray one of several colours of paint, but instead of the mindless vandalism (writing 420 on something in marker isn’t street art) glorified by some games, your tagging has a purpose in The Power of Paint. The different colours you spray stay on the walls ceilings, and floors, and have effects on you when you step on them. You don’t jump for instance, you lay down some green pain, which will launch you through the air when you step on it.
There are no enemies, but the moving platforms and high-speed, gravity defying activities you can pull off give it way more pace than a traditional puzzle game. There is a groovy but short soundtrack and some spraying noises to accompany your adventure. The graphics style is very simple, but dramatic and effective, with the only colour in the game being that which you spray down, or on areas that are red, green, or blue which have the same effects as the paint you lay down.
This makes for clever and thrilling puzzles as the pre-painted areas are often used in the solution, resulting in flinging your self of a roof top hundreds of feet through the air, bouncing off a green bill-board, then doing a mid air 180 to face and run up the red building at insane speed, which will launch you right over the building when you reach the roof, slamming you into a overhanging building. Aim up and spray some blue paint and you’ll stick upside down, keep spraying blue paint and you can walk to the edge, then up the side of the building to the exit.
Tag blends intelligent puzzles, exciting platforming, and wild physics seamlessly with a first person perspective. It’s a pile of fun, and you can download Tag for free.
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A Wonderful, but Short, Ride
Blueberry Garden removes the linearity that is almost a hallmark of the genre. Instead of plugging ahead toward the obvious goal, you start off more or less in the middle of the game and work out. The soundtrack is beautiful and along with the whimsical, stick figure art style creates a real feeling of freedom as you wander around, and particularly when you take to the air. Fans of this game, myself included, immediately come up with charming and whimsical to describe both the game play and style.
The clever open ended platform environement of Blueberry Garden is complemented well with different fruits lying around, which have effects not only on you, but the environment. This makes for a neat puzzle element as you explore the Blueberry Garden and discover which fruits do what and how to use them to get the bizarre items that stack up near the starting point, which you can leap from the top of to fly further and see more of the game.
There is the problem - there’s not much game to see. As enjoyable as wandering the Blueberry Garden is, it will take only a couple hours to unravel its mysteries, and that is it. While the game has a very big level, it only has the one level. It would be wonderful to expand the game and have a single, giant, open ended level to enjoy, but that would take a lot of design. The compromise would have been to include several levels.
Though having won the main Award at the Independent Games Festival, Blueberry Garden is less universally loved than Tag. Some of this is obviously down to Tag being a free download produced by students, while Blueberry Garden is a commercial project that will set you back a fiver at Steam. Obviously, a five dollar hamburger should be better than free one.
Whether Blueberry Garden is worth five bucks depends largely on if you immediately fall in love with the look and feel of the game or not. I can’t recommend purchasing it to everyone, but the demo (also at Steam) is definitely worth a spin.