PEGBRJE: Double Cross and Gutwhale

There’s my boi on the left there, he’s just so COOL.

Double Cross is an intergalactic action adventure made by 13AM Games, an indie studio out of Toronto, and published by Graffiti Games which also helped with the earlier bundle title Joggernauts. This is another studio that I had actually heard of prior to the bundle as I had attended their game dev meetup called Bonus Stage back when we could actually go outside and all. Nevertheless, this is the first title of theirs that I’ve played, and it follows an agent of multiverse protectors. Players are Agent Zahara Sinclair, member of RIFT (Regulators of Interdimensional Frontiers and Technology) who protect and serve the multiverse to stop individuals from going places they shouldn’t. Think of RIFT as the Men in Black of multiverse theory; looking into disruptions in portals, returning individuals to their locations and generally assisting in keeping each universe’s people within their own. However, this all goes awry when someone infiltrates RIFT Headquarters, and it is up to Zahara to find out who, how, and why.

Double Cross is a game of momentum and fluidity, utilizing the 3 different planets to vary up the gameplay for players to explore. Traditionally, players will be punching their enemies to death while running, platforming, and dodging out anything that they cannot destroy with their bare hands. Zahara comes equip with a special item called a ‘Proton Slinger’ which allows her to grapple to certain objects within the world to interact with them. Usually this will be used to swing across chasms and skip enemies, but there are some instances where she can grab ahold of items to interact with such as enemy projectiles to throw back at them or rip down loose boards. The slinger interactions are essential to master as the game progresses, as new challenges appear that require multiple uses of the proton slinger within a small timeframe to be effective. Thankfully, utilizing the slinger slows down time with a lovely sound cue to give players ample time to utilize it, while also giving them a momentary pause to reassess the situation and possibly avoid damage or death.

What helps Double Cross stand out is just how polished and aesthetically pleasing it is to the senses while playing. The 2D backdrops are stunning to look at while exploring, while not obscuring from the actual interactable platforms and terrain that Zahara is constantly jumping across. The RIFT agents are all varied and colourful, from the giant plant man Trainer to the scientist Sam Squatch, all characters that Zahara interacts with as she attempts to figure out who may be the masked Suspect X that broke in. My personal favourite, however, isn’t even an agent of RIFT: I just really like V”!!K}~X ‘s design. They just look so happy. Outside of character design, the sound design is also really clean from the aforementioned sound cue for the proton slinger to the fantastic ‘low health’ sound that isn’t absolutely grating on the ears like earlier adventure titles.

The story continues forward as Zahara collects more items that assist in finding the culprit behind the RIFT break in, having a small investigative that may not lead to multiple endings, but it felt fresh and engaging nonetheless to collect evidence and discuss with superiors about their significance. It helped to round Double Cross into a fairly exciting action platforming title with enough variance in gameplay thanks to the upgrades to keep things fresh and exciting. I will make a note that anyone playing with a controller may want to check the gamepad settings beforehand; I use a PS4 controller with DS4 and my initial bindings were so uncomfortable that I was using M&K just for the throwing sequences which was super awkward. I was able to fix them, but it’s worth making note of.

For those looking for a fluid platforming adventure that comes with varying difficulties for speedrunning or just casually following the plot, Double Cross has a lot to offer in a fairly compact title. If you enjoy space multiverse adventures with hidden collectables within each level, this is also definitely a game worth trying out.

The coolest of hats is ready to dive into the whale. Cue Jonah music.

Gutwhale is a roguelike shooty shooty by StuffedWombat, a solo indie dev, in collaboration with Franek & Britt Brady. While I hadn’t heard of this developer before the bundle, their story of building this game during the pandemic hit a tad close to home; after all, that’s when I started doing this overview shenanigan. Difference being that Gutwhale was somehow made before the bundle was even launched to be included, which timeline wise means that it was built in less than a month. So what’s inside? Well, players play as a gentleman who’s entire house has been swallowed by a whale, and they must battle to the bottom of the digestive system in order to find out if they can even escape or not.

On paper the core gameplay seems relatively similar to other roguelikes with a few shakeups in positioning and movement. Players are dropped between areas, rather than having free movement to choose where to go, so where they fall after defeating all of the enemies can be important. Enemies can be discovered before falling to the next level by red ! on the floor, so they can find a safe place to position for when they kill the last enemy. Players can also ‘air walk’ while jumping to make their jump arc slightly different and allow them to shoot downward, which can help position for the fall as well. This allows them to battle downwards to a ‘checkpoint’ of sorts, to move onto the next region of 3 to find their way deeper.

The big difference in Gutwhale is that players only get one shot, and must collect it. All of that previously mentioned positioning importance becomes twofold yet nonexistent thanks to this mechanic, as players scramble to ensure that their shot can be easily recollected after every kill. The most terrifying moments are killing off the last enemy of a floor, only for the bullet to drop right on top of the next group of enemies leaving the fish explorer defenseless. The bullet can also be moved by enemies once it has done being ‘shot’, which can turn that precious bullet into a hot potato incident where they just won’t give it back. Thankfully, there is a solution, but it isn’t a safe one: dying. Players are given two lives (unless they equip a cool hat), and losing one simply respawns them back in the same area with a new bullet. This means there are now two bullets floating around which allows for more safety, but is a great risk thanks to not having that buffer life anymore.

To add to the complexity and dissuade from just wasting a life to get two bullets, each zone has a specific point requirement to continue onward. Points are gained by killing enemies and not letting the bullet hit the ground while doing so, meaning that having two bullets actively gives the lowest point total possible unless one bullet is ignored. It becomes almost a juggling act of positioning and speed to ensure the most possible points without dying, something that I couldn’t seem to come to grips with at all as I died a lot. Thing was, I kept retrying because it was so much fun to play those few levels over and over and over again.

Gutwhale has somehow captured the joy of a roguelike within the smallest possible framework — there are only 3 advertised areas, which I couldn’t make it past area 2, but I kept wanting to restart. The bullet mechanic is absolutely genius in its execution, forcing positioning mistakes when there normally wouldn’t be any if bullets were just an ammo instead of a single finite resource. Add the fantastic soundtrack and crisp controls and you’ve got a game that can be played for multiple hours if desired, or just a few runs to see how good you can be. Anyone looking for a new rogue-like will enjoy Gutwhale, even if the name may confuse at first.

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Jacob Vorstenbosch

Jacob Vorstenbosch

Just a Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.