PEGBRJE: Shn!p and Xenogunner
Shn!p is a minimalist puzzle game made by indie dev flatbutton, who specializes in the style of minimalism from Germany. Within this title, players will be attempting to clear the board of all the cute dots that reside within the squares by having them bounce each other out of the configuration. Seems simple enough, right? Well…
The way the puzzle mechanics work is that each dot bounces all other dots around it away from the dot that has been selected, which consumes that dot. If the dots leave the confines of the grid, they are free and no longer exist. To be able to bounce, however, requires certain conditions; the biggest being that there must be something to bounce. If there are no dots surrounding the selected dot, absolutely nothing happens. The same occurs if the only dot near the selected dot is of a different colour, for that does not allow for any kind of movement either. Instead, at least one extra dot of the same colour needs to be present, and then all kinds of dots surrounding the selected are bounced successfully. These two rules make up the core of the gameplay, as players need to be focusing on how each of their bounces leaves the boardstate so that they can keep moving dots off the board. Isolating a dot can be a death sentence if not planned properly, but thankfully bouncing a dot doesn’t necessarily mean it has to leave the board. Many solutions actively encourage moving dots around the grid in order to allow for some solo’ed ones to be interactable, which helps to diversify the process in which players need to go through. Sure, removing the dots immediately is satisfying, but doesn’t always lead to victory.
From these simple steps comes the complicated aspects of Shn!p, where blocking walls, colour changers, bizarre holes and other crazy obstacles are thrown in to the grid. The base style already took me a while to wrap my head around it rather than mindlessly clicking and hoping, but the introduction of the other obstacles that can be utilized is where my head went for a spin. There are a few ways of alleviating the difficulty, but not in an easy mode kind of way. In the top left there is a counter for how many moves the player has performed, as well as the number of moves that should be used to complete the level as indicated in an A/B style. While not a direct assistant, it does help players realize that they may have the wrong solution a bit earlier when they are seemingly completing a level and still have extra moves left; generally indicating that there will be dots left over.
With 160 levels, Shn!p holds nothing back to ensure that players will have an extensively difficult time solving every single puzzle. The minimalism helps to keep the mechanics and gameplay clean, while also separating the colours nicely so that the colourblind modes can be utilized easily without fear. While I am usually confident in my skills, I can also easily state that this title had me stumped more than a few times before I got out of the starter levels, and it got even more challenging from there. If you love spatial-based puzzles that can be found on the iOS store, this is definitely one to try.
Xenogunner is a run and gun bullet fiesta made by Clickteam, a development group that creates software of many kinds, ranging from the Clickteam Fusion programming tool (which FNAF and Baba is You were made with) to video games to educational software. The two behind the team have been working within the software space since ’83, so it is safe to say that they may know a thing or two about what makes this amazing lightning rock we call a computer operate. Now these accolades are impressive in their own right, so what is up with this title in particular, and what are we doing in the future of 2011?
Xenogunner follows two stories, technically, but we’ll focus on the first one, that of the King Zeta Reak. Once a kind ruler, he was overthrown by a mysterious yet powerful terror known only as the Xenogunner capable of superpowers beyond many wildest dreams. Thanks to a stray meteor, Zeta is able to break free of his prison and begins his conquest to reclaim the throne no matter what is thrown his way; and a lot is thrown his way.
Now, I’ve been slightly disingenuous over the past year as I’ve repeated many, many times that I don’t have much connection to the games of the 80s and 90s — that era of titles never made their way to me. While true, technically there are a few titles that I’m not only familiar with, but actively attempted and enjoyed. The big one, for me, was Contra. Playing as a commando looking suspiciously like Schwarzenegger (yes I know he was the inspiration), running around shooting everything and anything while dodging way too many bullets. This was my first feeling upon starting up Xenogunner, but at a much faster pace with way more options.
Note: After writing this blog, I went back to the itch.io page to read some comments as I usually do, and have learned that the main inspiration was Alien Soldier which makes way more sense upon investigation. I like Contra, but the style Xenogunner is creating fits way more with the multi-weapon double jumping speed murder time. This also explains why I felt the way I did; just wanted to add some context.
As one might expect from a run and gun, enemies and bullets can turn the screen into a fantastic rave if left unchecked, so it is up to the three primary weapons and some good aim to remove all threats before continuing forward. Players will be using the mouse to aim (unless they rebind for controller) as they run across the side scrolling level, firing on all enemies with either a rapid fire shot, a triple energy shot, or a bizarre boomerang-looking blaster that seems to follow the cursor. To keep up with the pace, players are given a second mobility option outside of the jump in the form of a dash which dodges all hazards whilst doing so. It is by far the best ability granted, and a well timed dash can negate serious damage that could’ve been dealt by a boss or the chip damage done by the bullets along the way. Of course, the usage of the ability is more important than the ability itself, for players will find that out quickly as enemies begin to be placed in more advantageous positions to make the journey to the boss harder. Since health can be over capped, taking as little damage as possible is crucial to experimenting with and defeating the boss, because there is one small detail I’ve neglected to mention; die at any time, and the level is reset back to the beginning. Now levels are not long by any means — many take a few minutes tops to reach the boss — but they are designed to be as an exploratory obstacle for the player. Damage taken is dangerous unless a defeated enemy drops a heart, so getting a ‘feel’ for the controls quickly is imperative to going far in the game; especially as the difficulty ramps up hard.
Xenogunner is a retro run and gunner’s best possible outcome for a title, and that’s without even mentioning the fantastically curated graphics and the catchy soundtrack that accompanies it. The game feels ripped out of the 90s and polished for today, complete with save passwords to return to certain levels which, I won’t lie, I despised these as a kid. If you were a fan of the inspirations or love retro run and guns, this is definitely a title worth picking up and playing for the sheer amount of content provided. If you are more unfamiliar with the genre or the era that this title was inspired by, I still think you’d enjoy the fast-paced action and fun; you might take a bit longer to get the groove (example: me), but I believe the fun will still be blasting regardless.
(I have no idea why that link isn’t expanding properly ):< )