(Originally published on the 1UP.com Freeloader blog in May of 2012)
In between heated lunch room games of Magic: The Gathering, those talented youngsters at the Digipen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA have been known to occasionally crank out an interesting game before be snatched up by the likes of Valve or 5th Cell, never to be heard from again. Here are two such games that may put their student developers on someone’s radar.
As the great poet Wesley Snipes once said, “White men can’t jump.” If God had wanted white men to soar through the heavens collecting tiny golden gears, he would have attached telescoping, grappling hook gears to their arms. Unfortunately, this is not the case, but thanks to some of the fine students at the Digipen Institute of Technology, we can all live the dream of Sonic the Hedgehog crossed with Bionic Commando. GEAR takes the basic structure of the Bionic Commando: Rearmed Challenge rooms, where you are tasked with getting to the end of a puzzle-like level full of hazards using nothing but well-timed deployment of your mechanical grappling arm. While Bionic Commando’s goal is to simply swing and grapple to the end as quickly as possible, GEAR adds a few elements that set it apart.
First off, the grapple itself is the titular gear and it has a few rotational properties. Attaching the arm to a rotating gear will spin the character around it, allowing the player to whip themselves across gaps and/or up and down corridors. Additionally, tracks are laid out along the walls, floors, and ceilings of the level that, when grappled to, quickly propel the player forward, up, or down as the gear travels along them. A few special gears allow the player to grapple them while holding onto the ground (by pressing down), and then manually rotating them and anything they are attached to (such as platforms). Next, I’ll attempt to describe the color orange. Not really. Besides navigating the environment, you can also score points by collecting the aforementioned golden flowers that litter the levels like so many Sonic rings. The controls can feel a bit stiff at first, but once you get the timing down, you’ll find that the levels are designed for a smooth progression and can be zipped through at a hedgehog’s pace. Pro tip: by default, the Space Bar is used for jumping, but you can also use the UP button (W key by default) to jump, which helped me eliminate the apparent lag between my brain and thumb. Added benefit: the jump sound that emanates from the robotic main character will drive you mad.
Knocking things over is always more fun than building them. Given the geek community’s general affection for classic sci-fi, it’s somewhat surprising that there are so few games that put you in the role of a gigantic, city smashing behemoth. Attack of the 50ft Robot! is here to remedy the situation with the best city rampaging action since, well, Rampage. While the gameplay may seem like nothing more than a falling building physics demo, it’s been lovingly wrapped in an extremely authentic 1950s monster movie aesthetic. It takes me back to Summer vacations spent lying in front of the TV, cable box (remember those?!) tuned to TNT, wondering what strange delights Joe Bob Briggs would introduce me to on this week’s MonsterVision. The film grain and black and white palette work very well here, but what really sells it for me is the classical music soundtrack. Zapping an army of UFOs out of the sky with my laser vision and then throwing a piece of the Chrysler building at an encroaching tank battalion while “Flight of the Bumblebee” plays in the background works for me. It works for me, indeed.
A caveat: the physics heavy nature of the destruction is based around PhysX technology that may strain the CPUs of some older computers. Even my PhysX-enabled Nvidia graphics card struggled to keep up at times.