[Our final promotion for Bloggers Wanted: Downloadables is from meteorscrap, who shares his thoughts on an XBLIG title called Sequence. If you want to see your own blog on the front page next week, make sure you finish up something on the topic of Motion Control over the weekend. A new topic will be posted on Monday, and Motion Control blogs will go up all week. - JRo]
Sequence was the title which immediately came to mind when the topic of downloadable titles was presented.
Jason Wishnov, the man behind Iridium Studio and, in fact, the only full-time employee, deserves far better than just moderate success for this title. There are games which have staff numbering in the dozens for which the final product shows less attention to detail than Jason has paid to his creation. And one of the most important things he's done as an indie developer is learn that he can't do everything.
Fortunately, he had the good fortune and savvy to contract out the portions he couldn't handle to people who could handle them very adroitly.
One of the most striking things about Sequence, especially for an Xbox Live Indie Game, is the flair which is present throughout every aspect of the visuals. The backgrounds of the game are bright and vivid, brushed artwork instead of simple sprite work, and the characters themselves, represented through illustrations with only a few facial changes, demonstrate a style with muddy colors but still very distinct style. It works very well with the nature of the game, since the illustrations themselves show so much character.
Each illustration, despite being just a single drawing, does more to give the player a sense of their character than some games manage with hundreds of lines of dialogue and a flashy 3D model. Just a quick glance at the collection of characters shows that a lot of thought was put into every aspect of the characters and backgrounds by the artist, Wendi Chen.
This was a project which needed a strong, consistent artistic direction, and as an artist Wendi Chen really delivered exactly what the game required.
Of course, what is a music game without music? The selection of tracks for a game which relies on them for the gameplay can utterly make or destroy a rhythm game before the first line of code is finalized. Good rhythm games need fantastic music, and this is an area where Sequence shines. All of the tracks in the game are composed by two artists, Ronald Jenkees and Michael Wade Hamilton (credited as DJ Plaeskool). They have more than delivered here.
Ronald Jenkees provides most of the in-battle music, flexing his artistic prowess and delivering an astounding variety within the confines of the mostly-electronic soundtrack. Disorganized Fun is a relatively slow, yet frantic song which very much shows an electronic, techno background. He then switches pace with a stunning track which explores everything I love about electric guitars with Guitar Sound, a song which sounds like nothing more than a long guitar solo. Super Fun, an otherwise unremarkable piece of work backed by a haunting combination of strings and piano work, serves to use the classical instruments to make it a much greater piece than it has any right to be. This variety is not limited to these three songs, but extends to every piece Jenkees contributed to the game.
That's not to say that Michael Wade Hamilton doesn't hold his own. While his music serves to provide tracks for mundane portions of the game like the title music and safe room, he pulls double duty providing understated music like The Snow Mistress's Allure which underscore the dramatic moments within the story, as well as contributing more heavy-hitting songs for the gameplay segments like Rapid Fire and On Cue, neither track suffering in the least for being placed beside Ronald Jenkees' work.
Complicating matters are the effects unique to the boss of each of the seven levels in the game, which can strike at any time during the regular battles until the player crafts a nullifying item, which protects them from random intrusions on their own battles but can still interfere in the boss fight itself. These effects range from simply blocking the player's view of inactive streams to locking the player in a specific stream, to even more dangerous alterations such as reversing inputs, which proves simple when playing on a controller but ruthlessly lethal when playing on a guitar controller.
Of course, more classic DDR/Guitar Hero style gameplay is also hidden within the game in the scrolls the player must use to learn new spells. During such events the player only has a single stream of notes, scheduled to the rhythm of the song. Each spell has a specific goal, such as playing a certain number of notes consecutively or maintaining a certain percentage of inputs correctly entered throughout the duration of the song. These scroll sequences serve to switch up the pace of the game a little bit, allowing the player to try their hand at a regular rhythm game for a moment before diving back into the chaos of the main gameplay.
On top of all this is the one thing which makes any genre better: light RPG mechanics. The player levels up throughout the game, acquiring new spells and stat-boosting equipment and game-changing accessories through crafting. A portion of the game is dedicated to grinding out the materials needed for key items to advance, but savvy players will also upgrade their equipment and learn new spells through the recipes given to them as they ascend each level.
In a nod to the RPG elements which inspired it, the game even has a bonus boss more difficult to face than the actual final boss.
Combined with the complexity of the core gameplay, Sequence crafts a genre ripe for further exploration. Despite being around ten hours of gameplay for one play through, this is a game which will leave you begging for more.
The thing which impresses me the most about the game, however, is not just the gameplay itself, the music, and the visuals, but the fact that on top of all this the game is fully-voiced by professional voice actors who put in a damned good performance. It helps their work that the script Jason Wishnov wrote to accompany his game is filled with enough comedy and human touches which help the player empathize with the protagonists Ky and Naia as the story unfolds around them.
It's not Shakespeare, but there are people paid more in a month than this game's entire budget who've had far worse published. The game's twists, while not entirely unpredictable, are delivered with enough subtlety and build-up that they become believable within the context of the plot.
Not only is Sequence a game which has an astounding amount of production values and quality, but I think it might be the single-most overlooked and under-appreciated title of the year. It really helps that impression that this game is three dollars. I've paid twenty times that for titles which lasted half as long and were ten times less entertaining. Given the quality of this title, it would stand better as a Xbox Live Arcade than an offering from Xbox Live Indie Games.
The production values are simply that good. This game is why Xbox Live Indie Games exists, and the shame of it is that most other indie devs on the service can never hope to have half the talent and dedication that a title of this scope, depth, and sheer fun requires to produce. This is not just a game, but a resume to every major developer telling them that Jason Wishnov is a man they need to hire before their competition snaps him up.
If you have any interest in RPGs, rhythm games, or even something that provides a breath of fresh new air, you've done yourself a profound disservice if you managed to miss the release of Sequence thus far.
This is literally the best way you can spend three dollars on gaming at the moment.