The Netherlands are a hotbed of indie game development, which seems appropriate for such a brilliant and eccentric little nation. Two man Dutch indie developer Vlambeer have found themselves in the news more often than most companies of their size, thanks to two great games and a third on the way.
Unfortunately, Vlambeer has also been in the news for getting ripped off. Their first game, Radical Fishing, came out late last year for free on Bored.com. While working on an iOS version called Ridiculous Fishing, Vlambeer was shocked to discover that Bay Area developer Gamenauts had released an almost exact iOS copy of their game called Ninja Fishing. Vlambeer's attempts to get them to change the game were unsuccessful, and Ninja Fishing went all the way up to #5 on the App Store sales chart.
That kind of money could have changed the future for Vlambeer, but when they addressed the issue during their excellent panel at Fantastic Arcade in Austin last month, they appeared to be mostly at peace with it. They showed two new game prototypes, almost daring people to copy them, and talked about their forthcoming first Steam release (and thus potential moneymaker), Serious Sam: The Random Encounter.
This week's Review Round-Up is a little different: it's 2/3 review, 1/3 preview, and covers all of the games Vlambeer has made.
Vlambeer's debut and the subject of their cloning woes, Radical Fishing established Vlambeer's signature style: classic game mechanics with a modern polish in novel ways. In short, a simple fishing game mixed with Duck Hunt.
Players must first drop a hook into the water and catch as many fish with it as possible. When their hook reaches the surface with fish attached, the fish fly into the air and must be shot to the ground like in Duck Hunt. Shooting fish earns cash, which can be used to buy a surprisingly vast variety of upgrades to expedite the fish-skeet-shooting process. The graphics are childish, charming, and vaguely reminiscent of Cartoon Network classic Home Movies. Radical Fishing is simple, sublime, and entrancing as any good browser game should be. Good enough that the ripoff version of it went to #5 in the App Store.
Super Crate Box (rendered in papercraft for a contest Vlambeer staged) is, like its predecessor, a retro mashup: the original Mario Bros. (via Super Meat Boy) and Smash TV. The player controls a pixelated little guy who has to kill as many bad guys and collect as many crates as possible in tiny levels without getting killed. Enemies abound, but each of the crates a player collects (and there are a ton) yields a different over-the-top weapon to slay with. The gameplay is pretty frantic, and I found it less long term playable than Radical Fishing, but for more hardcore platforming fans it could be great. It's also free and downloadable, so try it out either way.
Serious Sam: The Random Encounter isn't out yet. But when it arrives on Steam on October 24th for $5, it will be Vlambeer's first game available for sale anywhere, a big step forward for any small developer. And Steam, home of most successful retail indie games, is the best place to take it.
The gameplay trailer just came out (above), and demonstrates what crazy hybrid Vlambeer have conceived of this time: Serious Sam meets bullet hell meets a JRPG. Players (multiplayer appears to be an option) will spend most of their time running backwards, dodging waves of colorful enemy fire while shooting down its originators, which takes care of the first two elements.
The JRPG mechanics appear to consist of pausing the game to change weapons and use some special abilities, but it's tough to say more based on a 50-second trailer. If the trailer is representative of the final game, it should be great fun for fans of frantic four-player violence. If nothing else, SS:TRD will show us if Vlambeer can do well with a commercial scale game. We wish them the best.