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Mac Game Review: Best Of OMG Vol. 1

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Freeverse Software has put together the first in a series of compilations featuring some of the best in independent Mac gaming.

Volume 1 centers around five main games, but also includes several extras, and pulls from not only its own game catalog but other indie Mac developers as well. The term “original” here refers more to the fact that these particular games were created expressly for the Mac platform, as opposed to games ported over from Windows, and not in the sense that they’re all necessarily original ideas.

Given that these are smaller games studios, the quality of titles offered lands squarely in the “slick shareware” camp; and in fact, all the titles compiled are also available individually as shareware (or the current equivalent: demo downloads).

Don’t expect Halo, don’t even expect Katamari… but these days there is some extremely addictive and polished work coming from the DIY sub-world (as titles like Alien Hominid have shown us). But let’s get on to the games!

Active Lancer
This is the type of game that it seems every publisher is mandated to put in their collection: the all-classic vertical scrolling shooter, a la Raiden. Fortunately, that’s not a bad thing at all. It’s not original, but it is safe.

Active Lancer is Freeverse Software’s take on the genre, and they change it up just enough it give it a re-brand, but generally leave well enough alone. The story… doesn’t matter at all. You’re shooting everything in sight. You have the choice between three players, the main difference between them being whether you want to trade speed for armor.

The game itself looks eerily similar to Raiden, so much so that if you have one you don’t need the other at all. Active Lancer excels at giving you more gun options (each player comes default with three types of air combat, and the standard bombs for ground), which, depending on the circumstance or your own style of play, make for nice strategic choices (for example, if you picked a slower character in order to bump your armor up, there is a weapon that employs heat-seek to kill the baddies so that you don’t have to rely on your acrobatic flying skills quite as much).

There are three difficulty levels, but the difference in each is not super-drastic. Which is fine, since this type of game plays out at a frantic enough pace that to desire more is a sign you need much, much less caffeine in your life. The boss enemies are the typical huge, blinking things which shoot flaming Rice Krispies at you, and you will need to either dodge or die.

All in all, there are no surprises at all with this game, but you can’t help but love it. Graphics are good enough to update the classics a bit, but still streamlined enough that it ran beautifully on my laptop (which is ideal, since already it has helped relieve some aggression a few times while at the office). This one is an expected winner, as long as you don’t already have a similar title.

Airburst Extreme
This game is F-U-N! A blend of Pong, Super-Bust-A-Move, and Super Breakout all mixed together. At its most basic, you’re a little teddy bear alien, sitting on a floating bunch of balloons. You also have a rotating paddle, which you must use to deflect away objects trying to pop your balloons. If all your balloons pop (or more specifically, the big middle balloon you’re sitting on), then game over, my little teddy bear alien friend. There are several different styles of game play this scenario takes place in.

The standard game has you pitted against three other opponents (either computer or human), and it’s a last man standing free-for-all. You can be as offensive with your strategy as you like, but your main concern is just going to be staying alive. And that’s not as easy as it sounds, because the creators of this game love those crazy colorful message explosions that most of us blame on the Japanese, and try to distract us (successfully, in many cases) from the actual game play going on.

Think paddle changes, power-ups, and multiple spinning spike balls all battling for your attention. And that’s just where the fun starts. There’s also a separate mode of play that has you trying to avoid the spike balls while also using them to take out tiles in a room (similar to Breakout).

If you still need more, you can hop on for local network play, or take your match online through GameSmith. If that’s still not enough for you, then give the “story mode” a try, where they try to hammer a plot into the concept of spinning balloon wars.

This is the kind of addictive puzzle play that is guaranteed to waste more free time than most of us have. But you’ll love it. And there’s something about the little spatters of blood dripping off the spike balls as they head towards your pretty balloons that’s just twisted and wrong… and awesome.

Kill Monty
Okay, where to start… About the best thing I can say about this game is that it at least has a sense of humor about itself. That’s about where the praise ends, unfortunately. Kill Monty is akin to a Smash TV-type game, where there are just an infinite number of enemies to shoot and your only objective is to stay alive long enough to pick up a better gun.

In fact, if you click “Story” on the main menu, it simply takes you to a screen that says “Shoot Everything!” That’s the kind of brevity I can appreciate. But the game itself is a very lo-tech and frustrating affair. It starts with about a hundred Matrix-y bad guys running slowly for you and you just have to aim and shoot. But with so many people coming from so many directions, you can see that it’s quickly turning into bad news for you.

To add insult to injury, at some point a floating Jared (you’ll recognize Jared as the singing smiley character, if you’re familiar with Freeverse’s history) comes along to help lay waste to you. A singing Jared was picking me off! That’s when you know that someone, somewhere, is just laughing at you. For a while, there’s some pleasure to be found in watching your character die by exploding into many green pieces of goo (I’m a jelly-filled alien?), but only for a very short time. After that, the numbing repetition of the game gives no satisfaction and no hope for doing anything more than trying to rack up some bragging rights.

If, however, you are interested in bragging rights, you have two ways of going about it: (a) regular mode, which racks up points based on how many clones you kill and what level of play you achieve, and (b) Survival mode, which is simply a clock ticking away as long as it can until you are gunned down the first time.

You may, however, wish that point to come sooner rather than later. I would like to extend one bit of props to the developers here: showing me a screen saying “You have unlocked — Nothing in particular” at least had me smiling before I was horribly blown to smithereens again.

Deep Trouble 2
A gaming collection wouldn’t be complete without a simulator of some kind. Deep Trouble 2 mixes it up a little bit by taking the action underwater. Game play feels very similar to a cross between a tank battle setup and cockpit dogfight, except that the underwater aspect makes the pace a bit more measured.

The objective has a search and destroy theme (you’re searching for unknown enemies, but yeah, that pretty much means destroy everything while you’re at it). But it’s not easy. You’re cruising along just fine, maneuvering around and killing some ships as they come along. And then three enemies get behind you that you just cannot shake (and shaking is hard underwater). But you’ll have plenty of time to figure out a strategy once you come back to life. Again and again…

That’s right, because as best I can tell, you have an unlimited amount of lives. This is in both Easy and Normal levels. You will definitely appreciate this at the beginning (or at least I did), but it could become something of a disincentive later on. Another thing worth noting is that this is by far the most graphics-hungry game of the bunch. My laptop (see specs below) needed some settings help to keep it from crawling in spots. Fortunately, the settings for effects are very detailed and you should be able to tailor something to your liking.

Overall, it’s a nice enough title with good graphics, but it doesn’t really hold your attention very long. After a few sessions of play, you feel that you’ve seen what there is to see. The game could benefit greatly from online and team play.

Starbase Defender
Starbase Defender is a very nice galactic defensive shooter. The premise is that you have a floating spaceship with some glowing core things that are really cool.

Everyone else realizes how cool your glowing core things are and try to steal them. But without your precious glowing core things, you die. The objective is to shoot away the baddies (and their laser fire) so that no one gets close enough to take your loot. Along the way, you sometimes get help from retrieval ships who can pick up your glowing core things (let’s just call them “glorings”), as well as chip in to shoot away some enemies.

But be careful that you don’t suck, or they’ll get frustrated at you and leave. And trust me, you want them around. The game play takes some getting used to, as all the radial movement can be difficult to track. But you quickly adapt and can develop a couple different strategies to keep most things at bay. The graphics are pretty lo-fi, and although I enjoyed the Kraftwerkian theme song, there’s not much to the sound on the game either.

But neither are those things distracting, because to be honest the game play keeps you interested. You have more to worry about than pretty, blinking things. This is a nice game, one of those “easy to learn, difficult to master” types.

Bonus Material
There are two bonus titles included in the collection. The first is a free copy of an older Freeverse title, Enigma. Enigma is an adaptation of the classic brain puzzle game, probably most popular as the board game entitled Mastermind.

The objective is to crack a code of colored dots by guessing their sequence, and you’re only given so many guesses. It starts off easy with only three spaces, and progresses from there. It’s a great, classic head-scratcher, and nice to take a break from all the shooting and give your noggin a Sudoku-esque workout. Graphics here are really showing their age, but then again, how slick do the graphics need to be for colored dots on a board?

The other title is a beta version of their aerial combat game, WingNuts 2. It’s very much still in beta. Game play is sluggish, and is one of the few games of the bunch that really taxed the resources of my laptop. By default, the controls are set to… nothing. Huh?

You’ll have to go in and customize your own settings before you can do anything at all in the game. Once you get going, it’s an entertaining romp. You’re a fighter plane trying to protect your carrier from enemy attacks, all while saving guys in parachutes and collecting bonus items. It’s straightforward and looks promising, it just needs some of the kinks worked out.

But hey, they told you upfront that it’s still in development, so there you go. I never played the first installment of the game, but WingNuts 2 looks like it would be a really nice addition to OMG Vol. 2 when it’s compiled.

The package also contains many shareware games included as zip files. This is a nice extra, if just to save you from having to download them yourself from the Web. I didn’t test them out, but there are a bunch of them on there. Should serve well for those looking for a new game challenge.

Performance
I tested the games on my two Macs: a desktop and a notebook. The desktop is an iMac G5 that handled everything perfectly. Games tend to tax processing and graphics on a computer more than most other things a user will do (aside from professional applications), but if you’ve purchased your machine in the last couple of years then this set shouldn’t even be an issue.

I don’t have access to the newer Intel Macs to see how performance fares. I would imagine that it would be pretty much on par as long as you’re not trying it with the newer Minis (as the combination of the emulation layer and that integrated graphics chip may not be the best setup).

My laptop, the original 12″ Powerbook, is just over the minimum specs listed on the packaging and handled most of the titles very well, even in full screen mode. If your machine is pushing it, then make sure you have no external applications running or you might get a little frustrated.

Adjustment on the graphics settings within most of the games can help if your computer needs a little boost.

And now on to more trivial things — presentation for the set is profoundly awful. The discs and manual are housed in a comically oversized clamshell case (imagine a DVD case that’s been doing nothing but eating tubs of ice cream all winter) that could easily hold three times what it does.

Add to that the fact that the printed manual is almost completely worthless. It contains no game information beyond keyboard controls, not even a description of the game play or icon information (such as enemies, power-ups, markers, etc.).

The package comes on 2 CDs, so really they could have saved a lot of money and space by housing everything in just a standard CD jewel case. Granted, there are more detailed manuals available in the game folders as PDF files, but a little extra effort on the physical front could have made for a much nicer set.

All in all, this collection is actually a very nice value for the money. Considering that you walk away from the deal with six and a half games (the development preview should really only be viewed as a sample for the real thing), the price is very compelling, even by normal shareware standards.

In fact, at roughly six bucks each for the main games, you’d be hard pressed to do any better. Plus the fact that games like Airburst Extreme and Active Lancer are just classic games for whenever you need a quick (or even long) diversion, and you’ve already justified the expense.

One could hope that the next volume focuses on more original content, but as is, this is a great time-waster for those of you who need a break from your actual computer “work.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really need to get back to thrashing teddy bears on balloons (“Eat Death, Snuggles!”).

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About David R Perry