Friday, April 30, 2010

Indie Games Review - Pew Pew Pod

It kind of saddens me that you can't throw a baby into the XBLIG Marketplace anymore without watching it land screaming and crying on a twin-stick shooter. Don't get me wrong, I love the genre and eagerly play each one I can find with the hopes of snagging a few hours of bullet-filled entertainment. But for every one quality game that I see, ten more follow it that make me want to pull an Oedipus Rex and gouge my eyes out with hair brooches. (Somewhat related: I slept with your mother.) After playing Pew Pew Pod, it saddens me to inform you that the next ten twin-stick shooters I play will be trash, as this one is nothing short of pure gold.

Pew Pew Pod (lovingly referred to as PooPooPod around here) is a pretty standard twin-stick shooter. Move with your left stick, shoot a particular direction with your right, and try to survive an onslaught of enemies for as long as you can in an arena roughly the size of your television. This alone is a tried and true formula that both rakes in money and pleases fans, but the kind gents at Bad Egg Studios decided to spice things up a bit by giving you FOUR different weapons in your fight to stay alive. Did I mention all of them are selectable at any point in time? Certain weapons are better than others, but each one seems to have its own little advantage that makes it a viable choice. This, combined with six different modes, both keeps the game fresh and gives the game its own personality in a sea of twin-stick clones.

When you boot up Pew Pew Pod, what you see will probably remind you of Geometry Wars. (If it doesn't, it's because you haven't played said game and should immediately go try that.) Everything looks like it's made out of neon lights, enemies are bright and distinctive though not detailed, and, most importantly, nothing gets in the way outside of the obvious scores of enemies and firepower. Most shooters like this weren't made with the intention of wow-ing players with the visuals, and this one is no different. The music is frantic enough your pulse going but not so much that it's distracting or abrasive, and though you'll hear thousands of "pew pew pew" sound effects they really never irritate, especially since you cycle through your weapons so much and each has a distinctive sound.

The game controls much the same way that any twin-stick shooter would. Move with the left, destroy with the right. You can select any of your four weapons on the fly with either the face buttons (one weapon per color) or the shoulder buttons (preferred method, though you need to memorize which button selects which weapon). It's worthwhile to note that your ship seems to move faster than in most other games of its ilk, and getting used to that sudden jump in speed may take a few games, but eventually everything will be second nature and the only problems you'll have with the controls will consist of you screaming "I SO FREAKIN' DODGED THAT." (Spoiler: you didn't freakin' dodge that.)

So the presentation is solid and the controls are about as standard as you can get, but what else does Pew Pew Pod bring to the table besides a few extra guns? Only as many modes as Geometry Wars 2, that's what, each with its own style and each able to be played with up to three others on the couch. Arcade is your standard "shoot things until you die three times" mode while Survival only gives you points for how long you stay alive. Waypoint has you hitting as many checkpoints as possible, Zones has you flying from section to section and earning points for staying within a small area, and Think Fast requires you to earn points while only using a certain weapon or doing soemething like not shooting or not moving. The sixth mode, Versus, is multiplayer only, but has you firing at each other instead of hordes of enemies for three minutes. Each weapon earns different points, and at the end of three minutes whoever has the most wins. Plenty of replayability right there, willing you have some friends to enjoy the ride with. The only flaw in this is that, with each ship looking the same (your color matches your current weapon), it's easy to lose yourself in the multiplayer chaos. I think it would've been a better option to make each ship a different color and maybe shape for multiplayer games, regardless of weapon choice.

If you're the kind of gamer that needs "something" to go for, make no mistake about it: what you see within the first few minutes of playing Pew Pew Pod is all you'll see for the remainder of the time you play. There aren't any achievements or awards to earn, and the leaderboards are subject to XBLIG's normal peer-to-peer limitation so you might not even get that pleasure out of the game. That said, gamers looking for that one-more-game addiction that can only be brought about by a solid twin-stick don't need to look any further, as this goes right alongside Echoes+ and Groov as one of the best of the genre on XBLIG, and considering the company that's saying a lot. In summary, less QQ, more Pew Pew.

Pew Pew Pod from Bad Egg Studios is available on XBox Live for 80 MS Points. Played each mode, tried some multiplayer with a friend of mine, and laughed as I watched her lose which one she was and just fly into a wall for about 20 seconds while I shot her.

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