The character select screen from Glitchangels, it's glitchy! And purple. There's a distorted pixelised angel in the background, a green hued user interface with two big icons in white, one some arrows to indicate 'dodge', the other a skull to indicate 'rage'. It's very nineties cybergoth.

Sitting at the intersection of glitchgoth and cybergoth, Glitchangels is Berzerk reimagined as a Nuclear Throne-alike. Throw out the unending maze of the arcade classic, replace it with discreet rooms with tight corridors, clear the enemies to open the exits, paper it with Droid Assault inspired art – strip out the Paradroid elements, keep the store and upgrades.

Glitch everything, movement, firepower, everything. Play the videogame as VHS, make a mistake, rewind and forward your angel to safety. It’s weirdly now. It could really only collect all these things together and vibe like it does in the now but yes, it’s an EBM arcade dancefloor Robotron.

What a heady mix for a twin stick shooter all this makes. Instantly familiar to anyone who’s even mildly been paying attention in our post Geometry Wars world and it’s not like the game makes any effort to hide or obscure its influences anyway, quite the opposite. It’s there in the credits, it’s there the moment you spawn into the first screen. 40 years of twin sticking, goth’d up, glitched up.

Buy it on Switch, grab a cider and black and sit in a tree to play it, preferably in a graveyard. In Whitby if you need to. Maybe get the flourescent gear out, meet the game on its terms, you know? Sod it, chuck a glowstick or two in your bag whilst you’re at it. If you know anyone with a dry ice machine, I’m not saying it’d complete the vibe but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Or, y’know, grab it on the PC or Xbox. Whatever works. But really, do grab it. It’s good. I’ve been having an absolute ball with the thing.

Fight. Die. Glitch. Win. It totally does what it says on the tin.

A screenshot from Assault Android Cactus showing its variation on an arena shooter stalwart environmental enemy - the 4 way laser beam. The player fights robots in-between the beams. Given how aggressively red and purest all engulfing white the beams are, probably best not to get hit by them because ouch.

Originally posted January 2020

Look, I’m not sure how I managed to make it through to 2020 and have nothing on here about Assault Android Cactus before now but it’s clearly incredibly slack of me because Assault Android Cactus is wonderful.

It’s been pretty wonderful for the near five years it’s been out there now too. I’ve been enjoying it on and off for most of those five years as well.

I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been slacking here. Five bloody years! Molyneux save me. It’d be excusable if it wasn’t one of my favourite things.

To be honest, I kind of know why I’ve been putting it off. It’s an easy game to do a mammoth injustice to because when you write it all down it’s easy to go “so, err, what?”. It’s an intimately familiar looking, familiar feeling videogame. It’s born of purest Dreamcast, not the Sega Blue Skies of a thousand UK Resistance dreams but the final gasp of the arcade at home before digital downloads changed so much. It *looks* like a Dreamcast game too, though obviously more as my memory would like to convince me of what the games looked like than what they really did. It’s got a vibe. It’s good. It’s committed. It deserves the right words.

A screenshot from Assault Android Cactus. A robot viewed vaguely from above unleashes a frankly ridiculously large laser beam towards the player. It really is a big laser.

There’s so much game there too. It’s positively abundant. Ridiculously so! Full on call the cops and arrest these people for making the rest of us look like we don’t put enough game in a videogame stuff. I’m not sure I’ve played a twin stick shooter that crams quite so much in and where so little of it feels superfluous.

Some of it is unsurprising – multiple characters with different weaponry, ridiculous cosmetic tweaks (normal head mode! JJ mode for when you need so much lens flare you can’t see the screen! More!) – it’s a lot but it’s kinda an expected lot.

What isn’t quite so expected is the amount of videogame scenes the game runs through. At times it feels like an A-Z of arcade videogame levels. Never pastiche, never a nod and a wink, videogame levels because there’s something the game can do with them. It reminds me of Mutant Storm Empire in that regard though much, much, much more focused.

A screenshot from the game Assault Android Cactus. An incredibly chaotic moment in the game as creatures, spiderbots all Duke it out against the player in an oval arena. Floating text indicates that the player has earned a 112 chain of enemies shot bonus.

Early on you find yourself riding a very videogame lift, you know the kind – it’s in a hundred or so FPS, a multitude of top down shooters, it’s in Valve’s Alien Swarm, even Destiny couldn’t resist the lure of riding a lift whilst aliens hem you in from all sides. Then before you know it, it’s a stage where robots are pouring out of the floor, there’s lasers everywhere, flames, bullets, pick ups and there’s a stage where the room is built around you and then and then and then.

It’s like the team responsible wanted to cram every idea they had for games into one game. It’s astounding. More so when you realise how normal this sort of thing used to be, how arcade games at home would let themselves spiral outwards rather than just retain a really narrow focus, done well. I didn’t even realise how much I missed that but I do. I really do. It makes me feel spoilt, ruined, like you can’t possibly be giving me all this? Seriously, you are? Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Oh, there’s local co-op too because of course there is. Why leave any stone unturned?

A screenshot from Assault Android Cactus. It is a busy factory-esque area with yellow and black safety stripes marking a square within it. Spider robots and glowing bullets, and explosions, abound.

It’d all be for nothing if it didn’t play so well, obviously. Which it does! It plays wonderfully, always pushing you into the swarms of killer drones rather than running backwards, rather than the circling of Geometry Wars. Wade in, knee deep in roboguts, needing to grab batteries to make it to the end of a stage alive. It takes no time to find the rhythm the game wants you to fall into, alternating between primary and secondary weapons, rushing for power ups, aiming for that ever enticing higher score.

Gosh. I love Assault Android Cactus so much, you know? There’s few games I’d use the term masterpiece for but in this case, Team Witch Beam have worked for it and earned it. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s the right and proper good stuff. It’s an arcade game, a not Dreamcast really but totally Dreamcast videogame that the best part of five years on still excites me.

Which, let’s face it that’s what you want from an arcade game. Okay, okay, it’s what I want anyway. I genuinely couldn’t ask for more. Well, except maybe for some fish but that’s just me. Maybe the next one, eh?

A screenshot from the game Radio Squid. The game itself is largely white on black with the odd hint of red. The art is cute, slightly surreal, pixel art. A squid is encased in a bubble located beneath a stave that is also encased in a bubble. The room itself is a maze of sorts, brick-ish with a fishy theme.

Crikey. I can’t say I was prepared for quite how brutal Radio Squid was going to be. Its largely-in-vogue white on black with the merest hint of a colour cute graphics hide quite the vicious little videogame.

I’m not complaining, I really have been rather enjoying myself with it and the unforgiving nature of it is certainly part of the draw for me! Just took me by surprise, is all.

That’s what I get for just buying a game because it was called Radio Squid without reading a single thing about it (including not reading the description on the store), I guess. As ever, my own silly fault.

In my defence, it’s called Radio Squid. How could I not just buy it? Yer ‘onor etc…

It's another screenshot of Radio Squid. A similar set up to the last though there's more strange looking creatures clinging to the walls in this one.

It turns out that the rules of the game are fairly simple – you take control of a small rhythmic squid who has to shoot a strange bunch of nasties to the beat, grab some money then make your way to the next room, ever so slightly richer.

Complicating all this is the Crossroads/Forget-Me-Not style shooting where your bullets wrap around the edge of the screen and yes, your own bullets do kill you because that’s sort of how bullets work. There are quite a few exits for the bullets to wrap around too. In summary: oof.

A screenshot from Radio Squid. It's black and white with the occasional red highlight, all pixel art. A boss sits vaguely centre stage shooting chunky projectiles at a squid.

Slightly (only slightly) confusingly there’s a number of different screens to each room to progress through with each screen needing to be cleared before you move on to the next, with the ultimate objective being to clamber your way through as many rooms as you can.

Difficulty aside it’s all quite breezy and there’s a lot of character squeezed out of both a simple premise and the not quite monochrome but nearly artwork. I can’t say I have the slightest clue of what the story is supposed to be because my eyes glazed over with it – that’s a me problem rather than a game problem though. My eyes glaze over quite easily these days.

With the warning that it might well make you swear like a trooper, Radio Squid is an easy recommendation from me. From not knowing what to expect through to now, I’m really enjoying my time with it and certainly don’t regret the sight unseen purchase – quite the opposite, I’m well chuffed with it.

I’ve been hammering away at the PS4 version, other consoles are available etc…

The title screen to Polybius. It's full of stars.

Polybius is the videogame as fairground ride. You must be this tall to play. Scream if you want to go faster. I can’t hear you, I said scream if you want to go faster.

Polybius is a Doug Trumbull dreamscape – the 2001 stargate made game, the TARDIS in the time vortex. This is your brain in slitscan.

Polybius is the dull thump thump thump of the sound of a sweaty club dancefloor heard from the bar, the bogs, somewhere, it’s walking from the sidelines to the euphoric centre, the relentless drive of the music building, building, building and…

SHIELD DOWN

Polybius. It's a psychedelic tunnel.

If Slave Of God is the game as local nightclub after one too many, Polybius is a case of white labels, a warehouse and let’s hope the fuzz aren’t onto it.

It’s a game that grips and releases like no other I’ve played. It is dance music. It is the videogame rave. It’s really incredible. It is a night out, in. I don’t know how this works, it just does. Trust me. It works.

Polybius is purest videogame. Polygon spinning, pixel shattering, the ultimate arcade videogame. The very definition of The New Arcade, impossible in 1983, oh so possible today.

Polybius is I, Robot, Polybius is the modern Blaster, Polybius is Tube Panic. Polybius is Horace Goes Skiing?!? Polybius is a lot. Seriously, it’s so much.

A screen from Polybius bearing the words "smile upon fluffy sheepy". It is an explosion of colour beyond that.

A game that dares to wear the name Polybius has to go hard. No questions, that’s the deal. Polybius goes hard. Polybius, the game, earns its mythical, legendary name and then some.

Polybius is a Nine Inch Nails video. I don’t know either, it just is.

Polybius leaves me breathless. No exaggeration, no kidding. I can only play it for so long before I need a bit of a sit down. Problem? I’m already sitting down. I haven’t worked out how to deal with this yet.

Llamasoft are at the top of their game right now, Jeff and Giles leaning in to the beasty, furry, psychedelia. Reaching deep for the soul of the arcade, pulling out videogames that feel profoundly digital, made from finest ones, zeroes and silicon. Implausibly ending up with videogames to dance to.

Riding the outside of a tube in Polybius

Polybius is a few years old now and unjustly ignored. That feels like a wrong that needs to be righted, you know? Even to a die hard Llamasoft admirer like myself, it feels special in ways I can’t put into words anywhere near well enough.

Maybe a sound then? Yeah, that’s it. A sound.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

That’s the one. That’s Polybius.

Like the man says, scream if you want to go faster. Press X for enlightenment. Yes yes yes.

Matt’s (Delta to its friends) is what you get when you cross the Star Wars trench run with Douglas Trumbull’s 2001 Stargate and throw in a healthy dollop of Warp-esque sounds. In other words, it’s an incredibly astounding looking and sounding thing.

It’s currently kinda lost being 360 only and having been available through Microsoft’s XBLIG service but I’ve got my fingers crossed for ports in the near future. I mean, just look at it. Look at it. That deserves to be on anything and everything that can run it.

Years have passed and it still looks absolutely astounding.

OK, you can stop looking for a few minutes now. And relax.

(apologies for the lower quality video than I’d like, for some strange reason YouTube refused to play nice with it so I’m kinda stuck with that for now)

[originally published in March 2015, amended for 2020]

As videogames go, I think we can safely say Bezier is a videogame. I mean, just look at that, right?

In some ways it is, visually, to arena shooters what Minter’s tour-de-force GAME FROM THE SPACE FUTURE Space Giraffe is to the tube shooter. A slightly raw, incredibly digital affair where you’re always uncertain what it’s going to land on you next.

But of course, there’s only one Space Giraffe and Bezier, whilst not pulling its punches in the visual department, it’s certainly a far more controlled affair. Then again, what isn’t a far more controlled affair compared to Space Giraffe, right?

It’s also some sort of science fiction synth-prog-opera made videogame. I know, it *is* though.

In other words, Bezier is absolutely the sort of thing that I’m going to fall in love with terribly easily.

I’ve been banging my head against a table and trying to think precisely what it reminds me of and I’m kinda glad to be drawing a blank in many ways.

It’s a little bit Buggles, a little bit Jeff Wayne, the videogame equivalent of an eighties Jean Michel Jarre concert and frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out that Philip Bak (the author of the game) wasn’t really Philip Bak at all but in fact The Phantom Of The Paradise come back to haunt us but this time with videogames.

It could happen. I asked a policeman and everything and he totally said it could.

A picture from Phantom Of The Paradise
pic source

Thankfully, unlike Phantom Of The Paradise, Bezier isn’t a deeply cynical thing. It is however marvellously committed to its conceits. Chris Donlan covered the “Why Bezier?” stuff in his Eurogamer write up and that’s worth a quick scan over as always.

It’s a game where infusing Bezier curves in as many aspects as the game as possible is the least absurd thing about it. It wears the skin of a brutal arena shooter yet at the very same time the game remains remarkably accommodating to anyone who’s fairly not used to a twin stick set up.

It’s a game that manages to feel comfy and conventional whilst not really being either. It’s quite a thing.

If I were to sit you down and describe the game mechanically, I doubt I’d be able to get much further than “well, you move around an arena and you shoot some things” which may well show an incredible lack of imagination on my part but it’s also a very very accurate description of what Bezier is.

Of course, not all arena shooters are created equally or push players in the same direction.

Whereas something like Geometry Wars is all about chasing the high score, Bezier sort of has that but nudges it to one side in favour of making just playing the game being a thing you’d want to do.

It’s certainly in no particular rush to kill you most of the time unlike most arena shooters that build on arcade templates. A game of Bezier can go on for quite a while because Bezier wants you to see the game. And more so, Bezier really wants you to hear the game.

Which I guess brings us back round to Bezier being the videogame as eighties Jean Michel Jarre concert. Seriously, listen to the soundtrack and you’ll see what I mean.

Bezier is a game that demands to be heard. It’s not Jarre (far too film soundtrack-y for one thing), it’s very much its own thing but! once the soundtrack is heard inside the game it’s clear just how much Bezier shares the same deep love of bombast, lasers and robot voices that defined Jarre concerts in the eighties. You can feel it in your bones.

If only it were all that simple though, the game is married to a wonderfully ridiculous science fiction plot and there’s a giant smiley face that taunts you at the end of each round and you’re a floaty thing with lasers and there’s all the colour and and and.

I don’t know, maybe that’s acid house turning up to sign the death warrant of eighties synth pop or something. Maybe. I haven’t checked with a policeman on this one, sorry.

Regardless, it’s all makes for a captivating, unique and nothing less than remarkable experience. I love it so very much.

Bezier is available from NiineGames right now for yer Windows PC.

[Article originally published in March 2015, tweaked a bit for 2020]

Snowballs and stuff in the neo-arcade game, Tamiku

Grabbed this on a whim because I really enjoyed Zeroptian Invasion (one of those games where I’ve had a draft post sitting there about it for a while that I never seem to get round to finishing up) and well, it looked good. No better reason, really.

And it is good! Less arcade and more a home computer take on arcade games (absolutely not a slight), it’s a single screen game where you race between platforms to pop balloons, avoid the nasties and… that’s it, actually. That’s the gig.

Each screen sees you presented with some new variations of baddies to keep an eye out for and it’s all very, very videogame. Some go up, some go down, some wrap round, some are big meanies and I’m telling teacher.

It’s tough and I reckon slightly tuned to “person who wrote the game” so you’ll need a bit of speed and quick reflexes to get out of a level alive. The red balloon that takes slightly longer to pop can be quite a nerve wracking proposition and frankly, I’m not speaking to the Bomberman style explosives as they’re just rude.

It’s pretty brilliant though! Absolutely enjoying myself playing it, cussing at it and I dunno, might get a balloon fetish or something, see how it goes. Okay, maybe not that.

Proper recommendation for Tamiku though, it’s the good stuff.

It’s on consoles courtesy of Ratalaika, I’ve been playing the PS4 version and it’s good. You can also find it on Itch and Steam for the PC.