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    This week, we look at another batch of PC game demos. As it turns out, all four of them fused various genres. A.N.N.E. was the major standout title. It begins as a shoot ‘em up but then takes some unexpected turns. MineRalph was the runner-up, a game that was madly hard to stop playing. Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets brought a few surprises. And Soulfire managed to make me reconsider my stance on battle royale games.

    Here is a list of four PC game demos tested this week, along with links for anyone who wishes to try them.

    A.N.N.E.

    A.N.N.E. Presents Some Beautiful Backgrounds

    With its charm and presentation, I fell for A.N.N.E. almost instantly. The game takes place on a planet where robots live among humans, and any robot who falls prey to the “love” virus must be decommissioned and dismantled immediately. Thus, you must save your robot love interest from being turned to scrap.

    The game begins as a side-scrolling flight shooter. Later on, you can exit your ship and the game becomes a platformer. While flying, A.N.N.E. allows you to bump into asteroids and move them across the screen. It’s utterly ridiculous, but the movement of these space rocks is something that feels fresh and satisfying for a shooter. Not all of the asteroids are docile, mind you. Some will come at you from above, forcing you to use your special weapon in order to destroy them.

    Once you exit the ship, the game reveals its RPG components. Both your ship and your character are customizable. As you progress, you will slowly find new ammunition, weapons, and skill sets that aid your character throughout the game.

    Some of the platforming requires a bit of twitch-based timing. For a moment, I felt hints of Super Meat Boy frustration. Using the WASD keys to control the character while timing my jumps with the spacebar is not the ideal way to control this game.

    I also tested the demo using a gamepad. For jumping, the gamepad was certainly more comfortable. The problem with using a controller was how to aim. Since aiming in A.N.N.E. is done with the mouse, that presented some problems when mapping the mouse to the joystick. If A.N.N.E. were a true twin-stick shooter, the right analog stick would simply aim in the direction you move the joystick rather than moving a cursor across the screen. For my take, using the joystick to control a cursor was not ideal for shooting.

    With all of that said, I settled with the keyboard and mouse controls, despite the fact that it made for some frustrating jump segments. I do hope the developer takes a harder look at the control scheme for gamepad players, because so far, it was the only thing I took an issue with in this otherwise wonderfully done RPG/shooter hybrid.

    Recommendation: If you’re looking for a game that takes a space shoot em’ up, mixes in some platforming, and adds some RPG mechanics, then give A.N.N.E. a shot

    MineRalph

    Mineralph

    MineRalph forces an inverted control scheme on the player. At first, I wanted to pan the game for it. I didn’t understand the point of the stated controls. To explain, MineRalph has you controlling the titular Ralph with your mouse by placing the cursor behind him in order to move him forward. I’m assuming his name is Ralph, by the way, since the game doesn’t quite confirm this. I’m also assuming he is a rock, but in truth, he looks like one of those pink Vietnamese meatballs that come on bahn mi. In any case, all of his movements are from a “push,” so if you want Ralph to go upward and to the left, you place the cursor down and to the right, and so forth.

    My frustration slowly faded into something of a rampant clickfest. MineRalph appears on the surface as another experiment in platforming. It is exactly that and more. It has you control the character by rolling him across the platforms, hitting buttons to unlock new areas for travel, and all the while thinking and planning how to time his controlled jumps properly.

    MineRalph was harder to put down than I can convey, and the demo was over faster than I had hoped. Don’t let me confuse you by thinking that the speed in MineRalph means this game requires some reflex-based timing. Quite the contrary. The game forces you to plan and think about how you’re going to jump from segment to segment. All in all, the inverted controls make for a nice look at game physics in this clicky jump-fest.

    Recommendation: For those who are tired of vanilla control schemes

    Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets

    Professor Lupo And His Horrible Pets

    I wasn’t sure what to expect from Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets. Our own publication covered its trailer reveal a few weeks ago, and based on the title, I was expecting this to be some iteration of catching monsters. Quite the contrary. You, an intern, find yourself having to move from level to level on Professor Lupo’s ship. Of course, there is danger along the way. Lupo’s monsters were meant to be sold on the market as weapons, and the guests on his ship were there to bid on them. Everything goes wrong, of course, and now you have to move through the ship while avoiding Lupo’s monsters.

    How do you achieve this? With an elaborate game of hide-and-seek.

    The game has you clicking on tiles to place your character in the most strategic position. Then, you’ll have to open a variety of doors. Doing so may unleash one of Lupo’s monsters, so you will either have to find the fastest route to your next objective, or find a way to close various doors in order to trap them. The gameplay is simple, straight-forward, and incredibly fast to pick up. The levels can be finished anywhere from 45 seconds to two minutes. This sort of brevity is refreshing in its own right. As far as the genre is concerned, I want to call it “strategy-lite,” but the studio describes itself as a maker of puzzle games. Either description would do.

    As an aside, the studio behind Professor Lupo, BeautiFun Games, was responsible for the award-winning indie title Nihilumbra.

    Recommendation: For short and satisfying puzzle segments

    Soulfire

    Soulfire

    As we showed in our review for this Early Access game, Soulfire is something of a unique battle royale. With all of the craze behind Fortnite, it shouldn’t surprise us that developers are making side-scrolling renditions of this style. Soulfire does so with a medieval fantasy twist.

    The demo version begins with the tutorial, and from the start, it’s clear that the game takes full use of the keyboard. Gamepad and keyboard/mouse controls are an option. However, I opted for the full keyboard controls, which is what the game recommends.

    Soulfire shows remnants of other games. The “red” for health and “blue” for MP harkens back to Diablo, of course, and the fact that enemies (as well as your character) slowly lose their armor as they take damage is reminiscent of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. With that said, the main thing that sets this game apart is that it is a side-scrolling battle royale game, something that I imagine will spawn many iterations in the coming future.

    For full disclosure, I don’t typically like battle royale games. I find that the death-to-respawn ratio leaves much to be desired. Usually, I’d much rather play an online game that lets me spawn more regularly. Even with that said, though, I can’t deny that Soulfire brings something new to the table.

    Recommendation: For those interested in a side-scrolling battle royale

    Your Ship In A.n.n.e.

    Despite my reservations towards some of the controls in A.N.N.E., it was still the major standout title for me. The colorful graphics and the nice soundtrack made for an overall pleasant experience. That doesn’t exclude how much I got sucked into MineRalph, however. I must add that despite MineRalph’s fast pace, I didn’t find it to be frustrating at all. MineRalph requires more thought than what is first apparent, and it forces the player to reconsider the best possible route, usually multiple times over.

    If you’d like to check out last week’s rendition of this feature series, we discussed the demo for Heavy Rain, among others. If you’re a game developer or publisher and would like to have your demo discussed in this series, please email editor (at) pcinvasion.com.

    Alex Johnson
    Alex has been playing video games since the 90s. He's your resident Roller Coaster Tycoon fan. You can find him on Twitter @OneGunnerUnder

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