Team Indie is a puzzle platformer about teaming up with various popular indie game protagonists to save a cat trapped in a computer. The primary mechanic of the game is taking control of various characters whose actions occur on the same timeline. It’s similar to the shadow mechanic from Braid‘s world 5, where each action you take is carried out automatically as you play each subsequent character. You have to interact with the past version of yourself in order to solve puzzles, but each time you play you get a new indie hero with unique abilities to control.
At its core, Team Indie is a game about jumping from platform to platform while avoiding obstacles and solving puzzles. On top of that simple concept, it adds quite a bit of depth by way of allowing you to play cooperatively with yourself. The primary protagonist of the game, Marvin, is a simple cat with nothing in the way of dealing with the adversity the game throws at you; he can run and jump, but that’s about it. The goal of each level is to get Marvin to the end portal by helping him overcome the level’s obstacles with the power of nine indie characters. When the level starts you are given a list of character spawns, and you must use those characters in that order to pave the way for Marvin to reach the exit. Along the way are character spawns that switch you to a new character, and goal points that end your current character’s run and spawns the next character in the list back at the start.
Conceptually, this is a fun mechanic, and while it isn’t the first time a game has used it, it’s not something that is explored often so it’s a refreshing change of pace from the majority of platformers available. Unfortunately, the execution does not live up to the potential of the concept. Due to the nature of the game, you have to account for your future actions as you play each character. In many cases it’s not exactly clear that you’ve made a mistake until you try to execute those planned actions, forcing you to not only replay the current character and the character you made a mistake with, but also any characters in between on the fixed spawn list. Couple that with difficult, high-precision platforming and frequent forced-scrolling situations and you’re left with a game that you can only beat through copious trial and error and a painful amount of repetition.
Most of the characters that the games gives you control of are a treat to play. The controls are tight and responsive, the character movement is smooth and intuitive, and each special ability feels unique and interesting. The key word there is most. Some of the characters are have awkward to use mechanics that make them hard to control and hard to plan around. Others act slowly or have long paths in the level which means you have to sit and wait for them to finish on each subsequent character. The game does throw you a bone by way of a fast-forward button, but it’s not enough. The time it saves you, you end up losing when you hold the button a bit too long and miss your window to act and you have to start over. Repetition seems to be a frequent malady afflicting this game.
The game is also hit-or-miss when it comes to providing you with feedback. On the level selection screen, each level shows you which characters you will play as during the course of that level. It also shows you how many and which type of collectible medals are present in the level. Once you complete a level, the icon changes to show you what you’ve achieved in the level, so it’s easy to tell at a glance which levels you have more to achieve in. Once you are actually in the level it’s much less clear. There is no heads up display showing you how many crystals or medals you’ve collected or how many the level has in total, and the pause menu offers no information either. With levels taking up to 15 minutes to complete, it’s easy to forget whether a level has two or three trophies and end up wasting time searching for medals that aren’t there, or ending the level early and having to play it again.
While the main protagonist is somewhat plain-looking, each of the indie characters that you encounter is a faithful recreation in this game’s visual style. The result is a myriad of unique and quirky characters that all still look like they belong in this world. The animations are fluid and easy to read, and level of detail is just enough to make the characters identifiable while still staying true to the game’s smooth, crisp-edged aesthetic. Each section of the world has a distinct terrain style and background that’s interesting to look at and conveys a mood that increases in intensity and foreboding as the game progresses. The terrain is highly detailed, in contrast to the simplicity of the characters, which makes it very easy to read what’s happening on the screen. The backgrounds are somewhat generic, but they provide just the right amount of color to help set the tone for each area.
Even on the small scale, the attention the developers put on the visuals is evident. The sparkle when you collect a crystal is visually appealing and makes it obvious that you actually got the gem. The beams of light that emanate from the starting point other various portals looks great and does a fantastic job of telling you what to expect at each point. Every medal that you collect is unique and pays homage to an aspect of one of the games the indie characters come from. They put a lot of effort into even the smallest details of this game’s graphics and it shows.
There are a variety of music tracks that back up each level, and while none of them are bad, they do suffer from the same problem that much of the rest of this game does: repetition. Most of the tracks are pretty short, typically significantly shorter than the levels you hear them, which means you end up hearing the same loop dozens of times each level. The tracks are paired pretty well with each level, with more frantic levels getting faster electronic music and easier or slow-paced levels getting softer and slower instrumental tracks. They do a good job of setting the mood, and it’s easy to get lost in the music and not even notice the repetition. It’s not spectacular, but it does the job.
The sound effects are another matter entirely. Each effect does a great job conveying what is happening in the game world, and it does so without being overbearing or obnoxious. The clinks from picking up gems, the sound flourishes when you get a medal or beat a level, the satisfying clop of your feet as you jump, every sound effect fits the situation well and provides great audio feedback to let you know what’s going on. This really enhances the feel of the game and adds an extra level of polish that helps overcome some of the clunkiness of the other aspects of the game.
Overall Team Indie is a good game that’s held back by some fundamental flaws in its design. The character switching mechanic shows promise, and it’s incredibly satisfying when you execute the last character in a long chain and get to see all of the characters acting in concert. Unfortunately the level design and some of the characters leave a lot to be desired, and the game ends up more frustrating than it is fun. If you’re looking for another great indie platformer on the level of Braid or Super Meat Boy, this game likely won’t satisfy. On the other hand, if you like to solve interesting puzzles and don’t mind a lot of repetition then you might find some value here. If you want to pick the game up, it is available from the developer’s site directly at http://teamindie.brightside-games.com/, or through Steam at their store page.
Ever since smashing my first goomba at four years old, I've been a video game fanatic. I grew up with games, and when the big studios started pumping out the same games over and over again, I turned my eye to where the real fun is. I haven't bought a game from a major publisher in years, and I want to share my love for the indie gaming community with you all. When I'm not playing or writing about indie games, I'm out there trying to make my own. Hit me up on twitter, @empyrealhell, for the latest look into this small but wonderful slice of gaming.