Day 144: Karnn Age Lite

Posted: 2011/04/02 in Indie Games

I’m purchasing an Xbox Live Indie Game every day, seeking out the quality titles that got lost in the shuffle and are not well represented in the top 50 lists on the Xbox Dashboard. Today is day #144, and today’s game is “Karnn Age Lite”.

Note: there are two versions of Karnn Age, the “Lite” version that sells for 80 Microsoft Points, and the regular version that sells for 240 MSP. This is a review of the so-called “Lite” version. Both play the same and have the same number of levels, the differences are in the number of songs available in the game’s soundtrack.

Karnn Age is a mix of old and new. The difficulty level is squarely in the NES era, before modern trapping like auto-aim and auto-healing made gaming arguably a lot of easier. But don’t mistake this for the super hard difficulty of Super Meat Boy or “Soul” either, it’s squarely in-between where gaming difficulty was when almost all gamers were what we would call “hardcore” gamers today.

There are a lot of dual-stick shooters on Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG), but I’m always happy to buy a new one every now and then. Not only do they tend to be attractively priced, but just as first-person shooter fans seem to buy several each year so too do I get an itch for a new twin-stick shooter once a month or so. Karnn Age, despite being an XBLIG from July 2009, does have some things going for it that set it apart, even in an XBLIG marketplace that has been graced by some excellent games since (most notably several of the radiangames efforts).

First, from the developer (Louis Lavallee):

“Karnn Age Lite is the [80] ms points version of Karnn Age, an intense twin stick shooter. It fits under 50 mb to be eligible for the [80] price point. The only difference between The normal and lite version of Karnn Age is the price and that the lite version has 3 songs instead of 9.”

The premise of Karnn Age is also reminiscent of games from the NES-era, by which I mean it’s mostly throwaway. The sun is angered that people are walking on its beautifully baking hot sand, so it unleashes horrors upon the world to punish humanity for its transgressions. This premise does effect gameplay: you’re standing in a square of grass, surrounded by sand. The game sometimes tempts you to venture out into the sand, such as to pick up a power-up, but you’ll have to be quick about it as more than a few seconds on the sand and the sun will become directly involved in the concept, something you don’t want as the sun is invulnerable to your attacks.

The game controls like most dual-stick shooters: move with the left stick, and shoot with the right. Centre the right stick, though, and you do something similar to Gears of War’s “roadie run”, where you cannot fire but you can move significantly faster. This feature, paired up with the grass/sand element of the game, has you facing several risk/reward decisions as you play, and that’s one of the game’s strengths.

Presentation is not quite as strong as most games I have reviewed over the first 144 days. It’s competent enough, but not quite as polished as many new XBLIGs. Thankfully, the smooth, fluid, and frantic gameplay doesn’t give you time to really reflect on the presentation as you play anyway, so it’s easily forgiveable.

I liked the variety of levels in the game. Early levels simply have enemies flying at your or coming up from the ground. Later levels introduce crazy snake bosses, and a train that circles you unleashing killer insects, then stops to unload ground troops and open fire from turrets hidden in some of the cars, before picking up speed and starting the cycle over again, and more besides. You never know what to expect.

Should you get stuck, the game includes walkthrough videos of each level being successfully played on the hardest skill level. This is good, as the game has a minimalist heads-up display (HUD) that shows your transluscent life bar and little else. Without an enemy life bar, or even a score, it can be hard to know whether you’re doing the right thing against the bosses, but that also is reminiscent of the NES era when documentation was often slight, rarely read anyway, and tutorial modes had yet to be popularised. Karnn Age is a delightful throwback to the days when you learned by doing, through trial and error.

Did I mention that transluscent life bar of yours is absolutely massive, taking up almost the entire width of the screen? You’ll need it, as this is a challenging (though never impossible, in my experience, game), though you will occasionally check one of the developer playthrough videos just to make sure you’re approaching a particularly hard boss fight correctly.

Karnn Age was the perfect scratch for my dual-stick shooter itch, blending a classic difficulty level with modern controls. Before long you’ll be soaking the grass and sand with over-the-top amounts of blood, and enjoying every minute of it.

Click here to download “Karnn Age Lite”, and then please come back after playing to rate the game.

Know someone else who would want to read the review, or rate the game? Click “Share This” above and invite them to.

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