Indie-Ana Co-Op and the Sugar Squad

3/22/2011 at 10:50 PM

The Sugar Killerz

Developer: Fun Hazard

Genre: Action & Adventure

Available On: XBLIG

Co-Op Mode: Local (4 players)

Price: 400 MS Points ($5)

Demo w/ Co-Op Available: Yes

Some time back, Kat looked at an XBLIG called Square Off. In that game, you and your buddies played as one of four “Square Avengers” that were out to save the Earth from invading aliens. Fast forward to now and another co-op title hits the Xbox Live Indie scene where you and up to three more of your local buddies can team up to take down invading hordes of… errr, candy? Let me be clear from the start, though: while The Sugar Killerz does bring to mind the other indie title previously mentioned, it doesn't feel like some knock-off and stands out on its own.

The game starts off with a kind of picture-by-picture set up for the ensuing saccharine carnage. Near as I can tell, the king of some kingdom gets it into his head that if all the candy in the kingdom is destroyed, his popularity will go up; so he hires four mercenaries to complete the sweet deed. This is where you and your buddies step-in. You can choose to play as The Mad, The Dumb, The Cool, and The Bad, though all play the same when controlled by players, just with different colors and skins. You have at your disposal a small arsenal of firearms, including a shotgun, a sniper rifle, and dual SMGs (each with a primary and secondary fire), that you can quickly switch between using the 360 controller’s face buttons. As you go through each level, the objective is straightforward and simple: kill all the candy you see.

Gameplay-wise, The Sugar Killerz comes off feeling similar to a lot of twin-stick shooters out there. Movement is controlled with the left stick, you aim with the right, and fire your weapon using either the right or left trigger (for primary and secondary fire, respectively). However, the power-ups (you can go all John Woo, slow motion style) and co-op gameplay is where this title truly shines. I mentioned previously that there are four different mercs from whom to choose when you play and how each one plays the same when controlled by players.

The flavor text pretty much says it all... Co-op action for all!

If you don’t have enough players to fill up the other slots for a session, then the AI will control the remaining mercs; and each one will behave in his own particular way. The Bad, for instance, tends to hog all the power-ups and is very aggressive, racking up kill after kill. So even if you’re just playing with one friend while the computer controls the rest, you will still get some of that same feeling of having a full group with the way the AI-controlled buddies behave.

Having AI companions that actually work (gasp!) aside, the game itself is very co-op friendly and definitely is a great “pick-up-and-play for a few levels” kind of game. The sheer mayhem that ensues when the screen fills up with “Horny Pigs” (nope, that’s not a mistake) is something that just has to be experienced with a friend. Oh, and while there’s no friendly-fire mechanic, in what feels like a very tongue-in-cheek kind of nod to it, you revive falling comrades by shooting their ghosts before they float off the screen. For an XBLIG title, $5 may seem like a fair amount to ask, but The Sugar Killerz’s replay value is fairly high and is a great addition to any shooter’s library of games.

The Sugar Killerz is For: Twin-stick shooter and Square Off fans; not to mention fans of pure co-op fun
The Co-Op Experience: Each player controls his or her own candy-killing mercenary and fight his way through hordes of sweet (but deadly) candy treats; play with up to three friends or let the computer take control of the other mercenaries

Alpha Squad

Developer: Dragon Divide

Genre: Action & Adventure

Available On: XBLIG

Co-Op Mode: Online & Local (up to 4 players; local/online can be mixed)

Price: 240 MS Points ($3)

Demo w/ Co-Op Available: Yes

Alpha Squad is best summed up by a line that, coincidently, also summarizes the wonderful (or horrendous, depending on whom you ask) action movie “Shoot ‘Em Up:” guns, bloody mayhem, and breasts. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun, but I feel it’s only fair to provide a kind of warning for what you’ll be getting into with this game.

Alpha Squad’s story is just enough to establish that there is a squad of highly trained soldiers, ranging from a katana-wielding Asian to a muscle-bound gun-loving fighter complete with their own “bursting out of her top” secretary, that accept various missions across a post-apocalyptic world for the greater good (… the greater good…). During each stage, enemies come charging, or guns a blazing, at this super squad and so they do what anyone would do in that kind of situation: completely wipe out every last one; which basically sums up the gameplay. Enter a screen, kill all the enemies, rinse, and repeat.

There are a couple of features to help break up this cycle, such as being able to enter buildings where there are items/easter eggs to be found and being able to choose from which side of the screen, similar to the original Legend of Zelda, to exit. Depending on which series of paths you take in a level, you could end up fighting a boss, or simply just face a particularly large number of enemies, so there is some definite replay value here. You also may end up rescuing one of the fair maidens that are scattered throughout the game who, upon rescue, scamper off to your “Sanctuary” where they shall frolic about scantily (you were given fair warning).

The HUD that displays players' health, inventory, and score is faded into the background so it doesn't get in the way. Pretty smart

As far as the co-op gameplay is concerned, Alpha Squad makes some pretty far-reaching strides for an XBLIG title. Local co-op, online co-op, or a mix of the two is fully supported. There are major “AAA” releases that don’t even manage that one so it was a bit of a shock when I saw that feature listed for the game. That bit alone almost makes Alpha Squad worth picking up. Having a couple of buddies along for the ride certainly lessens the eventual tedium of slaughtering wave after (seemingly) endless wave of enemies. Should one of your friends fall in combat, it’s easy enough to purchase a revival pack from the armory (accessed from the pause screen) using the plentiful amounts of money left behind by all those enemies. Limited-use weapons can also be purchased from the armory to help out in any tight spots in which you may find yourself.

All-in-all, while Alpha Squad may not quite raise the bar for the top-down shooter genre, it does a very good job of living up to the standards set by many of the entries that came before, and even manages to pull off a couple of features that those entries haven’t.

Alpha Squad is Geared Towards: Fans of action movie/anime stereotypes, but in a semi-fun way
The Co-Op Experience: Each player controls one of four members of Alpha Squad and sets out with an infinite supply of bullets to wipe out anything that moves; play with up to three friends online, locally, or a mix of the two