Posted By Gabriel B. about 7 months, 3 weeks ago
Freeware Friday: “Searchlight Nightmare” and “Dash-Da-Dash DX”,
Today, I’m still trying to play through a couple of longer freeware titles, so I though it might be a nice change of pace to share a couple arcade-style games that are quick-to-play and but addictive enough to keep you coming back for more. Our two games for discussion today are the stealth action platformer Searchlight Nightmare and the DJ-mix/anti-shooter/possible acid trip Dash-Da-Dash DX.
Our first game, Searchlight Nightmare, is a game by Alpha Secret Base, a game developer group based out of Japan who have released indie titles like Kaiten Pattiser and Wisp Lisp. In it, you play as a lady thief who has decided to steal from the rich because… well, there is only a single note that contains any plot and it is in Japanese so I have no idea why a blue-haired girl is running around in a midriff and miniskirt trying to steal giant treasure chests and avoiding searchlights that are used inside a building. Not that it really matters, since the game is a series of 50 arcade puzzle-platforming levels that will have you dodging searchlights and spikes, so the plot really doesn’t matter.
The aesthetics and music are rather forgettable as well. Don’t get me wrong, neither are bad, they just don’t stand out, except maybe for the character sprite, which is surprisingly well animated for the early 16-bit aesthetic the developers employed. However, even that positive point becomes moot because there is an awfully drawn “Congratulations” screen at the end. Still, as a whole, this part of the game is serviceable.
Now, while the game may not sound that great so far, it makes up for these failings through its gameplay. To get through all the levels, you will need to use only two tools, a jump and a dash (‘x’ and ‘z’ respectively) that takes time to charge. The levels are all fast-paced and can’t be completed until all treasure chests are collected. In addition to spike traps and the aforementioned searchlights (each light has a different path it takes), you will also need to deal with timed switches and disappearing blocks. While this may sound pretty standard, the game’s levels are extremely well designed and make great use of your reaction time and planning. Several levels actually show some real ingenuity by having traps that are perfectly designed around your dash ability. The only thing that bogs this part down is that the game is really easy. While there are a couple tough levels towards the end, I managed to beat the entire game in under two hours while watching a movie with friends.
One thing that was surprising is that the game saves all your replays and times. It actually was kind of fun to watch myself play through a level with button presses even being shown in the top-left of the screen then redoing a level and shaving an entire minute off my time. Considering the entire game is only 2.6 megabytes, this is especially impressive. The game also supports gamepads if you want to complete the retro feel the game was going for.
Overall, Searchlight Nightmare captures the retro feel of an old school puzzle platformer and all of the good and bad that pertains. Its graphics feel washed out and rather bland, the music fails to impress, and it might be too easy for experienced players. However, the gameplay is great with its well-designed levels and fast action and it is a lot of fun to replay levels and see how fast you can get your time down to.
Download (Windows only): HERE
Our next game, Dash-Da-Dash DX, is a game that is rather hard to describe in terms of genre. The game has you play as a ship dodging bullets fired by bosses, but it’s not a bullet-hell. There are some great DJ-mixes playing that go well with lightshow going on in the background, but this isn’t a rhythm game. Instead, the game is just about dashing around a level (use your mouse to click where to dash to), collecting jewels, while a weird chimera boss tries to shoot you. If you survive for two minutes, the boss will be replaced by another boss and you will get a huge point bonus. Collecting the yellow jewels gives you points and take off one additional second while purple jewels destroy all of the bullets on the screen. There are two modes: DX, which slows things down, requires you to charge your dash skill and gives you one life, and EX, which gives you three lives, infinite dash, and a much faster boss.
The gameplay is great and tense, regardless of which version you play. The simple controls can be picked up by anyone while dodging the increasingly desperate attacks from the boss keeps the game extra challenging and can make many of your early play-throughs last only a few seconds without leaving you frustrated. In fact, the only frustrating thing about the gameplay is that you have to press ‘Enter’ to start the next game instead of clicking through the menus.
However, gameplay is only half of the package when it comes to DDDDX with presentation being what makes this fun game into an experience. The DJ-mixes are pumping affairs whose sampling choices are eccentric and surprisingly awesome at the same time (“Enemies of Dorothy” samples “The Wizard of Oz” and Sinistar). The catchy music is then combined with a old-timey announcer and a presentation that goes from “colorful pachinko screen” on the lower graphics settings to “SWEET MOTHER OF NEON STROBELIGHT” on its highest settings. My personal favorite effect is the score multiplier that lights up as you collect lots of jewels: the multiplier goes from a bland ‘OKAY’ and ‘COOL’ rating to two half-naked angels with a ‘FEVER! OH YEAH! CAN YOU FEEL IT?’ sign between them in rainbow coloring. The visual effects are so bright and flashy that, when combined with the amalgam boss on the top of the screen, the game becomes a truly surreal experience.
Overall, Dash-Da-Dash DX is a fast-paced arcade game that you need to play. It has a great soundtrack, insanely addictive gameplay, and great presentation that is reminiscent of being alone in an arcade after closing time. It’s a ton of of fun and well worth playing.
Download (along with soundtrack): HERE
Freeware Friday is a weekly column by Gabriel B. that explores the excellent (and sometimes just plain weird) free games that developers release.