“Negative space is important. When I teach students to read critically I advise them to look for what the author isn’t saying just as carefully as for what he or she is.”
In the modern world of gaming, overcrowding can be an issue. It’s one which increases in severity with each passing year. There are simply too many games and we the gamers are left with the disappointment of having too much to play, too many titles building up on our backlogs while too many new games come out, and not enough time in the day. First world problems. Of course, fewer games are not the answer. I wouldn’t advocate for a freeze on the industry, as nice as it would be to have a year’s time without any new releases to catch up on everything.
No, I think the answer is making each new game as good as it can be. With better new releases, more eye-catching releases, it’s easier to pick out which games to play between the galactic and the pedestrian. When games begin to push the envelope and stand out from the crowd, they automatically set themselves into a category above, and that’s helpful for the consumer until the market rises up to this new standard again. Then the trend must continue. We don’t want the industry to stagnate. That’s no solution, so I’m for more innovation, creativity, and quality. The whole market gets better when it’s robust, full of giants and lilliputians.
INVERSUS by Hypersect is visually arresting enough to have that immediate distinction of standing out from the crowd. I first saw it when it was announced for the Nintendo Switch (incidentally the platform I played it on) during a “Nindie” presentation lineup. I hesitate to say that many indie games can fall into a rut, developing their own dogma and traditions, but the fact is that many of them share the same superficial attributes, instantly identifiable. INVERSUS was one of the more memorable titles of that lineup.
A minimalist shooter, INVERSUS is the kind of game you can understand within a few seconds. Players take control of simple squares which are confined to opposite colored panels on a black and white grid. The objective is to shoot down other players in Versus Mode or waves of enemies in Arcade Mode. Shooting also changes the color of panels to a color your avatar can pass over, which is conversely a color your enemy can’t. Your walls are your enemy’s paths, and vice versa.
And that’s about it for the basic concept. Shots can also block other enemies shots or players can charge up their blaster for a tri-shot, but essentially you’re going attempting to trap the other player between tiles they can’t move over, pin them down and blow them to smithereens. This simplicity and the brevity of each match, as well as the fact that each board turns out differently as the panels flip, makes INVERSUS addicting and a lot of fun for competitive couch play.
“The goal was to create a unique board through the deterministic chaos of each player’s actions. Nothing is random, but the complexity of human action and reaction evolves the simple starting state into a unique puzzle every time the game is played.”
What brings in a layer of tact is the fact that you have to be discerning about where and when to shoot. Your avatar only carries five rounds of ammunition (up to six with customizable options) and if you run out it takes a surprising amount of time to reload, a process which occurs automatically. In Arcade Mode, enemies will drop ammo you can pick up but in Versus Mode, with a human mind to defy, your store of pew-pews needs to be carefully watched. If you fire without reservation, you can easily be trapped and eliminated. INVERSUS hasn’t been labeled an action-strategy game for nothing. At times it feels like a fast-paced round of Chess, with guns.
Additionally, the controls furnish a gimmick which circumnavigates your mind’s tendency to mash buttons in a shooter. The right side of the controller is mapped so that each button fires a bullet in a single direction. On the Switch that’s X shoots up, Y shoots left, B shoots down, and A shoots right. On the PS4, triangle is up, square is left, X is down, and circle is right. This means you have to force yourself to constantly think about what direction you want to shoot in, making the game a lot more mentally intense and bringing it nearing to twin-stick shooter territory.
This directional mapping also holds for charging up your bullets for the triple-blast. If you hold Y to charge up a left tri-shot, then you’re going to shoot left. Nothing can change that until you release the button and begin to fire in another direction. Considering the pace of the game, it’s not wise to camp on a charge for too long. Your avatar is slowed down when charging and you’re left open to all other sides when doing so.
Further deepening the otherwise simple gameplay are advanced firing techniques: shooting around corners, hiding behind power ups which can absorb enemy fire before they’re destroyed, and parrying incoming shots just before they strike you. Performing all of these on the fly demands a lot from your reflexes. Sometimes the action can go down so fast that you might wonder what happened!
Then there are the game’s many maps. The basic ones are large arenas where the only hindrances are the panels flipped by the constant barrage of shots. More complex maps can be unlocked through the gameplay. These include walls and obstacles that cannot be shot through or passed through in any way, and passages at the edge of the screen which loop over to the other side. The most breathtaking maps display multiple images of your avatar. THAT requires some real cerebral gymnastics!
INVERSUS was originally released in 2016 and its release this year as INVERSUS Deluxe will hopefully allow the game to see additional traction. So many games get swept under the rug simply because there are so many games, but INVERSUS Deluxe adds new AI bots in Versus Mode, new maps, a new power up, new unlockables, enemies, rankings, and upgraded graphics.
This isn’t a game to be missed. That’s especially true if you miss the good old days of huddling around a TV with a few controllers and some friends. INVERSUS Deluxe has the simplicity to be instantly engaging and the strategic depth to be completely immersive.
The 8-bit Review
Negative space can be a powerful visual tool, when not overused. We’ve all seen the shareable quotes by famous folks, the bold text surrounded by gratuitous negative space. It’s effective but if consumed in quantities too large then we risk becoming immune to its power to impress. I feel like the same thing can happen with indie games.
Example of negative space used to evoke wineglasses and piano keys simultaneously.
However, clever graphic artists and designers utilize negative space to add layers of meaning to their work. A logo incorporating this kind of design philosophy appears elegant, a visual double entendre. With INVERSUS Deluxe, there’s this same kind of visual utility: the negative space becomes meaningful space, for both players, rather than a mere emptiness or arbitrary choice of style. Plus you can swap out custom color palettes, so how frickin’ cool is that?
What caught me by surprise concerning this game’s visuals wasn’t how stark they were in their contrast and minimalism, but in how free they allow the player to feel as the background remains in constant flux during matches, bullets carving paths in all directions. The speed of this game stood contrary to my expectations of a much more formal and perhaps even sluggish strategy-infused action game. Subtle hints also become apparent as you’re playing: shadow effects as your avatars move, scuffs and scratches across the tiles themselves. These and other touches are examples of detail which elevate the total visual experience, though the base simplicity allows the game to span a range from the peacefulness of a zen garden to the chaos of a battlefield.
The sound design really evokes a VR mission kind of experience. A feminine, robotic voice intones the start of a match and the victory of the winner. There’s satisfaction to the laser noises your little square makes. This kind of sound design gives weight to a game. With INVERSUS, it lends a sense of tangibility that helps bring these iconicized graphics of a fantasy world of colors and geometry into our reality.
My score really goes up for the soundtrack by Lyvo. We’ve all heard the techno-house-club-dance-electronic music in games before but I’m going to attempt to explain a difference between a lot of that style of music that feels like filler and the music which appears in INVERSUS that feels purposeful. Maybe that’s because the music occurs in such small doses during the relatively short matches, and because it remains frenetic the whole time. There’s only a little opportunity for musical build up, such as before dropping the bass, or for melodic meandering. There’s no obvious “seam” in the music, not when you’re playing, so the looping quality of the tracks makes it seem like the action never lets up until the match is over.
Besides, this is a case in which the style of music completely fits the nature of the game. The computer-simulation vibe is underscored by the electronic score. What’s more, the music itself doesn’t get too dark. It remains light and energetic, inspiring fun.
The gameplay in INVERSUS is all in the title: it’s based around inverted colors and it features competitive versus play. Thematic double-meaning. I’ll address the Versus Mode in the next section so that leaves us here with Arcade Mode.
Arcade highlights one or two player teams shooting down waves of enemies. Typically you’re dropped in the center of the map and enemies will begin to spawn around you. When killed, the enemy squares explode, which can trigger chain reactions for racking up points. Not dying is always important but here there’s a necessity in being deliberate with your bullets. As the enemies slowly encroach upon your personal space, you’ll have to look for opportunities to cause the biggest chains and gain score multipliers. New maps can be unlocked based on high scores you achieve in specific matches.
Enemies come in two different types: red or white squares. The white squares can shoot at you and while the red square cannot. They’re dangerous for other reasons. As the red squares close in on you, tiles they pass over are flipped to black, meaning their approach automatically limits your maneuvering room. Killing them and causing chains of explosions flips the tiles back to white so sometimes it’s best to shoot in a particular direction so as to provide yourself with an avenue of escape.
Further complicating things is varied behavior with the reds. I’m not sure if the whites eventually do this but the reds seem to have different movement speeds and patterns. Some of them will slowly approach you in rank and file. Some of them will rush headlong toward you. Some of them don’t come at you at all, preferring instead to wander around the board, making tiles they pass over impassable.
I also read that the red enemies eventually gain the ability to shoot at you in later difficulties. I’ll readily admit, a little red-faced, that I can’t get all that far in Arcade Mode.
I should also mention the game’s power ups. These appear at set points on each map where they materialize over time. The most common of these is a red bullet which fires one shot faster than normal velocity. You can collect as many of these as your max ammo limit allows. There’s also a unique bullet which splits in two when it strikes an obstruction; pretty sneaky to hit enemies hiding behind cover. There’s a shield that lets you absorb fire for a few seconds and a power up which lets you plow through tiles of any color, effectively letting you go wherever you want. Again, nothing too fancy but just enough to provide a little extra intrigue and tact.
The Versus Mode is where INVERSUS really shines. Deluxe adds combat against AI controlled bots with varying difficulty in both 1v1 and 2v2, but the most fun comes from pitting yourself against another human sitting next to you. 1v1 and 2v2 online is great and all, and there are leaderboards and emotes to demonstrate your swagger. While measuring your skills and bravado against strangers has its appeal, there’s a special kind of energy that comes from this game’s excellent local competitive matches. The fact that you can begin local matches while waiting in the lobby for players for an online bout means the action never has to stop.
The immediacy of INVERSUS means the player doesn’t have to learn a series of complicated rules or get a feel for any advanced physics in order to jump in and enjoy a match or several. I play multiplayer games most often with my wife, on a whim, whenever we can steal the opportunity. She doesn’t play games too frequently so I use her reactions to gauge how accessible a game can be to “the lay”, or phrased less pretentiously: someone who wouldn’t call themselves a gamer. INVERSUS has the essential simplicity to be enjoyable right from your first introduction to it.
“Addicting” means I would rather keep playing the actual game than write the review for it, and that has been my experience with INVERSUS Deluxe.
Standing out from the noise can be difficult. This game had the luxury of a double release, a second time with the Nintendo Switch. The hybrid handheld/home console seems to me to be the perfect platform for this game. The versatility of the Joy Cons and the portability of the Switch make picking a fight in INVERSUS easier than ever, and with how simple it is to learn and play already, it’s like a match made in heaven.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
I really enjoyed this game and I expect I’ll continue to enjoy it with house guests and family members for quite a while. That’ll help me unlock everything! I’ve loved having a handful of games on the Switch that I can just turn on and get into on the fly, use them to introduce people to Nintendo’s console while showcasing titles that are instantly fun to play. I’d like to thank Hypersect for giving us the opportunity to critique their game based on a press copy. I’m looking forward to more games developed by them in the future.
Aggregated Score: 8.3
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Categories: Game Review