Indie Review: Alpha Secret Base on Xbox Indie Games (Xbox 360)

Alpha Secret Base is a quirky indie/doujin dev group with some very impressive games to their name. Primarily a PC developer, over the past two years they've been porting some of their games to the Xbox Indie Games service. Today, we'll be looking at three of them.

In total, they've put out nine titles on the Indie Games marketplace (two of which, Omoti and Tester Phase One, are 360-exclusive games) and all of them are available to download for just 69p- at the end of this article, I'll give you a full list of their downloadable games and links to their pages on the online Indie Games marketplace. Admittedly, the PC originals were all free, but at this price, they might as well be available for nothing. Alpha Secret Base have certainly made some interesting games, ones which have that essential 'just one more go' factor- the dev team's speciality is almost certainly the action-puzzle genre, where playing smarter, not harder, is the order of the day, so we'll be looking at two of their games in this style, and a more action-oriented arena game just to mix things up.

Kaiten Patissier + Ura Kaiten Patissier

One of the first ASB game to appear on the 360, Kaiten Patissier is also my personal favourite, a game with charming visuals and deceptively simple mechanics. As the world's smallest cook, Pipi, your job is gather ingredients for magic recipes from 50 different stages- grab every item on the stage to clear it. While initially it looks like a simple collect-a-thon platforming affair, Pipi's special ability is to rotate the entire stage- walk up to a solid block and press A to flip the map 90 degrees. As well as letting you walk on walls and the ceiling, flipping the world affects the other elements present on the stage, such as crates that Pipi can push, merry-go-round-like contraptions that can move items and platforms, switches that have to be held down with crates, and so on.

The game starts out very simple (the first 20 stages are perhaps a little too easy) but by the end, you'll be confronted by some real head-scratchers, such as 5-41 which is clogged full of crates (you need them to fill a shaft to hit some switches, but don't get buried underneath them!) and 4-39 which has boxes on a carousel covering all the food items. Its greatest strength is that it doesn't even need to explain any of these contraptions with words- figuring out how they work is intuitive and easy, but figuring out how to use them to your advantage is more rewarding. Once you've cleared all the stages (which won't take that long) there's still further incentive to play with the Stage Select mode, which gives you a bronze, silver or gold ranking depending on whether you've beaten the target time, beaten the target number of rotations, and collected the secret item which only appears when one food item remains. Some of the target times/rotations are absolutely fiendish, and it'll keep you coming back for just one more go to beat them.

The only minor issue is that you can't view a map of the stage while you're playing it- you can study them before you go in, but not during. Some of the later stages require you to flip the world so boxes land on certain switches, but you can't always see them to judge which way to spin. This is really a minor issue that doesn't come up too often, and when you consider everything else the game gets right- the level design, the gizmos and objects you have to utilise to get through each stage, and the wonderful 16-bit-esque graphics- you can see how nicely put together the game is. Definitely ASB's best game (and most popular, it seems, as they gave it a homebrew port for the PSP) Kaiten Patissier is a wonderful little gem that'll steal your spare time right under your nose.

If you find the game too easy though, there's Ura Kaiten Patissier available too, which is essentially the same game with 50 new, more difficult levels replacing the old ones. ASB aren't mucking about with this version- while I coasted through the first three worlds of the original, Ura made me fight my way to just to get to the second world, being consistently difficult from the off (this is doubled when you bring the secret items into it, as they're tucked away in the most awkward spots). You'll often see stages in Ura that seem completely impossible, until you finally crack it after trying every possibility, letting out a sigh of relief, just to move on to the next brain-melter of a stage. You might want to play the original first so you're eased into it more gradually, but for pros, go with Ura and get ready to furrow your brow in confusion!

Gameplay Video (PC Version)

Ganbare Natsuki San

First released on Windows in 2006, Ganbare Natsuki San is another action-puzzler like Kaiten Patissier, but there's a bit more focus on the action this time- it's vaguely similar to SNES obscurity Umihara Kawase. Natsuki has to make her way through 50 stages and collect all the items, but rather than flip the stage, Natsuki's spcial ability comes in the form of a grappling hook which can grab onto any solid block. Once hooked on, you can circle around the grappled object- so if you grapple from the bottom, you can rotate round so you're above it, where you can let go and land on it- but you can't reel the hook in or out (unless you press against the edge of the stage) and bumping against another object makes you fall. You can also jump while you're hooked on to something, so say there's a platform you can't quite reach- what you can do is jump, hook the ground below you, then jump again and hook onto the previously unreachable block.

This one isn't quite as easy to pick up as Kaiten Patissier, as the grappling hook takes some getting used to. There's little tricks you need to pull off, like climbing solid walls with just the hook, that require a fair bit of practice to pull off consistently (especially if you're more used to the bionic arm controls from Bionic Commando- things are startlingly different here) so while the hook is versatile, it requires more time put into it. The controls themselves don't help that much either- they're a bit fiddly when it comes to aiming the hook, especially with the 360's notorious d-pad, so making precision movements (especially near spikes, as their hit-box isn't entirely clear at times) is quite troublesome at first. Also, unlike Kaiten, the game doesn't give you any target times or number of jumps to beat; instead, it'll just keep track of your best scores on every stage and it also has a Total Attack mode where you run through every stage for the best overall time.

I'm nitpicking a little here, of course- while these problems make it a weaker game than Kaiten Patissier (especially the lack of pre-set target times) they're not completely ruinous. It's still a very fun action-puzzler that demands you learn every trick your grappling hook is capable of to make it through- some of the stunts you have to pull on later stages are pretty crazy! Probably the most rewarding aspect of the game is that it keeps track of how many times you jump in a stage, and it's very compelling to see how many of the 50 stages you can beat with just the grappling hook. There's at least a few that, with some practice, you can beat without your feet ever touching the ground- it's quite a sight to see in action, so this is a game that's definitely worth putting some time into.

Oddly, the 360 version of Ganbare Natsuki San has undergone a tiny bit of censorship- the PC version had an original Xbox as a collectable item, and while it's still an item in this version, the big X on the top has been removed.

Gameplay Video (PC Version)

Exelinya Burst!

Finally, Exelinya Burst! is a bit more recent, having been released on the 360 last year, and it's very different from the other ASB games we've seen today. It's got more in common with arcade arena shooters like Robotron 2084 and Smash TV... Except you can't die. Your character has a grappling hook that can latch on to enemies- once you've got one in your mitts, you stand still and move the hook instead (unless you hold B, where you'll lock the hook in place and move your character). Release the grab button and you'll toss the enemy away- if they crash into another enemy, they'll explode, and that explosion can trigger other enemies to explode if they're caught in the blast. Causing huge explosions boosts your power meter, and when it's at max and you destroy some enemies, the screen gets smothered in a gigantic explosion and you get a little boost to the timer, which is constantly ticking down... After killing a certain number of enemies, a big boss will come on screen which is defended by a shield- smash some enemies into it and the shield disappears, allowing you to grab and throw it. Killing both bosses and enemies increases your rank, which controls how crowded the screen gets with enemies. That's all there is to it- blow up everything and keep the time bar from emptying!

While it's very fun to watch everything on screen explode just by lightly tossing one enemy into another, the main problem with Exelinya Burst! is that there's just way too much happening at once, and not enough screen space to give the game room to breathe. As a result, you can progress through the game without even thinking about it or applying much strategy- grab an enemy and toss him in any direction and you're almost guarenteed to trigger a gigantic chain reaction, which will probably kill a boss just as they're coming on screen, which triggers another screen-engulfing explosion... And it goes on like this. What worsens it is the fact that it feels like there's no threat of your game ending because you messed up- there's no death, remember, so there's no tension, no close scrapes, which are essential for a game like this. Comparing it to Robotron: 2084 in particular is interesting- there, the sprites are much smaller, so while the game packs more enemies on-screen at once, it still feels like you've got some breathing space. That's not the case in Exelinya Burst!- the sprites are cute child-like scribbles (Rakuga Kids and Rakugaki Showtime spring to mind) but they're just too big, which means explosions are going to happen no matter what you do. It's still entertaining, mind you, but compared to the other games we've looked at today, it's a little weak, and it's not nearly as moreish.

Gameplay Video (PC Version)

Other Games and More Info

Well, there you have it. Interesting games, don't you agree? Here's the Indie Marketplace pages for all the Alpha Secret Base games currently available, in order of their original PC releases, if applicable:

SummerVacation (2003)
HuntersLunch (2005)
Ganbare Natsuki San (2006)
Kaiten Patissier (2008)
Ura Kaiten Patissier (2008)
Exelinya Burst! (2009)
Green Island (2009)
OMOTI (360 only, 2010)
Tester Phase One (360 only, 2010)

Sadly, they haven't updated their main website in a little while (their last 360 release was Tester Phase One in late June 2010, and their last PC release was Search Light in May 2010) but visiting this page on their website gives you download links for all their games and even soundtracks for a few of them. Hopefully one of their games will catch your eye!

Last Updated ( 08 January 2011 )  

Tepid Snake

Wait, what do I put in this box again? Oh, it's about me. I like playing weird and unusual games- the sort you're likely to forget about- and I hope you like reading about them because they're what I write about. And game trivia too. Please look forward to it!

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