Inferno / Inferno+

A game by Radiangames for PC, Mac, Xbox 360, and iOS, originally released in 2010, with the "+" version released in 2012.
As the technology used to create video games became more powerful and therefore more capable, the mixing of genres – and the creation of new sub-genres – was inevitable. These days, folks might not be terribly surprised by a publisher who issues a press release labeling their latest big-budget game as a “stealth-based survival horror tactical shooter with RPG elements”. However, there are still some genre combinations that stand up and demand to be noticed, either in a “how the hell is that going to work?” sort of way, or in a stunned “I can’t believe no one has ever done that before.”

And so it is that Radiangames has brought forth the twin-stick action-RPG, a genre blend that you wouldn’t expect or even know that you were missing until you give it a try for yourself.
The twin-stick shooter genre isn’t new by any stretch, as any Robotron 2084 fan can tell you, but it has certainly seen a sharp rise among the dual analogue consoles of late, particularly in the downloadable space. Geometry Wars is credited with bringing the genre back into popularity, but twin stick jockeys know that not every game that uses this control scheme can truly be labeled a “Geometry Wars clone”, and there have been a number of standout efforts in this sub-genre.

The player’s ship in Inferno operates in fundamentally the same way as the one from Radiangames’ very first release, JoyJoy (see 2D CRED section below), insofar as you move with the left analogue stick, aim with the right, and you have a handful of circles near your ship that show how much health you have remaining. However, rather than being locked within the traditional single-screen confines surrounded by waves of spawning enemies, you’re placed in a maze-like environment, which requires exploration.

The game is presented from a fairly tight top-down perspective that only allows you to see your immediate surroundings. Numerous walls, corners, and tight corridors prevent you from freely opening fire and destroying everything in the area; rather you need to navigate the maze and often get in quite close with your adversaries before your attacks are effective.

There are bubble-like enemies that act like monster generators that are very reminiscent of Gauntlet, pumping out numerous small bubbles that will track you, swarming your position or hugging obstructing walls trying to find a way to get at you. You can kill all the bubbles you want, but they won’t stop coming until you take down the source, which means bullet-slashing your way through them to get at the core. In later levels, the number of enemies coming at you can get pretty overwhelming, but you don’t have to go it alone; you can have up to 4 players in local co-op.

Another Gauntlet-style mechanic is the frequent use of keys as a means of progression. Often you’ll encounter white flashing beams that cannot be passed until you have collected the required key. These walls prevent your own passage, as well as that of the enemies, allowing you to use some strategy to clear an area before opening up the next section. Of course, you may find a row of bubble enemies or turrets waiting hungrily on the other side of the wall, just waiting for the beam to disappear so they can attack.

Fortunately, you have a rechargeable shield. Hit the right trigger (or bumper) to turn yourself temporarily invincible. You can still move during this time, but you cannot fire. This gives you a chance to make your escape, or to dive in and take a more strategic position from within the fray. Using the shield will deplete your shield meter, but it recharges when it’s not in use.

Your left trigger (or bumper) is reserved for screen-clearing bombs that kill everything in sight, with the exception of bosses. That’s right, bosses. There are 2 bosses in this 30 level game, one at the midpoint, and one at the end, although these are of the “bullet cushion” variety and simply involve wearing down their oversized life bars.

Another tool that you have at your disposal are drones. These are small ships that fly around you and add to your firepower, aiming in the same direction as your main ship. You can collect them in the environment and stockpile a large number, but only 3 will be in play at a time. They can be destroyed if they take damage from enemies, at which point one of your stockpiled drones will join you, if you have any remaining.

There are also health pickups in the environment, which will restore a single unit of health. And, you can pick up gold in various denominations as well, with enemies occasionally dropping small amounts, general pickups offering a bit more, and big shiny (often hidden) ones offering even more. Generally, in a straightforward action game, this type of pickup would do nothing but add to your score, but in Inferno, you can spend it in shops.

The shop system is the primary driver of the game. It’s the reason you explore every corner of the maze, it’s the reason why you take a risk to go after an entrenched turret, and it’s the reason why you drag your ship along the walls looking for secret bonus areas filled with even more gold. In the shop, you can upgrade practically every facet of your ship’s abilities, increasing your health, speed, shield, and rate of fire, and even buying weapon powerups, such as a spread gun and homing missiles.

The game has a very interesting upgrade system. Gold only unlocks the ability to use a certain weapon or powerup. You are essentially buying an upgrade slot, rather than the upgrade itself. However, the more powerful upgrades (like homing missiles) will cost you quite a bit more. When you encounter your first shop, you’ll only be able to use a single slot, and you’ll probably only be able to afford to open one additional slot. But as you progress through the game and beat more levels, you’ll gain more upgrade points (roughly equivalent to leveling up in an RPG), allowing you to utilize multiple powerups simultaneously.

What’s more, you can change this point distribution any time you enter a shop, allowing you to equip yourself for whatever situation lies ahead. So, you could have an offensively powerful super-speed ship with rapid-fire homing missiles, and then drop into a shop and swap out your points for a more defensive loadout of extra health, more shield energy, and a spread gun. And each powerup has 2 slots, allowing you to unlock them (at a higher cost) and double-up your points on one or more abilities. With 10 available powerups and 20 total upgrade slots, this leaves a lot of room for customization. Shops also sell drones, bombs, and keys, should you need them.

And once you’ve beaten the game, it’s not over. In true RPG fashion, you will open up a New Game+, which makes some changes to the environment and pickups that make things a bit more challenging, but also gives you access to plenty of firepower.

After the Xbox Live Indie Games release of Inferno, Radiangames released Inferno+. Inferno+ has some fairly substantial changes from its XBLIG counterpart, with one concession made in order to get the game to run on a modestly-powered PC; namely, the game is now a single-player experience rather than allowing for 4P local co-op as in the original. So, if you’re primarily interested in the game for its Gauntlet-esque 4P mode, you’ll want to stick with the original. Otherwise, Inferno+ offers a great deal more content.

First off, the original game had 30 levels, with one boss appearing at the midpoint, and another at the end. The new game has 40 levels in total, with a boss appearing every 10 levels. Of course, all of the bosses are still of the “bullet cushion” variety, and strategies for defeating them largely involve circle-strafing them until you wear down their huge life bars, while avoiding their projectiles and other minor enemies in the arena.

The 30 levels from the original game are still present here, but they have been remixed, with new layouts and different enemy placement, and a couple of new enemy types have been introduced as well. The color scheme and music change every 10 levels as well. This, along with the more frequently-spaced bosses, aids in the overall feeling of progression.

The player has more customization options now as well, with several starting ship configurations, 2 new upgrade types that give you new weapon options and allow you have between 1 and 3 drones in play at a time, exchanging increased firepower for the increased likelihood that more of your drones will be destroyed when under attack. There are also in-game achievements, and a bit of a flashier presentation

Radiangames is an independent development company based in Illinois, which focuses on making games for the Xbox Live Indie Games channel, established with a goal of releasing a game every month or two.

Radiangames was founded in 2010 by Luke Schneider, who has more than a decade of industry experience. He has worked in design roles on games in the Descent and Red Faction series, as well as The Punisher and Alter Echo during his time with Outrage Entertainment and Volition.

In 2010, Radiangames released a total of 6 games:
  1. JoyJoy - the "happy twin-stick shooter", profiled below
  2. Crossfire - the cross-directional shooter, profiled in detail here
  3. Inferno - the twin-stick action-RPG, profiled above
  4. Fluid - a 30-level dot-eating game with power pellets, teleporters, and swarms of enemies
  5. Fireball - an overhead arena-style game where you control a fireball to lure ice enemies together and destroy them with huge explosions
  6. Crossfire 2 - the improved sequel, which added online leaderboards and an Inferno-style upgrade system, profiled in detail here

The title that put Radiangames on the map was their premiere release, a twin-stick shooter called JoyJoy, the game that bills itself as the “happy twin-stick shooter”. It does away with the typical black backgrounds and neon colors, replacing them with desaturated pastels, bursts of stars, and end-of-level messages that tell you what a great job you’ve done (even if you only managed to survive for 35 seconds). The game can be played alone or in 2P co-op.

The weapon and upgrade system are what really make this game stand out. Throughout the game, certain largish enemies will drop powerups. Most of these are different types of weapons, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, the impulse weapon is very powerful, but it has a short range; the spread gun fires a wide spread of weaker shots; and the hunter sends out homing missiles that track enemies, but fires in wide shots, making it difficult to deal with fast-moving close-proximity enemies or projectiles. And, unlike many games of this type, you keep all earned weapon pickups even after you die.

Each weapon also has a charge attack, which can be charged by holding down either of the triggers. The longer you hold the button, the more powerful the shot. Other upgrades allow you to move faster, give you more armor, or increase your charge speed.

There are also a couple of other types of drops. One is a vortex that sucks enemies toward it, giving you a chance to back off and concentrate your firepower on a specific area. The other fires off a stream of homing missiles and takes down enemies for you.

The game has a total of 24 waves. Every few waves will be a “swarmer” wave, with a very large number of small enemies that head directly toward you, requiring you to stay on the move and keep firing behind you. There are 3 boss fights as well. In addition, there are 6 timed challenge levels, which are unlocked as you play through the game.


Unknown said...

Looking forward to fluid, I loved JoyJoy and Inferno, but havent had a chance to rock Crossfire yet.

AJ Johnson said...

Inferno has been my favorite of radiangames' titles so far. It's also pretty meaty compared to their previous efforts, what with the focus on exploration, Gauntlet-style spawners, and the shop/upgrade system.

They have an aggressive release schedule, so Fluid should be coming our way pretty soon.