Every week we shine the spotlight on an exceptional XBLIG, and the developers behind them, in what we like to call the XBLIG Spotlight. This week, we take a look at Parasitus: Ninja Zero, a side-scrolling throwback to the SNES era. Check out the trailer below and as always, my perspective and one of the more interesting interviews we’ve had with the developer behind the game (Author’s Note: I never read the response to the interview questions before writing my review to ensure that it remains unbiased). As usual on CBR, reading has rewards as you may even get a chance to win a copy of the game. Add Parasitus: Ninja Zero to your download queue! First, check out the game’s trailer:
First, tell the readers a bit about yourself, who you are and how/why you decided to start getting involved in making games?
I was given name the name Brian at birth, supplemented with Albert as a middle name – but it’s something I try not to say out loud. It doesn’t look quite as bad when typed out in text though.
You could describe me as an Australian 20 something university graduate with ambitions to rule the world. I am sure I have been described in far worse combinations of words.
I decided to start making games after my folk dub step fusion Beach Boys cover band, “The Bitch Boys” broke up. Desperate dave, our bass player, wanted to have the occasional solo in some songs. Pfft, the poor fool was dreaming. I’d first disband the band before I put up with that crap.
So yeah, naturally videogame development seemed like the easiest way to make 10 million dollars without a band.
Tell us about your history as a game developer, previous efforts, etc.
Parasitus has taken my game release virginity. And just like a like a physical loss of virginity, it has provided me with joy, anticipation, disappointment, shame, and a huge hangover. But more than anything an itching desire to do it again.
If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration (for this game or in general), what would it be?
Its funny how everyone who sees Parasitus instantly assumes that it’s a Castlevania clone. Well its not so much funny as it is dead accurate as the game started off as a butting of heads in the castlevania dungeon forums and was initially called vampiria (nosferatuvania was another potential title, fuck I gotta copyright that ASAP that is brilliance right there).
Have you in the past, or do you currently have plans to work in any other platform? What made you decide to develop for XBLIG?
Well, honestly, developing for the PC is a pain in the arse because you have to be so very careful with your code so that it runs on ancient shitbricks with an integrated graphics card from the days when it was cool to end every sentence on ICQ chat with a lol.
How long did you spend on development? Can you explain, roughly, how the development process worked for you? What tools and programs did you work with?
Oh god you are giving me some horrific flashbacks. This project went on for far too long. Sometimes I wake up at night screaming from the horrible nightmares about it.
Development time wouldn’t have taken that long if it wasn’t for all the times the machine crashed down and we started again from scratch in a new direction.
Programming wise, I mainly used visual studio and I developed my own map editor/scriptor to create the game’s content. The frustrating thing about that is that whenever the program broke down or it displayed some bug I wouldn’t have anyone to blame by myself. I am a finger pointing type person, and I much prefer to point in other directions aside from my own.
A game’s soundtrack can make or break a game, tell us how you selected yours. Did you produce in house, team up with a music producer or simply purchase royalty free music?
Most of the game’s songs I composed myself on my guitar, then gave them synth arrangements using mostly korg wavestation instruments. It was probably the second most enjoyable part of the game development process, aside from doing interviews of course.
If you had to pick one thing that you would improve or simply do differently in regards the game’s development what would it be?
Oh fuck where to begin. Definitely thrashing out a good design at the beginning, and sticking to it. Firm leadership I think is the most essential part in the development process.
How much do reviews, ratings and other feedback of your games affect the development process for future releases?
They are almost completely irrelevant. I’m a slave to the whims of the giant magnet. Parasitus was more of an exercise in finishing what I start. It has a prologue of sorts coming out soon, but that is mainly just trying to cash in on some scraps we had leftover.
There’s a few ideas we will flesh out in the future that are strictly commercial and catering to the lowest common denominator, but there’s some stuff I want to do that is more faithful to the processes that operate my mind.
How did you go about deciding on the name for your game and why did you end up with the title you have? Were there any rejected titles that didn’t make the cut?
As mentioned earlier, the game was originally called vampiria but it was so blatantly a castlevania ripoff we decided to change it. “Parasitus” is an exotic (well german, don’t think the germans have been described as exotic since Nietszche) way of saying parasite.
The parasite is the central evil within the game, a malevolent force living inside the earth after arriving from space many aeons ago. A concept I totally ripped off from Chrono Trigger. A concept Chrono Trigger totally ripped off from H.P Lovecraft. A concept H.P Lovecraft totally based on real events if you ask my conspiracy theory mentally imbalanced uncle.
Tell us about your game’s virtual “box art.” Who designed it? Was there any specific inspiration or story behind the creation process?
It was done by a freelance artist. I said, “dude, we are poor and have 60 bucks to offer you for a box art design. Basically I want a montage of the most spankingly exciting events in the game, done in Star Wars poster style”. And he delivered what he delivered. I was quite pleased with the results.
Many gamers dream of making their own games, what advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to developer?
I so seldom play games anymore. Any game playing time I would have had in the past is now spent developing games. This sounds like a negative endorsement, but it is far more rewarding to create something and feel productive as opposed to just strapping in for the ride. That might just be my personality coming through, I am a megalomaniac who likes to be in control of everything, so the concept of playing through someone else’s creation is bothersome to me by sheer principle.
XBLIG have had a mixed result so far, what is one aspect/idea/change you think would better solidify the platform as a contender in the gaming industry? What one thing do you think would improve the service as a whole, from designer to consumer?
Weeding out crap. Games that have less than a certain rating should be taken off from the service, or at least made harder to find. Better rating games should be more visible. Parasitus is one of the best games on the service despite it being pretty mediocre when you look at it on a more generalized kind of way (I know, paying out my own game. It’s like admitting one’s child is ugly. Better to embrace truth then delude one self and never learn from one’s mistakes). There’s some genuinely clever ideas floating around but they are executed really poorly. Demanding a certain amount of polish would help developers push themselves.
What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?
Well, there’s a run and gun prologue to Parasitus releasing probably by the time this interview is published. It is much more humble in terms of overall content though, but it will sell for a third of the price.
In the slightly more distant future, you can expect some gonzo style games. It’s a new type of genre that I am stealing from the journalism world, though I haven’t quite decided how they will play exactly. I am thinking of something like a computerized version of riding through a football match on a Vincent Black Shadow completely naked, waving the opposing teams flag as you gas, gas, gas your way to triumph.
Anything else you would like to say?
Read Demian by Herman Hesse. Great book.
Do you enjoy retro gaming? Perhaps you like to call it legacy gaming, perhaps you simply call it the system that has lasted twenty years as you glare angrily at the third Xbox 360 console to have graced your TV stand. Whatever verbage you choose to employ the basic principle is that there is just “something” about the classic games of the NES and SNES days; something that has allowed them to have a longer shelf life than many more modern releases. Well the people at Heart Attack Machine Games clearly feel the same way, as is evident in their XBLIG title Parasitus: Ninja Zero.
Just how much does this game look and feel like something from the 8 or 16-bit era? I actually felt the need to do just a little digging around after trying the demo to make sure that Parasitus: Ninja Zero wasn’t actually some studio’s low budget sequel to a game that actually existed in that era. The presentation is just that spot-on. From the moments of the game’s initial cinematic, full of flashing white screens and distorted pops to simulate a massive explosion; I was immediately reminded of the days spent playing SNES on the little 19-inch TV in my bedroom using an old toy-chest as my chair.
There have been a fair share of XBLIG’s that try to mimic or capture the style of the generation, but they all seem to just lack the authenticity. I remember, when writing an article on the XBLIG “Oozi Earth Adventure,” that it looked like how we sometimes remember SNES games’ looking, but never how they actually did. Parasitus is the exact opposite, it genuinely looks as if it was pulled straight from that generation of gaming; a lost cartridge in some developer’s garage, salvaged, cleaned up and ported to XBLIG. Now it certainly has some more modern touches, especially in terms of the background and environments with what appears to be a Castlevania influence, but the presentation is so close to authentic it is hard to nit-pick it.
The same can be said for the game’s sound effects and music track. Much of the latter is a bit cleaner sounding than it would be if Parasitus had been released on a cartridge in the mid-90’s, but that aside it is an impressive re-creation. Once again, Heart Attack Machine manages to capture the style of the sounds used in the 16-bit generation with an amazing level of accuracy. Adding to that, Parasitus just has a very solid soundtrack in general. Assisting not only in helping to create the right atmosphere for the game, but also managing to excel in an area that many XBLIG’s have their most notable failure.
Parasitus: Ninja Zero does lack some of the finer platforming elements that helped to define SNES games though. At times the levels are quite interesting, and even difficult to properly navigate, other times they are boring and extremely simple. The latter half of the game is significantly better in terms of level design, but overall there is simply too much open space or straightforward level design. This includes a truly odd amount of levels within levels (or rooms) with no enemies or other notable purpose other than having you go left to right.
The game also brings with it some of the faults from a generation long since past its’ golden age. Parasitus will not wow you with its’ depth, either in story or game play. There are also certain elements to it, such as only one checkpoint per level, bosses that spike in difficulty and an inability to continue a game from a mid-level checkpoint, which will remind us that games in the SNES era were still designed with the idea of each life costing a quarter in mind. Difficulty is not a bad thing, but there is at least one point in Parasitus where it gets incredibly frustrating.
The first half of the game is a little easy when played on normal, but towards the end of Chapter 4 the tables turned quickly. Suddenly I found myself unable to get from the mid-level checkpoint to the end boss with anything more than half health on my last life, despite several attempts. Eventually I quite the game and re-started the level on easy difficulty (something I typically prefer not to do, and I’ve still yet to wash the dirt away). Ultimately I did this because I knew otherwise I would not be able to finish the game in time for review, but I might have had to do this either way in order to beat the game. The fact that the difficulty can be changed when continuing a game in case the player gets stuck was a nice touch though, and I’m glad they included it. I never did take a stab at the hard difficulty, figuring the frustration of having been stuck for an hour on normal was enough. The point? If you are one of those gamers that argue that games are too easy today, you may enjoy some of Parasitus’ more difficult moments. If you’re still waiting for the day when you can finally beat Super Mario Bros. for NES, you may end up dropping down to easy.
Beyond that, the only thing really left to comment on is the game’s controls. Combat is for the most part a steady repetition of the “X” button, with the occasional “Y” thrown in, but more combos do unlock as you progress. Blocking is a little hit or miss, with some attacks simply laughing in your stupid face as they ignore your feeble attempts to block. Loser. Jumping can be a little problematic, mostly when trying to jump with some level of precision when moving (or trying to jump around or between obstacles). Overall though, the game provides plenty of satisfaction while slicing your way through hordes of zombie creatures, largely by providing plenty of blood spraying.
Parasitus: Ninja Zero is an excellent throwback to a generation past. The look and feel is remarkably close to being as authentic as I have seen any XBLIG come to mimicking an SNES title. It maintains some of the best elements of the era, and a few of the worst. Game play lacks the same quality as the presentation, but still provides an enjoyable experience that borders on being a walk down memory lane. Its’ length makes it a somewhat harder sell at 240 points, but the quality of its’ presentation makes it equally hard not to sell. If SNES is a meaningless acronym for you, than Parasitus will undoubtedly seem dated and odd, but for the rest of us it will offer a dose of both nostalgia and fresh experiences, familiar yet new. You may just find yourself buying your first new SNES game since the mid-90’s, metaphorically speaking of course.
Final Rating: 7/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Heart Attack Machine Games
Current Price: 240 Microsoft Points ($3)
Recommend Purchase Price: The game may get lowered in the future, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Add Parasitus: Ninja Zero to your download queue!
Heart Attack Machine has hooked us up with three download codes for Parasitus: Ninja Zero so that we can hook three of you up with a free copy of the game! You can gain up to three entries, please read the details on how to enter below:
First entry: Parasitus is clearly inspired by the 16-bit era, so we want to know what your favorite 16-bit game is! Tell us in the comments below and you’ll have your first entry!
Second entry: Follow us on twitter and send the following tweet:
The #contest continue! @ClearanceBinRev is giving away 3 copies of the #XBLIG Parasitus: Ninja Zero! Enter now at http://bit.ly/phBiwE
Remember that you have to follow us; any winner we attempt to DM via Twitter who isn’t, automatically forfeits their win. If you enter via Twitter include your twitter name in your post below, winners who have their twitter listed will receive their codes immediately after winning.
Third Entry: Like our Facebook page and then simply like the post on our wall for this article. Simple as that. (Keep in mind the article may be lower on the Facebook page towards the end of the contest and it may take a minute or two to post on FB)
Contest will go until Monday at 8pm CST. A pool of all eligible entries will then be randomly selected from and the winners will be notified. CBR reserves the right to disqualify any entry we feel either violated the rules or spirit of the contest, including attempts at duplicate entries. Winner selected with no twitter name provided will be notified by email and have 24 hours to respond. We do not announce the names of contest winners, but do encourage them to post about their win.