It's been almost four years to the day since UK developer Introversion fired their shot across the bow -- a rallying call that I count as the first defining moment of the indie games movement as it stands today.
On stage at the Independent Games Festival to accept the grand prize for their sophomore PC game Darwinia, the devs minced no words (and spurred wild applause) in saying that throughout development, they stayed true to their independence and didn't seek outside funds "because we didn't want publishers to fuck with our game."
It's with no small amount of irony, then (and I can't have been the first) to note the semi-public, somewhat-contentious ensuing two year long uphill battle with Microsoft to bring that same game to Xbox Live Arcade, just released to the service as Darwinia+.
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Granted, it hasn't been the only thing on Introversion's plate: since their IGF win, the studio's also produced a multiplayer follow-up to Darwinia (handily titled Multiwinia, and also included in the Live Arcade package as its titular '+'), the quietly horrifying mutually-assured global thermonuclear war game DEFCON (alongside a reportedly finished portable DS version), gone deep into development on their fifth game Subversion, and, like a small consolation prize, revamped the original Darwinia with assorted extra levels as a Vista-exclusive MSN release.
And so now, holdups aside, it's delightful to find that the biggest surprise with its console release is just how well the game holds up. Its deliberately aged retro-future wireframe aesthetics mean the game's only as dated as it wants to look, and its mashup of light real-time strategy and arcade shooting (and that's meant literally, Darwinia's viral foes taking the form and function of Atari's Centipede, and your airstrikes floating into its digital landscape as M.O.A.B.-toting Invaders) has gone basically un-imitated for the rest of the last decade. Darwinia feels original because it was and is a true original, and, you know, had that luxury of never being fucked with by a publisher -- never was watered down to something more marketable to a broader PC gaming audience.
Essentially, very little has changed other than some subtle surgery in making the console transition, primarily being updated to give you more immediate control of your squad -- the brute force battalion that you'll spend the majority of your time with -- by locking the camera to their backs and letting you play out fights like the twin stick shooters that thrive amongst the Xbox 360's audience.
And in a sense, the waiting game (for however potentially disastrous it nearly was to the studio) and the tweaks they've been forced to adopt along the way to meet Microsoft's approval have perfectly positioned it for the "director's cut" tagline they've adopted. With five long years since its original PC and Mac release, and with its newly enhanced mode of play, it's not only the new best way to experience Darwinia for the first time, but the new best way to take a return trip through its laser-light world.
Darwinia+ has been added to Boing Boing's ongoing list of Games To Get, covering the best in independent and retail games.
Josh Jacobson is a Nintendo cartridge hacker who makes homebrew cartridges for games that were never released for NES/SNES, complete with label art and colored plastic cases that makes them look like they came from an alternate universe where (for example), there was a Nintendo version of Sonic the Hedgehog.
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