The XBox Live Indie Arcade is, without a doubt, every nerds sandbox dream, create a game that at least has a beginning and an end, give it the TLC treatment and you’re almost guaranteed to get it published on XBox Live, one of the biggest gaming communities in the entire world.

However, as with most real life sandboxes, if you don’t look after it, after a short while you end up with children’s toys littered around, one of the sides becomes inevitably broken and spills sand on your nicely trimmed lawn and there always seems to be more than one animal turd buried somewhere in there.

But if the sandbox was bigger, as in much bigger, akin to the size of the Sahara perhaps, then you may still find your share of animal poop in there but every now and then you will trip over a diamond the size of your fist.

So, with spade in hand, I have decided to take a (semi) random dig into the assimilation of sand, excrement and precious stones in my new feature:

INDIEGARDEN-BANNER

Shiny!

With a title that is in no way inspired by or plagiarized from Atari’s Undergarden, the IndieGarden will be a (semi) regular feature that will look at some of the more unique XBox Indie Arcade games on XBox Live.

Soul

360-soul-241010-01I hate admitting that I was attracted to Soul for the way it looks but that’s exactly what happened, when flicking through some of the XBox Live Indie games, browsing some of the understandably basic graphics my shallow little heart skipped a beat when I saw Souls screenshots, not only was it a stunningly presented game, it looked as if it was based in the Horror genre which was enough to get me to download the trial.

After playing the trial I instantly downloaded the full game, parted with 80 Microsoft points from my remaining balance and dived into the full experience of Soul.

Created by French Developer, Kydos Studios, Soul is a gruesomely beautiful game in which you use only the left stick to guide a dead mans soul around ever increasingly difficult mazes and single screen levels to eventually reach Heaven.  Much like a nightmarish game of Operation, your little Soul friend is not allowed to touch the floor, ceiling or any walls, oh, and there are monsters, but I’ll talk about those in a moment.

The mood of Soul is wonderfully dark and is presented in an almost comic book noire style, reminding me a great deal of Ska Studios The Dishwasher, Soul opens with an unnamed man dying on a hospital bed, his soul lifting out of his body, around him in the 2D world are a dirty toilet with flies busily converging around it, dirty walls and the ex-patients clothes strewn around the room, as the soul moves through the first corridor you encounter inky black monsters with red eyes and remarkably well kept teeth snapping away at you.  The monsters bleed from the wall so effortlessly and the flickering lights offer some haunting moments with some truly startling ‘jump out’ scares it’s very easy to forget you are playing a game that only cost you 69p (80msp) and not a full price Xbox LIVE Arcade game in the region of £10 (1200msp)

The gameplay is very simple, Soul boils down to how gently you can nudge the analogue stick to shift your little blue blob around the levels, unfortunately the difficulty curve in Soul is steeper than Kilimanjaro as in my typical alpha male style I made the unfortunate mistake of turning up the difficulty to Hardcore which normally results in the soul skidding around the game screen like a scared cat on a sheet of ice, resulting in near instant death of the precious little soul.

Soul-ScreenI’m not ashamed that I turned the difficulty down to Wimp, in fact, this gave me the opportunity to observe the simple fact that Soul featured neither save nor checkpoint system, if you die on one of the single screen levels then you started that screen again, if you (god forbid) rage quit then you have to start the game all over again.

Turning the difficulty down allowed me time to reflect more on the different levels I guided my little soul through, from hospital corridors, sewers, underground passages and even the stomach of a giant inky monster (that’s probably a spoiler right there)

If I had one criticism about Soul, it’s that it was way too short, but having only paid 69p for this wonderfully grimy journey through the minds of Kydos Studios, I cannot really hold that against them.  Personally I cannot wait to hear more from the world of Soul and with the “To Be Continued…” text at the end of the game, one can only hope.

I cannot thank Kydos studios enough for giving me the starting block I needed for The IndieGarden, I hope you enjoyed this inaugural episode of The IndieGarden

As an additional part of the (hopefully) ongoing feature that is The IndieGarden, I got the opportunity to talk with Christophe Panattoni from Kydos Studios about Soul.

– Firstly, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. Would you be able to give us some details in regards to Kydos Studios? How did you start creating games?

Thank you for your interest. After a few years in a French video game studio, we decided with Nicolas Daures to create Kydos Studio, in 2009, with the idea to create games on XBox Live and on iPhone.

Our first game was Powa Volley, a fun 2D volley game on xbox live indie games and iPhone. Our second was Block Challenge, a puzzle game for iPhone. Soul was our third game, and we released it on both platforms. Since then we released two more xbox live games, a music game called My Band and Lumi which is an action platform game, and the winner of the 2010 DreamBuildPlay contest.

– Well, belated Congratulations to you guys! Soul offers a wonderfully dark and almost comic-book noire art style, where did you get the inspiration for this style?

The artist behind the graphics of Soul is Mathieu Akita. He actually got his inspiration while visiting his brother at the hospital. He got the idea to mix the gameplay we had in mind with an oppressive atmosphere that can be found in hospitals.

– Soul’s game mechanics remind me of those games you see at carnivals where you have a metal hoop on a stick and you have to guide it around a wire path, or the board game, Operation. Did anything like that inspire the creation process of Soul?

No, our main inspiration for the gameplay is from a small flash game called Scary Maze that was also a labyrinth kind of game.

– What was the inspiration behind the ‘jump out’ horror moments in Soul?

There was a moment like that in the flash game I talked about before. We also found the girl in FEAR interesting.

– Did you intend for the game to be so insanely difficult on Hard Mode?

Yes definitely. This hard mode is reserved for the best players. Only a few players were able to finish the game on this level of difficulty, and that require a lot of skills.

– Would you ever consider creating a sequel to Soul?

While we were developing Soul, we clearly had a sequel in mind, you can even see at the end of the game “To be continued…”. However, we put our game development on hold a few months ago, and I don’t know when we will be making games again.

– Finally, a slightly cliché question, other than your own, what type of games do you enjoy playing?

We play all sorts of games, I personally enjoy FPS and action game the most. I recently played Infamous 2 and FEAR 3.

Thank you so much to Christophe and everyone at Kydos Studios for this opportunity to gain more insight into your amazing game Soul and feature this interview on The IndieGarden, we hope to see more from yourself and Kydos Studios soon.

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