Featured Game: Aura
Aura is the second major release of Dr. Dos', and depending on your perspective on community games like Mooseka Richtlinen mit einer Eisenfaust, may be remembered as his best. It is an action/strategy game hybrid with influences from eastern philosophy, Ikaruga, and of course, ADOM.
In an alternate plane where every being, except of course karmics such as yourself, has an aura of either blue, green, or red, imbalance has occurred and the aurae are struggling against one another. You're out to change all that, even if it means destroying everything in the universe. Dr. Dos refers to these as the 'extinction' endings, comprising three of seven possible conclusions to the game (not counting death), one of the games' most recommending features.
Or perhaps you'd just like to have one aura dominate, and then face the boss of that particular aura and lay down some good ol' fashioned karmic whoop-ass, using your unique ability to change aurae to meet that of your opponents. And you're going to be doing that a lot.
So you run around changing your aura as you meet your opponents. It sounds simple enough, but the levels ascend in difficulty reasonably evenly, and there are one or two that took me four or five save/die/restore attempts to complete. Others are a cakewalk, however. The enemies vary in strength and intelligence, while each aura maintains its own distinct characteristics (red creatures won't even move toward you much if at all, but they hurt a lot if you do contact them - but the blue ones are the true nasties).
One problem with the game is that at points it can get tedious. I would have been interested had Dos included some slightly less action-oriented puzzles - buttons that change the aura of opponents, or open gates, or using objects, or similar linear puzzles, in the vein of the development that craNKGod introduced into Little Square Things. That would have been neat. Some music or sound for the game would also have been nice (said MadTom, who was asked to do just that).
Graphics are one of Dos' self-confessed weaknesses, but what the game lacks in an aesthetic sense is made up for in reasonably in-depth level design and a somewhat addictive, though appropriately simple, premise. I can't, for reasons obvious, comment on the title screen and menu.
Aura is not an easy game. You are not going to beat it, regardless of your choice of ending, without saving/dying/restoring at least a few times. There are several tricks and traps, some obvious and predictable, others quite nasty. You are likely to learn a few strategies ... which aura is best for the very first steps of each level?
The Ultimate Karmic God ending in particular is reasonably (but not incredibly) difficult to get. The only advice I will offer you is to have a good stockpile of health. Actually, that applies to just about every level of the game ... good thing health bonuses are reasonably abundant.
All in all, the game is one of the best uploads to the site this year, appropriately also being the very last one uploaded. Dr. Dos' skill as a ZZTer puts him easily within the range of Quantum P., Commodore, and other present-day whizkids of the ZZTing scene, and I'm very much looking forward to his next release.
Good job, Dos!