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Digital downloads may be convenient, but for those of us who grew up with gaming, the experience of owning a boxed copy of the game, complete with manual and physical media is part and parcel of the whole experience. Excitedly thumbing through the manual in the back seat of the car on the way home from the store, digesting the back story and the screenshots on the cover are childhood memories many of us still cherish. The PC platform may have led the charge away from physical media, but now, ironically, it’s leading the rebellion against purely digital distribution. While many indie games never see a physical release on the consoles, physical versions on the PC are much more common. On the PC, anyone can publish a physical edition of a game without worrying about paying Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo any royalties. Because of this, indie game hits like To The Moon, Gone Home and The Binding of Issac have only seen physical releases on the PC. The system that once shunned ‘obsolete’ physical copies is now becoming the collectors platform of choice.
Riding this new found love for physical media is Florida based company Indiebox. Every month Indiebox take a favourite indie title and create a “special edition” box set for it. Like practically everything else these days, you can subscribe to this “box” service and have a special edition game delivered to your home every month. If that doesn’t appeal, you can simply purchase the games you’re interested in from the Indiebox store. Ever eager to clutter up our rooms even further, we’ve been subscribed to the service for a few months now and in this review we’ll take a look at several of these Indieboxes.
Dust: An Elysian Tail
This beautifully illustrated 2D metroid-vania game oozes charm, personality and polish throughout and is definitely a title we’d want to own on physical media. Noticing it was available in the Indiebox store, we ordered a copy. The picture below shows the goodies we received (click or tap on any picture on the page to enlarge it).
Every Indiebox comes with the game and a range of collectable things. With Dust we got:-
Cloth map – The cloth map (if you actually bite the bullet and open it) looks rather lovely, depicting the games world and the different regions you travel through. It is a little small for displaying in any grand fashion, but still a nice addition to the box.
Fidget plush keychain – Fidget is one of the main characters in the game, the heroes sidekick and a fan-favourite, so she was the obvious choice for this little plush toy. The toy is of reasonable quality and would look cute clipped to a backpack, though we can imagine most of these fidgets will end up imprisoned in their plastic wrapping… forever.
Game artwork print – A rather striking limited print of the games artwork. The back of this has the edition number on it, but the front looks like this.
The print is probably our favourite part of the box set, it’s a shame this print couldn’t have been bigger, it’d look good on a games room wall.
Manual – Here Indiebox doesn’t disappoint at all. The manual is full colour, high quality print. It has been written with obvious care and attention and a sprinkling of humour, giving the kind of background detail and insight into the games world that most modern manuals sadly lack.
Soundtrack CD – The two disc soundtrack CD comes in a paper sleeve rather than a proper jewel case. Other than this it still looks well printed and presented. Dust has a lovely soundtrack and it’s well worth listening to outside of the game.
Stickers – Two stickers for, well, sticking, or not of course since if you stick them anywhere you devalue your box set. Roll your eyes all you like, we know that’s what most of you are secretly thinking.
USB Sword – This is the USB stick that contains the game itself. It’s intended to resemble the sword Dust wields in the game. If we’re honest this looks a little tacky and we would have much preferred a case with an actual DVD disc in it.
While the Dust box set contains some lovely items, it’s really hard to shake the feeling that it’s just a bunch of items thrown in an (admittedly nicely printed) box. The Fidget toy barely even fits in the box without being squashed. A more professional presentation would have a box with custom moulded plastics and a section for each piece of the collection. At the asking price and considering the limited run of this set that’s probably asking a little too much of course, but it’s something potential customers would want to consider.
Overall then, while we liked the Dust box-set we’d have to stop short of saying we loved it, but let’s take a look at another box before we draw any further conclusions.
The next Indiebox game we recieved in our subscription was Halcyon 6, a “retro space strategy RPG”. Certainly the kind of game you could get absorbed in. Let’s take a look at the contents of this box.
Just like with the Dust box set, there’s a cute little plush toy you can either hang on your backpack or keep confined in his cellophane prison. There are also stickers, a large postcard, a patch and a pin badge. Unlike the Dust box set, this time we get a proper case for both the game disc and the soundtrack CD. The case also has a spot for the full colour manual to live in too.
Somehow, having the actual box for the game gives the whole set more structure, making it feel more like a finished product than just a bunch of things thrown in a box. The presentation appealed to us much more, plus having games on optical media feels more natural than on a USB stick.
Overall then we were very pleased with our Halcyon 6 box set, a great presentation of a very absorbing game.
This months box was a game called Hue, we’ve not played it yet but did take the time to check out some of the goodies that came with the package.
Indiebox have opted for a slightly glossier finish to the outer box this month. Inside, while the obligatory small soft toy remains, this time around we get a little Hue figure statue and a small cube thing (not entirely sure what this is, maybe once we’ve played the game it’ll become clear). The manual that comes with this months edition is particularly good. Hue is a puzzle game that involves manipulating colour, so the Indiebox guys have included a little “Hue decoder”. You can use this on certain pages to reveal clues. It’s a playful little addition that fits the theme of the game well.
Overall the Hue boxset is a charming presentation of this puzzle game and a great addition to your collection.
While the quality of the physical items we’ve received from Indiebox has generally been high, one thing we’ve been consistently disappointed with is the quality of the mastering of the game discs themselves. We expected that the discs that came with our Indiebox would install and run like almost every other retail PC game. Sadly that has not been the case on any of the Indiebox games we’ve checked out, including the limited edition steel book games that sold in Gamestop stores in the US. Instead of a proper installer on the disc, you get a self extracting archive at best, or, more typically, a zip file simply thrown onto the DVD. This really spoils the presentation of an otherwise nice looking product, making it come across less “professionally mastered disc” and more “disc your dodgy room mate at college threw together for you”. Writing a simple installer program is something any first year programming student could easily manage, though we would have expected something a little more polished and in-keeping with the theme of the game. Without a proper installer, no desktop or Start menu short-cuts are created making the discs unfriendly to non technically savvy users. Indeed, if these games were sold at retail we could imagine a fair few people being utterly confused as how to install or start them at all.
Indiebox or out?
Would we recommend an Indiebox subscription? If you like playing a lot of different games from a lot of different genres and you love collecting physical games then yes, we can totally recommend Indiebox. If you’re more into collecting just games you know you really love on physical formats, then you can always cherry pick the titles you want on the Indiebox store, though don’t hesitate too long as they do tend to sell out. Prices for the box are reasonable, especially if you live in America, at just $24.99 per month/game. Customers outside America need to factor in shipping and possible customs charges too, but it’s still a reasonable price for a game and more in line with what standard editions of games usually cost.
Could the service be better? In some ways. We’d love to see the option of doubling up on some of the goodies in the box, particularly the stickers, or the option to buy your favourite parts of some of the box sets so that you could use them without devaluing the set that you own. We’d particularly like to see Indiebox improve the mastering of their discs, it really isn’t unreasonable to expect a basic installer for the game, even at this price point.
If you’ve enjoyed our review and want to check out Indiebox yourself, click here. Note that we are not Indiebox affiliates nor did we receive any discounts or promotional gifts from the company before or during writing this review.