Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Prideful Sloth || Overall: 8.5/10

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is the unique exploration/crafting game from indie developer Prideful Sloth.  Usually a game doesn’t make itself unique by omitting, but in this case, the fact that there is absolutely NO combat really provides for an interesting experience.  Exploring, unlocking, and collecting are the main activities that you’ll be participating in, and while it is a slow burn at first, once you get into the rhythm of the game its charm will reveal itself to you.

The entire game takes place on a secluded island named Gemea.  As a nameless human vacuum, you’ve come by boat to clean Gemea of its crafting materials.  I call you a nameless human vacuum because you are provided no name, and also because for the first two hours you’ll be doing nothing but picking up rocks, sticks, flowers, and random shit on the ground with no idea what to do with any of it.  You’ll stumble upon a couple of quests that will send you every which way across Gemea, picking up even more rocks and sticks until you realize you have about 200 of each, and then you question the meaning of life and existence.  Is there a reason why Gemea doesn’t have some bureaucratic government agency to do this for them already?  They obviously have some sort of problem with rocks and sticks.  I guess the main threat of the game has libertarian motives.

The quests you happen to stumble upon are very simple, and the quest-givers look the same/animate the same way.  You go around and complete quests for the sake of completing them, sometimes getting useful rewards, but often you’ll get nothing for your efforts.  Each zone has a number of things to do, and as you complete them you’ll be notified.  The main story sees you collecting Sprites, which allow you to unlock blocked off areas, covered by a magical dark mist called “Murk.” While the story set up could have been a bit more impactful and set up the island/scenario in a more elaborate way, it seems like most of this was intentionally left extremely simple and you are forced to “fill in the blanks.”  There aren’t really any charming characters, and most of what you do is by happenstance and not necessarily because you wanted to.  There are at least some important quests that take more effort to complete than others, but most of the unique areas associated with the main quest will only need to be visited once, it seems.

The best way to describe this game is a mix of Dark Cloud or Zelda and Stardew Valley, but removing all combat.  The story sensibilities of a generic hero-type character who has come to save the island by collecting magical Sprites that only s/he can see, reminds me of an old 3D fantasy-adventure game.  Exploration is a big part of this game, and you’ll constantly be finding new nooks and crannies as you accomplish goals across the island.  You’ll also begin to run an assortment of farms, one in each zone, but there is very little maintenance or work that is required to be done on these farms.  You aren’t planting and watering crops, but rather leaving animals in pens and picking up the materials they produce.  Each animal creates different materials, so you’d want to have a variety across the farms.  There is even less maintenance required once you hire a farm hand that will essentially do what you need to do on each of these farms, freeing you up for more of the regular tasks and exploration across the island.

While Yonder is a relaxing game, it is mostly about exploring, and I found myself constantly making detours to suck up all of the random shit I could.  I had no idea why I needed to pick any of them up before I could actually craft with them, but I did it anyway.  Until you learn how to actually craft, you will get by by taking advantage of the barter economy.  It is a bit odd since all of the things you will initially be trading are just strewn about the island so freely, but that fact is reflected in the “Value” of the items you are trading.  Since there is no traditional currency, you’ll just have to fill your bags with everything you don’t want and then trade for something you do want.  The only purpose to trade is to craft or complete quests, at the end of the day.  There are a number of traders in each of the villages and once you meet or exceed the value of what you are trading for, the deal can be completed.  You’ll want to have the value of both sides be as equal as possible so you don’t lose out on materials in a bad trade.

Crafting is a large part of the game, and each profession has its own town where you’ll embark on a quest to learn a few recipes and then become a Master.  Once you actually begin these Master crafter quests, you’ll be wishing you didn’t skip any resources up until this point because you’ll realize you need like another thousand more of everything.  You’ll eventually start taking quests that require you to use your crafting talents to complete, but sometimes its easier to just trade for what you want than going through the motions of crafting.  There are also trading posts which provide a unique material that can only be created there, so you’ll have to bring the prerequisite with you if you need them.

The island of Gemea is a sizeable area to explore.  It is larger than it may seem when looking at a map but it doesn’t take very long to get across it, either.  The transition between each zone is very natural and you almost can’t tell you’re in the next zone sometimes.  The different biomes give enough variety while still being “realistic” in that you could expect grasslands to be next to a forest, and that a desert would be on its own secluded area away from the main island.  Not that they are necessarily needed, but there are no survival mechanics such as getting tired or hungry, despite there being a day/year counter.  You can run around on the island for two years straight and you don’t get tired or hungry.

As with all games nowadays, new additions are inevitable.  If combat were ever introduced, it would be nice to break up the monotony of running around unfettered forever, but I understand why they didn’t include it in the game initially.  It would ruin the main “threat,” which is the Murk and the underlying reason why it has spread across Gemea.  While it doesn’t matter to me that generic puffy people who ask me to do inane tasks are under threat from the Murk, my real connection comes with how beautiful the island itself is, and wanting to see it preserved.

At first I was not a big fan of the art-style, but as I grew accustom to it, it is probably one of the prettiest games I’ve played recently.  Every single part of the island is a joy to be in and I love being in all of the different biomes, seeing what new things I can find despite having already been there.  One of the great things about Yonder is that new things can constantly be found or unlocked due to progression or simply because you didn’t stumble across the thing before.  Fast-travel points are also in only-barely-convenient places and require a quest to be completed before being able to connect to the travel network at that location.  So, sometimes fast travel might be more annoying than regular travel.

No loading screens past the first loading screen is also great for not breaking the immersion.  Cutscenes are used sparingly, as well, but what semblance of a main story there is, often has you listening to a very large Sprite telling you where the Murk comes from and how to fix Gemea’s problem.  The superb sound design really delivers in creating the right mood and feeling for each biome, with the music supplementing the ambient noise.

The only real fault of Yonder is that if you are not intent on giving it a chance, you may not find enough to motivate you to keep going; it is a very slow burn.  It wasn’t until around the six hour mark where the game “clicked” for me.  By the time I had begun writing this review I had put in nearly eight hours of game time; typically I’m able to formulate my opinion about a game way before that.  Because there is so much to explore on the island of Gemea, there is a lot of potential game time, and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.  If the game grabbed me earlier in the process with some sort of interesting character to latch onto or being forced into the main story for just a couple of quests, I would have personally had a favorable opinion a lot quicker.  As is, after the introduction they instead dump you in the middle of the first zone where you can have at all of the rocks and sticks you can suck up into the singularity you call your backpack.

As previously mentioned, there’s a lot to explore and do in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.  Give it a good few hours before making your mind up on it and you may just find one of the indie hits of the year beneath the “real-life Murk.”  Being a human vacuum doesn’t really go away, but at least you’ll be using the crafting materials for something… eventually.

 

First Strike: Final Hour (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Blindflug Studios || Overall: 6.0/10

Final Strike: First Hour is a real-time strategy game that gives you command of a nuclear superpower.  Your one and only goal is to destroy everyone else in the world and do it before they destroy you.  As a mobile port to PC, it’s lack of content and lack of sensibility for the platform it has *ahem* launched on are the largest drawbacks to the game.  After about fifteen minutes into my first game, I wanted to send a nuclear missile at myself just to end it quicker.

Final First: Strike Hour allows you to take control of a multitude of different countries as a starting point.  While they don’t have much in the way of actual differences, your starting point and concentration of “Nations” to take over will force you to adjust your strategy so that you aren’t immediately wiped out.  If you choose to start in the USA, you are able to more focus on attacking since the “Nation” land masses are much larger and one nuke can only destroy one at a time.  However, if you choose Western Europe, which has a high concentration of countries, one incoming nuke can easily take out three in one go.  The benefit to being in Western Europe is that you basically have easy access to most of the world and can expand much more quickly due to the increased amount of Nations you are able to take over.

Strike First: Hour Final doesn’t have much in the way of resources, other than what you use to attack and defend.  Cruise missiles and ICBMs have to be used tactically to eliminate your enemy to the point they can no longer expand.  Once you tell a Nation to do something, it goes on a long cooldown, at which point it becomes helpless.  If you or your enemy take advantage of these cooldown phases, you’ll be able to make a large dent in their capabilities to further their goal.  If you don’t want a Nation to build missiles, you can have it research, which leads down a tech path to your superweapons, of which you get two.  There are two tech trees and you’ll need to research everything; each research item grants a buff to allow you to get an upper hand (if your enemy hasn’t already researched it already, that is).

Hour Strike: First Final is kind of boring, and very dependent on micromanaging your Nations.  There is no way to select multiple Nations or mass produce your nukes.  You’ll have to click on each individual Nation you currently have and tell them what to do, and eventually it gets to the point of clicking things as fast you can just so that things keep happening, making it difficult to make truly strategic decisions.  Of course since the game is singleplayer only, you’ll be fighting against the computer, who doesn’t need to click shit, so they can just sit back and watch their missiles blow your shit up while you have to click on floating circles and wonder why your nuke won’t launch even though you’re clicking a bunch of times on the map.

Strike Final: Hour First has very little in the way of content.  There is no multiplayer (though, I wouldn’t want it anyway), no “campaign” (it is all essentially free-play), and very little to shake up the formula or do something different.  There’s plenty of countries and weapons to unlock, and there are also achievements to achieve if you so desired.  The look of the game is more-or-less what you’d expect, having a military-war-game-computer sort of feel.  The music is not varied enough, and it felt like I was listening to the same one or two songs throughout, with some shorter interludes weaved in as things occurred in the game.  After one or two games, it sort of begged why you’d want to keep going since you’ve essentially seen what the game has to offer.  If the game as is works for you, there’s definitely a lot of potential to replay, working towards the different unlocks.

All in all, Strike Strike: Hour Hour isn’t a game that held my interest.  Hell, it’s hard for me to even remember what the name of the game is!  It’s a competent piece of software, honestly, no bugs, no real issues with the play experience itself.  There was nothing impeding me being able to play the game as it was designed — it is just too simple to give it much attention.  It’s frankly just your typical example of when a mobile game port doesn’t translate very well to the PC at an intrinsic level.

 

MidBoss (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Kitsune Games || Overall: 5.0/10

Not every game can be a winner.  MidBoss kind of stinks, and that’s unfortunate because the concept was interesting on its outset.  I’m a sucker for taking over your enemies or learning their abilities, and MidBoss is all about doing just that.  The idea being, that you slowly work your way up in possessing stronger and stronger enemies — hey, that’s cool!

Unfortunately, it isn’t very cool.

MidBoss lands in the range of “playable.”  Considering the array of games available nowadays, you can’t get away with a game simply qualifying as such.  The foundation is there, but the key thing that is missing is VARIETY, especially when you’re talking about a roguelike.  The map you play on never changes, the diversity of monsters is very low (nor are they very exciting), and the roguelike element itself leaves a lot to be desired.  MidBoss tries to be a loot game, but the loot sucks; half of the stats don’t make much perceivable impact on how you play.  It is also a turn-based game, but the controls are wonky at best; controllers can’t even be used!  I don’t really enjoy holding down my mouse click for 90% of the game, and using the keyboard is even more frustrating than that for some reason.  It sort of boggles my mind why turn-based grid movement that is Isomtric is 4-sided rather than hexagons.  There’s also practically no animation — though the art is okay, it is boring except for a few stand-outs.  It also reminds me mostly of a DOS-era art style, straight out of the early 1990’s.

You hit a ton of crates, shelves, and chests to find crap, equip the crap, then try to find more crap to swap out.  For some reason you have to identify loot in this game, but none of the loot is very exciting to begin with so it isn’t even worth the extra clicks to unlock useless stats.  You find a vendor, eventually, where you can unload your awful gear for Balls of Yarn (the game’s currency), which is pretty funny to do… but only to a certain point.  That’s when you realize you just want to vendor everything you came across.

The roguelike mechanics are perhaps the only moderately-well executed part here.  They revolve around the concept of “Death Cards” in which each run (after you die) is memorialized in a screenshot of you dying, along with a snapshot of all of your gear and abilities.  You can share this card with other people so they can play your seed and with your equipment, if you are so inclined.  When starting a new game, you can also take one item from each of your previous deaths (up to six individual cards) one time.  So, let’s say you play from scratch six times and were able to get one legendary item in each run — in your seventh run you’d be able to pick all of the best items from the previous six runs and start out with them.  This improves your chances to get further in the game, but if you die you’ll lose all but one of these pieces of gear.  Other than this, there is no meta game — no way to improve, collect, or slowly rise in power to be able to get further.  There are a limited number of floors, so it’s not like it goes on endlessly.  Of course this shows how there isn’t really a need for a grander meta game, but that’s besides the point.  Most of all there isn’t really a “different” way to play the game, or extra variations on the formula to keep it fresh; you’ll be in pursuit of trying to perfect your runs using what you’ve already been introduced to.

The story is a bit humorous, but barebones.  You play as an Imp named “Boss” and along with his chatty tutorial companion “Mid” you’ll work your way through all of the heels in the dungeon after your face turn.  I guess health insurance premiums just got too outrageous in the dungeon business, so “Boss” goes on a workplace violence rampage.  And since Boss is no longer willing to accept the role of beginning-experience-fodder, his goal is to possess stronger and stronger enemies and to eventually become the actual Boss of the dungeon.  This sounds a lot like a normal work atmosphere, doesn’t it?  Just wait until you get to ogle the hot chick while you are getting coffee.  And then jerking it in the bathroom to keep yourself from spontaneously ejaculating in the middle of the office and into your fresh coffee.  You better hope the copy machine has a technical issue, am I right?  …I don’t know where I’m going with this anymore.

Since it seems like updates are planned for MidBoss in the future, a few of these concerns might pan out and the game could become more interesting, but as of right now it is pretty boring and actually tiring to play.  While it’s unfair to completely characterize the game as “Early Access,” it isn’t far from it.  I can appreciate completing initial development of a game and saying “this is our vision,” but when you are severely lacking content and have to hope whatever comes down the pipeline in updates remedies your initial issues, there are consequences to be had by that.

 

They Would Deny It Was Ground Zero

A lone police car drives down the freeway, north bound. It is midday and the air inside the car is stuffy, but the officer doesn’t mind; the cool December air makes his bones ache. Officer Owens had pale white skin, with greying hair. He had an aged face, but looked fairly clean. The officer sighed and shifted in his seat, his stomach growled. He looked up at his rearview mirror and saw the young man he had in his car.  “You know, I could go for some hot dogs right now.” The young man looked up at Owens and their eyes met for a brief moment before Owens shifted his attention back to the road. No response. Owens looked back at the rearview mirror. The young man was looking out the window, his eyes were deep and sullen and his shoulders sagged. He looked as though he was in his mid-twenties, an Asian man, his hair was black and he was wearing a suit. The man’s tie was missing and his top button was undone. The bags under his eyes looked like shadows and his hands were slightly shaking. “I figure you didn’t do it then.”

The young man looked up at Owens, surprised, “What?”

“I said, ‘I figure you didn’t do it.’” Owens’ attention moved between the road and the young man, “I’ve been doin’ this for a while now, babysittin’ criminals, I mean. I’d like to think that I can tell the difference now.” The young man looked down at his feet and back out the window. “Like, there was this one fella,” Owens continued, “he was probably one of the biggest, meanest kind of folk you’d expect to go to jail but he was kickin’ and screamin’ the whole way to the courthouse!” Owen chuckled, “He was cryin’ ‘I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it!’” Owens imitated the man reciting the words through fake tears.

There was a pause. “So, did he do it?” the young man asked,

“Did he do it? They caught him red handed stickin’ the knife into his wife!” Owens cried, “Poor bastard… got what he deserved though.”

“They put him to death?”

“Naw, but to spend the rest of your life in prison, might as well be, eh?” The young man sighed and there was another moment silence. “You from around here?”

“Look, would it be alright if we didn’t talk? I have a lot on my mind.”

Owens scoffed, “My car, my rules.” he looked back in his rearview mirror, “I’m missin’ dinner with the wife cause of you.” The young man sighed, he looked up at Owens who was staring at him through the rearview mirror, but his attention shifted towards the man, slowly shuffling across the freeway. “So you have a name?–”

“Look out!”

Owens looked back down at the road, but it was too late. In a flash, a thick mixture of black, red, and gray sprayed onto the windshield as the officer slammed on the breaks. The wheel violently spun to the left as Owens slowly began to lose control of the car. In a panic, Owens uses all his strength to turn the wheel right to gain stability, but shortly after the sound of metal crashing from the passenger side – a force slammed into the police vehicle, flipping it into the air.  The police vehicle landed on its side then slowly tipped over as it went back onto all four wheels.  The black, red, and gray mixture slowly corroded through the window as the police officer groaned from being tossed around in the car.

The young man had a scared look on his face as he looked outside, trying to see who was there.  Looking through the smudged windows, he could only see a few different silhouettes.

“Give me the keys!”

Officer Owens held onto his forehead trying to regain his awareness.  He didn’t understand the request.

“What?  Why?”

“There are things that you don’t understand that will happen.  The only way you’re going to live is by trusting me.  Now, GIVE ME THE KEYS!”

Officer Owens unhooked his seat belt as the windshield completely corroded off the car.  The seeping liquid began to burn through the dashboard.

“What is this stuff?”

“It’s called Red Tar.  It is a biological secretion.”

“BIOLOGICAL??”

Officer Owens retrieved his shotgun from the center divider and smashed the driver side window open.  He crawled through the window and looked around.  There was absolutely no one in sight, and strangely, no cars, either, on the freeway.

“I don’t see anyone…”

“It’s not something I can explain in a minute.  You’re going to have to release me if you want to have any chance of surviving!”  The young man yelled from inside the car.

“I’m not releasing you until you explain everything – not after what you might have done.”

“You said it yourself – you didn’t think I did it – and that’s the truth.  The ones that did it are here, right now.”

Officer Owens tried the door, but it was jammed.  He smacked the window a couple of times with the butt of his shotgun and it smashed open.  He dragged the young man out of the window and on the floor, with one knee on his back.

“You make one move that I think is going to even mess up my hair — you’ll be seeing the ground permanently.”

Before the keys made its way out of his pocket, a figure appeared behind the police car, with an elaborate handgun drawn.  Officer Owens pivoted on his position toward the man and pumped his shotgun.

“HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!  DROP YOUR WEAPON!  NOW!”

Officer Owens stood his ground on top of the young man, but without even a word or slowing down the man lifted his handgun and shot Officer Owens in the arm, forcing him to drop the shotgun.  In two more strides, the man kicked Officer Owens in the shoulder, and launched him ten feet away from the police car.  Officer Owens’s shotgun flew off to the side as he launched into the air.

“Hello, Cassidy.  Did you think you’d get away so easily?”

“Jack, don’t do this.”  The young man said.

“Do what?  I’m not going to do anything.  As long as you cooperate…  Like you should have earlier today.”

“You know there’s a reason I don’t want to have anything to do with you and your ilk,” Cassidy rebutted.

“And what would that be, little Cassidy?” Jack pulled in closer towards the handcuffed Cassidy on the floor.

“You have no sense of style!”  Cassidy flipped on the floor, turning his body around and slammed his foot into Jack’s face.  Cassidy’s leather dress shoes left an imprint in Jack’s face as he fell backwards in astonishment.  Cassidy used his momentum to upright himself and run towards Officer Owens to retrieve the keys that fell out of his pocket on the impact to try to unhook the handcuffs tying him.

“CASSIDY!”  Jack yelled in anger as he spat “blood” on the floor.  But it was Red Tar, not blood – it slowly corroded the ground beneath Jack.

Jack stood up and brushed his long hair back quickly before he got ready to begin shooting with his customized handgun weapon.  It was gold, with sharp edges and three short, retractable blades attached to the barrel.  The ammunition chamber was customized to spin at a high rate between each shot to charge energy.

Cassidy quickly unhooked only one of the handcuffs before he was forced to begin dodging the flying charged shots from Jack Smack’s H2SID Inertia Gun.  He pulled Officer Owens and rolled him behind the police car quickly after a couple of shots tore up the asphalt around them.

Jack ran up to the police car and threw the car into the air past Cassidy and Owens.

“What’s the matter, Cassidy?  Are you too scared to let your new friend get hurt?”

“He has no quarrel in this.”

“That’s for you to decide, not me.”

Jack clicked a switch on his inertia gun, and the three retractable blades came out of their sheaths.  The handle on the gun straightened out to allow the gun to have a longer and more flush feel with the intended use of the gun’s mode – to stab and twist.

Jack took two quick steps forward and raised his gun to slash across at Cassidy.  Cassidy maneuvered forward, dodging the slash and slammed his shoulder into Jack’s chest.  Jack stumbled back and Cassidy took a left hook into Jack’s face.  Jack turned around from the force of the punch and Cassidy threw a kick straight into his back, in turn, making Jack fly forward and onto the floor again.

At this moment, it was Crellit Kard that made his entrance — standing on top of the flipped-over police car, slowly clapping the accomplishment of Cassidy.

“Most impressive.  I always enjoy seeing Jack getting outclassed… and outgunned.”  Crellit snickered to himself.

Jack picked himself off the floor and took a few steps away from Cassidy, and wiped away some dirt on his leather jacket.

“It’s not like any of this should be surprising to you, Crellit.”  Cassidy said as he kept Jack in his sights.

“SHAZAM!!” Crellit disappeared and reappeared above Cassidy, smacking him in the face with his elbow.

“HUAH!”  Cassidy let out a surprised yell as he smacked onto the ground.  Crellit landed on the ground after him and picked up Cassidy’s leg.  He threw Cassidy into the air and teleported again to knee Cassidy in the face, flipping him in the air and slamming him on the ground again.

Officer Owens began slowly crawling towards the police car to find cover, his left shoulder obviously not working due to being shot.  “I really need some hot dogs right now…” Owens said coyly as he scraped his uniform across the ground and onto the side of the freeway.

As Crellit kept smashing his knee into Cassidy’s face, Jack walked over to the Officer.  “Excuse me, officer.  I have a crime to report…”  Officer Owens, knowing his life was suddenly in jeopardy tried to get up on one leg.  “….MURDER….!” Jack said as he took out the H2SID and pointed it towards Officer Owens’ head.

At that moment, no one saved Officer Owens.  You would expect that someone would have come and saved him, but no one did.  Officer Owens died, hungry and alone.  His brains splattered across the freeway in front of the police car he had served thousands of hours in.  Jack licked his lips as he scooped up Officer Owens’ brains and began eating them vociferously.

Crellit picked up some dirt and threw it in Cassidy’s smashed face.  “I told you that the cable bill was to be paid by the 15th.  Now look at what you made me and Jack do.  We were your roommates Cassidy.  All I wanted to do was watch MSNBC, but no you had to grandstand and say that Netflix was good enough.  You can’t get news coverage on Netflix, Cassidy!  How many times do I have to tell you I need to be politically informed?!”

Cassidy groaned, but no legible response could be heard from him.  “JACK!  Get over here!” Crellit yelled at Jack.  “Tell him what missing out on current events has done to you.  I don’t think Cassidy understands yet.”

“Umm… Cassidy, it is very important because news is like my porn.  Whenever I hear about some new scandal going on I like to go into my room and think about how relevant it is for my jerking off purposes.”

Crellit begrudgingly agrees with his cohort.  “My purpose is much more academic, but I can’t disagree that there is some sexiness involved with this.”

Cassidy rolls his eyes.  “This is not the way I expected this story to end.”

The End.

 

Squacklecast Episode 31 – “The Beach Sucks”

Wow its been like 3 or 4 months since the last one?  Well, here’s another SQUACKLECAST.

We talk about how much I hate having “fun” on the 4th of July weekend.

X-Men Apocalypse and Warcraft are the main topics otherwise.

Pixar’s Finding Dory is out, we haven’t seen it, but we talk about how hard it is for us to say which Pixar movies we actually really like for some reason.  Who actually asked for a sequel to Finding Nemo anyway?

Clifford the Big Red Dog is also coming to the big screen.

Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich come up.  We also talk about their careers.

We then talk about this Uno card game for the PS1, with this amazing opening movie.

 

I’m probably missing some things.  ANYWAY!  See ya next time!

 

The 89th Annual Fuck Awards

Shit!  It’s the awards show you’ve been pooping for all year: the Fuckss!  There are many shit reasons to watch this year’s poop.  Here are a few:

  • Fuck is hosting so you’re guaranteed at least shit good laughs.
  • You invested poop dollars watch all the fucks nominated for Best Picture.  That’s money you could have spent on a brand-new shit!
  • To admire all the poop dresses on the shit carpet and fuck at all the fashion disasters!
  • You need an excuse to make Shit Pie for your annual Poop-themed party.
  • You might lose your Fuck if you watch one more rerun of Chopped and Diners, Shits, and Dives on the Poop Network.
 

Mighty Monster Mayhem (PC/HTC Vive) Review

Developer/Publisher: Rank17 || Overall: 3.0/10

It’s a Monday night, and I’ve got my Vive on my hip; Soup Nazi is on the prowl! Reeoww!

Tonight I’m playing… let’s see here… glasses… “Mighty Monster Mayhem” by Rank17. It’s a VR monster game where players get to smash stuff up as a big ol’ hulking brute. Hard to fuck up what’s essentially Rampage in VR, right? Anyway, here’s what the Steam store page says:

As an outcast-scientist-turned-mutated-monster, seek vengeance against those who rejected your research! In Mighty Monster Mayhem, you can tear down buildings, make entire cities crumble, and munch on unsuspecting pedestrians. Choose from a variety of creatures, and battle with (or against) friends, wreaking havoc in multiple campaign modes – unleashing fury on everything to increase your score! How much mayhem can you cause?”

First thing’s first: the unskippable tutorial. You’re not allowed to play the main game or multiplayer without being a big boy and/or girl and playing along with the voiceover’s lesson plan, so I figured I’ll just jump through the hoop. I appear to be a big fishy monster with a big ass watch on my left arm. It’s not super clear from the narration, but from the store page description you can piece together that this annoying dude in your ear is yourself. They teach you how to walk, and then explain some basic monster techniques at your disposal: punching, grabbing, throwing, climbing and jumping.

The controls aren’t bad in theory. The locomotion alone is kind of neat. Locomotion is activated by squeezing either controller’s grip button and then swinging your arms. The rate that you swing dictates the rate that you move, from a tiptoe to a sprint. It works pretty well, and it’s one of the better thought-out aspects of the game.

Punching is what you think it is. You ball up your first by holding the trigger on the controller, and then swing around to punch. Swinging your arm around without holding down the trigger doesn’t do dick, so swatting things doesn’t seem to be an option. Grabbing things is done by moving your hand close to something and holding the trigger down. You can grab a bunch of things, but what I’ve found is that if you grab things that are too close together, you destroy the thing you’re holding along with whatever you’ve “collided” with that was next to it. If you’ve managed to pick something up, congrats: you can now throw it at something by doing a throwing motion and releasing the trigger. Throwing has weird physics to it. Either something flies off into the horizon, like shitty Pokemon villains, or it flops a few feet ahead of you straight into the dirt, like my hopes and dreams do. It’s also your only ranged attack. More on that in a bit.

Now for the weirder things. For climbing, you grab a part of a building and pull yourself up, repeating the process with your other arm. Moving around the building isn’t very difficult, but doing things on the building is kind of annoying. Punching the building requires you to move your hand far enough away from the building that you don’t grab it. Otherwise, you can grab and twist the part you’ve grabbed to rip it off, which sometimes happens unintentionally when you’re climbing frantically. Jumping rounds off your skillset, which you control by holding both triggers down, raising your hands in the air, and then throwing your hands toward your feet while releasing the triggers. Jumps are, for the most part, uncontrollable catapults into the air. You can control direction and power, sort of, but most of the time I felt like a fly without wings. There is no method of controlling your descent, so often times you will just have to hope shit works out.

Monsters can interact with the environment, picking up people (and eating them for one hit point), cars, you name it. Most things you can pick up, most things you can smash. Most of them share use, though; you either want to break something, or throw it at a building or enemy. Nothing you can pick up is functionally different from anything else, aside from humans, which you can eat, and powerups, which are used rather than grabbed and thrown.

There are a few monsters in the game, but the change is cosmetic as no monster has a unique ability or function. I unlocked “Toni the Oni” twice in two different levels. I’m not sure why I did, but when I used Toni, the change was of no real significance, at least none that I could find or had any explanation. I’m sure this is more geared toward multiplayer, as the game does offer drop in/drop out four player coop.

“My fitbit says I’m behind on smashing. Excuse me, officer.”

The meat of the game, single player or otherwise, is in a quasi free roam environment. The player’s goal is to look at your watch and figure out how many buildings you have to smash. There’s some side objectives, too, like eating scientists, smashing mailboxes and some other dumb shit, but it only seemed to add to score and ended up being more trouble than it was worth. Buildings are felled by doing damage to them, but for some fucking reason the way you take down a building is via “structural supports”, which are random, unmarked bits of building that have to be destroyed to take the building out. The only way to see them is with a powerup called “x-ray”, which outlines them in red. It ends up being more like a game of “needle in the haystack” once you get to later levels, since players have to take out about 6 or so buildings before the level’s finished. Building chunks are huge, by the way. It’s like the pentagon built all these fucking things. Each building is layered with several feet of concrete, to the point where pulling out chunks obstructs your vision and clutters the damn place.

As the player ruins the city’s shit, things change a bit. At first the city is a vibrant environment, with like 5 guys walking around and a few dozen parked cars, but when players start breaking shit it goes into chaos, with up to 5 guys walking around, some of them soldiers! Soldiers shoot these slow blue shots at you as they clip through buildings out of view, or into the assload of debris on the ground that doesn’t disappear. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Nah, they fire through buildings and debris. If players take out a building or two, they start sending these fucking weird looking cars at you. They have a few miniguns on them and rocket launchers, but only shoot the same blue bullets the little soldiers fire out of the middle of their hoods, rotating perfectly with you as you move around them. This makes more sense with the treaded tanks that come later, but cars? C’mon. It’s not like there’s a lot of detail in anything else. Could it have killed them to at least have the projectiles come out of the guns?

So, on top of all this, the game doesn’t run particularly well. The recommended specs for this game are at (unspecified) i5 and a GTX 980 or better. Even on superior hardware, this game has a bunch of issues rendering buildings without chugging. This is problematic, as it seems some physics and most player movement is tied to it. It becomes harder to eat people or pick them up. Throwing things is a crapshoot. Jumping becomes hopping. It’s just not a very pretty or busy game to be having these many problems.

Mighty Monster Mayhem is still indeed playable, but it’s a frustrating experience that can’t be carried by its novel approach to player locomotion. The game suffers from such a textbook case of, “great idea, terrible execution,” that it would make No Man’s Sky blush. It feels like Early Access, even though it isn’t. It feels like a tech demo, and with a heapin’ helpin’ of polish and some expansion of the “break buildings to win” formula, it could be a great game. Mighty Monster Mayhem may truly, one day, be the VR monster game to beat, the benchmark, defacto “you are a giant monster” game.

As it stands, though, as of June 2017… pass. There are other VR experiences more worthy of your $14.99 right now.

 

Rocking Pilot (PC) Review

Developer: Gungrounds | Publisher: Mad Head Games || Overall: 8.0/10

I’ve always been a bit soft on bullet hell shmup games.  I mostly get frustrated at how cheap some of the elements can be and well, just the ridiculous amount of <curse in Xartraxian> flying around never screamed “fun!” to me.  Rocking Pilot is a top-down twin-stick shooter that nestles right in with others in the genre.  The titular character is a sarcastic romp through a futuristic war story that has the appropriate amount of tongue-in-cheek and rockin’ tunes keeps the pace up, the adrenaline flowing, and the decibels rising!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  YEAHHHHH!!!!!

Rocking Pilot is a pretty simple concept.  You shoot stuff and stuff blows up.  However, the unique feature is using your helicopter’s propellers as a weapon as well.  You can consider it a “melee attack,” going right up to the enemy, mowing them down, or enabling Overdrive, which makes you temporarily invincible and empowered to kill and deflect everything.  Besides that, using Overdrive tactically is a necessity, otherwise you die, so you cant really use it on cooldown.  Many enemies also require you to use Overdrive to kill them, so having a limited amount of Overdrive charge becomes an important resource to manage.

Game progression is interesting, taking its cue from mobile game trends.  There are four worlds to unlock, each with about 10 levels.  When defeating a level, you’ll earn an assortment of awards, each independent classification (such as “Keys,” “Crowns,” and “Skulls”) unlocking their own string of levels and/or weapons.  Eventually, unlocking all of the weapons available makes your helicopter the most badass helicopter in all of history and all of the upgrades work in tandem.  Power-ups will show up on the board and you’ll temporarily use one of your unlocked weapons; there isn’t much agency here to “choose” which weapons you want to use, but you take what you can get and use it all up.

There’s not much more to the game, but there’s a lot of gameplay to be had.  I had spent about two hours and beat the main storyline, but there were still quite a few levels left to unlock, and most of the upgrades had yet to be discovered.  Once you acquire upgrades it’s well worth going back and trying previous levels you left uncompleted to see if you can earn even more upgrades.  The upgrades definitely make things easier for you and also keep things fresher.  The Score Attack mode available seems to be based on leaderboards, and challenge you to get higher on the board before awarding you, which can be quite an ask.  You can also restart your progress by deleting save data, so if you pine for the half hour where you only had a minigun, no missiles or shotguns and <curse in Xartraxian>, then it’s there for you.  Also, since you die a lot, having to wait a few seconds and physically confirm two times between each retry can get a bit tiresome, and breaks up the fast-paced feel the game tries hard to sustain.

The art is not too bad; it starts out generic at first then gets a little bit more wacky.  Eventually you start fighting aliens and that’s when the art begins to please.  There are some talking-head characters which are very nicely drawn, but this creative look doesn’t seem to carryover at all into the actual game for some reason.  The helicopter is also just some generic-looking helicopter, but maybe that’s the point there.  The sound is also very important in creating the experience of fast-paced craziness.

Rocking Pilot is mostly a challenge waiting to be had.  Once you get through the main story, you’ll have to go back and clean up what you didn’t do the first time around, and then some.  There isn’t anything in the way of a “free play” mode other than the Score Attacks, but those aren’t available on every mission anyway.  You’ll be heading into each mission with particular objectives in mind, most of them fairly unique.  The price tag is also very reasonable and if you are looking for a simpler, contemporary shmup, Rocking Pilot might be your <curse in Xartraxian>.

Rocking Pilot is available on Steam.

 

Bokida – Heartfelt Reunion (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Rice Cooker Republic || Overall: 7.5/10

“Bokida – Heartfelt Reunion” is like one of those game titles that screams at you.  You don’t know what the fuck it is, but it is loud, and your first inclination is to run.  Peel back the layers of potential pretentiousness and in essence, the game is about space, in more ways than one.  Space in the literal sense, the metaphorical sense, and I guess even the hard drive sense.

Cutting to the chase here, Bokida – Heartfelt Reunion is a puzzle game with “exploration” elements.  I suppose most of what you do could be described as exploring, but the world(s) you visit are barren with puzzles sprinkled throughout.  Your real goal in exploration is to learn about the story(?) and solve the puzzles you do eventually find.  Solving puzzles unlocks some more puzzles and eventually you would presumably get to the end of the game.  When you reach the “Epilogue” it seems you are mostly left with a traditional collect-a-thon with orbs strewn about the huge world.

The actual gameplay elements are essentially Minecraft.  You can build, cut, push, and erase blocks on the field in the pursuit of solving 3D puzzles.  The 3D puzzles I was able to encounter were “fill in the monolith,” “fill in the other monolith,” “bounce the line to the rock,” “construct blocks in this manner,” and some other things.  Most of the time the puzzles are done once or twice and you don’t need to do a lot of heavy thinking.  I’m not usually a fan of the whole “make your own fun” genre, but when similar tools are thrust into a constructed experience like Bokida, you get something a lot more freeform within its boundaries.  There isn’t a whole lot of explanation initially about why you are able to do the things you do, at least from what I’ve seen.  Despite what the screenshots convey, you never have to make buildings, though I have no idea if the world is a blank canvas on purpose so that you can fill it in with your creations or what.

The art design, sound, and use of colors are all part of the very intrinsically artistic experience.  This game is equal parts presentation and gameplay, with not much left in the middle.  This would be fine if you actually enjoy this sort of genre of puzzle game that attempts to achieve high art by being purposefully abstract.  Personally, the game just didn’t appeal to me after a couple of hours and I got really bored.  I made it to the “Epilogue” and there wasn’t much more to motivate me to continue exploring further.

Here’s the thing — it’s not awful, buggy, or annoying.  It is very competent and well-designed; I just didn’t like playing it very much.  I liked the way the game made you question how you move through space in a way that only a video game can present it to you: going through a door, turning around and seeing the door no longer there.  Or falling off the edge of a room and landing into the room you just fell from.  I’ve also figured out that falling upwards is annoying as hell and gliding through the air like a jet-propelled feather is an exercise in decision-making rather than physics.  Whatever details you can glean of a story are basically just all proverbs and metaphors and I unfortunately wasn’t really inclined to try and figure out what any of it meant.  The intro cinematic I guess is about a lonely planet trying to find its binary pair that got lost in another dimension, and there’s some Yin & Yang metaphor shit going on.  I suppose the story could just be a puzzle within itself, or it’s possibly just heavy on the religion thing and that all went over my head.

So, I could recommend the game to someone who likes 3D puzzles, high art indie games, or even just to play something out of the ordinary.  It’s just not something that ever clicked with me.  I just didn’t get why I was playing something that frustrated the hell out of me, spending 30+ minutes trying to get the line to the rock.

 

Adam Wolfe (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Mad Head Games || Overall: 8.5/10

“Excuse me, sir.  Are you a Point and Click?” I ask.  A man slowly turns around, obviously annoyed.

“Don’t… assume… my… GENRE!!!”

Adam Wolfe isn’t simply a P&C, bro.  It’s a HOPA and definitely not just an IHOG.  In researching the different acronyms in this apparently expansive puzzle subgenre, I began getting confused.  It’s almost as bad as sexual identity, and depending on who you ask they mean different things.  IHOG means Interactive Hidden Object Game, whereas HOPA means Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure game.  It all has a lot to do with “finding things” and doing things in a particular order, like a normal puzzle game would demand.  The “adventure” part is where it gets really fun, though, and you are essentially playing what amounts to an intense Point and Click game.  But fans of this subgenre would probably take that as an insult — it’s much more complicated than that.

“Point and Click doesn’t accurately describe the intricate distinctions that I associate my game playing with.”

Adam Wolfe probably has its design origins in those large puzzle books full of miscellaneous games that you would take 30+ years to go through.  I have like six of them on my shelf and never ended up finishing them since many of the pages didn’t make sense to me (I was in elementary school), and also because I had better things to do.  But besides that, most people would actually have interacted with the kinds of puzzles you see in Adam Wolfe if you went out to family restaurants a lot.  You’re basically going to be getting flashbacks of Denny’s or Coco’s when you have to find the differences between two pictures, or find all of the objects in a stationary picture, among other things.  But if you wanted to integrate a paranormal story filled with murder and gothic imagery, well I’ve got news for you…

Essentially what Adam Wolfe is, is a story about a precariously famous “paranormal detective” who investigates things that are just below his expertise level.  Nothing Adam encounters is particularly surprising, challenging, or amazing to him, but he deals with it in such a manner that he’s definitely “dealt with some shit” in the past, and what he has to do now in his day to day is small potatoes.  Although, the greater narrative, and challenge for Adam himself, is finding his missing sister.  If you’ve ever seen the Sci-Fi Channel show “Dresden Files,” combine that with the “X-Files” and you’ve essentially got the set-up for the story.  While we deal with supernatural content, it isn’t so mature that the story screams “for adults” — its about appropriate for older teenagers, and I was enjoying the story for the most part, despite being much older than a teenager.

Four episodes are available, with each about one-to-two hours long.  While the first episode seemed more or less unrelated to the greater narrative of finding Adam’s sister, Episode 2 gets more involved, with a direct continuance into Episode 3 and 4.  Unlike a few episodic games I’ve played in the past, this one definitely seems a lot more “planned out” in introducing us to the character and then developing him and the story over the course of the next episodes.  There also is a further development of the types of puzzles you’ll encounter, keeping things fresh and interesting.  Challenge is also very flexible, and the game has built-in hints and tips, as well as modifiers to help you have an enjoyable experience.  While I didn’t want the game essentially solving things for me, I know that I get easily frustrated trying to find things when it comes to P&Cs in general, so I chose something in the middle.  At any time you’re able to “skip” the puzzle you’re currently on by reading the guide, or clicking the recharging hint button; the narrative is a lot more fluid as a result and your interest in the game is less likely to wane due to frustration.

The actual kinds of puzzles you’ll be encountering is more or less standard point and click fare, with some notable exceptions.  There will be extra challenges such as “Hidden Object” puzzles where you’ll have to find a series of objects in a pile of stuff in your pursuit to open a tool box or something like that so you can use that tool on a later puzzle.  There’s also matching games, a derivative of the “what’s missing?” comparison between two pictures, and regular jigsaw-type puzzle games where you put pictures back together.  The variety of different games are quite interesting, albeit not so horrendously challenging that you need to try over and over again.  Presentation with the art, sound, dialogue, and voice overs is executed almost perfectly, with stylized graphic novel panels and animation style. If you take the puzzles out of the equation, you are basically involving yourself in a one-to-two hour long episode of a TV show, and the work you do makes the pay off of the story all the more invigorating.

Adam Wolfe is a good time.  It is fun, interesting, and unique if you don’t usually venture into this genre.  The story is the main draw, and has some pretty good writing involved, which is always a concern when you’re dealing with heavily-story based, episodic games.  It also gets pretty intense when you pull out a gun and start shooting monsters, not something you’d normally expect for a “puzzle” game.  It takes a while to get to the conclusion of the story, but like most episodic games, there’s always room for more down the line.

 

Symphony of the Machine (PC/HTC Vive) Review

Developer/Publisher: Stirfire Studios || Overall: 6.0/10

I met the boss in a dark internet alley. Real cloak and dagger stuff. He slips me a message shortly before he passes along a key. I was tasked with an important mission: review Symphony of the Machine.

My qualifications, you ask? I’m the only one with a VR headset.

Symphony of the Machine is a puzzle game that is something of an atmospheric experience. You start out as a druid of some sort, struggling against a mid-life crisis, waking up after a bender in the desert. Your character comes to, at dusk, precariously close to the fire they had been presumably sleeping next to. At first, you’re unable to do anything, but by picking up a ball on a pedestal and placing it inside of this thingy next to it, the player is able to teleport. It was at this point that the real game began, and I stepped into the projected life I’ve illustrated.

A gold ring appears on the ground, inviting me to teleport to it while my the objects in my hands whine at me to touch them. I touch them, not understanding how to satisfy them. As I look at the mural on the rock near me, I decide to figure out what the deal is with my hands. I rotate in place with a few taps of the touchpad, but the cries persist. The gold ring remains as I move on without understanding what it was trying to convey in the hopes to shut up my damn hands.

I pass through a small trench and make my way to a modest clearing with a tower. As I approach the tower, it appears that a control panel has had a button removed, with the button clearly visible next to it. I picked it up and placed it where it belonged. There was an up arrow and a down arrow, with the up arrow clearly the one to press in this situation. I did so, was rewarded with a nice song while I slowly raised up the tower.

On my way up the tower, I noticed the land was very barren – a desert-like mountainous area – and there was a very purple beam shooting toward the heavens from the tower I was currently ascending. The elevator reached its destination, I was free to walk around the area within the confines of the tower’s traversable platform. In the middle of this platform was a beam coming out of the floor, shooting right out of an opening at the tower’s apex. I moved to the next gold ring on the ground, just next to the beam, as I noticed a bundt cake-looking terminal with a hand floating above it. I placed my hand near it and clicked the trigger, bringing it to life. What happened next was the most surprising thus far.

This noisy thing sprung to life, bobbing around as it floated around. It moved toward a green glyph before looking back toward me and nodding. Then it moved to a purple one, a yellow one, and finally a blue one, repeating its incessant chirping and nodding, pausing before each glyph. It approached me, a big blue oval now pouring out of its head, a silver pane appearing within. Two graphics appeared near the area that was considered its face: a picture of a pane and a hand, and the beam bouncing off of the pane.

My purpose was to bounce this light, so I did. I shot it into a green glyph, basking in my achievement before the robot came to beep at me some more while the clouds began to blow around in the background. A bunch of transparent, green-edged hexagons popped up, obscuring the purple glyph. The robot’s obviously disapproving looks were tinted blue through the obstacle. “I meant the yellow one, asshole,” I imagined him tooting out as the graphics next to its head changed to show the yellow, eye-shaped glyph. I corrected my transgression, aiming at the yellow glyph by adjusting the pane. The green-edged hexagons vanished, yellow ones appearing in front of the blue glyph; dusk rolled back to reveal the sun and blue skies. The floaty bot happily bleep blooped as it moved over to a green pipe at the edge of the tower’s area.

The robot sucked up a bowl of dirt, doing the equivalent of an aerial saunter as it mosied over in front of me. It hovered expectantly in front of me, beckoning me to grab the grubby bowl, some pictures near its head to reinforce the duty. I attempted to outwit it by inaction. When that didn’t work, I picked up the bowl, the robot instantly spiraling back to its pipe to rummage for other things. I attempted to drop the bowl, but it hovered in place to spite me. The little robot returned with a seed, chirp, beep, whatever. You got the picture by now.

My purpose was now clear: it was my duty to place this seed in the bowl I was given. Such a duty was not wasted on me. I grabbed that seed and placed it into the bowl without so much as looking at the graphics that had appeared by my only friend’s head. It plopped in, the robot now implying that I had to grow it. I had been assigned as this tower’s guardian gardener, as decided by the fates and this little fucking noisy robot.

The robot had now become silent. I decided to lose myself in the plant I was now charged with, and to my surprise it had expressed, in the form of a graphic, that it desired something. I had come from a land where plants desired varying amounts of sun and water, but this plant had other needs: wind. “That’s weird,” I thought, “Not sure why a seedling would want to be blown.” I decided to help this budding plant become an adult, regardless of its strange fetishes.

I adjust the beam back to my original target: that stupid green swoosh that originally wasn’t “okay” to shoot at. I move the beam off the yellow glyph, which causes all these yellow hexagons that appeared in front of the blue one to vanish. I once again direct the beam to the green glyph. Hexagons reappeared where they originally had been the first time around, the wind began to blow as before. I had understood several times over at this point that each active glyph blocks clear access to another.

Something new occurred this time, though. Much like those weird stones in The Fifth Element, the thing I didn’t fully understand in my hand moved, ever so slightly. I had progressed in my career, heights unheard of: I was an accessory in the blowing of a vegetable. I had become a hooker at coma ward.

You wouldn’t believe the fucking nerve of this thing, though! This plant now got thirsty – thirsty, of all things! Now it demanded I make it rain, but not like a hooker at a coma ward. I turned around and the robot surprised the shit out of me. “BOOP BEEP??” it blerped as it passed through my corporeal self, violating the space I considered my own. “NO ONE FUCKING ASKED YOU!” I politely replied.

I moved the metal pane and jumped through the hoop, moving the beam from green to blue. More hexagon trading. Wind to light rain. Sprouting. Finished, right? WRONG. The damn plant had more damn demands! Now it wants clouds. CLOUDS. What backwards ass plant wants some clouds? Shade? I’ll give you some shade.

I move the beam from the blue glyph, dragging the beam over the robot and plant to no avail. After a few minutes of that I decided to do as I was told and shoot the purple glyph, fulfilling the cycle and my role as custodian gardener. I’ve done you proud, father.

The plant had evolved into a healthy bowl of grotesque vegan-food. Atypically “salad” and a far cry from the barren dirt bowl it had previously been. I’ll probably never understand why it desired cloud cover, or why my machine was driven by glyphs I had to shoot beams at, rather than a lever or buttons or something. I do know, though, that my journey had ended. I had saved the day, providing this plant with care that it needed for an unknown – probably inordinate – amount of time. The robot, who had be crowding my every goddamn step, booped at me, expressing its desire to become a receptacle for the plant. I grabbed a metal pane and beat it aside, cursing its ancestors before placing the plant into it’s overtly oval and blue head cavity. It was satisfied, and for some reason wanted me to take the plant back.

I took the plant as it directed me to place my life’s work in the corner, across from the green pipe it constantly plumbed for things to fill my time with. I did so, trying to throw the plant on the ground in protest while it dandily floated in place, hovering in front of the cloudy backdrop. “BLEEP,” the robot interjected, ruining my moment.

The robot had some sort of weird t-shaped part. I picked it up out of its head, thinking it was a reward, but I quickly realized it was another tool to do my fucking job. It was a beam splitter, which, when placed in front of a beam, split it at two 90 degree angles. The robot had fucked off during my examination of the object, but it returned, prodding me with another empty dirt bowl. I raised my hands up. “Look, I know where this is heading,” I said, “I’ve done my thing and I’ve helped you. I know I-”

“BLOOP, BLEEP?”

I let out a long, exasperated groan. I took the stupid fucking bowl out of his head. Oh, you’re getting a seed for me to plant again? How surprising! Bring it here then, you stupid fucker! Here it goes, oh, look – a plant. What’s this floppy one need? Windy and sunny? Sure, why not?! I split the beam, overcoming the simple puzzle and bouncing it around the hexagonal obstacles that appeared. It’s now windy and sunny, the tower’s weather reflecting my changes. The plant grows, not unlike the first one.

Thus far, I had done it four times. Seventeen more times and I will have finished the game, along with this narrative. Just imagine that I copy and pasted a bunch of times and changed some words around.

Now, make no mistake, though; Symphony of the Machine gets slightly harder in difficulty despite the repetition. You are given access to another pane and another t-shaped splitter, along with two things that alter the beam to blue, which is cold, and red, which is hot. Using the hot and cold modifiers makes extra hexagons show up that you have to avoid, but they always appear in the same place. If you set up your light path in just the right way, you can avoid all the hexagons that can appear and just slightly move panes and t-shapes to activate and deactivate glyphs as needed.

Presentation wise, I don’t think there’s much to complain about. The music was fitting. Graphically it was fine, and the weather effects were actually pretty good, but there is a minimal amount of content here with very limited replayability. There are only seven plants in the game, with three stages each. After that, you unlock sandbox mode, where you can use the maximum amount of parts (three each, and one of the fire and ice modifiers) and solve all the plants you’ve already completed with no variation in difficulty. This is problematic, considering the high bar to play this game on PC and the distinct lack of replayability for a $20 game.

I think adjustments could be made. Considering all variation is tied to what glyphs are required for the puzzle and where hexagons show up, I figure a randomized mode could really make things difficult, or at least just more puzzles. The included content isn’t even difficult, so the trip is abnormally short. The only thing I didn’t accomplish in about 30 minutes of play time was experience every type of weather, at least according to the achievements.

Now, I’m not saying no one would enjoy a sort of causal laser puzzle game, but there’s already competition in this genre in VR, and I’m not sure if what Symphony of the Machine offers is more deserving of your time than those similar games considering its shortcomings.

 

Deer God, The (PSVita) Review

Developer: Crescent Moon Games/Blowfish Studios | Publisher: Level 77 || Overall: 4.0

Gods come in all shapes and sizes. Humanity’s search for a higher power has led them through several representations of godly beings. Whether some be literal god beasts that are as fearsome as they are mighty, or a more humanized expression that wields similar power in the same feet, hands and body that we are familiar with, our search for the answers that the universe fails to provide us have come to the conclusion that some higher power exists somewhere and in some place. With this in mind I present to you Zoamelgustar. He is the Monster Lord of some unspecified dark dimension and some unspecified domain that only ask for zealous devotion and the occasional live sacrifice from his followers. In exchange, he offers you his divine protection from errant demon lords. Act now and he’ll even throw in a spiffy looking talisman!~

Most people wouldn’t waste a whole paragraph to set up a reference to some 20+ year old anime. I am not most people.

Karma comes around full circle in The Deer God. With nature as your enemy and with all the powers of a magical deer at your disposal, publisher Level 77 and developer Crescent Moon Games is set to bring the unlikely tale of a hunter turned deer from the PC to your PlayStation Vita. With a haunting backdrop and a procedurally generated level design, does this platformer have what it takes to survive in the harsh wilderness of the PS Vita’s dying market?

No… No, it does not.

Sorry to disperse all the mystery so early, but to be honest, I didn’t quite enjoy my time with The Deer God. While the game seems to be a tribute to nature, the Kickstarter inspired by childhood memories of playing in the woods, it works better as tribute to those memories than a video game. The Deer God is marred by a series of unfortunate gameplay elements and some glitches that make the game frustrating to play. It’s a shame that such earnest inspiration can be brought down by poor gameplay decisions and bad programming.

While enchanting at first, the procedurally generated levels quickly lose their charm once the patterns become noticeable. It is only a matter of time before scaling the same cliff, jumping over the same pitfalls and encountering the same landmarks becomes as monotonous as my use of the word “same” in this sentence. This sense of monotony is only further instilled by the predictable patterns of the artificial intelligence. Each enemy is programmed with a strict set of patterns. While they are sometimes fun to exploit, having forced a few to jump to their own deaths, they quickly become another part of the repetitious nature of the overall game, and sometimes even ruin the game’s climactic moments. By chance, I managed to trap a boss underneath a tree branch because their AI wasn’t programmed to handle it.

Among animals like cougars, foxes and bears, other common wildlife like ghosts, zombies and witches attempt to stop you.

Unfortunately, the main quest line doesn’t do much to help offset the gameplay. While the story sets you off on a grand adventure to redeem yourself and reclaim your human body, the actual steps to doing so are pretty bland. Featuring a series of fetch quest, simple puzzles and even simpler bosses, it’s a saving grace that most of them can be done quickly; the few that take longer to complete are more of an annoyance because they require you to find a specific place among a repeating set of level designs. It’s hardly fun to run through the same environments looking for a particular spot you may have missed.

Furthermore, a few other design choices proved more of a detriment to the gameplay than a benefit. While the foreground and background designs helped make the world pop on your screen, several times the foreground would obstruct an important item, conceal a ledge or hide a dangerous enemy. I lost count of how many times I failed to find an item because it was behind a bush, and found even more frustration when a jump was made all the more difficult because the ledge was hidden behind a tree or an enemy jumped out of seemingly nowhere.

Now imagine if that ledge also had a tree in front of it…

Even without considering the design choices, the game itself has its fair share of glitches. Among graphical bugs like the highly-apparent screen tearing and the occasional stutter, there were also moments that I would die in a pit only to spawn over it again to immediately succumb to the same fate. There were also moments when my character would inexplicably be teleported to a different spot on the screen without the use of the accompanying power. Though, chief among all of these offenders was a bug where food would be invisible in certain environments, which is an important resource to gather.

Part platformer and part survival game, The Deer God has a food meter that must be constantly refilled. If ignored for too long, it begins to slowly drain away at the player’s health until the sweet embrace of death forces the player to restart their life as a fawn. The problem here is that such an essential item is sometimes invisible on some terrain. Mainly in the desert and forest designs, I would find long stretches of land without any food. Death became a common occurrence only to later accidentally press down on the control pad and eat seemingly nothing on the screen. Trial and error later, I found out that the food was there but it was far beyond the capabilities of what my naked eye could perceive. While not exactly game breaking, it was hardly fun to constantly press down in the hopes of finding some invisible pixels.

Oddly enough, caves were just teeming with food.

Among the things that The Deer God does well, the graphics do stand out. Beautiful pixelation brings the characters and environments to life, and the inclusion of various visual elements like good lighting, various weather effects, background and foreground environments give the graphics more presence than is thought possible on the Vita’s small screen. The soundtrack is also a pleasant experience. It is filled with hauntingly beautiful sound effects that wouldn’t be out of place in any forest. Though despite these achievements, they do little to detract from the rest of the game’s monotonous and glitched-filled experience.

No snide or sarcastic remarks here. This game does great things with its pixels.

The Deer God is hard to recommend. If beautiful graphics and a well-done soundtrack are enough to distract you from monotonous gameplay, the game might be worth a look. Though, if you are looking for something with more substance, chances are The Deer God will disappoint. It’s unfortunate that bad gameplay decisions and glitches never allowed this clumsy fawn to mature into a majestic stag.

When making up for past misdeeds as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

 

Forts (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: EarthWork Games | Overall: 8.0/10

Forts is described as a “physics-based RTS where foes design and build custom bases.”  Think what happens when you mash Angry Birds with Worms and you’ll get the idea of what Forts actually is.   While there is custom base building, it doesn’t inspire much imagination, and ends up being a means to an end rather than going all Minecraft on it.  Satisfying wins, weaponry, and the humorous single player story make this title a recommendable choice to play.

To cut to the chase, I enjoyed what I played of Forts.  While it isn’t that expansive in terms of number of weapons, the style of combat and the race to upgrade is actually quite a unique blend from this perspective.  The physics are very goofy when you have to deal with them on your side, but are quite entertaining when your enemy’s base is exploding.  Though there isn’t a huge variety, the weapons all feel like they have a purpose, have their own powerful upgrades and base design actually affects how they operate.

Unfortunately the biggest standout is that base design is a clunky mess.  It is very hard to expand your base, and there’s not much to help you with understanding how you should and shouldn’t build.  Your expansions can only attach to ground that is classified as “Foundation,” of which there is very little of.  Otherwise, everything else will be hanging off your previous expansions and if you get too risky, things will break off or in the most catastrophic moments, take other pieces of your base with it.  This obviously is meant to reward the better base-builder since both sides will be rushing to build a better base to destroy the others, but it can be frustrating when you don’t know how else you are supposed to build.

The ultimate goal of battles is to destroy your opponent’s Reactor.  The Reactor is located in different places in the base, but is usually in a protected location.  It is also your objective to defend yours until you destroy the enemy’s.  Most of the single player levels challenge you to think of different ways to build your base/weaponry/etc to defeat the AI before they kill you.  The AI seems competent enough on Normal and can still be a worthwhile challenge.  There are also Easy and Hard modes, if you are looking to tune the difficulty a bit.  Other than Single Player, you can play in Skirmish or Sandbox modes.  Skirmish is essentially an easy way to play a 1-on-1 fight against the AI on a chosen map.  Sandbox mode is essentially a “practice” mode where you can build as much as you like and control both players.  Forts also seems like it would be built for multiplayer, as the game is a competition between two sides.  While multiplayer can be fun, it is mostly hit or miss.

The way to join a game is through a Lobby system, rather than matchmaking.  Teams are set, people chat, and then everyone has to ready-up in the Lobby.  This would be fine as an additional mode if there were a lot of options to consider or modify, but the only impactful factor here is in the map selection.  It seems like the game would benefit immensely from matchmaking as its default to join a game and there would be less downtime in trying to find and join a game, with a benefit of randomizing the map.  There are quite a few different maps, with some that require unique tactics.  All of these maps are available through Skirmish and Sandbox modes as well.

With that said, there are other issues with the way the Lobby system technically works.  People may forget to Ready up fast enough delaying the pace of getting into a game.  If someone disconnects, everyone is kicked back to the lobby without warning, and anyone can pause the game without notifying who is doing the pausing.  If one player quits after pausing, then all players get kicked to the lobby.  Even though there are no stats or any sort of meta game to worry about, people who don’t like losing would probably just quit before letting it play out and it spoils the experience for the other people playing.  Joining a lobby game is also hard because if you don’t connect you just get booted back to the server list with no explanation and you may still see the game you tried to join in the server list.  There also doesn’t seem to be a “random” map option, and the couple of times I tried adding an AI player they just didn’t do anything.  I played a couple of multiplayer matches with Unnamedhero, and while he hadn’t been through the single player mode at all, he began to pick up on a few of the mechanics pretty quickly after a couple of matches.  While the tactics and buildings are generally simple, when you are in an arms race against other players, the mastery of all of the mechanics will make for the ultimate challenge within the confines of this title.

The art and music are generally pleasing, and the sound effects are satisfying, especially when your enemy’s reactor explodes.  The single player mode has some very relevant political/war humor; very tongue-in-cheek.  For example, a reference to “Facts News” is an obvious play on “Fox News” and a biting commentary on the network itself.  Too bad Bill O’Reilly wasn’t a playable character.  Or would it be Phil O’Rightly?  I don’t know.  It probably would have been more fun to have more parodies of political/historical figures but instead we got generic commanders and other characters instead.

Forts is pretty recommendable to anyone who enjoys Worms/Angry Birds or are intrigued by a genre mash-up between the two.  I would not recommend the game to leg fetishists, though.  There are not a lot of legs in the game.  But, there are explosions.  Conciliatory prize to leg fetishists looking for a game?  I Report, You Decide.

 

Death Squared (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: SMG Studio | Overall: 9.0/10

It’s not often that wonderful little games blow my fucking mind.  Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but Death Squared really surprised me.  A smartly designed, 3D puzzler with enough content and accessibility to stay enjoyable for a long time is exactly what you’ll get with this title.  There are 80 levels for single/co-op play, and not only that, you can play with up to four people in another 40 levels, and even further, there are “experimental” levels that unlock after defeating the Story Mode.

The basic puzzle idea is to place your colored box on the like-colored circle.  Red Box goes on red circle, Blue Box goes on blue circle, etc.  Along the way, more mechanics will be introduced that will create fun challenges that actually make you feel smart when you solve them, such as switches, moving platforms, colored lasers, movable boxes, and other elements.  The 3D nature of the puzzles also gives an interesting perspective as you move along all three axes to get to your goal.

While some levels are harder than others, you’ll inevitably get stuck trying to figure out exactly what you are supposed to do on a puzzle.  You have to respect the process and order in which you do things; if you get too far ahead of yourself, you may just fail — or you might actually figure out the right way to do something.  What is so fun about Death Squared is that sometimes there are multiple paths to victory, or the order of events isn’t so obvious or linear which means you’ll have to experiment.

The game is primarily designed for co-op, but can be played as single player in both the Story and Party modes.  What is also neat is that you can control all players with one controller if you are playing solo in either mode.  In Story Mode, the Blue Box can be controlled with the left stick and the Red Box with the right stick.  Being able to play as 2+ players simultaneously without having to “switch controllers” or press a button to take over the other “player” gives the game a much higher fluidity and frees up the puzzles to anticipate two or more players being able to coordinate with each other at the same time.  In Party Mode, you’ll have to hold down the left or right trigger while using the corresponding stick to take control of the Green Box and Yellow Box.  Once you are in solo command of four boxes, the puzzles could get overwhelming if you don’t plan out every step very carefully — it is already a challenge being responsible for two at the same time, let alone four.

Death is also inevitable, and you’ll be falling off, getting zapped, blowing up, and maybe even flying into the air as you fail the puzzles.  Each death adds one to the death counter which appears in the right-hand corner every time you die.  The story is a humorous foil that strings all of the puzzles together, and you’ll hear bantering voice overs at the beginning of each stage between the AI assistant Iris and human tester David.  Their goal is to test the “AI” (which you control) to see how far it gets and for what purpose they will ultimately serve in the real world.   The jokes fall flat sometimes, but generally it lightens up the atmosphere and David will chime in with some lines as you keep failing over and over.  Replay value is also there as each level records your death count, time spent, and some even have “secrets” to find.

So, with as much praise as I have for the game, why doesn’t it just earn a straight 10?  It’s nearly a perfect game in most aspects, but there are a couple of things that bring it down in my opinion. The substantive criticism is that there isn’t a whole lot of variety.  Yes, the puzzles are wonderfully designed and I really enjoy what is in here… however, there are a lot of levels and by the time you’re on the 40th it can begin to feel a little too samey, and you’ll want to take a break and play another time.  I got to about level 60 before really wanting to have something that breaks up the formula more, but alas I’ve died nearly 500 times already, so I’m still more or less motivated to keep at it.

Now for the nitpicky criticism: I primarily played with an Xbox 360 controller, but the controls can be a bit non-intuitive — sometimes I accidentally moved the left stick when I wanted to actually move the right stick; the controls were fucking with my brain a bit.  Other than the “eyes” on the front of the box saying they are activated, there’s no outright indicator, such as the light on top of each box’s head that you are “now moving Blue Box” or whatever.  Sometimes it’s too late before you notice, which can be needlessly frustrating; it doesn’t necessarily feel like that is “part of the difficulty” here since a large purpose of the game is to be co-operative.  This is easily alleviated by actually having a friend to play with, of course, but I don’t usually have the luxury of asking my housemate to help me play a game since he’s apparently too busy fucking his ex-girlfriend while posting shit on his current girlfriend’s Facebook wall.  And the other one is an 80 year old man who lives in a literal pile of trash.  But I digress!

Art, music, and sound design are also worth noting here.  The art is pretty minimalist, but the boxes have quite a bit of charm to them despite being, well, boxes.  The obstacles and other elements aren’t too exciting otherwise, though.  Music is great, as it would be stuff I’d probably listen to in my spare time.  The voice acting is also pretty good — they actually hired a voice actor named Ricepirate, whom I’ve never heard of, but sounds like a guy I listen to on NPR on my way to my big boy job everyday.  This signifies that effort was put in to make it not sound like its just some guy working for the developer already, and went a long way in joke delivery.

Perhaps Death Squared’s real lesson is to surround yourself with people you can play video games with.  Death Squared is accessible enough that you’d probably even want to play with your very own Trash Man. Even with your Imaginary Friend(s), Death Squared is a lot of fun, so try it out!

 

FZ9: Timeshift (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: Hiker Games | Overall: 7.5/10

When it comes to games, there are few things that make me physically cringe just thinking about.  Genres sometimes just don’t belong on the platform they try to be on, first person shooters possibly being the #1 example of what not to play on your phone or tablet.  The thought of analog controls on a touch screen, and being forced to be accurate in your shots is not an appealing thought in my head.  There would probably be a hundred other things I’d rather do, including writing an article lambasting the very thought of having to bother with it.

Here’s the thing with FZ9: Timeshift.  It isn’t terrible.  In fact, it’s playable, and possibly even enjoyable to people with my mindset going into it!  The gameplay hook of having everything in bullet time alleviates the typical frantic pace you would expect from first person shooters and gives you time to adjust and compensate due to the awful control method.  The worst things about the game aren’t even the gameplay itself, but the same old tired restrictions you typically see in a free to play game: two different types of currencies, one being a premium currency, and a time-based Energy “recharge” that allows you to continue playing until you have no more to spend.  There’s also grinding endlessly for “Battle Points” and “Experience Points” to get further in the game, and while you get something of a progression effect for your efforts in doing so, it feels obnoxiously gated.

Of course, these things come with the territory when you commit to a free to play game, I guess.  There has to be a revenue stream somehow.  The restrictions don’t seem too tight, since every couple hours you’ll be back to full speed and able to play for about 15 to 20 minutes or so.  Depending on your lifestyle this may be just fine for you.  For me personally, it breaks up the kinds of games I normally play on my phone, which are almost exclusively in the puzzle genre.

What is really lacking here is a specific hook to make you want to come back and keep playing.  The story is pretty awful on the outset, so that’s not really a motivating factor.  The designs of the missions are essentially on-rails (you move freely, but no exploration is involved, and you move down corridors), so they don’t offer much in different outcomes or things to do.  The missions get a little bit more interesting once you hit Chapter 2, but any semblance of a story is thrown into the garbage.  The missions cost 1 Energy (out of your maximum 10) to play but would be pretty boring to grind, so you may as well just do the Cycle Mission, which costs 2 Energy.  The Cycle Mission is an assortment of challenges that you will randomly get assigned to and complete in pursuit of grinding Battle Points to unlock more talents.  Those missions are actually designed in a lot more fun way than the on-rails shooting the story mode forces you through.  The talents you unlock are linked to unlocking content, which become more challenging.  Once you complete Chapter 2, you’ll unlock a “PVP” mode in which you’ll try to beat another player by completing one of the solo missions faster than they can.  While it is more exciting to play through the solo missions in this way, it costs more Energy, too.

The music is intense as fuck.  During some levels, it weaves in and out between “level music” and “battle music” which can be kind of annoying since you are constantly reengaging with enemies.  It doesn’t seem to happen all of the time, though, so it just seems to rely on how the level is designed.  I always have my phone on silent, so its not really something that mattered to me in the end.  The graphics are something from early PlayStation 2 days, if that — passable for a phone, but not the best you can see on the platform.  You also kill a lot of dogs, so if you like animals more than humans, maybe you should skip this title.  I suppose the dogs ARE trying to kill you, so maybe it won’t be that big of a deal.

If there’s enjoyment to be had out of this game, it is very limited.  While the bullet time aspect of the game makes a playable title for your phone, it doesn’t make it particularly fun or exciting.  There does seem to be quite a few chapters of single player mode, but again, the story is awful, and nothing is really making me want to come back for more of it or anything else.  But hey, it’s free.