Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption (PC) Review

Developer: Dark Star | Publisher: Another Indie || Overall: 7.5/10

Personally, I have very little interaction with the “Soulslike” genre.  I know what Dark Souls is, but never had a chance to play the series.  Games that pride themselves on being hard aren’t necessarily my thing, but I will dabble and see how far I can get sometimes.  Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption is a boss-rush “Soulslike” that feels like you started playing right at the end of a game and missed about 20 hours of gameplay.

Since Sinner has been designed as a boss-rush, it relies heavily on the gameplay of its bosses, how they look, and what skill set you are given.  As the title of the game implies, each of these bosses are influenced by Biblical references.  Since I know nothing about any of it, it may as well have been based off the Wikipedia page about the seven deadly sins.  All I know is that the bosses are all very interesting to look at, and a big pain in the fucking ass.

All together there are 8 bosses, two of which I gave two hours to exclusively. I tried the others to see what they looked like, but decided to commit to the two I thought I could beat.  One boss I thought I beat, but she ended up turning into a new boss with full health, so fuck that.  The other guy I beat, but the game allows you to reverse your progress and now it’s like I didn’t even beat him.  Even though it says the boss will recover, it didn’t explicitly explain I would have to beat him again to progress, so I fucked up there.  Additionally, each boss has a little lore piece that is a bit interesting, and you can kind of piece together a greater narrative that is going on.

Each boss will require a “sacrifice” of your stats or equipment to enter and try to beat the boss inside.  This is a “leveling-down” system that will layer these sacrifices as you beat more bosses.  Though beating a boss also gets you stats, you’re inevitably going to be trading off stuff you have for unknown prizes.  This demands you to plan out your boss progression and figure out which bonuses or stats you need to beat certain bosses before giving them up; you can’t just beat what you think is easy now.  So, in this context, it makes sense why they allow you to have a boss recover; you can gain back stats to beat another boss, then go back and beat the original boss, though this may make it more complicated depending on what other debuffs you have gathered since then.

I would say the graphics are pretty. Though much of the game is very gray, it is an obvious design choice to make it look this way to have more of an ancient/religious context.  The main character is essentially a blank avatar without a personality, and the areas you fight in lack detail outside of their functional level design.  The bosses are very creative-looking as the emphasis focuses on them.  It is unfortunate other artistic aspects of the game seem to have suffered, though the music is okay as well.

I had some personal problems with how the gameplay works in general.  It takes a while to remember which buttons do what since there is absolutely nothing other than bosses to practice on.  There is one pack of enemies that spawn to help you get acquainted with the controls, but they are only around for a few minutes.  The bosses killed me about fifty times before I even learned there was a run button; previously I was just using the dodge button over and over to get out of the way.  There’s something to say with having filler in a game; it helps you learn how to play and get familiar with the controls before a difficult challenge.

The character has a sword and shield or 2-handed sword option for melee attacks, and a spear/fire bomb for range attacks.  The range attacks don’t do much damage, but the spear can be used to stumble a boss at the right time.  My biggest problems are with the bosses’ hit boxes.  You have to get right into a boss’s asshole before your sword will connect, and it is endlessly frustrating to be swinging 3 times an inch away from where you need to be and make no hits.  Many of the bosses have cheap abilities or deal extra damage at times which require you to run away or hide behind something, and this can add to the strategy, frustration, or both.

I would be remiss to not comment on the release of the title and the “controversy” around it.  Initially this was to be released on Steam, but the developers made a deal with Discord, who opened up their own storefront recently, to give an exclusivity window.  As one would now expect, the Steam version got delayed into next year, but it is currently available through the Discord store.  I don’t personally have a problem with this as it is something you see on consoles all of the time.  It is a new ripple in the PC field, as there isn’t much of a competition between Steam or any other non-publisher-specific storefront.  Inevitably I think it is a good thing for developers, but probably a wash for consumers… unless you hate Steam.

While I technically like this game, I don’t really want to keep playing it.  Games that make me yell “what the fuck!” or grunt and groan don’t often stick around.  I can only enjoy pounding my head against a wall for so long.  If you like this sort of experience, Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption may be up your alley.

 

Gardens Between, The (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: The Voxel Agents || Overall: 9.5/10

The Gardens Between is one of the most beautifully crafted games I’ve ever played.  Creating games that can be appreciated as art can be a bit of a challenge, since it has to be a full package.  The graphics, music, story/symbolism, gameplay — every little part of the game needs to be paid attention to, or the risk of not being taken seriously as art becomes a possibility.  The Gardens Between accomplishes this very well and only in the way an interactive medium, such as gaming, can.

Each aspect of the title ties into the story, giving you a certain emotional feeling as each level is completed.  You’ll soon realize that each level is based on an event, shared between the two female characters “Red Jacket Girl” and “Glasses Girl.”  While they technically have names (Arina and Frendt), according to the Steam description page, there is no formal identification of the two girls in-game, nor does it really matter.  There are no voices, no text bubbles… the story is told through visuals alone and you get the sense that something happens in their relationship that forces them to take this trip through surrealistic memory lane.  After completing each set of levels, you are treated to a more direct reference to what the elements of the level refer to, which builds the relationship between the two girls further as you journey along.

The gameplay itself is an interesting mechanic, as you are dealing mostly with the concept of “time.”  You can rewind and go forward, performing certain tasks in a certain order to get through the obstacles at hand.  The main mechanics consist of Red Jacket Girl (aka Arina) holding a lantern, lighting it, and using it to get through obstacles.  She can place it on certain items to activate them/complete the level, or leave it on little jumping cubes.  The pursuit is typically to get the lantern lit when it needs to be, and make sure it isn’t lit when you don’t want it to be.  Glasses Girl (aka Frendt) has the ability to toggle certain objects, some of which are simple binary toggles, or manipulating the construction/deconstruction of a portion of the level so that a pathway can open up.  These mechanics are used in all sorts of combinations, making for an interesting challenge, but there was never anything that I was stumped at for too long.  There were one or two puzzles I had to look up, though; I would never have thought to complete them the way I needed to.

The graphics, and music are beautiful and match each other very well.  These two elements also tie into the story quite well, and really sell you on the emotional aspect of the girls’ relationship with one another.  There are also nice touches in their animation, where they are visibly frustrated, curious, or affectionate (such as holding each other’s hands for a few seconds as they walk through the level), which gives the girls a lot of personality.  The types of things they did also might remind you of an earlier time in your life when you listened to audio cassettes, watched VHS tapes on terrible TVs, and had a household printer that used feed paper.  Of course, most people below the age of 25 are probably not going to be very nostalgic for those things, but the aspect of having a best friend when you were younger is a timeless reference.

I really enjoyed The Gardens Between.  With about 4 hours of actual gameplay, this is a quick title that deserves another replay just to pay attention to all of the little details one more time.  While not everyone may relate to the events that are being relived, the gameplay is unique enough to entertain anyone for the duration.

 

Midnight Sanctuary, The (PC) Review

Developer: CAVYHOUSE | Publisher: UNTIES || Overall: 8.5/10

Note: This is a non-spoilery review.

The Midnight Santuary from CAVYHOUSE and Sony Music Entertainment’s game publishing arm, UNTIES, is not unlike a very long anime movie.  At the beginning I sort of thought “why isn’t this a movie?”  By the end of it, I discovered the subject matter tends to be a bit “mature,” the story muddled at times, and the art style quirky; this is really the only format that suits it.  It is obvious that the way the story is presented and experienced, it wouldn’t really “work” as a movie.  What The Midnight Sanctuary ends up feeling like is if you took a Japanese RPG and sucked all of the “game” parts out of it.

While the storytelling is linear, there are portions that are non-linear.  You experience a major plot point, then the story splinters into multiple points, allowing you to “explore” Daiusu Village as you see fit, and then finally culminating in another major story point.  Rinse and repeat and you have the flow of the visual novel.  There are no puzzles, quizzes, or anything of the sort.  You’re really just experiencing the story at your pace and having a little “freedom” to experience what you will.  In this sense, it can hold your attention, as it gives a little interactivity in discovering the mystery that lies beneath the “happy” atmosphere of Daiusu Village.

The general story is in regards to the village itself inviting the main character Hamomuru Tachibana, a pastor from a larger city, to document the history of the village.  The village is unique in that it was built by Christians, but their form of Christianity splintered, observing the “Crane Wife” as a Saint who will one day return to rapture them, not unlike a female version of Jesus Christ.  While the story isn’t really about actual religion, there are references to scripture and events in the Bible.  Mix in some good ol’ Japanese “anime stuff” and you’ve got an interesting story that will clock in at about 2.5 hours or so.

The most readily apparent thing about the visual novel is its art style.  Much of it is very simplistic and stylized to look like something that didn’t get out of an early phase of development.  Most noticeable is that many elements of characters or items are transparent.  Behind the scenes at all times is a complex mural of the Crane Wife and some other textures, that changes filters and colors depending on when and where the story takes you.  The mural is very complex and it is hard to focus and see what you’re looking at; I often just gave up, but generally assumed it was a person or something utilizing those transparency effects.  The symbolism of using this effect to begin with was lost on me if there was any particular reason for this choice.  Many of the generic villagers shared the same model, but had a different bandana to signify who they were.  There are several “non-transparent” people who look like a “normal” anime 3D character, though most expressions are vapid and they move around like puppets.  A couple of characters look a bit alien with their lanky arms and huge hands.  The girl Eku also had one of her eyes half closed like she hadn’t slept for a couple days, which accentuated the weirdness.  Additionally, whenever she turned around she would almost pirouette; this is just one example of the odd animation that is seen in this title.

The voice acting is exclusively Japanese, but there are subtitles.  The voice acting is very good from what I could tell, but since I couldn’t understand it, I would just read ahead in the story really quickly and skip a lot of the talking.  Understanding the emotion of the story is more likely if you listened to lines the whole way through, so its definitely an important factor of enjoyment if you’re going to stick with it.

The story was a lot longer than I thought it would last, but I suppose that is part of the value in this title.  It didn’t feel like there was much that needed to be cut out, but the major plot points could maybe have been skipped to in order to leave out the filler.  While the story gets a bit gruesome at times, it doesn’t get gory nor really crazy, though it seems like it easily could have.  Most of the locations in the town are visited several times, so there’s no lack of re-use of assets.  The story takes a few “interesting,” if not shocking, turns.  Another curious aspect is that you are actually given a character who is referenced as “The Watcher,” but outside of a few scenes you are entirely attached to the hip of Hamomuru.  There’s also not much of a conclusion for The Watcher, though they explain the character a bit at some point.

My foray into the “visual novel” genre is very cursory, but it seems like something I could get behind if it were on my iPhone.  There’s very low effort involved in controls and it seems like it would be a nice thing to pick up for a few minutes to kill.  However, on a PC it feels like a bit of a waste of time since I have to be sitting in the chair at the keyboard controlling it.  As of now, it is only available on PS4, Switch and Steam.  A VR version is coming out later on Steam, and is already out on PS4.  While I wouldn’t suggest this title for children, teens/young adults will probably get a bit spooked out with it.

 

Exorder (PC) Review

Developer: Solid9 Studio | Publisher: Fat Dog Games || Overall: 8.0/10

Exorder is a completely serviceable, old-school-feeling, fantasy turn-based strategy game.  Most turn-based strategy games nowadays seem to take a lot of liberty with the narrative structure, artwork, and other fringe elements; this often results in gameplay struggling as a result.  Exorder is a solid throwback to a time when turn-based strategy games presented a unique challenge and using your smartitude to figure out the “puzzle” of the level and complete it.

While there is a fairly interesting story, it is a bit on the thin side and really only serves as connective tissue between the levels.  Each level has a prologue, story elements that affect strategy during play, and an epilogue. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the fantasy cartoon art style compliments the story to a degree.  The units you control have good art design and personality on an individual basis, but since you’ll spam produce them (more on this later), they kind of lose that unique touch.  The art is far and away the best production value the game has to offer.  The voice acting is so-so.

A large part of the gameplay in Exorder that makes it unique are the elements it “borrows” from real-time strategy games.  Most turn-based games will set you off with the units it assigns to you and that’s it.  However, a major part of the strategy is unit production, which costs gold at a Castle or Tavern.  Gold is produced by capturing other buildings, namely Houses, or defeating enemies.  Playing correctly typically means managing/protecting your resources and then flooding the map with your expendable units.  This all plays out in slow motion, but gameplay feels faster since they speed up through enemy turns when possible and most units will counter against melee attacks for half their normal damage.  Units health will fall a lot faster due to the counterattack design, which means the gameplay progresses faster as a result.  You can typically see the writing on the wall a lot quicker this way and can restart the level to figure out where you went wrong.  The trial-and-error aspect is a bit like tower defense in a way, where there is a strict order of operations that you should follow depending on your strategy.

Additionally, most of the units are designed in unique ways to serve their own niche.  Some are obvious, such as ranged units being able to attack two squares away, or the big armored guy having a lot of health.  An interesting mechanic that I hadn’t seen before, is the “Push” skill by the “Architect” unit, who can push any unit a certain amount of squares away.  This costs the Architect his action, but the pushed unit, if friendly, can use this to their advantage and move several more squares than they would have previously.  It can also be used against enemy units for defensive or even offensive reasons.  Another unit can extend their mobility and “Jump” up to two squares if there are an even amount of its type of unit on the field.  Touches like this are nice and separates Exorder from other turn-based titles.  Levels will also require you to keep a character alive to complete, which adds another layer of difficulty.

There’s not actually a whole lot that is bad per se about the game.  Once I “got it,” it became less fun and wanted to take a break from it for a long while.  The story actually gets in the way occasionally, and not every line is voice acted so you may not be aware someone is talking when they are.  Dialogue shows up at the bottom of the screen instead of over the character, which seems like a strange decision.  I’d rather have just seen the dialogue floating above the character instead of trying to remember which character is named what and reading it at the bottom of the screen.  And while the developers did what they could to speed up the pace of gameplay, it still takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to finish a level, including retries.

There is quite a bit of game to play with 12 missions and 8 additional challenge levels added recently.  I’d say that if the pace of turn-based gameplay is for you this title is worth a shot.  There’s no progression or experience system so you’re really just going to be focusing on the mechanics of individual units and how well you can manage your army on a strategic basis.

 

Squacklecast Episode 37 – “MoviePassed Away”

It’s hot.

We talk about lots of movies again. We explore the Quiznos/MoviePass relationship and revel in how MoviePass is somehow still in business.

Avengers: Infinity War, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Fast & Furious franchise all come up.

I did a “Denzel Washington marathon” of sorts where I saw four of his movies in a row.  We talk about his best movie, Ricochet, which includes this amazing scene:

There’s also a new Star Trek with Patrick Stewart being developed.  OMIGOD

We also talk about other things.

 

Jingle Bells Song #26193

Running through the sand
In a one-manned scuba tank
Over the coral we go,
Laughing all the way;
Jellyfish they sting,
Making running hard
What fun it is to run and sting
In Spongebob land we go

Jingle Bells
Spongebob smells
Sandi drowned alive
Patrick Died and Squidward cried
And Gary saved the day, Meow!

A day or 2 ago
I though we’d hurt Spongebob
And soon we went to dive
To get that little sponge
He was in underwear
Misfortune seemed the plot
He ran from to Crusty Crab’s
We caught that little whore

Jingle Bells
Spongebob smells
Sandi drowned alive
Patrick Died and Squidward cried
And Gary saved the day,
And Gary Saved The Day! Meow!

 

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (PSP) Review

Developer: Raven Software | Publisher: Activision || Overall: 8.5/10

(This review is more just a compilation of my notes on the game as I never got around to making a full review about 10 years ago when I was playing it.)

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a hack n slash, beat-em-up action RPG.  In the same vein as X-Men Legends II for PSP. Plays pretty much the same except its full of ridiculous cameos and super heroes I don’t really care about too much.

There are diverse levels with unique bosses.  It is a lot more interesting than X-Men Legends II, but the graphics aren’t spectacular, it is about on par with it, even though it was a launch title.  Loading is bearable and infinitely more improved, but still room to do better.  Since its basically a port of a console game, it isn’t exactly optimized for the PSP to begin with.

It’ll hold over any marvel fan’s interest for at least a while since its shameless fan service allows you to play with a wide ranging amount of heroes and beat the crap out of all of the different supervillains.  Only on PSP, there are 4 additional heroes and a couple of bonus gameplay modes.  The additional heres are Ronin, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.  There is online stats tracking while you are playing.  PSP-specific community web site with leaderboards and other statistics to look at about how you play.

Story lacks any real substance as it seemingly borrows heavily on pre-gained knowledge about characters.  If you don’t know shit about the heroes, you’re just going to get tired of seeing yet another new idiot in spandex.  Th storyline is sort of interesting, though, and keeps the gameplay going.

You can play co-op through the whole story or a specific mission with a friend online or over ad hoc.  The menu takes way too long to load to make it worth turning off auto-character management.  There is good voice acting, and most characters are voiced.  There is a “quiz machine” where you can test your comic book knowledge.  There is also a training simulator that allows you to complete extra “comic book missions” to build up character’s levels and acquire a costume.

Throughout most of the game, you are just going to be pressing X over and over.  There’s a weird sound bug that occurs when saving, and for some reason it needs to save two different files.  Why couldn’t they just store it all in one?  Rare bugs can make the game crash or act weird.  It even froze my PSP.

 

Every Extend Extra (PSP) Review

Developer: Q Entertainment | Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment || Overall: 8.5/10

(This review is more just a compilation of my notes on the game as I never got around to making a full review 10 years ago when I was playing it.)

Every Extend Extra is a fleshed out remake of the freeware PC game.  It is more like a “musical shooter.”

The loading is fine, but only prominent waiting time is during the beginning of starting a new game mode.  Retries are thankfully almost instantaneous with no loading.  There are several gameplay modes:  Arcade (normal, go through a series of stages), Boss Attack (boss rush to take on one or all bosses you’ve beaten so far), Caravan (play through a single stage), Original (contains the Light and Heavy levels from the freeware version).  It is not very clear on how to unlock levels for the Caravan mode.  I beat Arcade mode but only three are availablee.  Also, I have no idea how to access the Omega and Alpha levels or bosses.  There is autosave.  VS Mode – 1 on 1 over Ad Hoc.  Game Sharing shares a demo of EEE, which also contains a Lumines II demo.  Training Mode gives you the basics on mechanics but does little to teach you about what the game is all about and how to unlock levels and do better.

To play, you explode your bomb to create as many chain reactions as possible.  You collect the green diamonds for points, and more points extend your “Stock” allowing you to continue playing.  Red diamonds, called Quickens, give you more speed to move your bombs around.  You can change your bomb for a large blast radius.  Mini-bosses come along and try to kill you.  Yellow diamonds add more time and appear after defeating a mini-boss.  Bosses appear when you have around a minute left on the timer.  Bosses require a series of chain attacks before ultimately needing a certain amount of hits to be defeated.

The game can be hard to excel at.  you can trudge through with low scores, but getting “A’s” would unlock more levels… I think.

Music is very nice, speeds up with more Quickens you have.  Menu screen is a little less than exciting, including its music.  Graphics are great colors and eye candy that show off the PSP’s screen.  A pretty short game compared to Q’s other puzzle game offerings.  It is still worth having.

 

Book of Cool Volume 1 (2006) UMD Review

Book of Cool Volume 1 (2006)

Production Companies: Spirit Entertainment

Amazon Info

This is something I have on my PSP, I got it for review, but was always unsure how to review it.  It is a series of videos that show you how to do tricks with a particular sport or item.

I made notes on each video and how interesting they were a long time ago, but never got around to making a legit review.

Streetball – 7/10

A little movie to introduce you to the sport/people.  The shutter speed to show slow motion shots results in poor lighting because they shoot in the same light as normal shots.  There are 14 tricks.  5 have still picture instructions, and four are in slow motion.  You can watch the slow motion parts infinitely by themselves.  While they show you how to do the tricks, it doesn’t seem very feasible to do it very well just based off their instructions.  Many tricks are explained well but you have to really be trying or have a passion for trying to learn these tricks.  Most tricks are not for a regular person to impress people with and you’ll have to be in a game or practice with a partner to know if you’re doing it right from their instructions.  There’s also some weird shit about a kitchen.

Football – 7/10

Freestyle football.  It isn’t shot in widescreen throughout and changes aspect ratio.  Movie consists of “Mr. Woo” smacking the ball around for a good 10+ minutes without letting it touch the ground.  Pretty impressive and interesting to watch.  Mr. Woo has an accent which might make it hard to understand.  They added subtitles as well.  There’s no uniformity for this video, as the change of location and camerawork aspect ratio can either annoy you or break up the monotony of seeing the same location.  These guys seemed to use autofocus, so the focus can go in and out as they zoom in.  Subtitles aren’t in American English.  It’s more like a “how it works” rather than”how to do it.”  Sometimes camera doesn’t get the full trick for you to see.  It gets boring after a while.  There are 15 tricks, 11 with stills, 10 in slow motion.

Razor Scooter – 8/10

6 tricks, 6 slow motion, 0 stills.  This proves you can make an extreme sport out of anything with wheels.  Good instructions, shows you how to do it and you see mostly everything you need to do it.

Footbag – 5/10

8 tricks, 4 slow motion, 3 still.  Same song as Razor Scooter is used.  Freestyle footbag champion????  😐  Looks like he’s dancing, hard to see the footbag since it’s dark.  It is pretty boring to watch in slow motion unless you’re really trying to learn the tricks.  The setting is nice, at least.  Another guy explains as the other dude kicks the bag around.  BORING!!!

Frisbee – 9/10

13 tricks, 8 slow motion, 11 stills.  Some of the most ridiculous things to do with a plastic disc is here.  Nice setting.  There are a lot of shots with the guy in a blue sky void, though.  Good ways to throw frisbees if you don’t know how to throw them.

Street Soccer – 6/10

7 tricks, 7 slow, 4 stills.  Pretty much the same as “Fooball” but they show you some other tricks.

Pen Spinning – 7/10

12 tricks, 11 slow, 4 still.  This is probably the least interesting thing ever.  Pen modifications??? Almost comical.  It is more accessible to do these tricks than others, but it is really boring to watch.

Golf – 5/10

6 tricks, 6 slow, 3 still.  If you ever wanted to do stupid things while golfing, you found your starting point.  The audio is messed up at times.

Rugby – 8/10

7 tricks, 7 slow, 6 still.  Nice to learn about a sport that isn’t very popular in America and how to play.  It is pretty short, and unfortunately not very educational either.  It is hard to see the moves that are done.

Cards and Magic – 8/10

8 tricks, 2 slow, 0 still.  It is interesting to see how the “magic” works.  Gets sort of boring.  They go more into things that do with cards rather than magic

Skate and Blade – 6/10

11 tricks, 7 slow, 11 still.  Skateboarding and rollerblading tricks.  Poor lighting during the high shutter speed shots/slow motion very grainy and dark.  It is subtitled.  Sound has wind noises in it during some parts.  It teaches you how some of this stuff works, but highly unlikely to learn just from this video.

Casino and Cards – 9/10

22 tricks, 10 slow, 17 still.  Interesting stuff about casino tricks and what they do with chips/cards during games.

 

Joke #26100

The budget of a local monastery was very tight, so the brothers decided to open a fish and chips stand to raise money.  One day, a man knocked on the door.  When one of the brothers answered the door, the man asked, “May I have just an order of fries?”

“Hold on a moment,” said the brother who opened the door.  “You want the chip monk.  I’m the fish friar.”