Rehtona (PC) Review

Developer: Dot 4 Joy | Publisher: Joyient || Overall: 8.5/10

Occasionally, I have to capitulate that a game is too smart for me. Rehtona is one of those games that has crushed my intellect and made my brain hurt. I guess I’m just not smart enough to solve these wonderfully-designed box puzzles. Don’t let the cutesy, ultra-detailed, anime-style pixel art give you the wrong impression — it is basically as tough as it gets.

As you progress through the Tutorial levels, you’ll be introduced to the basic mechanics of the game. You push boxes into certain places, grab a key, and then enter the “alternate reality” of the level. You only ever see half of the puzzle at one time, so you’ll have to plan ahead to complete the puzzle backwards with a new layout. In the “light world” certain blocks will be activated/deactivated, with the same going for the “dark world.” This forces you to be dynamic with your puzzle-solving skills, because what you might think is the right way initially could end up being the wrong way. The way the levels are laid out there could even be different ways to solve the puzzle. A very convenient quality of life addition is the ability to quickly restart the level or “rewind” your last actions in case you messed up — both by simply pressing a button instead of menu-hunting. By far, the strongest aspect of Rehtona is its puzzle design, with it being difficult enough to make you constantly think “outside” of the box. New mechanics are also introduced as you progress.

The story is pretty intriguing for this genre, though it is light on the details. Rehtona is the titular character (which is backwards for “Another”) who has very strong hair-arm-tentacle-things. She has arms like a normal human, but her long, strong, hair does all of the work of pushing boxes and the like. One day she is going into town for a festival or something, and then all of a sudden everything gets swallowed up into an alternate reality. It’s up to her to figure out why it’s happening, and to do that she has to solve these box puzzles that I guess someone left laying around.

The game is segmented into five different areas, each with a “picture puzzle” to complete. You ultimately collect a piece of this picture puzzle before continuing to the next level. Between each set of levels, an additional story interlude plays and you learn more about what’s going on. It is all fairly mysterious and compliments the ultra-detailed art style quite well. There are 32 levels in all.

The only bad thing about the game is the sound effects and music. The sound effects feel like they are much louder than they should be, but there is no volume slider specifically for them. They can either be on or off, so off they go. The music is also repetitive and feels like it is only one song over and over. So, that went off too and I started listening to early 2000’s Eurodance instead. I was constantly sitting and just starting at the puzzles, not able to solve them, so you need something to keep you going. Also, playing this at 10 PM at night after a long day at work is probably not the best idea. The few times I tried doing that, I think my brain short-circuited and shut off as I would just fall asleep from all of my brain power being used up.

If you’re looking for a challenge and a game that proves its value, Rehtona is a good choice for a few hours. I got to the third area and was already at 4 hours played; there is probably a good 10+ hours of game time here and the puzzles, I’m sure, only get harder as you go along. Rehtona is available on Steam now.

 

Tsioque (PC) Review

Developer: OhNoo Studio / Smile Studios | Publisher: OhNoo Studio || Overall: 9.0/10

Tsioque is a quick point-and-click adventure game with beautiful 2D art, fun puzzles, and interesting mini-games. Often, point-and-clicks emphasize on having many clickable items, but Tsioque emphasizes the presentation and mystery being presented by the narrative instead. The name “Tsioque” is pronounced like “Chalk” — not “see-O-Q” like I keep reading it as.

In many ways, Tsioque bears resemblance to the themes of the Bear With Me games, except it is done almost perfectly. The theme is set in a fairy tale castle and the overall story leads you to think there is more than what it seems. An evil wizard has taken over the castle as the Queen, Tsioque’s mother, has gone off to fight a battle against a Phoenix with her army. The entire time the wizard is trying to develop his evil plot but constantly keeps getting disrupted by the noise Tsioque makes. Despite the ending being a bit self-serving, it ended up being satisfying; which can’t be said about Bear With Me‘s ending.

The art is far and away the most enjoyable thing about the game. It feels like you are playing through an animated movie, though there’s very little dialogue. There’s also plenty of humor to keep the game entertaining. The wizard’s goblin-like underlings are also full of personality with their animation and are very entertaining to interact with. Eventually, you’ll find and free allies that will lead you on the path to the final encounter of the game. There are also a variety of different puzzles and action sequences, so nothing feels re-used or “lazy.”

There are quick reflexes demanded at times where timing is an issue. You’ll see something happen and immediately will have to fish into your inventory to get the correct item before you have to retry the sequence. The game is very forgiving in this regard and you’ll often be reset to just before this event so that you can figure out what you did wrong. Depending on the mini-game, you can also skip it if you just aren’t “getting” it, but the skippable ones are few in number.

The music wasn’t especially noticeable and was more ambient. The sound design emphasized the sound effects more as a result of the music being less “up front.” There is a narrator who reads story book portions, and some voice acting for the incidental characters occurs, but little in the way of dialogue. The goblins are a lot of fun to listen to and even though they’re saying something in English, they say it so fast or distorted it doesn’t sound like it at first.

There’s really not a whole lot to say that is bad. I really enjoyed this title, and clocked in around four hours of play time. A title like this is essentially a one-day affair and breaks up what you may be otherwise playing more seriously. At a current price of $14, it might sound steep, but the production quality is well worth the cost

 

Squacklecast Episode 38 – “Your 2019 Survival Guide”

This entry is part 38 of 38 in the series The Squacklecast

Welcome to the Squacklecast Quarterly, a pish posh upper scale podcast. You have your daily podcasts, your weekly podcasts, etc. Well, we are apparently some sort of “quarterly” podcast.

We talk about the government shutdown, Metal Gear Solid, and what we talked about the last podcast. A general discussion about Aquaman, Justice League, Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, etc.

New movies vs. old movies discussion talking about how movies are structured nowadays.

We had some sort of technical issue and Skype closed, losing about 10 minutes of conversation, but it wasn’t important anyway. We then started to talk about cereal. Orange juice with pulp as a hipster beverage. This part of the conversation lasts way longer than it should have.

See you next year!

 

Storm Boy (PC) Review

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

Storm Boy, a story I have never heard of, written by Australian author Colin Thiele, who I also have never heard of, has several adaptations, which I have not heard of either… until a Google search today. It’s not really possible to review this in the traditional sense of it being a game, since it is basically a re-telling of a children’s story. Just know there is copious amounts of death and sex. Well, not really. But… it is implied! Heheheheheheheheeeeee….

Simply put, there’s not really much to do here. I could shit on the story, which I will sort of, but it’s kind of low-hanging fruit. My thoughts are sort of along the lines of “why is this a thing?” It is obvious that the developers have some sort of connection with this story, and is probably something commonly encountered in Australian media. The game is designed for children, around 6 or 7 years old, but they’d have to be mature enough to be okay with a Pelican being shot dead in front of their face.

Throughout, there are a number of simple activities that you probably won’t spend more than five minutes on each. There is one activity in which you collect up to 100 shells (if you’re a mad man like me), and that’s about the longest you can spend on any one thing. The art and music is very well done, considering what is trying to be accomplished here. With only at most 45 minutes of time spent on this title it seems like a lot of effort for something so short.

The story is generally about a boy, named Storm Boy, who lives with his dad “Hide-Away Tom” on a remote island. After his wife died, Hide-Away decided to live on a remote beach away from society. They are also friends with an Aboriginal named Fingerbone Bill. Despite the cool-sounding name he doesn’t do shit. And Hide-Away Tom is an asshole, because he doesn’t give his son an actual name. Applying to colleges must be a pain in the ass.

Storm Boy finds three baby pelicans on the beach one day, with the third being in bad shape. He nurses them all back to health, then his dad, being the anti-social asshole he is, makes his son send them away. But Mr. Percival (the one who was the most sickly) comes back and Storm Boy becomes best friends with him. As the story progresses, Mr. Percival is shot while trying to save ducks from hunters. The story is essentially about life and death, but I was left scratching my head wondering why half of the things in the story even happened.

I’m sure there are fans of the original story and there is more to the book than what is presented in the game, but I kind of don’t see the point of this being made other than as a passion project. It isn’t particularly fun, and there isn’t anything that lets you learn “extra details” about the story if you were so inclined. It could be a good way to “present” this story to a young child without forcing them to read 94 pages.

I suppose I’ll always wonder what happened to the other two pelicans, and why they didn’t give a shit about Storm Boy.

 

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!

 

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.