ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: HumaNature Studios || Overall: 9.0/10

ToeJam & Earl are back from the 90’s with ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove. I never played the original as a kid, but it was always something I had heard about, read about, and “wanted” to play. It wasn’t because anything about the game itself sounded good, it was just because there was a character named ToeJam, and that sounded funny.

Back in the Groove is literally a play-by-play remake of the original for modern platforms, with updated art, music, and gameplay. I’m not entirely sure of the angle here, but they have Macauly Culkin listed as an executive producer, and they make it seem like he was some sort of a consultant on the title. I guess it just comes across as “more 90’s” in the end for the marketing, though Culkin has been marketing himself significantly more on the internet recently, so it just feels like a part of that campaign instead.

Anyway, back to the game. It is really a lot of fun! The general feeling is like playing through an old kids animated TV show with all sorts of goofy cartoony power-ups, emphasis on junk food eating, crazy-looking funny enemies/allies, and a great soundtrack. The entire package is very satisfying.

The goal is to collect all of the ship parts that are missing through a myriad of levels while dodging enemies and other hazards. The game is sort of roguelike in a sense, but most of the power-ups are temporary in nature. Power-ups are found in wrapped boxes, also known as “presents,” which often have to be identified. If you want to gamble, you can open it without identifying and see what you get. Not every present is good, but even the good ones might not be needed at the time you use it, so they could be wasted. Opening presents nets you experience points which you use to level up your permanent stats. There are also presents that modify other presents, so planning out when you use them is very important to maximize the efficiency of buffs.

I wouldn’t say the game is very difficult, but it can be challenging if you run into a streak of bad luck. Things will chase you and hurt you, and you will often not have much to counter enemies other than running away. There are things to do to get rid of them, but again this relies on the luck aspect of the current run you’re on. There are nine different characters to play with that have their own unique buffs, so you can modify your game experience significantly depending on who you play with. There is also multiplayer, which allows for other people to hop into your games randomly or by invite. This kind of modifies the flow of the game, but there’s usually enough presents to go around regardless. You also have to wait for everyone to go into the elevator (the way you get to the next level) before it works.

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is an excellent remake, as it holds very true to the original; I can finally say I played ToeJam & Earl. I suppose you could say that was on my tertiary bucket list. Now I can die a little happier, as I sit here eating saltine crackers over a trash can because the crumbs get everywhere.

 

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!

 

JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword (PC) Review

Developer: NX Games | Publisher: Crescent Moon Games || Overall: 7.0/10

I want to like every game I play. I want to feel like I’m spending my time doing something worthwhile. While the greater argument of playing games being a waste of time is not exactly in play here, the point is I’m spending my time to play a game, and I want it to be good. I know not every game will be that way, but one can hope.

Anyway, JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword is one of those “Metroidvania” side scrollers. The hero, Jack, is out on a date with his girlfriend about to get his dick sucked off (not in the game), when some monster comes and abducts her. Then Jack finds a big sword that can talk for some reason, and then you go spelunking, unlocking new items and abilities to access areas you weren’t able to before. You beat bosses and collect shit, that’s basically the whole game.

Generally this is fine, but the game is pretty boring when you’re not fighting a boss, and when you’re fighting a boss it’s frustrating because you will have to die over and over to figure out how to beat it. I got to two different bosses and beat them, and loss interest afterwards. There isn’t much depth to the game nor is it very pleasurable to look at, despite the intention of looking like an “8-bit” game. It looks more like an early 90’s DOS game, which is fine. Everything is a bit “big” on an HD monitor, though, on purpose, so it feels very cramped and not much can be seen on screen, so you’ll just be winging it constantly as you explore.

The platforming and gameplay is basically standard, and there’s not much to pontificate about here. There’s only like one song and it loops endlessly, so it gets annoying. The sound effects match the art style of what they are going for. It also seems to be a pretty short game, which can be fine, but as you can tell it doesn’t have much of a hook going for it.

JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword is just your standard platformer. If you’re looking for one that is short and has no frills, this could be up your alley. Most games nowadays try to be overly complex, so I suppose there’s a bit of enjoyment to be had for playing an “old school” generic game that doesn’t try to make you addicted to its gameplay.

 

Evolution: The Video Game (PC) Review

Developer: North Star Digital Studios | Publisher: North Star Games || Overall: 7.5/10

Bucking the trend of “free to play collectible card games,” Evolution: The Video Game is a throwback to a simpler time of card games. Pitted against other players with the same cards and same luck of the draw as you, strategy becomes the name of the game and you’ll have to use the tools available to evolve your species into the dominant player on the board.

In an odd way, the title reminds me of diving into a cereal box and finding the new game you’ll play for the next two weeks. Though, it’s no Who Want’s To Be a Millionaire CD-ROM — it isn’t a title that invigorates the senses. While the art is good, there’s nothing really ever exciting happening on screen, and there’s definitely no Regis Philbin. I suppose this is to be expected since a title that has “The Video Game” in its actual name must have some sort of other prior adaptation to it. Originally a “The Board Game,” which I’ve never heard of before playing The Video Game, “The Board Game” seems to be popular enough to have a digital version. “The Board Game” seems to be one of those convoluted-to-set-up and convoluted-to-play games that you’ll only want to pull out once a year since it takes so damn long to take it all out of the box and put it away. So, in that sense, The Video Game is a lot more appealing for casual or quick play. Granted, it’s not as useful for Nerd Board Game Night, though.

The actual goal of the game itself is to earn as many points as you can in five rounds. Cards that are drawn can be used for multiple things, such as food in the waterhole, adding population, adding body size, or using the text on the card itself to “evolve” your species into a more formidable point-gatherer. In the end, all of the above uses serve the main goal of “earning points.” There’s several layers of strategy that can be mentioned, but there are nearly six tutorial levels to explain how it all works — it isn’t really worth getting into the weeds here. Generally, there is plenty of strategy to be had and you’ll have to be quite knowledgeable in how everything interacts with each other to excel. There is definitely a lot of thought put into the design of it all.

There are a couple of ways to play the game, either with AI or Online. To reserve your username, you’ll have to register for a North Star account rather than just using your Steam account, but you can bypass the requirement. I used “davepoobond” the first couple days I was playing, but was all of a sudden re-assigned the user name “CarniMan43.” Seems that the game bugged or something and I was unable to use my name anymore. But it could also have been because it has “poo” in it and flagged some sort of profanity filter… but who really knows. There’s also not much to note when it comes to the music, and the interesting art is mostly replications of “The Board Game’s” art.

If this sort of game is something you enjoy playing, I can see that value being there, especially at the very modest price point of $14.99. “The Board Game” starts at $30-ish, plus all of the expansions that are released. I’m assuming they will also integrate the expansions into The Video Game, so that $14.99 works as an introductory price.

 

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

 

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.