Destination Primus Vita – Episode 1: Austin

Developer: Epsilon Games | Publisher: Green Man Gaming Publishing || Overall: 8.5/10

Destination Primus Vita – Episode 1: Austin is one of those games you’ll always have to copy and paste their full name because it’s too long.  When you have to have a dash AND a colon, you know you’re in for a “trip.”  Destination Primus Vita aims to be an episodic series of introspective analyses of characters who are off to fight the good fight against water-stealing rock aliens.  But enough about those aliens.  The real point of the game, at least with this episode, is the surrealistic simulation that our first character Austin is put through during cryosleep on a 4 year space trip.

While there are puzzles and exploration involved throughout, some fairly complex and unique, the main focus is obviously on the story.  The story is actually written pretty well, to my surprise, and is leagues ahead of the game I reviewed earlier this year, called The Station.  I was fully expecting it to go full ham or make some stupid political point, but it ended up just being a nice story wrapped in a science fiction foil.  The characters we were introduced to were all unique and also written very well.

At times, the puzzles were actually pretty complex and really made you sit and think about how to complete them.  There is also a nice variety of the type of tasks you have to do, even with some being timed.  As you complete certain rooms, you are introduced to memories in Austin’s past.  This changes the pace of the game as you take “breaks” from the main task at hand of researching armor to fight the “Shattered.”  During these interludes you’ll have to “make sense” of the memory by discovering details.  Some details do not appear until others are found, which can make these parts feel a little more linear.

Dialogue choices occasionally come up when conversing with other characters, prompting you to choose the correct ones to “progress” Austin with her relationships with them.  There doesn’t seem to be a payoff for getting these answers correct other than hearing what they say.  There might be some sort of point to this system once more episodes are released, but sometimes these things don’t come to pass with episodic games…

The puzzles usually require you to collect a set of clues to help you complete them.  There is always an exploration area that allows you to roam around, find clues, interact with the other characters, and find “mementos” that give information about the lore of the game, which is quite developed.  The developers took the time and care to create an interesting story and think through the aspects of how the events that occurred affected human civilization.   The only laughable thing is that despite rock monsters stealing practically all of the water from Earth, 400 years later the humans are still trying to find them and take back their water… without much of a plan.  It sort of doesn’t make much sense as they’ve been able to survive 400 years, have intergalactic space travel, and probably could just get water from comets or create it by collecting hydrogen and oxygen.  There’s a lot of those chemicals in the universe, by the way.  So it does seem a bit petty so long afterwards to go after the aliens “for the water,” when the goal of hunting down the Shattered should have been a bit more grander than that.  But, I digress.

The art, voice acting, and sound design really compliments everything else that’s going on.  The surreal mind program simulation thing ends up being a really unique storytelling device and a good excuse to just put whatever the fuck they want into the game.  The functional purpose of having Austin experience this simulation slowly reveals itself; it certainly didn’t make sense why they were doing it at the beginning of the story.  Many of the rooms started to utilize 3D space in such a way that walls became the floor and the ceiling would eventually be where the next section of the level was.  I was starting to get a headache with all of the angle turning, which doesn’t usually happen, but if you get motion sickness it can potentially be unpleasant.  As an aside, Austin’s voice actor reminded me of Claudia Christian from Babylon 5, which I am currently trying to get through.

Despite some of the misgivings about where the story may eventually lead, I did enjoy this title quite a bit for what it was.  It was a quick play of about three hours, but your mileage will vary.  It could probably be done in two hours.  I’m really looking forward to what’s coming next and hopefully the writers don’t get lazy along the way, otherwise it’ll be yet another episodic series that should never have been episodic.

 

My Brother Rabbit (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Artifex Mundi || Overall: 8.0/10

My Brother Rabbit is a pretty standard point-and-click Hidden Object game with fun puzzles that have some challenging aspects.  The one thing that is far and away the best part about this title is its imaginative, hand-drawn style of art.  The lack of any dialogue throughout gives you a lot to play out in your head, but the “show don’t tell” aspect of the game is executed well, so you don’t misunderstand what is going on in the story.

While My Brother Rabbit feels and plays like a game for kids, the subject matter of the story isn’t made for them.  I wouldn’t recommend this game for kids under the age of 6 or 7, since some of the imagery is a bit on the surrealistic side with eyeballs and other less-than-friendly looking things. The story is about the Rabbit helping his friend, a flower lady, from the sickness she has by venturing through five different areas which have quite a bit of variety to them.  The “real-life” metaphor that plays out in cutscenes, is about a little girl who is struck by some sickness and the whole time you think she’s going to die due to said unknown sickness.

The game is mostly a treasure hunt; the scenes are packed with multiple collection items that are collected at different steps of the story.  For example, you may see some pearls that are clickable at the moment, but you won’t be able to start that collection quest until you complete another three collection quests.  This gives you a “new” reason to head back into the different scenes and look at them in ways you possibly hadn’t previously.  Most of the collection quests end in a light puzzle, which are variations of common puzzles you may have seen in other games.  I did get stumped a couple of times throughout the game and would usually have to quit and come back a couple days later.  Doing so usually allowed me to finish the puzzles in a way I hadn’t thought about before.

Spending about three hours on this game, it is definitely worth playing if you enjoy this genre.  While it isn’t as “exciting” as other Hidden Object games, such as a HOPA named Adam Wolfe it was still quite a bit of fun.  There are missable achievements as well, so the replayability, while limited, can be there for achievement hunters.

 

ZIQ (PC) Review

Developer: Midnight Sea Studios | Publisher: 3D Realms || Overall: 6.0/10

From 2 guys named Josh and one guy named Joshua, comes ZIQ, the runniest arcade runner you’ve yet to play.  Featuring a snarky, talking… thing, you are his experiment, supposedly named ZIQ, and you run, jump and die hundreds of times getting through a game that feels like it was made for a phone.  The whole point is to rank on leaderboards, I guess, cause there’s not much else to do other than master the challenge put forth.

The idea behind ZIQ is that you get through a certain set of obstacles while changing polarity, between blue and orange, and collecting the correct sequence of colored orbs.  All of the orbs become the color of your polarity, so you are “in control” as far as that goes.  Along with that, you move left, center, right, jump, and perform all of the combinations of those actions you can think of as you progress through the stages.  The pace of the game doesn’t break until you die, at which point you reset the current stage you are in (there seems to be some sort of checkpoints involved, though) and try not to die again.  The stages also seem to be randomized so you’re not progressing through anything that is “designed,” preventing any memorization from occurring.

In one run you have three lives, and your ultimate goal is to score as much as possible.  The speed of the game is actually quite fast so you’ll have to think pretty quick.  After a few tries, I was getting the hang of it and my points began to progressively get higher.  With less than 100 people on the leaderboards, you can get pretty high on the list with minimal effort.

The music is fine, but it feels like there’s only one, maybe two songs that keep playing so it gets pretty redundant.  The voice actor of the guy who keeps saying snarky things every time you die is fine, but there also doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of variety in what he says.  The theme doesn’t change, but new elements pop up every now and then that you didn’t see before, so you’re able to focus more on the puzzle aspects of the running than needing to appreciate a range of locales you may run past.

So, is it fun?  Sure, I had fun for a little bit once I got the hang of it, but there’s literally nothing else to do or work towards in this game.  You’re not unlocking any cosmetics or new areas or new game modes or anything.  The game reminds me of a less fun version of Audiosurf, which creates levels out of music you load into it, and I played enough of that.

 

Deiland (PC) Review

Developer: Chibig | Publisher: 101XP || Overall: 9.0/10

Deiland is a fantastic game.  Think 3D Harvest Moon in space, or a more timely analogy, Stardew Valley in space.  Though, not as complex or farm-focused as these titles, Deiland takes a more streamlined and narrative approach to the farming sandbox genre.  An extremely charming and interesting game unfolds as you perform your typical farming/crafting tasks.

The basics of the game are pretty easy to grasp.  You have three plots of land to plant food.  You plant trees to cut them down and gather wood.  You hit rocks and get stones.  You use these resources to build.  Where it gets interesting is that there is actually not that much to worry about when it comes to how to build your farm, or what things to plant, or where to put things.  You can certainly pay attention to those things, but the way the game treats them is much more in the guise of “accomplish these quests/tasks” rather than the “customize it and make it look good” thing that most titles in this genre emphasize.

There is a greater sense of purpose in doing the “normal sandbox tasks” that you see yourself doing.  You’ll meet around ten different visitors/friends to do quests for, making you figure out how to use the tools you have been given in pursuit of completing them.  Nearly every quest teaches you a new item to craft, and as you gather more materials, you’ll learn more about the visitors themselves.  Since they actually “visit” your planet at random times, they can also overlap, which allows them to interact with one another; this gives the little planet of Deiland a much more communal feel to it.  You’ll also visit a couple of different locations off the planet, such as another planet called Ankora, so it gives the game a bigger feeling; though you’ll feel homesick for the quaint life of farming carrots in short order.

By far the most unique aspect is the planet of Deiland itself.  Your entire planet is your “farm.”  The planet is also very small and you can run around it in less than a minute.  You have all of your normal sandbox features, such as a mine, plots of land to plant food in, and a lake to fish in.  There’s plenty of empty space to plant as many trees/bushes as you like.  Your house is upgraded to include more types of items to craft, along with upgrading your tools.  All of the upgrading and new crafting items occur through the story, so as you progress through quests, your planet will develop further.  Meteorites will hit the planet as well, creating a mini-game where you have to rotate your planet so that the meteorites don’t hit anything valuable, or they will get destroyed.  When it rains you can also rotate your planet or the clouds themselves over your plants to make them produce faster.

A much appreciated quality of life inclusion is contextual actions.  For example, if you go over to a tree, you will immediately use your axe to cut it; same with stones, you will immediately use your hammer to hit them.  There is much less fumbling around with selecting tools than in Stardew Valley, and for this reason alone I generally enjoy playing Deiland more, which is a pretty big compliment.  Why this wasn’t an obvious design choice in other games, I can’t answer, but I really do like it.

While most of the quests can be completed by creating something on your farm, you can also buy your way through many of the quests by trading with the different visitors.  Each visitor will buy particular things at a higher price, so it is good to wait to sell certain things until you visit a particular character.  The characters themselves are all interesting in their own way, and about half of them don’t actually have models — they are just character art hiding inside of their spaceship or a building.  This isn’t a big deal for me, but it would have been nice to see all of them have their own models and give more personality to the characters you befriend.

The mystery of the player’s character, Arco, is slowly unfurled as you progress through the storyline.  You find several pages of the Prince’s “story” which alludes to the main villain. The story is a bit dark, with an unknown entity communicating to Arco through his dreams, saying creepy things.  You also learn about previous “Princes” and the fact that your best friend, Mun, may have ulterior motives.  It took about 10 hours for me to complete the main story, but unfortunately the ending is a bit sudden and you don’t expect it to be the end.  Supposedly, there is free DLC planned for December, which gives at least some hope that the story is planned on being concluded in a satisfying way.

As far as the bad things about the game, there isn’t too many, but there is some obviously underdeveloped aspects.  It would have been nice to have a couple more buildings to build on your planet.  After upgrading your house and building the barn there isn’t very much to invest your most common resources, Wood and Stone, into.  The fighting system is also pretty barebones, as your character basically only has one attack animation.  Having to kill enemies feels more like a chore than something fun.  Additionally, a few substantial ability unlocks occur at the end of the game, at which point you’re pretty much done playing, so new magic spells, for instance, have very low use.  For some reason you’re also not allowed to even use magic in the “boss stage” which doesn’t make much sense.  If you aren’t going to use it then, when would you want to use it?  Not that this is required, but there isn’t any sort of “endless dungeon” or meaningful combat progression system, so there’s not as much emphasis on the combat aspects despite being something you have to do a lot.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the game’s story conclude with whatever free DLC is being planned.  While I’m not a fan of releasing unfinished games, Deiland is far from being unfinished — there’s plenty to do and I had a lot of fun for the time I put into it.  It would have been nice to at least know that something more was coming immediately rather than having to research online about it.

Deiland is can be purchased on Steam.

 

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.

 

Quote #26042

For context of this quote, this dating profile has about ten pictures of a girl in her progression from going “fit to fat.”

“Im currently taking part in a paid study for a company based in the United States. they’re testing a new food additive that creates addiction in whatever its placed in. they ship me specially made food with this additive and im supposed to eat it whenever I crave it and until im satisfied. So safe to say ive put on a few since I started 😛 I know its odd so if you wanna know more just ask!

– excerpt from a girl’s dating profile

 

Joke #26040: Royal Job Interview

Two blokes living in the Australian outback saw a couple of jobs advertised by the Queen of England. She was looking for footmen, to walk beside her carriage.

They applied and were very happy to be flown to London for an interview with Her Majesty.

She says to them: “Because my footmen must wear long white stockings, I must see your ankles to be sure they are not swollen or misshapen.”

After they show her their ankles, the Queen says: “It is also important that you don’t have knobby knees, so I need to see your knees too.”

Once she has seen their knees, she says: “Now everything appears to be in shape, so I just need to see your testimonials.”

Nine years later, when the pair are finally released from prison, one of the blokes says to the other:

”I reckon, if we just had a bit more education we would have got that job!”

 

City of the Shroud (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Abyssal Arts Ltd || Overall: 5.5/10

When I think of City of the Shroud, I think two words: boring and frustrating.  City of the Shroud gets just a smidgen above “playable” since it tries a couple of new things.  Though these “new things” are executed poorly, there’s a layer of uniqueness underneath that feels like it should have been something better than it is.  Essentially, City of the Shroud feels like two different games mashed into one, and neither part is necessarily fun, and in fact are quite frustrating.

City of the Shroud touts itself as having a real-time, combo-based battle system.  My big problem with the gameplay is exactly that.  What City of Shroud actually is, is your typical turn-based strategy game, except it all progresses in real-time, so it’s all just a giant mess of things happening at once.  The combo-based wheel control system takes up half of the screen, so you can’t see anything, and it is also clumsy to use.  Perhaps this feeling may change later in the game (if your interest holds), but the inputs take way too long for the pace of which the battle is going. There aren’t any special abilities outside of what is being commanded on the wheel, so as long as you are setting up the combos on the nearest enemy, you’re doing what you need to do.  The combos are class-specific and deal a lot of damage, so they are mandatory to use since everyone’s HP values are very high.

Once you are actually past the tutorial levels (which takes about 1.5 hours for some reason) your first legit battle is just a bunch of your characters standing around while you are fiddling with the combo wheel for one of your characters.  The fighting itself is not very satisfying at all, so it doesn’t really motivate you to keep fiddling around with the big stupid wheel that covers half of the screen to see less-than-exciting combat.  This is the default, normal game mode, and there are ways to modify the speed/difficulty of gameplay, but the enterprise is largely the same despite that.  There’s also a multiplayer Vs. mode, but on account that the battle system is no fun, I’m not sure why anyone would want to use it.  There is matchmaking at least, so you don’t have to rely on a friend being on to play.

If you can deal with the combat system, there’s also another big issue.  Enemy variety.  There are a set number of classes and that’s it.  There aren’t even technically enemies, as you are just fighting pallet-swapped versions of the same classes.  The player character is some poor farmer dude in a cloak, but then he is represented by a generic “warrior” class sprite, which looks nothing like the character, or even the picture they use in the dialogue screens.  The reason why it’s like this becomes obvious; at a later point they let you change your main character’s class to any of the other classes, and thus their models.  There are also monsters invading from another dimension, but, again, they are just pallet-swapped versions of the same models we’ve seen, so why are people scared of these “monsters” exactly?  Not really sure.  Eventually, you are able to assemble a four-person team of additional generic characters, and all of them are nothing more than stand-ins to fill out your team.  They have customization options, at least.

The story premise at its core has an interesting set up, as there is a city that people are not allowed to leave once they are in it.  Reason being, the aforementioned monsters are coming through portals and killing/abducting people.  So, what you do is run around town doing menial tasks and meeting poor/rich people, learn about the politics, and eventually figure out which faction you want to become allies with.  The battles that occur in the storyline sort of “interrupt” the story in not-so-exciting ways, like “HEY THERE’S A PORTAL RIGHT NOW OMIGOD GO BATTLE IT” in the middle of a conversation about decorative jewelry for a hat.  This happens a lot, so it feels very lazy.

Anyhow, there seems to be very little reason to actually want to do battle, since there is no leveling system per se. At the end of a battle, you have the possibility of getting gems for character progression.  One set of gems is for the “combos” so you can deal more damage in the battles that are no fun.  The other type of gems are for character stats, which are placed into sockets; there are only so many open sockets of each type, so some decision making seems to occur there.

Additionally, the story sort of doesn’t take itself seriously, with the main character and the main supporting character being goofballs, and everyone else being super serious.  There’s also a lot of politics involved, and they re-use the dialogue pictures for different characters, so it feels yet again like there’s some corners being cut in the presentation. The story will supposedly be influenced by what players do in the game, as far as who they align with and which faction pulls ahead by whatever metrics the developer has in mind.  They intend to craft the story around these decisions and release new story content in four chapters total.  There are a few decisions to make, but they aren’t complex by any means.

The different areas of the map are represented by a single picture and a box in the bottom right corner for whoever you need to talk to.  Eventually you get to a point in the story where they allow you to randomly battle in each of the areas you unlock.  There’s so much useless dialogue, I was getting fatigued trying to keep up with it all, and the story isn’t even that complex.  This is no Masquerada, where you are learning about the ins and outs of your player character and his interactions with others and society, and feeling like you are investing your time into learning about a well thought out universe.  In City of the Shroud, with all of the “extra” dialogue included, it is hard to know what specifically you should be focusing on and why.  Extra stuff needs to be left to optional quests or compendiums.

A quick note about the art style, it is actually interesting at times, such as a “priest” being represented by a machinist with a huge backpack full of spare parts in it.  I’m unsure where all of this imaginative visual storytelling went when it came to the dialogue.  The music is fine, but is repetitive, as it feels like there’s only a few songs and the tracks change depending on what area of the map you’re in.  You hop around a lot, so you’ll be familiar with all of the songs quickly.

While City of the Shroud has some interesting aspects, it is a complete let down in its execution.  I don’t often yell “I don’t want to play this anymore” out loud, but this is one of those times.  I think I’m more frustrated with what the game could have been if there was a better vision behind it.

 

Slam Land (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Bread Machine Games || Overall: 8.0/10

SLAAAAAAM LAND!! Amaze a giant blue man!!  Poetry comes in all shapes and sizes.  Wait, that doesn’t make any sense.  Poetry is words.  Ummmmmm… anyway.  Just keep saying “SLAAAAAAAM LAND!!!” over and over as you play this game and you’ll get the idea, maybe.  I don’t really know where I’m going with this.

Slam Land, also known as “SLAAAAAAM LAND!!” is basically an ultra-simplified Super Smash Brothers clone.  Your objective is to put things into a hole which, depending on the map, can look like a monster or an open tree stump, or a giant blue man’s face.  Depending on the game mode, the thing you are slamming into said hole will be other players, trash, horse heads, or a peanut.  Each of these different game modes slightly modifies the game formula to make the strategy a bit different.

In the normal mode where you slam other players, they’ll earn you points for each slam.  You’ll have to grab them however you can, and you’ll have a couple of seconds to point them in the direction of the whole to slam them in.  Trash mode is a bit more straightforward where there will be a lot of trash dropping throughout the level, and you’ll want to collect as many of the individual trash items as you can before slamming them.  Horse mode will spawn randomized horse heads with a particular letter in the word “Horse” and the first to complete the word wins; this mode may not always have a letter you need up so it is to your advantage to sabotage other players’ efforts until you can find one you need.  In Peanut mode, the peanut item will gain value the longer it is held by any player, so it is to your benefit to delay slamming it for as long as possible and prevent others from getting it from you.

And, that’s pretty much the game.  It is very simple — no “campaign” mode or unlocking things, or progression.  It is a party game that you’ll want to play with your friends as part of a large variety of other similarly-styled titles.  There are bots (with varying difficulties) to play with if you want to play alone and learn how the game functions, but it is definitely made to be played with three of your friends.  In general, I’d say the game is fun, but would only be so in small doses.  Playing for about an hour by myself, I was able to get a good grasp of just about everything the game offered, so I’d estimate it holding attention in a party for around that unless people really got into it for some reason.

The game’s art is unique, having the sort of ultra-detailed “Adventure Time-esque” style that is popular nowadays.  A few things look weird or don’t “make sense” on purpose to give more of a visual flavor.  The five different characters’ appearances can also be swapped to several different color palettes, so there’s plenty of variety to shift through and find something you like.  However, until you get used to the visual chaos of what is going on on the screen it can be very hard to figure out which one you are, and you’ll often lose tracking of your character.  Since characters basically blow up and respawn elsewhere on the map, it happens quite a bit, and is probably the only downfall of the game.  In other titles there might be some sort of text flying above the character (such as “1P,” “2P,” etc.) to help identify who is who, but I have no idea if that would help at all in this situation.

Generally I don’t try to knock against games that are purposefully simple.  Slam Land is probably a good title to have when going through a bunch of different party games.  It has a unique art style, simple-to-understand gameplay, and most importantly, pretty fun.

 

Graveball (PC) Review

Developer: Goin’ Yumbo Games | Publisher: 3D Realms || Overall: 3.0/10

Graveball is a perfect example of wasted efforts, and it makes me feel bad.  The game is no good, but maybe it could have been better if so much time wasn’t spent on a multiplayer mode no one would ever use.  It is also never a good sign when the freakin’ Tutorial is more fun than your actual game.

Graveball is basically an “alternative sports” game, where the goal is to put the Graveball in your opponent’s zone for more than two seconds.  There’s a smattering of influences from football, soccer, basketball, and hockey, I suppose.  There is also an “arena brawler” aspect where you kill your opponents and if you wipe out the team that’s also another way to score.  For some reason, there’s a loading screen after each score which destroys the continuity of gameplay.

There’s not much point in really trashing the game.  Simply put, it’s bad.  It looks ugly and plays like mashed potatoes.  I suppose it works when you play it, but the gameplay isn’t engaging and there’s only one game mode.  You can play with bots, and probably local multiplayer if you happen to be into BDSM and coax your gimp into playing it with you.

There’s an online multiplayer mode.  You can make custom games, or click “Quick Play” to get instantly matched up with people.  Actually, scratch that “instant” part.  My Quick Play timer is now at 15 minutes and it will never stop counting because nobody is playing this game.

There are customization options for your Goblin character, including masks, hair styles, weapons, and taunts.  You get 25 “Ball Bucks” for losing a game against bots, and 50 if you win.  The prices for new items are astronomical, considering the rate you earn this currency.  Additionally, if you want to unlock another style, it is randomly unlocked from the available list (you can’t even choose), so if you want that Evil Bunny mask you’re probably going to never get it if you don’t get lucky with the first couple “free” rolls you get with the starting balance and shortly before uninstalling.

I suppose the music is fine.

 

Dream Alone (PC) Review

Developer: WarSaw Games | Publisher: Fat Dog Games || Overall: 4.0/10

Note: This review was written before I went to get a sandwich.

Dream Alone is coined as an ultra difficult classic 2D platformer with a dark story.  While this is technically true, the difficulty doesn’t come from things being hard, it comes from being cheap.  Very cheap.  The kind of platformers that force you to die to figure out how to get through levels are the worst, and it becomes an exercise in patience more than anything else.  There’s nothing particularly difficult about what I played, it’s just annoying.

I try to give games a fair shake, but sometimes they’re just so bad, I don’t want to continue to torture myself.  I played the game for just under an hour, it wasn’t getting any better, so I stopped.  The real issue here isn’t necessarily the gameplay, or even the gothic art, which is kind of on the creepy/ugly side — I could deal with it.  The story was sort of nonsensical, but I didn’t really get very far to be able to judge it fairly.  The real issue this game has is the visual effect clutter — it is beyond bizarre.  Not only is the game very dark to begin with, using a black and white color scheme, the developers thought that it would also be a good idea to make the game look like it is from aged film stock off a projector, with a black frame blink every five seconds.  This is headache inducing, because it is hard to see what is going on; you have an overlay of a film grain/black lines, “projector” noise, and that fucking black frame blink that disorients your timing of jumps. This is supposed to be a video game in 2018, not a video game in 1910. I can’t tell what I’m looking at half of the time as a result, and often fell into a pit, or killed by something else, not being able to see it.  This forces you to actually memorize where things are rather than react to what you are seeing — this takes skill out of the equation completely, in my opinion.

The gameplay is technically pretty simple.  You jump, move stuff, jump some more, and also go into alternate realities to get past obstacles you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.  You get this alternate reality spell non-ceremoniously and this little manchild thing that you are controlling seems to master this ultradimensional ability with no issue.  He can also make clones of himself later (not that it makes much sense why) to be able to get past more complex puzzles/obstacles.  This is probably personal preference, but it would have been nice to have some sort of context for these strange abilities rather than just attaining them from a random potion bottle.  Otherwise, why not just have it from the beginning of the game?

When you die, there is a checkpoint system that is forgiving in that it doesn’t put you back to the beginning of the level.  The checkpoints seem to be right after harder obstacles, or just before a string of them.  I didn’t get too annoyed with having to repeat any particular puzzle after I had done it, but again, it was a lot of “learn from dying” which got stale real fast.  Dying 100 times in less than an hour of gameplay will do that.

There’s a few bugs in the game that are game breaking as well.  After the first level, another cut scene was supposed to play, but instead the game decided to crash in spectacular fashion, while it played the audio for the cutscene.  So that was a little creepy, I guess.  You can use a controller to play, but for some reason the menus don’t react to anything other than the analog stick, so to confirm anything you have to press the enter key on your keyboard — the “A” button doesn’t work.  Not sure what is up with that.  There was also a really annoying obstacle where if you fell into the swamp and were waiting to die, if the moving mountain thing touched you, you would be ejected out of the swamp.  You would then still be in the “dying animation” and can’t move, but since you don’t hit the bottom of the swamp, you don’t die.  So, you basically have to quit the game (can’t use the A button to select “Back to Main Menu”) and then start again from the beginning of the level.  This happened to me a few times and after the fifth or sixth time, I was done wasting my time.

To drill down more on the visual and audio aspects of the game, the art is technically satisfyingly creepy.  The little manchild that you control looks like a weird marionette with his big face and big eyes, and he jumps like one too.  The first level, which is a forest, is full of people lynched and/or impaled for some reason.  Don’t ask me why.  I guess it’s creepy looking, but you would think before whatever plague occurred, the people would be more concerned about the reason why everyone ended up in the forest like that.  Or at least clean it up!  Sheesh.  There also seemed to be enough nightmarish creatures running around that they’d eat the carcasses, but I guess they are too busy running around in predetermined paths that they don’t have time for that.  The music is pretty good and matches the atmosphere they are going for.  Sound effects are okay, but the grunts for the manchild sound like it is coming from a 30 year old person rather than a little boy, so I don’t know why they thought that was a good idea.  At least put some sort of filter on it to make the main character sound younger.

If you like difficult platformers, this could be a game for you.  However, I’d classify this as a game that wants to torture you for the sake of its artsy style.  Sadists who want to skip a meal at Subway to pay for 21 levels of misery need only be interested.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat a sandwich at Subway because I’m hungry.

 

City of Brass (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Uppercut Games || Overall: 8.5/10

Welcome to Brass City.  Please, take our shit.  We don’t need it anymore.  WE’RE ALL DEAD!  Actually, that poodle statue is mine — don’t touch it, you asshole!

City of Brass is a roguelike that puts you in the first person perspective of some dude who has found a long lost city, rumored to have riches beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  While slicing your way through cuddly and adorable undead skeletons, you’ll loot lots of what I guess is brass, and maybe some gold.  There must be some sort of recycling plant nearby that will buy your brass for top dollar.  Really, though, you don’t even want to keep the money you find.  You want to give it to genies who will give you equipment and blessings — thus the roguelike experience comes alive.

As you trek through Brass City, humming a parody version of Tyga’s Rack City (“BRASS CITY BITCH BRASS BRASS BRASS CITY BITCH”), you’ll use your trusty whip and sword to smack and cut down enemies that come before you.  The undead citizens of Brass City are protecting their chests full of riches, as well as statues of the phenomenally popular “man,” “horse,” “box,” and “ash tray.”  As the theme of the game is based on the “Arabian Nights,” you’ll see a lot of decorative items you notice from your local hookah bars, such as abandoned hookahs, heat lamps, and large plastic pots.  Other features from your local hookah bars that show up are trap doors, secret rooms, and large spike traps.

The maps are procedurally generated, so you’ll never see the same map more than once.  The procedural generation is pretty good in this instance and keeps the game relatively fresh despite replaying the early levels over and over, as what typically happens in a roguelike.  The whip is a very unique tool in this game, as it is used as a ranged weapon and grabs items from far away.  The whip can be used to stun, blind, disarm, or drag your enemies over traps.  There is also a mobility use, in which you can grab onto rings that are floating in the air, and move quickly across the room.  The whip is so much fun that I actually would have rather just used the whip the whole time instead of other melee weapons, but there are some cool melee weapons that do a variety of things.

As you progress through the game, you’ll notice it is segmented into different sub-themes within the city.  At first you’ll be in the Outskirts, make your way into the Marketplace, then you’ll be in the Garden, and so forth.  As you make your way into the center of the city, presumably where the biggest payload of recyclable brass will be (good thing you brought your friend’s pickup truck), you’ll see different enemies, different fauna, and different traps.  Every third level, there will be a boss character to defeat that will unlock the next level, adding a unique challenge to your progress.  To prepare, you’ll want to collect as many buffs as you can manage to afford by collecting items and opening chests for currency.  Once you eat the sand, you’ll start over again from scratch.

City of Brass is also pretty liberal in how it allows you to play the game.  There are a number of modifiers, called Burdens & Blessings, that can make the game either more difficult or easier.  There are specific things like, “more loot,” “more health,” “respawn enemies,” “more enemy health,” etc.  There are 8 Burdens and 8 Blessings, and some are unlocked through particular tasks done in-game.  There is also a daily challenge that has everyone playing on the same map and ranking on leaderboards.  You only have one attempt at the Daily Challenge, however.

The graphics and sound are pretty high quality, as well.  I wouldn’t say there’s anything that is particularly pretty, as you’ll see a lot of the same assets used over and over.  There’s probably an overuse of falling streams of sand coming off roofs, like there’s an infinite amount of sand on top of these buildings.  The art style definitely gives you the “Arabian Nights” feeling, down to the skeletons wearing fezzes and other obviously Middle Eastern clothing.  Some skeletons just run around naked and yell, which I guess is also a Middle Eastern thing?  The only downfall of the procedural generation in regards to how the art works, is that most of the rooms don’t feel like things that would have been designed for a practical use, so they retain a “fake” game design feel to them.  There probably isn’t a use for several warehouse-sized rooms in the middle of the city that are full of nothing but bookshelves.  This hardly takes anything away from the game proper, but sort of downgrades the idea that you are visiting an actual city.

City of Brass is pretty enjoyable if you get really into the weeds of learning every aspect of the gear you find.  While its not a particularly complex game on its surface, there is a lot of challenge to be had and having the inclination to learn the most efficient way of progressing through levels is a reward in itself.  Allowing for an experience that is custom to the player allows for a lot less frustration if you just want to have a nice time smacking skellies in the head, or if you find yourself wanting a bit more of a challenge, letting the skellies bonk you on the head instead.  Look for City of Brass on Steam, or perhaps your local Hookah bar.

 

Fox N Forests (PC) Review

Developer: Bonus Level Entertainment | Publisher: EuroVideo Medien || Overall: 8.0/10

In southern California, we experience something called “June Gloom.”  It is sort of a mid-season switch from the “Cold” (aka Less Hot) season into the Hot season, and basically everyday feels like my heart — cloudy, overcast, and named something stupid.  I would be hard-pressed to tell you what the “opposite” of June Gloom is, other than simply “a normal day.”  Why did I bother giving you this useless trivia since you’ll never be in southern California or my heart?  Fox N Forests, an otherwise typical platformer, takes the idea of “swapping seasons” to heart and creates a unique gameplay gimmick that feels like it was ripped out of the late 90’s to early 2000’s.

While it’s easy to assume the intended throwback of the title is to the Super Nintendo era, it feels more like a Game Boy Advance platformer, which was an extension of 16-bit games past the year 2000.  This is mostly due to the game feeling different than what you may normally get from the Super Nintendo in regards to level design, controls, as well as the ability to upgrade stats or unlock abilities.  There is also sarcastic dialogue that gives the game a feeling of being more “postmodern.”  The graphics are great, and pixel art is beautiful at times, but the resolution is purposely very low to emulate playing on a classic platform, which is not usually something I would be a fan of, but in this case it works.  The main gameplay hook is an interesting one — changing the season you are currently in so that it changes the terrain or adds elements to get you through obstacles.  This ability uses mana, and as there is a limited amount of it, this ability is on a timer essentially.   There are also mana crystals littered throughout levels, allowing you to replenish your mana bar quicker, or keep the season change in effect as long as your timing is right.  Logically, changing seasons is a curious mechanic, because it seems you are actually time traveling, yet all of the enemies are in the same place as you go back and forth through time.  Baby birds instantly turn into asshole crows that drop shit on you, fire tornadoes coming off burning windmills are replaced with angry lightning clouds, large leaves coming from space float down, etc etc.  It all sort of just doesn’t make sense in that context, but you roll with it as the game has a lot of fun with this mechanic in interesting ways.

As a platformer, the main thing you do is progress through a level by jumping and getting through obstacles.  The levels are purposely very long and can take upwards of 30 minutes or so to complete one run, including deaths.  While games in this genre usually have a high quantity of levels that take 5 to 10 minutes each to get through, Fox N Forests has a lot less individual levels and crams the already sprawling levels with secret paths and areas.  The gameplay never gets a break because they set you back to a checkpoint without restarting the level from a menu; this is a nice quality of life consideration, but the side effect is your Del Taco fries will go cold if you were planning on eating “after this level.”  The enemies add to the texture of a level, keeping it somewhat fresh depending on your problem-solving skills.  The enemy variety can also feel a bit lacking, with some enemies just getting a pallet swap or appearing over and over.

As you play an asshole fox named Rick, you’re promised something or other by a large tree-face-thing and an adversarial wise-cracking bird.  They want you to help save the forest from the “Fifth Season” by collecting Magic Bark from ridiculously large, equally assholish bosses — it’s basically something you’d expect in the genre to have to go and collect shit to save something you have no emotional attachment to.  The Magic Bark could very well be tree-face-thing’s shit for all you know.  The large tree-face-thing gives you a bow that has a bayonet on it, allowing you to only shoot straight. Sad!  All of the other directions can only use the bayonet, which has a very short range but is powerful.  Useful!  You eventually get magic arrows to change your firing pattern and along with your ability to change the seasons, you’re on your way to killing tons of evil forest creatures and stealing their money.  Additionally, there are also shoot-’em-up levels to break up the platforming; they feel out of place, honestly, but are still fun since they rely on the season-changing mechanic heavily.

A big “feature” of this game is the secrets.  Going back and playing levels to find all of the nooks and crannies in pursuit of obtaining collectibles is going to be the main time sink here.  The collectibles are actually pretty hard to find and there are only a few of them, so when you find one it is actually meaningful.  As all of the collectibles directly relate to upgrades or unlocking levels themselves, you’re definitely motivated to go back through them over and over.  Upgrades to health and mana are similar to what you could expect in a platformer.  Fox N Forests is also said to have “RPG elements,” but there’s no experience or progression necessarily, so you’d be hard-pressed to qualify any game system as an “RPG element.”  I would say the only “RPG element” is the fact you have to grind gold and replay levels over and over (SICK BURN!!!!!!).

Each level has 5 magic seeds and a couple of other collectible items, with four “seasons” containing 2 levels and 1 boss.  To enter a level for the “fifth season” you have to collect all of the seeds for a particular season, and then you get to enter the level.  Since the seeds are pain in the ass to find, I haven’t been able to get into one just yet, and I have no idea what to expect since it’s hard to imagine what a “fifth season” would be.  Boss levels are also unique challenges, but since their challenges haven’t been introduced at any point before you attempt the boss, you’ll always die on your first attempt.  An odd decision on the game developer’s part is that they add a “help” text box after you die to the boss, basically telling you exactly what to do to kill the boss the next time you attempt it.  There is no consequence to dying in the game, so you are allowed to attempt bosses as many times as you want.  This feels a bit fourth-wall breaking, and doesn’t really make much sense why they blatantly tell you how to beat a boss like this, considering there isn’t an arrow pointing you to all of the collectibles in a level.    Usually a boss is supposed to utilize at least some sort of skill you learn beforehand in a more advanced way, rather than being completely independent of what you had previously seen.  Otherwise, the bosses can be a fun challenge.

Fox N Forests is a pretty enjoyable title, and with pretty graphics, responsive controls, and a simple upgrade system, you’ll find there to be a unique challenge with the large levels full of secrets.  Exploration is not typically something you see in platformers, so it feels like something different despite being an obvious throwback.  If you can somehow change the season to a Steam sale, consider this an option to spend your money on.

 

Last Encounter (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Exordium Games || Overall: 6.5/10

Last Encounter is a bit of a puzzling game for me.  The gameplay itself is fine, but the game is a chore.  You’ve got a space-themed twin-stick shootery game wrapped in a roguelite progression system, but the progression is so metered, it’s as if there isn’t any at all.  What it comes down to, is that being stingy in a roguelite just does not work.  Upgrades are few and far between, health drops are practically non-existent, and never mind the amount of enemies that want to blow your face off.

For a roguelite, there’s hardly any progression to be had and one of the major road blocks is that you research weapons you find by using Credits.  Credits are found only by killing stuff, and you lose half of it every time you die.  You can only research when you are back at the base, but you are unable to return to base until you die; this makes it hard to research or buy any weapons at the home base for a better run.  Credits can also be used to purchase weapons in a level where there’s a shop, so there’s probably going to be even less of it by the time you’re back at the base — if you even get the opportunity to spend it.

The one very positive and unique feature this game has is the weapon system.  You have three weapon slots, one being the base weapon, and the other two being modifiers.  The modifiers can change the way your base weapon behaves, either increasing its strength, changing its firing pattern, or making it fire faster.  The different weapon changes are actually pretty fun, but unfortunately there isn’t enough of these drops occurring to keep the cadence of the game itself fun; they are also finite as you’ll use up an energy allotment unless they are a yellow-colored upgrade.  There is also a lack of information regarding if you’ll replace a slot already occupied by another weapon, so you may downgrade or get something you don’t particularly want because you haven’t exhausted your previous upgrade.  There are additional kinds of upgrades laying around the levels that will provide a small boost to your ship’s stats, but these stats are only permanent for the run, and will disappear once you die.  The boosts are practically inconsequential and don’t appear very often, so it feels like they should have just been permanent forever.

If you are somehow able to get through a set of levels, called a galaxy, you enter a new galaxy where the theme changes and enemies become different and more difficult.  The themes are actually quite nice and unique from each other, and since the challenge increases significantly from one galaxy to the next, you won’t have much time to enjoy any of it before you’re dead again.  The graphics and art are a real selling point here since it’s easy to say it all looks pretty high quality and not-so-generic for enemy designs.  The level layout and enemy count is all procedural, so you’ll never see the same level again per se.  Using a controller is unfortunately a pain, though.  I opted for keyboard/mouse and it was a much more pleasurable experience.

The story is sort of interesting, but there’s hardly any focus on it, and it gets cheapened by a wise-cracking scientist.  Earth is under attack by aliens and they’ve lost the war.  So it’s up to you to go through the portal as a last ditch effort to close it and go back in time or something — I don’t really remember since there’s hardly much story flying around.  While in-game, you try to find out what happened to the previous excursion of battleships into the portal only to find they’ve all been destroyed, and you try to track down any survivors.  So, it’s up to you and your dinky ship to destroy all of the alien ships that are doing nothing but waiting for you to come and blow them up.  Rinse and repeat until you’ve lost interest, and you’ve got Last Encounter.

While the game can be fun at times, overall it is pretty dull.  It seems like the game is pretty short insofar as how many levels there are to go through, so maybe that’s why the progression is so significantly metered and doesn’t really exist as part of the gameplay loop.  If there were more themes, and possibly even having randomized themes, it might be a bit more thrilling to restart the game over and over.  Local co-op might be a pretty fun excursion if you’re looking for something, but the visual clutter is already an issue as it is.