Jamestown+ (PC) Review

Developer: Final Form Games | Publisher: Batterystaple Games || Overall: 8.5/10

Overview:

Jamestown+ is the remastered release of 2011’s Jamestown with all of the content released as DLC included in a complete package. Additionally there are two new levels, new ships, and other general improvements to the game.

The idea of the game is to blow shit up with lasers and missiles and stuff. It is an arcade style “shmup” (shoot-em-up) reminiscent of the SNK boxes you’d see at the pizza parlors or other similar restaurants. The “games” section of those restaurants let the kids play while parents threw back another couple Bud Lights while griping about how stupid their kids are.

Anyway.

Graphics:

The graphics are great, as previously mentioned, it looks like an old arcade games from the 90’s. What is fascinating about the title though, is the theme. Imagine colonial Britain/imperialist Europe from the 1600’s and 1700’s. Then put them on Mars with space ships and lasers and shit. That’s basically what is happening and it is a glorious amount of WTF.

There are story interludes to world build, but most of it is essentially tongue-in-cheek nonsense. The Spanish conquistadors are generally the villains here, but throw in aliens and other-worldly fauna and you’ll get an idea of what else you’ll encounter.

Sound:

The sound is well designed and gets the right feeling in basically all aspects. The music accentuates the adrenaline and when a boss fight starts, the mood typically shifts to be more ominous, as it should.

Gameplay:

Jamestown+ prides itself on its difficulty and variety. Although there are only about 7 actual levels to play, there is a multitude of ways to play them. Difficulty ranges from “Easy” to “Legendary” and as you progress, you’ll have to beat previous levels on the higher difficulties to unlock more levels. There are also challenge levels that put you in a specifically designed scenario to beat. The nice thing is that even your failed attempts help you with unlocking new things, so nothing feels like a “waste of time.”

A major part of the variety is the amount of ships/weapons available. There are four different ships with four different loadouts, with one loadout being able to be customized in twelve additional ways. Each is progressively bought with gold unlocked in the store, but at a slow enough pace where you can try out each ship long enough to learn what you like and don’t like, or how it can be specifically useful. Some ships might feel redundant at times, but when playing with 4 players, the slight amount of overlap isn’t very important.

Crappiest Part:

The worst part of the game is definitely the grind. At a certain point you’ll stop playing new levels or new difficulties because you’ve hit your wall. I’m not very good at shmups in general, especially the bullet hell kinds. The lower difficulties are VERY lenient since the hitbox is pretty small, but when enemies get harder and more bullets are flying everywhere, I’m not really into it anymore. Since progression is tightly tied to difficulty, that’s also a drawback.

Conclusion:

Jamestown+ is a fun game for sure, and is definitely worth playing if you love those old arcade shmups. The bosses and levels are well designed, and the extras will keep you playing. Replaying levels isn’t even all that bad because the art is so interesting to look at, and the increasing difficulty will keep you challenged.

 

Nom Nom Apocalypse (PC) Review

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

Overview:

Nom Nom Apocalypse is a shooter roguelite. It tries to mimic some titles that came before it, such as Nuclear Throne, Enter the Gungeon, and others. However, unlike the superior examples in this genre, Nom Nom Apocalypse comes up a bit short in the excitement factor.

Graphics:

There are a lot of food-themed monsters and the art is actually pretty charming at times. The bosses are all very unique, like a stack of pancakes that shoots butter bombs, a bacon monster, and what I guess is a very mutated pile of mashed potatoes. There is a lot of imagination when it comes to the enemy design and most of the player characters give you a “50’s diner” feel, although there are things like a Sushi chef that feel more contemporary. The levels are nicely detailed and aren’t boring to look at.

Sound:

The sound is ok. The gun effects are nice, but the music is basically the same couple of tracks over and over as you’ll be hitting up the same levels over and over. The first level is always the same, but there seems to be some randomness in which order you progress from there.

Gameplay:

The goal is to get through five different areas for a complete run. You’ll find a multitude of diversely themed weapons along the way, many of which kind of do the same thing as each other or have no appreciably noticeable perk that affects your actual monster-killing. At times the fighting can get pretty hectic and you’ll need to use the terrain well enough to avoid damage.

The levels seem to be a combination of procedural and randomized. There are some rooms that look constructed and never change (such as boss rooms and vending machine rooms), but it feels like the other normal levels change the objects enough so it doesn’t often feel like you’ve seen that exact layout previously.

Crappiest Part:

The rooms are too big for what goes on in the game; they should have been reduced considerably. On top of that, most guns are too weak/take too many shots to kill enemies. If they tightened up these two mechanics in the game, it could have been less frustrating for me.

There will often be times where there is one enemy left and you can’t find them in the large room. It especially sucks when you have to run around for ten seconds AFTER you clear the room to get to the next room, and sometimes its hard to find the right way to go because the minimap is zoomed in and doesn’t show the whole room. The minimap isn’t as useful as it could be as a result.

Conclusion:

Nom Nom Apocalypse ends up being an okay game with great enemy design. The developers really took the food concept as far as it could go in many aspects, so props there. There’s also 4 player co-op available, which is a nice feature for when you’ve got your great-grandma, great-grandpa, and great-great-grandma over, because they love video games.

 

Riverbond (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Cococucumber || Overall: 5/10

Overview:

Riverbond is a hack and slash beat-em-up game for kids. It looks like Minecraft since it has the voxel art style, but that’s about all the similarity it has with that genre. You’ll be traversing through multiple levels completing a quest to get from one area to the next. It’s all very rote and despite looking pretty, a very trying task to keep interested in any of it.

Graphics:

Far and away the best part of the game. I love the look of it, the art is absolutely fantastic. I love the colors, the different stages, the different enemies — there’s nothing about this that looks bad at all.

Sound:

The sound is fine, and the music is pretty good. None of it is really amazing, though.

Gameplay:

What this amounts to is choosing a boss to fight on a selection screen, but before you get to that boss you have to get through like 3 or 4 other areas that have a quest you need to complete before getting into the next one and then eventually the boss level. The quests are pretty standard, such as collect, kill, or activate things. Nothing too special there. You basically have infinite lives, so you can just keep dying over and over to beat the level.

The gameplay is super simple. There is no overall progression, experience, gearing system, etc. The only thing to do is to beat levels faster with more points, sort of like an old sidescroller. This is probably fine for someone who is like 10 years old or something, but you’ll be pining for something more engaging than collecting skins after about 30 minutes. One of the bigger features of the game is the 4-player couch co-op, so it could definitely be a nice distraction for a 3rd grader’s birthday party I guess.

Crappiest Part:

Simply put, the game is boring. The quests are very simple, the quest givers talk about things you don’t care about, and there’s no interesting story or any progression to keep you going. I gave the game a real go several times and ended up putting about 4 hours in before never wanting to play again. You can’t say I didn’t give it a chance.

Conclusion:

In the end, the game is super casual and there’s a ton better games out there in this genre that are more worth your time. There’s a very specific audience for this game, and I ain’t it.

 

Infini (PC) Review

Developer: Barnaque | Publisher: Nakana.io || Overall: 8.5/10

Overview:

Infini is probably the strangest, most psychedelic puzzle game to ever be created. Let’s just say there’s a lot of weird shit that happens in here, folks. I really didn’t expect any of what I played and it kept getting weirder and… “better” as I went along. The puzzles are all competently designed, and feel like they’re from a different era; heck, a different universe even. Everything about it is a throwback to early 2000’s GameMaker games where its just one guy doing everything and somehow being able to put it all together.

The story is basically about a bunch of personified “Ideas” interacting with each other. Hope, the main character, is trying to escape Infinity and go back to Reality. All of it is very abstract and I don’t understand half of what anyone is saying or doing. As you get more clues of explanation, going back and watching the story scenes might help make more sense of it all. The game begins with a naked man skydiving out of a large rectangular prism with elephant legs, so it doesn’t pull any punches on what to expect. There are multiple references to something vaguely called “The Incident,” which brings an allure of mystery to the story.

Graphics:

The graphics/art are definitely a very distinctive aspect for this title. While not everything looks “appealing” to the eye, it is all essentially working together in such a way that makes it look like some sort of weird, animated experimental film. So much so, that if there were a movie with all of these elements in it, it would probably garner a much more invigorating response from myself since I’m infinitely (pun intended) more interested in the lore and story than the puzzles.

Sound:

Yet another aspect of the game that exceeds itself. The soundtrack is almost too good for this game — if it weren’t specifically made for it. Each level has its own mood and the music is unique and even shifts throughout the stages in each level. A lesser game would maybe have 5 or 6 songs total and re-use them regardless of what was going on in the story. Since you’ll be retrying stages over and over as you figure them out, the music is such an important part for keeping at it.

Gameplay:

At its basic level, the game is a puzzle game. Each level has about 10 or more stages. The puzzles themselves aren’t too crazy or ridiculous (other than the background art), but the mechanics you’ll use to solve the puzzles are varied and interesting. There are some similarities throughout the levels, but most have a unique challenge or aspect that keeps the gameplay fresh.

The general idea for the puzzles is that you are constantly falling and eventually want to get to a “ring” (or maybe it is a portal). How you get there is impacted by the layout of the barriers, and the mechanics introduced for that level. Mechanics range from multiple 2D planes, rotating, flying, falling slower, swimming, etc. One of the biggest constants will be using the borders of the screen to reach the other side of the screen, almost like a wormhole. When zooming is introduced, these borders change dramatically and you have more control over where you appear on the map. You’ll have to do some layman’s quantum mechanics to figure out how to get through some of the levels.

Eventually, you’ll also find special objects that open up new stages or unlock extras in a “bonus” type of area. You’ll collect letters from these special objects and read stuff in this bonus room, so it is an overarching goal to replay stages to find these objects if you didn’t get them the first time around. Luckily, you don’t need to play from start to finish to save your progress in this regard, you can just pick and choose the stage and quit after you complete the single stage.

Crappiest Part:

So, it’s hard to really shit on this game, but the crappiest part is definitely how if you get stuck on a level, there’s no way to look up a guide to get through it. It is a new game, but also, not many people are playing it. So, it can get frustrating if you are banging your head against a wall for 999,999,999 attempts. The game does open up a bit as you progress, so you don’t necessarily have to linearly complete each level, but it will be the main way to unlock shit. You’ll be able to quit and come back later, at least.

Conclusion:

No need to take drugs before you play — you’ll gain an effective high just from the sights and sounds. You’ll see some shit, and your brain will flip around in its skull with all of the space/time bending puzzles. A lot of it won’t make sense as you’re doing it, but you’ll somehow figure it out if you keep at it.

 

Killer Queen Black (PC) Review

Developer: Liquid Bit LLC / BumbleBear Games | Publisher: Liquid Bit LLC || Overall: 8.0/10

Overview:

Killer Queen Black is a competitive team vs team platformer with multiple paths to victory. Matches typically take about five minutes or so, but can get pretty intense. Since there are many ways to win, you have to keep your eye on very diverse things happening at any given time, which brings up a major strategic advantage for just being aware of what is happening.

The game more or less reminds me of the old Mario arcade game except much more complex. There’s matchmaking and plenty of different maps to play which keeps things fresh.

Graphics:

The graphics are very nice. The whole theme of anthropomorphic flying insects and hives and stuff is a pretty unique one. It is interesting how there are different ways to evolve the Worker characters, so you’re not exactly pigeon-holed into any one role unless you are the Queen, which primarily takes care of combat. Everything is pretty simple to understand from a visual aspect.

Sound:

The sound is well designed. There’s a metal/rock guitar riff that constantly plays whenever a match ends to amp up the energy.

Gameplay:

Three paths to victory are present. Military, Economic, and Snail. Military Victory occurs when you kill the opposing Queen three times. Economic Victory occurs when you collect enough berries (placed at different nodes on the map) and place them into your hive. Snail Victory occurs when you ride a slow snail to your team’s finish line. All of these objectives are occurring at the same time, and if you are focusing on an Economic Victory you may not be aware or have enough time to counteract a Snail/Military Victory.

Voice chat can be important to coordinate as well, but is probably not really needed unless you intend on using the ranking system.

Crappiest Part:

There’s not that much in the way of variety or progression once you get the idea of the game down. As a result you probably don’t want to play for more than thirty minutes at any given time. The ranking system is present, but its not like you’re unlocking cosmetics or leveling up or even getting anything for ranking up other than bragging rights. It seems like an odd game to want to get serious about, as a result.

Conclusion:

Killer Queen Black is a well-designed competitive team game with a unique theme. It isn’t a bad title to roll out if you’ve got a couple of friends over. However, I wouldn’t expect to get more than a couple of hours of game time in by yourself unless you really feel like making your mark on the community for some strange reason.

 

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!

 

Tiny Metal (PC) Review

Developer: AREA35 Inc | Publisher: Sony UNTIES || Overall: 7.5/10

Overview:

Tiny Metal is basically an Advance Wars clone. It is a simple, turn-based military strategy game where you see units take turns pummeling each other. The strategy required is not too advanced, but you do have to think about what you are doing otherwise you’ll see yourself retrying a level several times.

Graphics:

The graphics are pretty good, but the character dialogue screens are boring. The weapons have satisfying explosions and stuff.

Sound:

I’m not a big fan of the way the game sounds. The music is pretty repetitive and the sounds are satisfying but can get on your nerves. Unfortunately you sort of need to pay attention to the sound effects because you’ll be able to tell what kind of units are moving around in the fog of war. So don’t expect to be able to listen to Billie Eilish or Rody Ricch while playing your Japanese turn-based military strategy game.

Gameplay:

The gameplay is pretty standard for the genre. Each unit takes its turn but it boggles the mind why it takes like three clicks to keep a unit in the same spot and pass on moving. A unique part of the strategy is that you can actually combine multiple units’ attacks into one large string of attacks. Since every attack is met with a counterattack, you can actually prevent damage from being dealt by the enemy if you can defeat them in one swoop rather than three different individual attacks. You really have to plan ahead; the computer can also do the same to you.

There are 16 types of units to play with and they are all useful for their own purposes. You can also buy new units depending on how many cities and factories you currently occupy. Your enemy will also be rebuilding units, so each match can take upwards of an hour — at worst you have to retry from scratch. As the challenge gets more complex, your strategy will get tested. Personally, I was getting a bit frustrated with the extra clicks it took to take all of the actions I wanted to do. So when the challenge was ramping up, it felt more like I was fighting against the interface at times.

Crappiest Part:

There’s a lot of dialogue to read through. This is not a bad thing here because I like a good story, but for some god awful reason the default way the game barfs out the text is to auto progress the dialogue instead of waiting for a key press. The text progresses so fast I was going to have a fucking aneurysm trying to keep up. I was playing for at least 2 hours before I decided to actually fiddle with the options and figure out how the hell to slow it down. Whatever option allowed me to finally do it wasn’t very obvious so it was a lot of menu hunting to get what I needed done. At least it was there.

The text progression and interface issues during gameplay really makes me wonder if developers care that things like that are a needless pain in the ass.

Conclusion:

While it isn’t perfect, Tiny Metal is fun and the story is interesting. I just wish the user interface was more intuitive.

 

3rd Eye (PC) Review

Developer: 3rd eye project | Publisher: Sony UNTIES || Overall: 7.5/10

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote a review; don’t think I was being lazy though, folks. I was playing a LOT of games. There’s a few I played that I need to review and honestly I have so many that it is going to be hard to write “full reviews” for each of them. And a lot of them don’t really need it.

So, I’m going to try something new old (pun) and use the format of reviews I used for those old GameMaker games I reviewed 20 years ago. Yes, it’s been that long. It is a little less advanced from a writing perspective, but this is 2020! No one likes to read anymore.

Overview:

3rd Eye is a game about girls doing weird and scary stuff. Most of them are dead, say and do disturbing things, decapitate heads, etc. You use a “3rd Eye” to reveal creepy stuff. When you see creepy stuff, it is stuff like zombies or beheaded girls, or rotting stuff. Think horror and you’ve basically got what’s going on randomly popping up.

Graphics:

The graphics have a hand-drawn/painted look and everything moves around like puppets. There’s not much animation, and dialogue is delivered with strange dialogue and odd cutscenes. I guess the characters are based on the Touhou Project cast, but I hardly know much about it as evidenced by my other Touhou Project reviews. There is a lot of dark humor that I wouldn’t have expected considering the age of the girls being depicted.

Sound:

The sound is mostly creepy music and creepy sound effects. There aren’t any voice overs, and the sound definitely helps in making the horror work, and is probably the least offensive thing in the whole equation.

Gameplay:

So, basically, it’s a point and click hidden object game. The puzzles are kind of annoying and there are multiple endings I guess. I played it for 4 hours before stopping, but there is probably a bit more to the play time than I would have initially thought.

Crappiest Part:

It feels like the program was made in the middle of the 1990s. Its janky as fuck, messes up your monitor’s resolution, other weird shit. The programming is almost as creepy as any other part of this game. It is a pain in the ass to play because it was developed for consoles; there’s hardly any options and you basically have to use a controller since I couldn’t figure out most of the keybinds. Oddly enough it was harder to use a controller at points than a mouse and vice verse. I had to constantly switch between the two to do things.

Conclusion:

In the end, the game is okay, but you’ll probably only want to put up with it if you are really jonesing for a horror game or a showpiece to impress your nerd friends with a niche Touhou Project game.

 

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (PC) Review

Developer: Daniel A. Ramirez | Publisher: Blowfish Studios || Overall: 7.0/10

Platformer Recipe: Jumping + killing + platforms.

Whipseey Recipe: Kirby + Mario + …Indiana Jones?

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas is a fairly simple platformer developed by one guy. It looks pretty good, plays fine, and is technically a pretty short game. You jump, kill stuff with your whip, and progress through stages before encountering a boss. There’s not a whole lot of complexity to it, really.

The main bulk of gameplay is actually going to come from replaying the same stages over and over. You’re given five lives to progress through the current stage, which has about 10 levels in it. Dying on a level will reset you to that current level as long as you still have lives left. If you die with no lives left, you reset back to five lives and the very first level of that stage. The intent is to get to the boss level with losing the least amount of lives possible so that you can use them up on attempting the boss. One could even say this idea is “retro.”

In reality, it is artificial lengthening of the content since there’s only a few different stages total. There are also ridiculous difficulty spikes on some levels that are a lot harder than they feel like they should be. Some levels after the hard ones are easier, which isn’t a typical difficulty progression and can get quite frustrating. There aren’t any power ups or things to help you progress if you seem to get stuck. The only thing the game provides in this sense, is collecting 100 coins which gifts you an extra life. However, most enemies only give you 3 coins, so it will most likely only help you once every other run. That isn’t much to make a difference since you don’t exactly have that much agency over when to cash in on that life.

The art is absolutely the best thing about the game, and if it didn’t look so cute I probably would have lost interest much earlier. The controls are tight enough when playing with a controller and the game runs smooth. The story is barebones as hell and a little baffling to see a human turn into a pink puffy thing and be named “Whipseey” despite already having a name as a human. The music also matches well.

The game is pretty inexpensive, and I’d say that it might even be something to let your kid take endless cracks at while you’re browsing Squackle for funny jokes and moderately informative game reviews. Overall, I’d recommend the title if you can get it for very cheap and want a distraction for about an hour.

 

Interstellar Space: Genesis (PC) Review

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

“4X” games always take a while to digest. Before realizing it was a whole genre unto itself with a fancy name, I used to refer to these games as “like Sid Meier’s Civilization.” While Interstellar Space: Genesis isn’t unlike Civilization, it definitely stands on its own with a couple of interesting game systems in regards to combat.

The goal of the genre is to eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate; that’s where the “4X” comes from. These games typically revolve around establishing an empire, expanding outward, gathering resources, and defending against others who are doing the same. Where it gets interesting is the interactions between all of the empires; the ground rules only make up “half” of what is interesting about any particular 4X game. ISG certainly draws on predecessors in this genre, and is fairly similar to how Stellaris treats solar systems with planets, asteroid belts, outposting, etc. You’ll mostly be making ships that land on another planet and establish your colony or exploit the resources. Establishing treaties with other empires, researching/stealing technologies, negotiating… the full suite of what you’d expect in a 4X game is here.

What makes ISG unique, in a sense, is that it makes some of these game systems a bit simpler to deal with. Establishing colonies and telling them to produce things can be time consuming but with enough forethought you can have things going without always micromanaging. You can tell particular planets to focus growth in three ways, but depending on the kind of growth you want, you’ll tell it to focus on Ecology, Production, or Infrastructure. Different planets have different biomes that different races prefer. Researching and Terraforming allows you to colonize just about any planet with solid ground, but depending on its characteristics it may not be ideal for your particular race. Since you can only expand so much before getting push back, it is best to focus your efforts on solar systems and planets that allow you to grow fastest.

Exploring is simplified by allowing for remotely scanning sectors for anything that may be hidden or unrevealed in close solar systems. This is in contrast to having to managing ships going every which way to explore. There is a singular, generic Space Culture talent tree that gives you certain boosts depending on your emphasis. There are also simplified talent trees for each individual planet, based on the three different growth focuses. There isn’t a lack of customization for your civilization’s needs at all, and your focus is always to expand.

Combat is certainly where a lot of emphasis is, as the game allows you to design your own ships with their own loadouts, designs, names, technologies, etc. When fighting against a rival fleet, there is a turn-based battle system that the entire fight takes place in. This allows for a mini-game of sorts to destroy your enemies, but you can also allow the game to auto resolve for you. There is also a “ground combat” mini-game that brings up an interface that allows you to make commands to take over occupied planets. You can perform a bombing run before a ground invasion, for instance. This makes the strategy a bit more engaging if you take an interest in having more control over the outcomes of combat scenarios. You’ll only be researching technologies rather than the units themselves, leaving it up to you to design them and put them into production.

Leaders are hired and assigned as either ship leaders or colony leaders. They cost a lump sum and a recurring sum each turn which means you will need to hire them at the right time so as to not bankrupt your empire. Leaders can increase income, attack enemies more efficiently, spy, steal, and many other things. Leaders are also kept happy by accomplishing requested tasks and the longer they are happy their opinion of you will grow. They will be less likely to defect or leave angrily as long as their opinion of you stays high.

Having been mostly a Civilization 4X player, I found ISG to be quite easy to get into. After figuring out the controls and the way information is displayed, it was fun to jump from a Small Galaxy/Easy map into a Large Galaxy/Normal map and begin to see how the difficulty ramps up. It can get quite complicated to manage defense against an encroaching empire while you are trying to develop yours. Games like these can also last for a long time, but there are different win conditions that allow for quicker ends than combat. The Galactic Council is the “soft power win” where the two most powerful empires are nominated to rule the galaxy and if 2/3 of the votes back one empire, they win. It can work in your favor to be friends with everyone, make treaties with everyone, and wield a couple of big sticks too.

From a more artistic standpoint, ISG looks a bit like an old DOS game in High Definition. Much of the user interface give an “old-timey PC game” feel, but is by no means a lazy endeavor. There isn’t much in the way of animation, as the characters are more like dancing/moving puppets but are unique in their design. The music is also quite good, though after 10 hours of gameplay, you’ll start to notice the same stuff playing. The story events that randomly pop up are also pretty interesting and well written, though there isn’t any sort of overall storyline.

There’s nothing that is really too negative about the game, except perhaps that it takes a lot of initial turns to get the game “going.” Around turn 100, you’ll start getting into the more complex decisions, but until that point you’re kind of just doing a rote process of skipping turns and clicking on something else to remotely discover. Otherwise, if you don’t intend to stay engaged with the game, it can wear thin since things won’t always go your way and starting a new game is probably more fun than enduring a long and painful loss.

Interstellar Space: Genesis is a pretty cool game if you like this genre but aren’t too serious about it. I found it to be more of an “entry level” game that can easily be enjoyable for intermediate to advanced players. While you’re not going to get too many surprises, it has something to offer in the way of combat that could get adapted across the genre.

 

Super Cane Magic ZERO (PC) Review

Developer: Studio Evil | Publisher: Intragames Co Ltd || Overall: 9.0/10

Super Cane Magic ZERO is like a wacky Zelda game with randomized loot. Go on an adventure through the zany world of WOTF and explore all of the random shit they put in for you to enjoy. The most obvious feature is the art, which is drawn by Italian cartoonist Simone “Sio” Albrigi, who has a very particular style.

On first glance, a lot of the “garnishments” of the game actually distract from what is underneath. I’ve found the game to be a fun, methodical action game, rather than a quick and bursty one. You have to plan your moves out ahead of time since a lot of the game hinges on the “twin-shooter” controls of pointing in the direction you want to hit something. Throwing things is also a very big part of the game and also relies on this “twin-shooter” aspect. Much of the combat relies on stunning an enemy, picking them up and throwing them against a wall or against another enemy for major damage. There are plenty of other abilities and items you can get that grant you different magic spells, so this changes up certain situations, but the most effective way to defeat enemies is by chucking them at a wall after they are stunned.

The actual gameplay loop comes with exploring the world of WOTF, which is a fairly large and intricately designed place. There are plenty of secrets and areas you can only access with certain items or abilities, which gives older areas new uses. Your goal is to find powerful wizards who will unlock talent trees for you and help you save the world of WOTF. As you go along in your adventure, you will also help rebuild the Kingdom of Poptarts with collectible items you get from killing enemies. This leads into the necessary grinding that you’ll be having to do, but most of it can be accomplished through normal play as you revisit areas over and over trying to find new things.

Loot is a very important part of the game. There are a lot of different stats that do different things, and they’re sometimes named not-so-intuitive things, which forces you to menu-hunt to get an explanation. Oddly enough, I could not figure out a way to easily compare loot without equipping and unequipping several times to see the differences they make in stats. Dropped loot will upgrade as you level up, so a lot of your stuff will be simply outdated as time goes on. There are different rarities of loot, and most of what you find is junk, but you’ll get a legendary every now and then that changes up gameplay quite significantly. Even though you level up, there still feels like a bit of enemy scaling going on, because the mechanics of the enemies are usually much more important than their stats. As a result, you don’t really “out-level” anything as most of the enemies in the game stay relevant.

The biggest gains in power come from talent trees, of which there are multiple. Most of the talent trees will have two sides and only allow you to go down one side, so you have to look ahead and see what you currently need. The exception is the first talent tree where you can go down both sides. You can always respec at a vendor if you need to walk on lava and you didn’t go down that tree, for instance. As one would expect, you gain talent points from levels. What isn’t as expected is being able to gain “bonus” talent points from finding “TVs” out in the world; there are also talent points to gain from finding unique items for the Poptarts museum. This sort of lets you get ahead of your levels a little bit, I suppose, though leveling up is something that happens pretty often, so it is hard to “feel” that bonus most of the time since there are a lot of filler talents.

There is local multiplayer only, and the game is definitely built with teams in mind. You can totally play by yourself, obviously, but when you are facing a huge group of monsters, having teammates would be helpful. Each character has their own set of equipment and inventory, so you can essentially start the game from scratch on a new character with different abilities. You can unlock more characters, but after about 25 hours of gameplay, I’ve only unlocked one. I also have to unlock about half of the game still, so I guess I just play slow.

The writing, unfortunately, feels lazy compared to everything else. It is mostly nonsensical for the sake of being so, and isn’t a motivating factor at all in playing. The jokes are good, but the main intent of the writing is really just to tell jokes and make fun of stuff rather than tell any sort of cohesive story. There could have easily been an interesting story and still have jokes, but whatever, I guess. It just felt like the amount of effort put into the art style and gameplay deserved a bit more effort in this regard. On the plus side, the humor makes its way into basically every aspect of the game including items, loot, and characters. There’s plenty of laughs to be had.

Super Cane Magic ZERO is definitely a game I’d recommend. It is a lot of fun and has a lot of humor in it. The gameplay doesn’t feel lacking and there’s definitely a “point” in endlessly exploring around trying to find all of the secrets that are laying around. If there were ever a “Squackle: The Game” it would be something similar to this, and I suppose I can only dream of what that would actually be, otherwise. For now, I’ll just play Super Cane Magic ZERO.

 

War Tech Fighters (PC) Review

Developer: Drakkar Dev | Publisher: Green Man Gaming Publishing || Overall: 8.0/10

War Tech Fighters, the second most clever way to say “What The Fuck,” (the first being Work Time Fun) is a game that allows you to control a big robot and blow shit up. You shouldn’t expect Zone of the Enders, but something more like Gundam plus Transformers. The story is set on the backdrop of a war between Group A and Group B, and neither seem to like each other, so they fight and lots of people die. Such is war; if only the Obama administration didn’t pull us out of Iraq, we wouldn’t have to pull out of the Ares Colonies. Thanks Obama!

The robots are referred to as “War Techs” and are revered as the most efficient killing machines in the universe. However, there are still spaceships of varying degrees flying around, which is typically the stuff you’ll destroy on a massive scale. Each War Tech is equipped with a certain regiment of weapons, including fast bullets/lasers, slow bullets/lasers, missiles, and a sword. The first three categories are left to your preference what you decide to use at any given time, but they’re all efficient at killing things to a similar degree. However, you can’t use the sword except in 1 on 1 War Tech fights; it would have been nice to be able to freely use it, but then I guess it would be too much like Zone of the Enders… which really wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

There are a lot of different cutaways integrated into the gameplay which break the fluidity of the combat. The most disrupting are the cut scene executions of the common enemies, which reduces the intensity of battles significantly. It would have been if these were “in-game” executions instead of repeat cut-scenes that aren’t very diverse. You’ll start seeing new ones as you progress in the game, but a lot of them are kind of lame/slow. You can skip them, however, it requires you to hold space for a couple of seconds. There is a benefit to doing them, which includes recovering health/energy, so it’s kind of unavoidable.

Most of the game is centered around completing mission objectives. There are side goals to find hidden items and collect resources to progress your research/war tech and you can also replay missions for XP and resources. There are a lot of missions to play, but most are centered around blowing the same sorts of things up so there’s not a whole lot of diversity. Most don’t take more than 10 or 15 minutes to complete. Occasionally there is an interesting spin on the formula, but missions primarily progress the barebones story. There’s a lot of “cool names” for places with little else happening as you go around and destroy Zatronian Empire outposts. If these guys are so easily defeated why do they even have an empire?

You’ll also take control of other characters and their War Techs to see different side stories before your main character gets involved. There are enough of these where it becomes questionable if your research actually makes a difference during these missions, which in turn reduces the value of completing side missions and upgrading your own War Tech.

The upgrade path is unfortunately very convoluted from a user interface standpoint and is set up like 15 different “tech trees” for each different part of the War Tech. Since you don’t find any equipment in the field, you just buy all of your upgrades as you research more things and get more resources. A loot system could have easily made the game more engaging and worth killing hundreds of enemies for. Really, I would have just taken something a little less visually confusing in its design at the end of the day.

The graphics are nice. There are a lot of filmic aspects that the developers added to give it a more cinematic feel. The designs of the War Techs are pretty unique, and the weaponry is mostly cool-looking. There are lots of explosions and the sound effects of your weaponry are satisfying. Music is just heavy guitar constantly, which gets pretty annoying after a while, but it isn’t really bad music. It would have been nice to have a variety of moods instead of just having energy of the music at 11 constantly.

There’s some stupid stuff in the game that seem to be included just because it is “cool” to have, like launching out of the hangar of a small ship with rocket boosters that detach as soon as you leave it, just a couple hundred feet away. Like, why? Might as well just drop out of it if you aren’t going to keep the rocket boosters at all for the initial part of the mission. A lot of the battle cut scenes are sort of like “robot porn” and get tiresome, like a robot grabbing a ship with one hand and crushing it. WOOOOO!!! AWESZZOMMEEE. There are also some annoying typos/grammar issues. Despite this sort of stuff, you can definitely tell there’s a lot of “love” put into the game since there are a lot of uniquely designed models flying around in the game. It is also continuing to get updated with quality of life adjustments and even some new features a year after its initial release.

The console versions recently came out for this title, and is now currently available for PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. There are honestly not that many “big robot” games that look and play well, and while it’s not a perfect game, it is a competent one with enough thought behind it to be an interesting excursion. While it would have been nice to have a bit more of a fleshed-out story to attach the gameplay to, there’s certainly enough content for the entry fee.

 

Rescue HQ – The Tycoon (PC) Review

Developer: stillalive studios | Publisher: Aerosoft GmbH || Overall: 8.0/10

If you’ve ever thought you wanted to take a crack at running your own multi-department government agency, look no further than Rescue HQ – The Tycoon. Stuck somewhere between the seedy privatization of emergency services and wholesome government corruption, you’ll operate and collect money for performing noble services to the community. Frankly, you’re not doing anything illegal, but the focus on the game is really to make money instead of helping people, after all.

The first thing you’ll notice when starting the first scenario is the blatantly tongue-in-cheek humor of your tutorial guide, the Mayor, talking about how you can make a ton of money. There’s some very strange non sequiturs in the dialogue that can catch you off-guard (which are genuinely funny), but it feels misplaced for this game. Despite that, the tutorial is actually a finely crafted experience that slowly introduces the elements the game has to offer and eventually builds into a full game experience without having to “restart” the game. There are a lot of different things to buy and build and finding out the best combination and configuration of all of these elements is the main challenge of the game.

Other than the building aspect, the main gameplay comes in the form of managing emergencies/missions. These missions require you to use your resources and staff, with the rewards being payouts of currency and reputation. Reputation is a capped currency that is required to unlock more elaborate items. As each in-game week passes by, this cap is increased, but you’ll need even more of it to unlock advanced stuff. The emergencies basically play out like those mobile games that you send things out for 5 hours, come back, collect rewards, and then send them out again. Except here, you get flooded with these missions and they tend to only take minutes to complete. The goal is to complete the missions with the highest amount of success rate as possible, but how you get there is entirely reliant on how you are managing just about everything else.

Missions will slowly ramp up, requiring you to keep pace with the growth by hiring more staff, building more resources, and spending more time making decisions on the loadout screens. While these missions are fun to fulfill when they are less complex, the end-game emergencies are a pain when you have to click 10/15/20 times to get to a worthwhile percentage before sending it out. There really needed to be a way to “autofill” with your staff/resources in the best way possible so you can clear these out quicker. When you have 3 or 4 to do at any given time, it can be an artificially lengthening experience.

Eventually, you earn enough reputation to pay off emergencies you don’t want to do and have them go away. Completing emergencies avoids negatively affecting your rating with City Hall, which is the largest source of income per week, but you get money/reputation from completing events yourself, so you are ceding that willfully. There are also day/night shifts where everyone swaps out for a fresh worker. There are other miscellaneous buffs and debuffs your staff can acquire, and as they earn more experience they also become stronger. All of this is fairly fine-tuned and polished; there’s a good experience overall when it comes to the gameplay.

Each department (Fire, Police, and Medical) has their own unique throughput for earning money, and it’s easy to focus more on one or the other. However, as emergencies are random there is less impetus to do anything but have balanced hiring across all three. Police require a lot of extra hands to operate the “paperwork” that is generated, Firefighters require a lot of extra equipment and staff for missions, and Medical has all sorts of different machines to diagnose and treat patients.

The graphics look pretty “computer generic” at first, but the art is actually pretty detailed. While you don’t exactly make any personal connections with your staff due to their generic looks (and having a swarm of them at all times) you won’t exactly get attached to any particular character. The worst part about the game visually is the user interface. There are some issues with text being cut off, things not selecting or deselecting when you mean for it to be, among other things. They clearly needed to go over this again with a fine-toothed comb and figure out what the hell is going on here. Otherwise, I was able to easily find my away around most things and it wasn’t a pain to build what I wanted to. After 10 hours of gameplay, I found out you could actually rotate the camera; I may have missed this in the tutorial, but at this point I’m basically done after about 22 hours of gameplay. There are updates planned, so it may be worth diving back in at some point.

In the end, the game is a lot of fun and an interesting challenge. Once you stabilize your business model, you’re pretty much only going to need to accomplish the emergencies with as much efficiency and as high rate of success as possible. The biggest gripe about the game is how many scenarios are available — there are only five. A game like this should easily have at least 15 to 20, some emphasizing particular aspects of the gameplay to present new challenges. As is, you’re always going to be focused on all three departments equally and just trying to survive until the end of the scenario, which can take a pretty long time to complete.

 

Gensokyo Defenders (PC) Review

Developer: Neetpia | Publisher: Sony UNTIES || Overall: 7.0/10

What do you get when anime girls with varying breast sizes need to kill fairies for a nonsensical reason? Gensokyo Defenders. What do you get when you’re confused about everything you are seeing on screen and don’t know if you want to furiously masturbate or blow your brains out? Gensokyo Defenders. But most importantly, what do you get when you combine a twin stick shooter with tower defense? Gensokyo Defenders.

Gensokyo Defenders is a tower defense game that relies on the action elements of your character to do most of the work. While you won’t be exactly be placing towers, rather, traps instead, there’s a bit of strategy to be had, but its clearly not the main focus. You’ll be using spells to defeat hordes of fairies coming for your magical circle. There are various fairies and floating spheres/marbles to kill, but most are just making a break for that sweet sweet magic circle. While traps are secondary to the strategy they are still vital.

The most intriguing part about the game is that you use a number of spells to defeat your enemies. Each different character you unlock has three unique spells, but the traps are shared between all characters. Traps are unlocked, so you’ll be able to find a combination that best suits your needs as you progress and change characters. In using your traps and spells, the goal is to live through all of the waves of fairies; when you get to the last wave, a boss will appear and you’ll have to defeat them to win. Typically you will unlock the boss you just killed, as well.

That’s about all that makes sense with this game. I’m not sure if its the localization, but I haven’t got the slightest idea why anything is happening and why there are so many friggin characters talking. It seems like a new character pops up on the screen for each line of dialogue and then they never come back. Is it an excuse to cycle through all of the art they made for this game? What the hell is the point? The first character you are introduced to in the Tutorial level isn’t even your main playable character, instead it is an ice fairy named Cirno and she is being followed by a news reporter for an article she is writing about the “war games” they are having with fairies. The ice fairy girl goes around and challenges people and everyone thinks she’s annoying and begrudgingly fights her. That’s about all I can piece together, and I can’t really explain why the player is meant to care. Also, UFOs sometimes drop from enemies and they upgrade your spells. Don’t know why, they probably just thought it was funny, kind of like a piece of toilet paper that got left in your ass the whole day.

The controls are pretty awful if you are playing without a controller. The interface is obviously made for a controller, but even then it isn’t exactly the most intuitive thing. Placing traps on the floor requires you to use the directional pad or WASD — mouse clicks are almost useless in the entire game. Switching between traps feels a lot more of a chore than it should be, and it should be a lot easier to sell traps that you mistakenly put down. To do anything with traps, you have to cycle through all of the traps you have equipped, and then tap the right trigger button one more time to sell it. That can be up to seven button presses for one trap to be cleared. Playing with mouse and keyboard is hardly better, but ironically it is much more tolerable.

In the end, Gensokyo Defenders is playable and pretty challenging with a lot of content. However it seems like this game is meant for people who enjoy looking at cute anime girls. So, there’s that, I guess. After I wrote this review, I looked up what the characters are based on, and it appears to be in the “Touhou Project” which I had seen before, but never really knew much about. This game definitely just exists for people who are fans of these characters.

 

Hyper Jam (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Bit Dragon || Overall: 8.0/10

Hyper Jam is a well-polished multiplayer brawler with an ’80’s aesthetic. The retrowave soundtrack is front and center as you boot up the game and instantly “get” what the theme is going for. While you’re not going to get something super complex or noteworthy, it is still fun for what it is.

Hyper Jam‘s got cool music — around seven songs that are popular on Spotify synthwave radio shuffle. You’re bound to have heard them if you are into the genre. It is a good “sampling” of what you’d hear and the particular song selections match the atmosphere/fast paced nature of the game. Only one song doesn’t really work well, but it is still a good one, so can’t really complain that much.

Hyper Jam mixes things up during and between rounds of the battle. There is a nice weapon diversity, but this is no Smash Bros.; there are about five unique weapons and little else to pick up. In pursuit of the goal to be the last man standing and earning points based on performance, you’ll earn randomized perks that can change up the result of the next round. These can range anywhere from more health, more attack, freezing your enemy, knockback resistance, etc. Stacking buffs will also be important depending on what you picked previously during the match. A winner is declared once you hit 1500 points and survive the next round. This gives everyone else the motivation to team up and catch up to the leader so that the whole game isn’t lost as quickly.

There are only four characters to choose from, which makes it so you always see the same characters. You wouldn’t know it until you finish a match, but you’ll unlock customizations for them through earning XP, though there isn’t a way to browse what you’ve earned. I’m unsure what the point is of the overall leveling system other than to keep track of how much you’ve played and unlock taunts. There’s a nice range of maps to play on, as well.

Matchmaking online isn’t very populous, but a recent update made it so you can join “in-progress” matches, greatly increasing the chance you can join other people and actually play with them. Since the game is built for multiplayer only, it can feel a bit dead when you “randomly” match with the same people over and over. You can play with bots to your hearts content, and they have multiple levels of bots. You can also play with friends locally, but it’ll get old once you play through each arena one or two times. It would have been nice if there was some sort of single-player campaign with this gameplay/aesthetic instead of only multiplayer brawls.

Hyper Jam is a pretty fun game to play for a couple of hours, but your mileage may vary. There’s not a whole lot to the game and it is pretty simple, so if the aesthetic and music don’t do it for you, it won’t show its value. Can definitely see it on a playlist of “party games” but little more.

 

Astroneer (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: System Era Softworks || Overall: 9.5/10

Usually I don’t need to play a game for 50 hours before forming an opinion; hell, I don’t even play most games for more than 5 or 10 hours unless they’re really good. When I first started Astroneer, I didn’t think I’d stick around for very long, but as I kept playing, I realized there is a phenomenally interesting game underneath the “simple” looking graphics and gameplay in a space-themed sandbox. While you’re not going to be setting up factories for automation, you will be doing “industrial-type” crafting to gather resources and combine them to make the things you need to progress and build out your bases across the solar system.

The most appealing aspect of Astroneer is that it is almost like playing with LEGOs. There is no “virtual” inventory like many games have nowadays — all of the inventory is physical in the sense they take up actual, visual space. I’m reminded of what you are primarily doing when playing with LEGOs in real life — sifting, sorting, finding, and seeing the “same” pieces over and over, often hidden in plain sight. Even LEGO games don’t seem to care to recreate this aspect of actually playing with the physical blocks, but Astroneer does (whether or not that is intentional). As you collect hundreds of “stacks” of resources, you’ll have to figure out the best storage system, whether to leave it all on the ground in piles, or invest in storage systems and sort them by type or always hunt and peck for what you’re looking for.

A major part of the game is, of course, the exploration. The exploration is fun, despite it not being too eventful. You’ll be mostly looking for salvage or resources, and occasionally you’ll find intact equipment to use at your base. The exploration has aspects of “realism” with only a short supply of oxygen, and needing to use tethers to supply it. This is a natural limiter as you will not be able to go far from your tether line, and without proper preparation you may even get lost and lose sight of your tether line, resulting in death. You’ll need a somewhat constant supply of a resource called “Compound” to explore safely on foot. Later on, you’ll be able to get vehicles at which point you can drive pretty much wherever you want, but there is still the danger of getting lost; you’ll have to prepare and make sure you know which direction is home. Pop-ins are a significant issue, as the draw distance is not that far. This adds to the danger of “getting lost” since a tether line will disappear just 15 or so feet away, even though you “should” be able to still see it.

There are lots of different things to build for your base. Most of the equipment you’ll create needs to be mounted on a platform, with the platforms connecting to one another to loop into the power grid. Power is a big challenge in creating a constant supply and having your base and outposts work without constant intervention. You’ll be able to research new equipment with a currency called Bytes, which are extracted from Research Items. Once you’ve researched everything there is no use for Bytes, which can make Research Items a bit of a burden to haul back since they’re essentially useless and you can find multiples at a given time. They seem to be adding more equipment in updates, so I guess its worth still researching items as you come across them.

A major feature of the game is being able to deform all of the terrain and mine the planets for their resources. The terrain is buggy at times, though. If you decide to use holes to store your resources they can fall through the ground. Sometimes your vehicle gets stuck on the terrain and you have to dig it out. There are several layers of terrain to each planet, and each planet has large cave systems and a core to venture down into. Depending on the planet you are on, there are different “types” of biomes, caves, vegetation, and sets of resources to acquire. Essentially everything you see on screen can be mined.

There are 7 planets to explore, with 2 being moons. Each have their own set of resources to gather, and all look very distinct from one another. There’s a bit of overlap with the resources available, but it all depends on quantity and where it can be found on the planet. The early to mid game is all about establishing your foothold on these planets while researching everything, and finding all of the different resources you need when you need them. There is a good diversity of resources and there are also composite resources where you combine base resources to make advanced ones. Gases are also used to make these composites which forces you to explore the other planets. You can also get natural resources in alternate ways, such as through a Soil Centrifuge or through exchanging Scrap. Soil is stored in empty containers, just from deforming the terrain. Scrap is acquired through shredding broken equipment in the field, of which there is quite a lot. These alternate forms of resource procurement evens out the “random” aspect of finding important resources.

There are no game-breaking bugs that I encountered, and considering the scope of the game, that is quite a feat. One time the game kept “loading” on start up and never finished loading so I had to quit the game and restart it. Otherwise, it is stable. The game is made in Unreal Engine, as well, which is a bit surprising to me that a sandbox game used it; they are usually in Unity or a custom one. It can be very frustrating when you are trying to make a flat area to build more portions of your base on or making a ramp that is suitable for your vehicles to go up and down. There needs to be “smart” ways to accomplish these simple tasks.

I made no references to No Man’s Sky previously, but the obvious parallels are there. Astroneer is more akin to what I was originally wanting to do in No Man’s Sky — collecting all of the resources I can on a planet and sucking up all of the dirt until there was nothing left. While it’s not exactly possible to do that, you are basically doing that in a sense with Astroneer. Astroneer is just a lot of fun as a sci-fi sandbox crafting game.