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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Evolution: The Video Game (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rehtona (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tsioque (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Storm Boy (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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!

 

Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gardens Between, The (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Midnight Sanctuary, The (PC) Review

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

Note: This is a non-spoilery review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Exorder (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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