Deer God, The (PSVita) Review

Developer: Crescent Moon Games/Blowfish Studios | Publisher: Level 77 || Overall: 4.0

Gods come in all shapes and sizes. Humanity’s search for a higher power has led them through several representations of godly beings. Whether some be literal god beasts that are as fearsome as they are mighty, or a more humanized expression that wields similar power in the same feet, hands and body that we are familiar with, our search for the answers that the universe fails to provide us have come to the conclusion that some higher power exists somewhere and in some place. With this in mind I present to you Zoamelgustar. He is the Monster Lord of some unspecified dark dimension and some unspecified domain that only ask for zealous devotion and the occasional live sacrifice from his followers. In exchange, he offers you his divine protection from errant demon lords. Act now and he’ll even throw in a spiffy looking talisman!~

Most people wouldn’t waste a whole paragraph to set up a reference to some 20+ year old anime. I am not most people.

Karma comes around full circle in The Deer God. With nature as your enemy and with all the powers of a magical deer at your disposal, publisher Level 77 and developer Crescent Moon Games is set to bring the unlikely tale of a hunter turned deer from the PC to your PlayStation Vita. With a haunting backdrop and a procedurally generated level design, does this platformer have what it takes to survive in the harsh wilderness of the PS Vita’s dying market?

No… No, it does not.

Sorry to disperse all the mystery so early, but to be honest, I didn’t quite enjoy my time with The Deer God. While the game seems to be a tribute to nature, the Kickstarter inspired by childhood memories of playing in the woods, it works better as tribute to those memories than a video game. The Deer God is marred by a series of unfortunate gameplay elements and some glitches that make the game frustrating to play. It’s a shame that such earnest inspiration can be brought down by poor gameplay decisions and bad programming.

While enchanting at first, the procedurally generated levels quickly lose their charm once the patterns become noticeable. It is only a matter of time before scaling the same cliff, jumping over the same pitfalls and encountering the same landmarks becomes as monotonous as my use of the word “same” in this sentence. This sense of monotony is only further instilled by the predictable patterns of the artificial intelligence. Each enemy is programmed with a strict set of patterns. While they are sometimes fun to exploit, having forced a few to jump to their own deaths, they quickly become another part of the repetitious nature of the overall game, and sometimes even ruin the game’s climactic moments. By chance, I managed to trap a boss underneath a tree branch because their AI wasn’t programmed to handle it.

Among animals like cougars, foxes and bears, other common wildlife like ghosts, zombies and witches attempt to stop you.

Unfortunately, the main quest line doesn’t do much to help offset the gameplay. While the story sets you off on a grand adventure to redeem yourself and reclaim your human body, the actual steps to doing so are pretty bland. Featuring a series of fetch quest, simple puzzles and even simpler bosses, it’s a saving grace that most of them can be done quickly; the few that take longer to complete are more of an annoyance because they require you to find a specific place among a repeating set of level designs. It’s hardly fun to run through the same environments looking for a particular spot you may have missed.

Furthermore, a few other design choices proved more of a detriment to the gameplay than a benefit. While the foreground and background designs helped make the world pop on your screen, several times the foreground would obstruct an important item, conceal a ledge or hide a dangerous enemy. I lost count of how many times I failed to find an item because it was behind a bush, and found even more frustration when a jump was made all the more difficult because the ledge was hidden behind a tree or an enemy jumped out of seemingly nowhere.

Now imagine if that ledge also had a tree in front of it…

Even without considering the design choices, the game itself has its fair share of glitches. Among graphical bugs like the highly-apparent screen tearing and the occasional stutter, there were also moments that I would die in a pit only to spawn over it again to immediately succumb to the same fate. There were also moments when my character would inexplicably be teleported to a different spot on the screen without the use of the accompanying power. Though, chief among all of these offenders was a bug where food would be invisible in certain environments, which is an important resource to gather.

Part platformer and part survival game, The Deer God has a food meter that must be constantly refilled. If ignored for too long, it begins to slowly drain away at the player’s health until the sweet embrace of death forces the player to restart their life as a fawn. The problem here is that such an essential item is sometimes invisible on some terrain. Mainly in the desert and forest designs, I would find long stretches of land without any food. Death became a common occurrence only to later accidentally press down on the control pad and eat seemingly nothing on the screen. Trial and error later, I found out that the food was there but it was far beyond the capabilities of what my naked eye could perceive. While not exactly game breaking, it was hardly fun to constantly press down in the hopes of finding some invisible pixels.

Oddly enough, caves were just teeming with food.

Among the things that The Deer God does well, the graphics do stand out. Beautiful pixelation brings the characters and environments to life, and the inclusion of various visual elements like good lighting, various weather effects, background and foreground environments give the graphics more presence than is thought possible on the Vita’s small screen. The soundtrack is also a pleasant experience. It is filled with hauntingly beautiful sound effects that wouldn’t be out of place in any forest. Though despite these achievements, they do little to detract from the rest of the game’s monotonous and glitched-filled experience.

No snide or sarcastic remarks here. This game does great things with its pixels.

The Deer God is hard to recommend. If beautiful graphics and a well-done soundtrack are enough to distract you from monotonous gameplay, the game might be worth a look. Though, if you are looking for something with more substance, chances are The Deer God will disappoint. It’s unfortunate that bad gameplay decisions and glitches never allowed this clumsy fawn to mature into a majestic stag.

When making up for past misdeeds as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

 

Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) First Impressions

Every time a new Zelda is announced, Nintendo manages to light a collective fire among their diehard fans. Almost immediately, there are more questions than answers about the newest installment featuring our favorite wielders of the Triforce of Power, Wisdom and Courage. Most important of all, among this tizzy of emerging fan theories and confirmed features from Nintendo, the simple question of “Will it be good?” reigns supreme. With that in mind and with about 10 hours of gameplay under my belt, I can still say with certainty that this game is one of the best in the series.

The best way to describe Breath of the Wild is to say that, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” While a lot of the elements are a major departure from recent installments in the series, many also harken back to more classic elements of the franchise. Working together, all of these features give a fresh feeling to the game entirely, while still being a thoroughly Zelda-like experience; ultimately a mixture of old and new turns into a great game.

With that in mind, here’s a few of the features worth noting.

The World is Your Oyster

Taking a note from the first game of the series, Breath of the Wild begins with an open world and a generous old man. Once what serves as a tutorial is put out of the way, you are given freedom on how you want to approach things and a litany of distractions to prevent you from getting anywhere. Among the main quest and side quests, there are a number of shrines that serve as mini-dungeons to explore throughout the world. Each provides a puzzle or battle to overcome and serves as a worthwhile distraction. Beyond that, the world is littered with things to do. Enemy camps, collectible items, and materials populate the world around the player. More often than not, I found myself far and away from my original goal as I pursued one distraction after the next.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Variety comes in many forms in Breath of the wild. Unlike previous iterations, Link has a more robust assortment of weaponry than the typical sword and shield. Things like heavy blades, hammers, and spears are available and have their own properties in combat. While the standard sword still swings in a half circle arch, heavy blades and hammers possess a heftier swing that can also knock a shield right out of an enemy’s hand, and spears have a far more reach but don’t swing nearly as far. The arrows also come with their own assortment of choice, each possessing moves that can shock, sizzle, freeze or even explode enemies on contact. Though where the variety really shines is how the world lets you tackle every encounter and puzzle. Every enemy can be beaten traditionally by hitting them with whatever weapon you have equipped, but it’s far more fun to use the environment against them. Big rocks, flammable grass, and exploding barrels are some of the many ways you can turn the environment against Link’s enemies. Beyond that, puzzles can be treated the same way. While most of them have a standard way to solve them, many allow for the player to deviate from the norm and find their own way to solve them.

Broken Beyond Repair

New to the series, (unless you count the Giant’s Knife from Ocarina of Time) every weapon, bow and shield in the game has durability. What this means is that those items will eventually break, and that they will break often. It’s not too uncommon to have an item break after one or two encounters, or to have several weapons break during a particularly hard battle. While a mechanic like this could easily verge on the annoying, Nintendo has done a good job at making the loss only minor. There are so many weapons, bows and shields throughout the game that finding a replacement is almost instantaneous.

Prepare to Die

Shockingly enough, Breath of the Wild can be difficult at times. Since the world is open to explore that also means that it’s entirely likely that the player will encounter an enemy they have no business facing. Every so often, I would be one-shotted by what seemed to be a common enemy only to later find out that their weapon far exceeded my current hearts or armor. That said, the enemy AI also got a boost. They no longer run blindly into danger, and seek cover when attempting to shoot them from afar. They no longer attack one at a time, but instead seek to surround link and hit him from all sides if possible. Overall, this reminded me of A Link to the Past and the many times when I was either surrounded by enemies or fighting one that was far beyond my current experience.

Everything Old is New Again

Despite all the changes to the core gameplay, Breath of the Wild still feels like a Zelda game. The story is filled with a cast of colorful characters, the sense of adventure reigns supreme, and many other elements return to define this as a Zelda-experience. While the execution may be different, there’s enough here to make any diehard Zelda fan fall right back in love.

 

Huntsman: Winter’s Curse (PS4) Review

Developer/Publisher: Desert Owl Games, LLC. || Overall: 6.0

There are things in life that just seem inevitable. First and foremost are death and taxes, but, besides that classic example, the list doesn’t end there. A clear runner up would be emotions like happiness, sadness and anger, which are things that nothing short of a specific lobotomy or mental condition could prevent. Then we have other people, which are impossible to avoid because, according to how I know babies are made, we all start out coming out of a person. There is also disappointment that often comes when the starry-eyed optimism of youth gets a dose of the cold hard reality of adult life. Just like your very next breath, there are just some things that cannot be avoided… like movie tie-in games…

As inevitable as me mentioning Thor in this article.

As inevitable as me mentioning Thor in this article.

In the long tradition of movie tie-ins, Huntsman: Winter’s Curse sets its sights on your PS4’s storage data. Taking place in the Huntsman universe and serving as a sort of side-story to the events in the film, Huntsman: Winter’s Curse describes itself as a “adventure RPG with collectible card game elements” and for the most part gets that right. Though whether it can avoid the curse of a terrible movie tie-in game is another thing entirely.

Huntsman: Winter’s Curse quickly establishes a rhythm and then staunchly refuses to change it. Every bit of story is followed by an encounter, every encounter is then followed by a change of location, and every change of location then brings about more story. Along the way, a boss fight occurs and eventually after a few repeats of the established sequence, the game will end. While this may seem like the standard structure of most RPGs, it’s not so much that it uses a fairly common structure, it’s how Huntsman: Winter’s Curse handles it. The whole process is far too structured and leaves very little room for player agency. Every location has a set number of encounters and doesn’t allow for any exploration on the player’s part. Visiting a different location only requires scrolling over the desired location and then pressing “X” to go there. There is no actual walking or exploring to speak of. To add to that, all loot is tied to those encounters and there is no real way to get more. There are a few side quests, but even those are structured in the same way, where the encounters and loot are predetermined. If there is any attempt at giving the player agency, it can be seen in the choices the player is allowed to make throughout the story, but even those seem inconsequential in the long run. More often than not, the story ends up taking the same route regardless.

Don’t worry about what choice you pick, you’ll end up at the same place regardless.

Don’t worry about what choice you pick, you’ll end up at the same place regardless.

As far as the story goes, Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is a fun little side-adventure that isn’t too bogged down by the details of the movie. This makes it something that a person who has never seen the movie has a possibility of enjoying the story. Mentions and some cameos do exist, including a battle with the title character himself in all of his Chris-Hemsworth-Playing-Not-Thor glory (Inevitable!), but this story exists as a standalone within the universe.

The story is a familiar tale that pits our plucky and strong female protagonist and her roguish male companion on a quest through the Huntsman universe in search of her brothers. Of course, things are never that simple and she quickly finds herself on the opposing end of a powerful witch. This same fairy tale esthetic also bleeds into the presentation. The characters are drawn much like they were in some elaborate picture book and each part of the story is separated into a “book” that denotes each story arc. The characters speak in a fancy tone that can feel like they are hamming it up at times, but overall fit their character and circumstances. There are also enough twists and turns to keep the player interested, as long as they are able to get past the feeling of being led along by the wrist at every turn.

Another positive point is the combat. The system closely resembles the Active Time Battle system used in some Final Fantasy games but with the added benefit of having actions that can alter a character’s turn. Turn order is displayed above the action with a line that scrolls forward with the combatants represented by a portrait on it. Once the portrait reaches the end, that character is allowed to act. Where it gets interesting is in the cards that let you push back your opponents turn. Some allowing you to push a certain character’s action several turns back to either land a few hits or set up another combo with your cards.

Unfortunately, the way the combat looks isn’t exactly inspired.

Unfortunately, the way the combat looks isn’t exactly inspired.

Though, no matter how much fun I found the combat, it did nothing to make parts of the game feel any less half-baked. There are a number of bugs that I encountered, ranging from the annoyingly constant button lag to a frustrating glitch that didn’t allow me to change the equipment on my second character unless I exited the game. There is also a lack in variety among the cards available. I found myself with the exact same card across multiple equipment more often than you would think. Lastly, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was playing a glorified mobile game. Everything from the combat to the way you change locations and even the presentation screamed that this was originally intended for the mobile market instead of being a full-fledged console release.

All in all, Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is a noble attempt at a movie tie-in game that fails to impress. The combat and story is intriguing but the way the game handholds the player through the story can be annoying. And that still fails to address that the ample number of bugs in the game are grating, and the lack of variety when it comes to the cards can be no less a detriment to the experience. If you are interested in a game set in a Huntsman universe and don’t mind a bit of linearity, give it a try. On the other hand, if you are looking for an open experience with more variety, I’d recommend something else.

 

Livelock (PC) Review

Developer: Tuque Games | Publisher: Perfect World International || Overall: 8.5

Google needs a new name. As our eventual AI overloads, the name Google doesn’t have the required menace for when the program finally decides to go rogue and that mankind can no longer be left to its own devices. It’s just a hard name to respect as our robot betters. Imagine being gunned down by the “Google Drones” or being forced to work for the “Google Internment Camp”. Wouldn’t you rather a name like “Ocelot Corp” or “Gigadyne” be the starting point for the age of machines and the fall of mankind? This is where Cyberdyne Systems had a good idea and stuck with it. They knew that if their program ever decided that mankind worked better as target practice, it had the proper name to take them down with. A name that could be feared and also respected; not a name that could qualify as a toddler’s first words.

terminator-52

To be fair, the T-800’s searched for Sarah Conner would have been optimized if it was powered by Google.

It’s a robot-on-robot war for the fate of humanity and you’re smack-dab in the middle of all its top-down shooter glory. Publisher Perfect World and Developer Tuque Games are set to bring the robotic apocalypse to your PC with Livelock. Livelock sends you on a mission to shoot your way through hordes of robots to save humanity. With its guns locked and loaded, it hopes to not shoot any blanks.

Livelock takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity is a distant memory and robots have taken their place as inheritors of earth. To that end, the world of Livelock is wonderfully realized. Most stages are barren wastelands where the remnants of humanity mix in with the discarded corpses of other robots that have fallen in the robot wars that followed mankind’s destruction. A fact that can be commonly seen in the way the art style treats the robots and the world they live on. The newer robots shine with a metallic brilliance while the rest of the world is diluted by dull hues to give a clear distinction on what’s old and new. To that effect, the weapon effects and explosions also light up the screen with a dazzling pop as the player violently weeds their way through their enemies. All this makes it clear to me that Livelock took some care when developing its art-style and graphics.

No joke here. I just really like the weapon effects.

No joke here. I just really like the weapon effects.

The story in Livelock continues to play with the duality of old and new. Mankind was given ten years before their eventual destruction, three human minds were downloaded into brand new robot bodies in the hopes of resurrecting humanity at a later time. Though the plan seems perfect, mankind fails to properly gauge the destruction and the time-table is set back by a few hundred years. Our three robot saviors are then resurrected by a satellite AI and are introduced to a world where three robot factions are fighting for dominance over the Earth. With the world in turmoil, the satellite AI informs them that the only way to save mankind is to stop the current war. This sends the player and the robots with human minds on a path of destruction for a chance to bring mankind back. It’s an intriguing narrative that blends the lines between robot and man to bring you a tale about perseverance and survival. Overall, it is a competent story with a satisfying ending even if it can be a tad predictable at times.

The gameplay can be best described in one word and, thankfully, that word is “fun.” At any moment there is a variety of things that can be happening on the screen and it’s the player’s job to properly balance out all the robotic bits. There may not always be a constant stream of enemies on the screen, but when Livelock decides to ramp up, it doesn’t really hold back the carnage. The player is almost constantly besieged by a variety of enemies both weak and powerful that require skillful uses of each robot’s three primary weapons and its varied abilities to survive. Furthermore, there are upgraded versions of every enemy that are beefier, stronger and, oftentimes, bigger than their normal version and require their own strategies to defeat.

The “variety of things” I talked about.

The “variety of things” I talked about.

The only real shame here is the fact that Tuque Games didn’t decide to diverge from the three most common classes when it came to the core robots. Putting it in MMO terms, the three robots fall into DPS, Tank and Support roles (or as I like to call them Shooty McShooterson, The Big Guy and The Red Cross). Though what they lacked in creativity, they make up for in execution as each gain an enjoyable number of weapons and skills to do away with the machine menace. Those skills can then be equipped, along with a variety of weapons, to build different setups for your robot. This means that there is a low chance that two robots would end up the same way, even if the same one is chosen.

And you’ll get plenty of chances to see those builds with the multiplayer. Overall, it’s pretty great. Any lag is hardly noticeable and the difficulty ramps up to a point where it is necessary to use your team to its full advantage. Thankfully, they also fixed the earlier connection issues and the multiplayer seems to run fine now.

Lastly, the variety of enemies is worth mentioning. Each robotic cluster has its own theme and the enemies you face play to them. Whether it is the hive-like structure of the Noesis cluster or the human-like appearances of the Praetorian cluster each robotic faction the player faces come with their own design and strategies. This not only keeps the player on their toes but also lends to the world building of the story. Each faction harbors its own desires and they play out throughout the course of the story to lend some life to the dead planet the story takes place on.

Livelock seems to have a bullet in every chamber. The story is competent, the gameplay is fun, the multiplayer works great and mixing and matching the different abilities and weapons is a treat. It’s also obvious that the developers took care and effort when developing the graphics and art-styles to fit the game’s setting. As of right now, Livelock’s chamber is full and locked and loaded for some fun.

When not implanting his human mind into a robot body as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

*This review has been edited to reflect that multiplayer has been fixed upon launch.*

 

Nebulous (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Namazu Studios || Overall: 7.5

Space has always been of interest to man. Back when we could only look at the stars, we still dreamed of someday reaching out and touching those twinkly little objects in the sky. Then those dreams were subsequently dashed when we later learned that those beautiful night lights were actually exploding balls of hydrogen and helium that would burn our bodies to a crisp if we ever got anywhere near one. Still, that endless sky continues to capture the hearts of man to this day, whether it is in a galaxy far, far away or aboard a starship in some far off Stardate. Our eyes still fill with wonder and our hearts still yearn to explore a place many haven’t and hardly ever think of the danger that comes with it. Neither does Nebulous, it pokes fun at the whole “lost in space” bit.

 Though it’s hard not to with how meme-able Star Trek can be.

Though it’s hard not to with how meme-able Star Trek can be.

Nebulous is the latest puzzle game to leave Steam Early Access and vie for your attention. Developed and published by Namazu Studios, Nebulous takes the horrible prospect of being lost in space and makes it a lighthearted puzzle game instead. With space as your backdrop, the player must drop, bounce, push and pull the lost astronaut to safety in a number of complex levels to eventually complete the game. That being said, it’s not easy.

 Okay, sometimes it can be easy.

Okay, sometimes it can be easy.

Stop me if you heard this before, Nebulous is a simple concept with a complex design. The simple part is getting the astronaut, Dash Johnson, from point A to point B, and the complex part is all the stuff they put to hinder that. At the end of every puzzle, there is a blue wormhole that takes Dash from one level to the next, from there the player has to avoid touching the outer walls of the course and the hazards set throughout it. These could be anything from electricity to even lasers, but touching any of these hazards makes Dash explode into a shiny green light. To avoid his explode-y demise, each level grants several items to guide Dash to safety. There is quite the assortment too, including objects like ramps, simple walls and even object that bounce Dash. They’re also well needed because the game is quite hard.

A lot of the difficulty comes from the repetition. Especially in the later stages, it may take several tries to finally land Dash on the exit point. Even the slightest miscalculation can send him careening off course and right into a hazard or the edge of the map. It may take several readjustments before you land anywhere near the target zone. There is good reason for that too, the stages can get pretty complex. Often the stages are composed of several screens, each linked via multiple worm holes that can be flipped through with the WASD keys. So, not only is the player responsible for a single puzzle, but they have to keep track of several smaller puzzles that all combine to form Voltron… err I mean a giant puzzle with many layers. Add to that several other mechanics like switches, altered gravity (meaning that you may fall up or even sideways), and conveyer belts that run Dash either right or left. That doesn’t even take into account the grading system…

Stages are graded on a 3-star grading system, spilt into three categories based on the number of attempts, the time it took and if all the collectable stars scattered throughout the stage were claimed. For every objective you either meet or go under, the game offers a star for that course upwards to a complete three. While a pretty standard grading system, the problem lies in the fact that the first two grading points I mentioned are nearly impossible to get on the first try. A lot of this game requires both pre-planning and repetition to beat a stage and more often than not, you’ll go way past the limit on time and attempts very easily. It doesn’t help that the limits are pretty strict too, sometimes giving as little as half a minute and only one try to complete a course. At points, it almost seemed like the only way to get all three stars would be to do the course normally and then quickly mimic the placements on the subsequent attempt to achieve the time and attempt limit. They really weren’t joking around when they set up the grading system.

Alright, figure this out. You got a minute and two tries.

Alright, figure this out. You got a minute and two tries.

Thankfully though, they weren’t joking around when it came to the humor of the game. To put it bluntly, Dash Johnson, is a pompous ass who is so full of himself that it wouldn’t be surprising if he were a living and breathing Matryoshka doll. With a slight resemblance to Sterling Archer in attitude alone, the Astronaut will berate your intelligence with every failure and pump up his own ego with every bit of hot air that leaves his mouth. It would almost be too much if it weren’t for the fact that his fate is entirely in the player’s hands, giving them plenty of opportunities to kill him. Though, it is hard to feel bad for him and his plight, considering he seems to deserve whatever bit of bad luck that came his way. Regardless, if you don’t mind a bit of deprecation on your part, his quips are enjoyable.

The sound effects are also enjoyable. The music is a mixture of a fittingly sci-fi beat with the same repetitiveness of the Jeopardy theme; so it serves as pretty good thinking music. The sound effects are also fitting, especially the painful grunts and groan of Dash Johnson as he bounces around each level. The graphics aren’t all that fantastic but the simple designs are more than enough for this game. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said about both of those subjects.

Though, amid all of the talk about the game mechanics, difficulty, sound and graphics, what needs to be said is whether or not the game is actually fun. For that, it’s a resounding “Yeah, sure…” Nebulous is a neat distraction but it never really gets to the point of an addiction. Nebulous supports VR functionality through the Oculus Rift and I imagine that would make the experience all the more engaging, but I have neither the rig nor the equipment to test that out. Overall, Nebulous is fun enough without the bells and whistles of VR technology, but it’s isn’t quite amazing either.

Nebulous is a complex, difficult and humorous game that can be quite the fun timewaster but it is not much more than that. If you enjoy complex puzzles and can take a joke, this might be worth picking up to idly play between other games. Otherwise, it might not be engaging enough for other players. It doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of space, but it can still ground a few people with its gameplay.

When not guiding a spaceman through treacherous puzzles as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Heart&Slash (PC) Review

Developer: AHEARTFULOFGAMES | Publisher: Badland Games || Overall: 8.5

I need more money. I don’t mean the type of money that’ll help me in the short term, I mean the type of money that will prevent me from being a Walmart greeter when I’m old and gray. I constantly hear that the economy is in the shitter and that Social Security was a fairy tale they told good little boys and girls so they’ll have something to look forward too when they grow old. Now as an adult I fear that I won’t be able to simply put on a VR headset and lose myself in a virtual world for the duration of my golden years like I first dreamed of when I was a child. Instead, I’ll probably be picking up odd jobs here and there just to stay… y’know… alive. Think people would fund a Kickstarter that won’t give them anything back in return?

Social Security Benefits claim form

I imagine the other side of this form will say “Pysche!” in big bold letters by the time I get old enough to fill it out.

Straight out of Kickstarter and with all of the confidence other people’s money can give it, Heart&Slash is set to invade your computer with its button mashing goodness. Published by Badland Games and Developed by AHEARTFULOFGAMES, Heart&Slash is an attempted love letter to the beat’em-up genre of days past. Not only that, but it’s also an unforgiving Roguelike that demands the utmost concentration and ample amounts of manual dexterity to play. This exquisite combination lends to Heart&Slash’s unique style.

Originally advertised as Bayonetta meets the Roguelike genre, shadows of the former are obviously present in the combat. Heart (one of the game’s titular character) is quite the formidable little bucket of bolts. He’s equipped with a double jump and a control scheme that focuses on a two-button combat style that fans of Dynasty Warriors (or any of its derivatives) will quickly understand. Combine that with the ability to quickly switch weapons with the press of a button and the massive amounts of weapons available, each with their own combos and style, and Heart&Slash becomes quite the sandbox for said combos. Though, while not as deep as Bayonetta, it is a wholly satisfying system that isn’t a stranger to over the top combos.

It’s also just as punishing. The game demands a keen eye, the ability to multi-task, and dexterous fingers to play. A momentary lapse in either could result in the loss of health, or even worse, death, and in Rouguelike fashion that sends you right to the beginning of the game to do it all over again. Thankfully, Heart&Slash isn’t completely unforgiving.

The game is fair… I promise…

The game is fair… I promise…

Even if it isn’t in an overly-obvious way, Heart gets stronger. The formidable little robot doesn’t come back a completely clean slate after every death. He is allowed to bring any unused experience with him in the form of the bolts he collects from defeated robots. With these he can immediately upgrade any equipment he comes across. Heart also unlocks further equipment every play through giving it a plethora of combat options both weak and strong, as well as a few support abilities like a wall jump and displaying the health of every enemy. At that point, you just have to pray that the random number generator gives a good set of equipment.

Unfortunately, there are some things that the RNG cannot fix. There is quite the number of environmental bugs that plague the post-apocalyptic world that Heart lives in. It wasn’t all that rare for me to jump right through walls and for enemies to find themselves stuck into the floor. In some instances, that only proved a minor disturbance, and other times, I suddenly found myself falling into a vast sea of white and losing a fair bit of health in the process. Then there is the case of the camera. Like the 3D platformers of yesteryear, it can be clunky and unresponsive at times. This can be quite a problem especially in a game that requires as much careful planning and movement like Heart&Slash. I wouldn’t say it happened so much that it was excessive, but it was still quite off-putting when an enemy landed a lucky shot because the camera flickered away.

Now what Heart&Slash has an excess of is… well… heart. The developer seems to have a put quite a surprising amount of care into many small things about this game. The soundtrack rings with an upbeat retro track that easily becomes an earworm. The enemies you encounter are not only diverse, but also are as colorful as the protagonist; each requiring a different strategy to defeat, especially when they gang up on you. There are also plenty of little references besides the allusions to the beat’em up genre as a whole. If you take the time to look you’ll even be able to catch a Mario and Zelda references among all the other ones in the game. This all leads me to believe that the developers not only loved this game, but video games as a whole.

I’m pretty sure this is a Zoids reference, if anyone remembers that show.

I’m pretty sure this is a Zoids reference, if anyone remembers that show.

Heart&Slash may be plagued by a few bugs and a wonky camera, but it is a great experience overall. If you enjoy beat’em ups, high difficulty, or just quirky games overall, you should give this game a shot. Maybe then the TV-headed robot protagonist of this game will worm its way into your heart too.

When not coming back stronger after every death as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Hunt for Red Panda, The (Android) Review

Developer/Publisher: Zagrava Games Studio || Overall: 4.0

Ever wonder how reviews worked back in the day? Whether the ancient Romans used one Roman numeral out of another Roman numeral to grade things or if big studio hits like Achilles were later compared to some startup’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona? I’d imagine there was a person or place someone could go for information on that sort of thing. There had to be experts in the field or some sort of specialty school where someone could gather the local opinion about a work of art. Then again, newspapers have been published since 59 BC and it’s possible that they had some sort of ancient Entertainment section that graded local art, plays and everything else in some way, shape or form. Opinions certainly aren’t a new thing after all and I’m sure there had to be some way to spread them.

dali-persistence

It may not have the backing of a AAA studio like The Catholic Church but Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory works as an Indie hit.

Now that I have successfully alienated everyone who didn’t get my attempt at an art joke, it’s time to review The Hunt for Red Panda. Developed by Ukraine-based Zagrava Games Studio, The Hunt for Red Panda is set out to bring something different to your iOS, Andriod or Windows 10 device. Especially since art restoration isn’t usually a video game’s main mechanic. Still, different doesn’t always mean better…

While novel in its approach, The Hunt for Red Panda was never really all that fun. Best described as a slowed down (and far more artsy) version of the Trauma Center series, the game has the player examine art pieces for inconsistencies and then have them removed by using a small set of tools. Like Trauma Center, the game has the player juggle through each tool for maximum efficiency under the time limit but, unlike it, every tool seems to work exactly the same. Every problem in the picture may require a different method to fix but those methods always involve dropping a bit of good ol’ chemical solution onto the painting, selecting the right tool and then rubbing at it to reveal the painting’s true form bit by bit. This means whether you are erasing, repainting or cutting out sections of a painting; they all require the exact same three-step process. This all leads to the very definition of monotony as you find yourself repeating the same action over and over again throughout the game.

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…and over and over and over and over…

There are some attempts to break the monotony but they really only serve to mask the tedious gameplay and not as a way to fix it. Along with the typical search and destroy objective of each painting, sometimes they ask the player to find ten random contradictions within a time limit, search for the smallest inconsistencies or swat away flies while fixing the painting. While different in nature, they all end up being the exact same thing as you find yourself once again rubbing away at every problem like a young man in adolescence. (Hiyooo!) There are also a number of mini-games that suffer from the same tedium. Each is a set of repeated actions or quick little games that hardly offer anything notable other than an extra hint for your next painting. While that is helpful, since they basically point out an inconsistency with every use, they are hardly needed for one very specific reason.

This game is very easy. There are attempts at difficulty with the time limits and a time penalty every time a tool is used on the wrong object, but that hardly matters since The Hunt for Red Panda picks up exactly where you left off for every stage. This means getting the high score is a simple matter of coming back to the stage and erasing the last pieces you missed. The whole process becoming a matter of when instead of how as you are guaranteed the highest score with enough playthroughs. Furthermore, the amounts of hints per stage resets every time you revisit, meaning that even the worst player can eventually achieve the highest score.

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Don’t feel too good about those three stars, they’re the game’s equivalent of participation trophies.

In terms of graphics and sound, The Hunt for Red Panda does fine on both counts. Each art piece is well represented and the inconsistencies always match the style of the painting even if they do look out of place (but that’s sort of the point). There is no real flash though, so if you are expecting to look at something other than the pretty artwork, you’ll be disappointed. Otherwise, the music and sound effects aren’t all that bad either. Neither is grating on the ear nor are they going to win any awards for sound design. Overall, there is nothing really to hate here.

The Hunt for Red Panda may be different but unfortunately it isn’t better because of it. Marred with repetitive gameplay and a very low bar when it comes to difficulty, the game gets very old very fast. While there may be something here for those that have a deep appreciation for art, I can’t imagine this holding the attention less art savvy folk for too long.

When performing the same task ad nauseum as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Neverwinter (PS4) Review

Developer: Cryptic Studios | Publisher: Perfect World International || Overall: 8.0

All it takes is one hit. One bad decision and you are hooked. You’ll tell yourself that the first time was free and that you’ll never do it again, but who are you fooling? Before long, you’ll be back down in that basement looking for another hit. Sure, it’s nice that your dealer will give you some Mountain Dew and Cheetos with your main course of addiction, but you know what you did down there. From there, it isn’t much longer before you’ll start to feel the aftereffects: shaky hands, multiple personalities and even death, more than once in some cases. Dungeons and Dragons creeps into your soul and clenches it tightly until it takes over your life. By the end you will wonder how a free character sheet turned into multiple player’s guides and even a few adventure modules. Of course, if that is what you are thinking you probably already have a weekly gaming group and it is already far too late to save you.

Drug Dealer

“You’re in luck. I got a fresh batch of D6s.”

*Disclaimer: This review is based on playing the Guardian Fighter class with the Onyx Head Start Pack provided by Perfect World.

Getting rid of the polyhedral dice, the play mats, and the physical presence of other people; publisher Perfect World and developer Cryptic Studio are looking to bring the excitement of Dungeons and Dragons to the PlayStation 4 with its port of Neverwinter. Featuring Dungeons and Dragons’ popular Forgotten Realms setting, Neverwinter casts the player as a fearless adventurer in one of the many character classes that tabletop game is known for. While it seems like a natural choice to take a game like Dungeon and Dragons and turn it into an MMO, does the experience translate well to the home console? Does it still feel like a Dungeons and Dragons adventure? Is asking a question a textbook way to lead to the next paragraph?

It is not exactly a one-to-one conversion, but Neverwinter does an admirable job of getting the feel of Dungeons and Dragons just right. The world is a ripe fantasy filled with the sorts of things you’d see at the table. It is populated with humans, elves, orcs and all of the familiar races that usually find their way at the end of your blade once a party member fails a diplomacy check. The starting classes are also standard D&D fair, giving you an assortment of paladins, fighters and magic-users to seek and destroy all those that would bring harm to the people of the Forgotten Realms. Neverwinter even includes a “character sheet” for your character where you’ll find their stats and abilities. There are some notable absences and a few things are locked behind a paywall but what you are given at the start certainly isn’t bad.

Neverwinter_PS4_03

How a failed Diplomacy check usually looks like…

The story itself is also right up the typical playbook for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, but there is also something for those that simply enjoy fantasy stories to like. That being said, the story doesn’t exactly take the genre and revolutionize it. It’s a pretty standard tale that has the player going throughout the Forgotten Realms to stop the impending invasion of a Litch Queen with an assortment of side-quests that link (and don’t link) into the overall campaign. The quests themselves also feel the same way. They really don’t travel far outside the typical go here, get that, kill these, and defeat this boss format of so many other MMOs but they do a decent job of progressing the player through the narrative. On the other side of the gaming table, the voice acting is far more of a mixed bag. Some of the characters don’t give a very good performance and others will leave you wondering why they choose that voice for that character, but some of the actors give a decent performance for their role and scene.

For those familiar with Dragon Age, you’ll be right at home with the gameplay. Dumping the usual point and click affair for a mostly action-oriented set up, the game has you moving with the joystick and attacking with an assortment of buttons on the control pad. Almost everything is used in some regard, from the face buttons to the triggers, to the point where it may take some getting used to. This is especially noticeable when pressing the L1 button, as it gives you a whole new set of actions to choose from. Once you do master the control scheme, it seems quite natural. Though, finding a good way to balance the button combinations isn’t the only thing that’ll be your responsibility, you also have to aim your attacks. The reticle on screen gives you a good idea on where your attacks will land, and while the game is generous, it is still possible to completely whiff your attacks and lose several precious seconds against your enemies if you are completely off mark. It’s not exactly throwing oddly shaped dice and hoping you’ll hit, but the gameplay gets the job done.

While hostile NPCs are the main threat, they aren’t the only dangerous thing in Neverwinter. There are several traps that can inflict injuries to your character and if you don’t have an injury kit to heal them, you’re forced to suffer from their debilitating effects. Depending on where the character is hurt, they can suffer anything from reduced damage to an increased cooldown time. Thankfully, with an attentive eye to your surroundings, they are largely avoidable. Whether it is a slit in the floor, an oddly shaped tile, or even a hole in the wall, each of the little, but deadly, inconsistencies in the dungeon’s design is a clue to a trap. Of course, it may take several tries before they can all be avoided, but it is rewarding to do so. The only real problem with injuries is that it takes about three minutes near a campsite to fully heal if you don’t have an injury kit or don’t care to waste one. Though, waiting around is pretty standard experience in MMOs from what I can gather.

Lastly, the graphics aren’t all that great. Neverwinter is a three-year-old game and, even at the time, it wasn’t all that graphically impressive. It doesn’t possess the same quality or attention to detail of more high-budget titles but it also doesn’t really detract from the gameplay. Sure, the faces aren’t as detailed, and the glittery dust that leads you to your next mission isn’t as shiny (Kudos though! Made it much easier for a MMO newbie like me to find each mission.), but you’ll probably be too busy killing things to even care. The graphics are serviceable but not impressive.

Even if Neverwinter isn’t heads above the rest when it comes to being an MMO, it is still a fine translation of Dungeons and Dragons to an MMORPG. Many of what D&D players love are represented here in some way, shape or form. Even players that are unfamiliar with D&D can have fun in the world and with the action-oriented combat. Even without the snacks and rules lawyers, Neverwinter is still a fine game and Dungeon and Dragons experience.

When not spreading his Dungeons and Dragons addiction as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Daydreamer: Awakened Edition (PS4) Review

Developer: Roland Studios | Publisher: ATLUS || Overall: 6.0

This is a strange world we live in. It’s a world where the most popular app for young adults is related to capturing fictional monsters and is not about hooking up with very real people. It’s also a world where ESPN believes that airing the finals of a Street Fighter tournament makes for good sports programming. These are only the most recent examples, too. For a long time now it seems like whatever was considered unpopular is starting to become popular, and the things that the dweebs, geeks and weaboos among us whispered in silence about have become the subject of very public and sometimes loud conjecture among major media, news outlets and the more popular among us. It’s almost like we are living in some geek’s daydream…

FAMILY MATTERS, Jaleel White, 1989-98, (c)Warner Bros. Television/courtesy Everett Collection

Fashion in five years.

Out of the jaws of failure comes Daydreamer: Awakened Edition for your PS4. Originally starting as two Kickstarter projects that failed to make even three percent of their original goals, the game has come a long way to be published by ATLUS and available for the PS4. As a passion project for Roland Studios (which is really just a code name for the one guy who developed this game), Daydreamer is set to take your imagination and your money on this throwback side-scrolling shooter. At first glance, the game is an obvious departure from the usual flair. The art style jumps at you for being one part gorgeous and another part grotesque. Though, whether the game is all art style and no substance remains to be seen.

It's like if they prepared mutilated bodies for glamour shots...

It’s like if they prepared mutilated bodies for glamour shots…

Getting the obvious out of the way first, the art style can only be described as “something else.” It may take a while to get used to, but it eventually settles into your heart as the Lovecraftian-wet-dream that it is. Daydreamer has an awkward beauty to it that presents your nightmares in a sort of picturesque–fashion, as if they were plucked right out of a child’s demented fairy tale. This is further supplemented by the amazing animation for the enemies. Each enemy walks, wriggles, crawls and staggers with a fluidity that makes them come to life; a disgusting, scary and ugly life, but a life nonetheless. This also extends to the main character that possesses the same sort of fluidity but without the characteristic grotesqueness of the enemies. Daydreamer: Awakened Edition is quite the sight to behold.

Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said of the gameplay. The Kickstarter mentions Alien Solider and Gunstar Heroes as inspirations and the gameplay reflects that, but I can’t help but think that it pales in comparison to its precursors. There wasn’t the same sense of urgency or utter chaos that both of those games are well known for; instead of having to contend with wave after wave of enemies, the standard rhythm of Daydreamer seems to be walking forward, shooting the things in front of you and then repeating that process until a boss appears in front of you. Which is a shame because the game seems to have all of the building blocks needed to pull off a fast-pace and fun shooter: a varied amount of weapons, movement options, melee attacks and even bonuses for chaining kills, but they never seem to come together in just the right way to put all those options to good use. There are a few things to break the monotony that include objectives that have you seeking and destroying power cores and a boss battle at the end of every level. Though, they do little to change the overall pacing. The power core hunts happen far too infrequently to matter and most of the boss battles quickly devolve into an arms races where shooting the boss becomes more important than dodging the boss’ attacks with only one notable exception.

Like the gameplay, the story has good intentions but doesn’t quite live up to them. The premise is sound, with the story taking place on an Earth ruled by alien invaders, and our lone protagonist is kept alive as a living trophy to their conquest. Roused from her matrix-like existence by the mysterious, nightmare-inducing, Gatekeeper, she is tasked with a dangerous mission to the Earth’s core and that’s about the point where the story fizzles out. From that point on there really isn’t much mention about what you are doing and why you are doing it, and it ends in a vague way that leaves you scratching your head. The bits of dialogue each boss offers don’t help much either. Their words are often generic and hardly motivating to the player. One striking example of this is a certain boss that starts his encounter by stating “I’m a rabbit, deal with it!!!” The story had a good start but lacks the proper execution to make that matter.

I'll let you decide which of these bosses says, “I'm a rabbit, deal with it!!!”

I’ll let you decide which of these bosses says, “I’m a rabbit, deal with it!!!”

Daydreamer: Awakened Edition came a long way from being a Kickstarter failure to be available on a home console. It’s a shame that the game turned out to be have more style than substance. While those looking for a game with interesting art direction may be able to find something here, those that want to relive their enjoyment of Gunstar Heroes and Alien Soldier or are interested in a story set in a world dominated by alien forces will have to look elsewhere.

When not reclaiming the earth from alien invaders as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

PSA: Zero Time Dilemma is Out Today!

Zero Time Dilemma Title Pic

Hey everyone! It’s your friendly neighborhood Squackle writer here to mention that Zero Time Dilemma is out today for the 3DS and the Vita! For those in the know, I’m sure you have been eagerly awaiting the exciting conclusion of the series, and for the uninitiated, a primer is incoming.

Zero Time Dilemma is the third adventure game in the Zero Escape series. Starting with Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (mo’ problems), and succeeded by Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, the titles take place in a world of pseudoscience where several people are forced into demented escape the room games involving supernatural powers. One part character drama, another part science fiction tale and two parts Saw (the movie); the Zero Escape games centers on themes of trust, betrayal and the limits of the human conscience when put under severe duress. That’s not taken lightly either, you often have to make terrible decisions that cause the deaths of several people to get the full story and this newest entry in the franchise seems to continue this trend with a blood-soaked vengeance.

maxresdefaultFun for a whole dysfunctional family!~

Taking place in the near future, Zero Time Dilemma is set in a secret compound in the Nevada desert. The nine main characters of our story are originally sent there to simulate a manned-mission to Mars, but things go awry once they find out that the whole compound is booby trapped. Even worse, a mysterious figure known as Zero appears and announces the start of the dangerous Decision game. Claiming that the survival of our nine main characters, himself, and the several billion people on Earth hangs in the balance, he forces them through a game where the only way to escape is by gathering six passwords to open a door. The catch is that the only way to gather the passwords is for six of them to die; each password equaling one death. Pretty hardcore, right? I didn’t even mention the part where each participant wears a bracelet that carries a mind-altering toxin that causes them to forget what happened in the previous 90 minutes or that it’s conveniently set to inject them every 90 minutes. Beyond that, there is also an insane cult with a disease that threatens to kills billions. Though, don’t expect the twist and turns to simply stop there. This series has a tendency to lift the rug right out from under the player.

For fear of spoiling anything for those interested, I’ll stop here. Just know that there are three games in the series and each one is well worth your time. So whether you begin here, start at the beginning or jump in somewhere in the middle, you are bound to have a good time with the enthralling narrative these three games have spun. Overall though, I’m sure I’m not the only one happy about getting a conclusion to this wonderful series of games.

When not participating in deadly escape the room games as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Infestation World (PC) Early Beta Preview

Developer/Publisher: Electronics Extreme

Infest_World_Logo

Following in the footsteps of DayZ and other zombie survival MMOs, the developers at Electronics Extreme are looking to infect your computer with their latest iteration, Infestation World. Like any good zombie movie, the only goal in their sand-box is survival in a world overrun by the undead leaving the player to ultimately decide their fate. Though, invoking another zombie movie trope, it is not the zombies you should be afraid of, it’s the players. Player killing is not only legal but it seems to be somewhat encouraged as a way to grab free loot. More often than not, I’d be greeted by a bullet instead of a friendly hello, resulting in the player looting my body once everything was said and done. The type of world Infestation World takes place in isn’t a friendly one.

Infestation_BattleMode_SS (3)This is how social interaction works in Infestation World.

The gameplay in Infestation World is slow and relies on a more methodogical approach to survive. Running out with guns blazing is the quickest way to attract the attention of a few dozen zombies or the sniper bullet of an opportunistic player looking to score some loot. It pays to approach each situation with careful analysis to properly judge your chances of survival. This is doubly so when approaching other players. Getting a drop on them is almost essential to surviving the encounter.

 

While slow, steady and deadly wins the race in the open world portion of the game, the multiplayer battle modes are more of a mixed bag. Coming in two varieties, a standard Team Deathmatch that rewards the last ones standing, or the Time Attack option that focuses on racking up a kill count; these modes rely more on quick decisions and a twitchy trigger finger to get the job done. Caution is still rewarded, but being overly so can make you a sitting duck on the battlefield. These are the gameplay types to focus on if you are looking for a more standard shooter.

 

With all that being said, the game is in an early beta and could use some tweaks. Throughout my short adventure in the world, I found a few problems. Along with the general clipping and framerate issues, there were a few problems where I couldn’t seem to find a solution. Namely, the backpack didn’t seem to correctly judge the weight of each item. Even if my backpack could carry 50 lbs of supplies, it would seem to cap out at about 5 lbs when I attempted to equip my character on the menu screen. Furthermore, the lack of stats on the weapons and armor made it hard to decide which would be more effective than the other. Lastly, and probably the worse, the melee combat needs an upgrade. While grossly underpowered, they are also underwhelming to use on a zombie. The lifeless undead turned into a simple meat piñata for punishment whenever in melee combat. They hardly react, they don’t counterattack; they just stand there until you beat the infection right out of them for five or more hits. The whole process is wholly unsatisfying.

Infestation_BattleMode_SS (2)“Oh no! He talked about the games faults. Get him!”

If the idea of entering the deadly world of a zombie apocalypse interest you, the closed beta for Infestation World starts March 28th and the open beta begins April 6th. Till then, I hope I see you before you see me.

When not traversing a zombie infested wasteland as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Why Not Date a Tank?

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In a world where you can date cats, pigeons and dragons; why not a tank?

Just released on Steam, Panzermadels: Tank Dating Simulator is a… thing. Panzermadels is part of a recent line of wacky Dating Sims that include the likes of Hatoful Boyfriend and NEKOPARA, and takes the standard premise of the genre and twist it by having you date schoolgirl versions of famous World War 2 tanks. It boasts six different romance plotlines, multiple endings and a “Beach Episode” on their Steam page; it is most certainly a real thing.

The premise is way out there, but it helps that the Dev Team, DEVGRU-P, seems to be in on the joke. With even a cursory glance through the pictures on its steam page, the script seems to not take itself too seriously and is laced with enough tank innuendo that would make the most jaded of tank operators involuntarily discharge. Their Twitter and Facebook pages seem to keep up the same attitude, both littered with tank related memes and good-natured pokes at the general absurdity of their own game. There is so much tongue-in-cheek here that they are liable to choke on it.


I was wondering who was the target audience for this game,
then I found this infographic on the Dev Team’s Twitter.

The game is also quite the success story. It got past its Kickstarter goal to be made in the first place, and even successfully made it past Steam Greenlight to be available publically on the platform. It seems people like the idea of combining the Dating Sim genre and history references enough to put some money behind it, or, at least, vote for it to be available for purchase.

Regardless, Panzermadels is a shining example of a developer wanting to do its own thing and finding enough fans to get away with it. If you are interested, head to the Steam page and ask yourself this one question: “Why not a tank?”

When not entertaining Tank girls as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Assault Android Cactus (PS4) Re-Review

Developer/Publisher: Witch Beam  || Overall: 9.0

Déjà Vu is an odd thing. By its very nature it is a contradiction; a feeling of hazy familiarity in a completely unfamiliar setting. That’s not even to mention the inherent mystery in the whole process. Often you aren’t even sure where the feeling comes from; it is just a sudden hit of nostalgia that leaves you dazed and seemingly comes from outta nowhere. It could even be triggered by any number of things: going to a new area, performing a task or even reviewing a game you already reviewed a few months ago…

groundhog-day-driving
Things could be worse.

Déjà Vu is an odd thing. By its very nature it is a contradiction; a feeling of hazy familiarity in a completely unfamiliar setting. That’s not even to mention the inherent mystery in the whole process. Often you aren’t even sure where the feeling comes from; it is just a sudden hit of nostalgia that leaves you dazed and seemingly comes from outta nowhere. It could even be triggered by any number of things: going to a new area, performing a task or even reviewing a game you already reviewed a few months ago…

groundhog-day-driving
If you haven’t gotten the joke by now, maybe you should
give it another go-round?

Harkening (is that even a word?) back to a time where carpet shooters were a thing and all you needed was two buttons to play a videogame, Assault Android Cactus is now set to land its special brand of bullet hell madness to the PlayStation 4. Developed by Witch Beam, Assault Android Cactus was a pretty great game on the PC and seems willing to continue that trend on the new platform. Though, be prepared; this is a review of a game that I recently reviewed, so if you aren’t looking to hear a lot of the same just know it’s a great game and you should give it a shot if you haven’t. For those that wish to stay, get ready for me to abuse my “as expected,” “just like last time,” “also,” and “once again,” privileges.

 

As expected, the story doesn’t really change at all between versions. It is still a simple story set in a large ship full of robots that have just downloaded their mutiny protocols and are now dealing with their Three-Laws-of-Robotics-frustrations by way of wanton destruction. Of course, every story must have its heroes so it’s up to Cactus and all the other androids already on board to quell the mutiny and regain peace by way of wanton destruction. Thankfully, Assault Android Cactus’ titular character and all the other playable androids help to balance out all that wanton destruction with some charm. Each playable character has their own personal set of quirks that makes them stand out, and even their own combination of weapons that further separate them from the rest. These varied personalities and gameplay styles go well with multiple playthroughs of the game too. If only because the developers took the time to give each character their own unique and entertaining dialogue with every boss.

aac_004
WANTON DESTRUCTION!!!

Just like last time, the gameplay is the best part of Assault Android Cactus. It’s a sweet mixture of dodging and shooting that teases the nostalgia for old carpet shooters right out of me. It can be overwhelming but it hits that sweet spot where it still seems fair. Plus, it could even be considered a bit more forgiving than its 2D forefathers because getting hit isn’t a problem, instead time is. In a bit of innovativeness on its part, you are put on a timer instead of a life system, and while getting hit does lose time it is definitely not the end. In the upper-middle portion of the screen there is a battery that is slowly draining juice and the only way to fill it up is to pick up the battery packs that the enemies drop occasionally. This forces the player to keep up a constant pace of shooting, destroying and picking up the enemy drops. This is where the game excels. Very often, I would barely get the battery packs before the battery would completely drain, it timed nearly perfect to keep the tension high and the fun just as exciting. Overall, it was pleasure to pick up and play.

 

Also, it was easy to pick up and play. The control scheme isn’t overly complicated and only really requires the two top triggers and both analogue sticks. The right trigger is for shooting, the left trigger is to use your special ability and the analogue sticks control your movement and aim. This simple system is more than enough to control the game and aid you in your dance of death as you hard-reboot all the evil robots on board the ship.

 

Once again, the graphics and music of the game aren’t all that spectacular but don’t detract from the great gameplay. There are no drawbacks on either part that are particularly worth noting. Each is just enough to complement the game nicely but not enough to be spectacular. While on the subject, there are things to complain about, but they are nitpicky at best. For one, in multiplayer it is sometimes hard to keep track of your character and, occasionally, your character might drift off screen. For two, the isometric view this game uses, instead of the standard top-down perspective, can obscure your view near large enemies and objects causing you to be hit by hidden projectiles. Lastly, there still seems to be no option for online multiplayer forcing you to socialize if you want to experience it. These are in no way game changing, but they are definitely spots for improvement.

aac_001
Truth be told, it’s already easy to lose yourself in all of this mess.

So there you have it, harkening (I’ve decided, it’s a word now) back to my earlier review, Assault Android Cactus does a lot of things right and a few things wrong. It’s an overall great game and you should really consider giving this quirky, hectic, and fun romp a chance on PlayStation 4… or PC if you don’t have that. Either way, its hours of enjoyment and a pretty damn good time with friends present.

If you want a more in-depth review of the game, check out my PC Review for the same game here.

When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition (PS4) Review

Developer: ACE Team | Publisher: ATLUS || Overall: 6.5

Ever date someone? Yeah… me neither, but let’s play pretend. Let’s say they’re nearly perfect for you. The type of person that not only tolerates, but even shares your hobbies with a pleasant personality; no shortage of devotion and enough physical beauty to put the Greek’s description of most gods and goddesses to shame. In short: the perfect fantasy. Now, let’s say with all their apparent assets there is still one thing about them that gets on your nerves; a single stain among the canvas of perfection that is your potential lover.  You try to ignore it but it pops up in every conversation, and when you try to accept it, the very thought of encountering it again causes a sharp chill to run up your spine. Despite all their positive qualities, you can’t help but notice their one glaring flaw and have it mar the relationship entirely until you’re forced to break up with them. Don’t you think that sort of thing is a tragedy?

Laura
It’s not you, Laura. It’s the way you chew your food.

Taking a stab at the Roguelike subgenre, the developers at ACE Team have teamed up with the good people at ATLUS to give you Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition. A 2D side-scroller and an updated edition to the Steam and Xbox versions for the PS4, Abyss Odyssey is a game about swords and sorcery that takes place in Chile. Yeah, that’s right, I just said Chile. *Add wink and boastful head nod here.*

Chile
One of the few countries that actually looks like what it’s
named after. If you twist your head and blink.

A huge departure from most games in general, Abyss Odyssey takes place in a fantasy version of 19th century Chile. The backdrop serves as the ambiance to a rather mystical and dark setting for the tale. It borrows heavily from Chilean lore to infuse the game with monsters ranging from the macabre to the downright menacing, even as the setting may change drastically from floor to floor. The further you go into the dungeon, the more apparent it becomes that the developer, ACE Team, is very familiar with Chilean lore — it is probably a happy side-effect of basing a game in the country where their headquarters is located. The playable characters do not fall far from that aesthetic either, and feel like they were plucked right out of some dark fantasy painting hanging in the corner of some alternative art house. This all comes together to make it feel like you are traversing through some sinister nightmare… because that’s exactly what you are doing.

The story in Abyss Odyssey is a simple one but it does small and effective things to bring it to life. Though the tale of a nightmare becoming reality is a common one, this is the first time I’ve become so enthralled with the concept.  Most of the story doesn’t take place in grand cut-scenes but is instead hinted at through character dialogue and the various documents enemies drop. Once you get the whole story, it brings new meaning to previous interactions and sometimes provides motivations for the main characters. Furthermore, Abyss Odyssey does an excellent job of integrating the game’s mechanics into the story. Wonder how the main characters keep coming back to life? Well, it’s because they are also part of the nightmare and, like any dream, they can be reimagined. Is it odd that the dungeon changes with every play through? Not so much if you consider it a part of a person’s nightmare, ever-changing and malleable to the dreamer’s will. These traits in the story already warrant high praise but that isn’t even the best part.

Every character has a story. From the main characters to even the lowly NPCs, Abyss Odyssey takes the time and effort to give them a reason for existing outside of the gameplay mechanics that they are there to represent. One of my favorite examples of this can be seen in the dying soldiers that can be randomly encountered throughout the dungeon. They are there as a fast and easy way to give the player a chance at more loot but each comes with a story all their own. Sometimes the story is courageous, other times it’s heart-breaking, and can even be downright embarrassing, but each story helps make the world of Abyss Odyssey feel real. Those dying soldiers weren’t there solely for the player’s benefit, they had dreams and aspirations all their own.

screen2
Protip: When you die, you really don’t. Before even reviving at the beginning
of the dungeon the game gives you control of a random mook. Make it to an
altar and you’ll be instantly revived from death.

The music does a fine job of complimenting the nightmare aesthetic. Each theme is a haunting melody of classical beats that wouldn’t seem out of place in your nightmares… only if you were more cultured and/or educated… you swine! Though, the way the game interacts with its music deserves some credit. Often times it can be used as an audio cue of what is nearby, and other times it can ratchet up the intensity of specific encounters. There is a certain enemy whose theme overtakes the current music whenever you find him. This sudden musical clash makes his appearance all the more terrifying during the fight. These sorts of “reactionary” musical queues make the music feel almost as alive as the setting.

So, by now you are probably wondering why, despite all of accolades I gave this game, it has a big fat 6.5 under its review score? You’re probably also wondering why I would start a video game review talking about dating? Well, that’s because I have a good reason for each. First, the combat sucks. Second, allusion is a pretty awesome writing device.  To put it plainly, at its worst, the combat is a clunky and unresponsive mess and, at its best, it is a poor man’s version of Smash Bros. The shielding, dodge-rolling and fighting mechanics seem mostly there, but what isn’t there is the polish the titular party game has gone through over the years. So while the game may have the know-how coded into the game, it doesn’t possess the necessary grace to pull it off properly. The rigid animations and unresponsive controls lead the player to fight against the stage and controls instead of the monsters in front of them. So much so, that I began to dread every encounter because either my attacks would whiff past enemies or my controls would randomly not function the way they were intended. This also applies to the game’s competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes, both suffering from the same bad combat mechanics. It’s really quite the horrible stain on what could have been a great game.

screen8
Okay guys, as usual. No items. That weird-eye-lion-thing only.
FINAL DESTINATION!!!

I could have forgiven Abyss Odyssey for anything other than the combat. This tragedy could have been avoided if the music was lackluster, if the story was bland or if the graphics were 8-bit. Instead, the game falters on its most important aspect, the combat; it drags everything else down with it. Instead of enjoying the world this game takes place in, I’m forced to drop it like an annoying girlfriend. This game could have easily gotten a 9.0 or 9.5, instead it’ll have to do with the 6.5 I gave it. It just wasn’t meant to be.

When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Message Quest (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Royal Troupe || Overall: 7.5

Heroes come in all shapes and size, and that’s precisely the problem in Message Quest. Published and Developed by Royal Troupe, Message Quest takes a step back from the usual hero’s story and focuses more on the one that literally delivers the hero’s call rather than the hero receiving it. Set in a land about to fall to ruin, the laziest member of the Order of Heralds must deliver an important scroll to an even more important hero in an attempt to save Avarange. The problem is that Feste, our main character, would much rather laze about than bother finding a hero who could be just about anybody. Thus leaving the player as both his conscience and fourth-wall-breaking audience member, you must goad, manipulate and eventually encourage Feste to complete his noble quest. The player will find a point-and-click adventure along the way.

Who Done It
Unfortunately, the answer to who killed Mr. Boddy remains
to be found.

The first thing you’ll notice about Message Quest is the art style. Bright tones and dark outlines give it a style similar to any stained glass window you’d find at a church, mosque, synagogue or personal shrine to your favorite anime character (I don’t discriminate).  Furthermore, each character has distinguishing features that are often exaggerated to easily tell them apart and add to their charm along with their mannerisms and random sound effects they make. As for the other sounds you hear, the music is littered with melodies that remind you of renaissance fairs or classic fairytales. Thankfully, despite the short length of the game, there are enough arrangements to prevent any individual song from going stale.

 

Message Quest is pieced by equal parts story and gameplay. The story section consists of a charming, but not too intricate, tale about Feste overcoming his laziness and being introduced to the virtues of hard work and responsibility. Unfortunately, it didn’t convince me that a lifetime of laziness can change in a story that probably played out over the course of a few days. Especially for a person who I had to literally drag out of their home to start the quest. There is also an interesting dialogue tree mechanic where you pick what each character in the conversation says, though in implementation I didn’t find it all that necessary considering it never really changed the story’s outcome. Still, there is a bit of fun in the tale and some nice references to other fantasy and classic tales as well. The characters are also amusing, though a bit one-dimensional.

Responsibility Stool
We need more virtue based furniture. I suggest the honesty sofa,
the loyalty table and the chastity bed.

The gameplay was really average at best and mostly consists of an assortment of jigsaw puzzles, and the usual point-and-click affairs of clicking on and manipulating objects in the background to advance the story. It’s hardly even difficult to lose track of your objectives, with the game having a convenient scroll at the top of the screen that tells you exactly what you are looking for, plus another button that shows you which items are clickable. The truly interesting bit was the odd battle mechanic this game featured. It more of a mental combat meant to deplete an opponent’s will and pump up Feste’s own will with a funny assortment of actions like jogging, making a puppy-dog face and playing dead. Though fun, it didn’t happen nearly enough for me to truly enjoy it.

Battle System
“Don’t make me pee my pants, woman!”

Overall, Message Quest is a pretty decent game that doesn’t quite hit all of its high notes. It’s very pretty, has a decent story and so-so gameplay. It’s also pretty short with it taking me all of an hour and a half  to complete, even as I took the time to explore my every option. To make up for the length of the game, the price point is befittingly lower, coming in at just under three dollars on Steam. While Message Quest isn’t necessarily ground breaking or a shining example of its genre, I can see it being the perfect video game chaser to play in between longer games since there is still some enjoyment to be had.

When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.