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.

 

Tom vs. The Armies of Hell (PC) Review

Developer: Darkmire Entertainment | Publisher: Burgoon Entertainment || Overall: 8.5

Every now and then a game supersedes its intent to be “simply” a game, and illuminates itself as more of a personal sarcastic journal of one person’s journey through life.  While Tom vs. The Armies of Hell is a well-designed, fun, twin-stick shooter with the sensibilities of a traditional 3rd person action beat-em-up game, it’s biting cynicism and lighthearted humor are by far its most shining aspect.  I thoroughly enjoyed this game, and the only thing holding it back were its annoying bugs.

Through six levels, you’ll take control of normal office employee “Tom” as he deals with a situation gone awry at his office.  While workplace violence is something to be mindful of, workplace-sinking-into-Hell might not be.  The beginning of the game, which is also the game’s story trailer (as seen below), is actually quite hilarious and really sets the mood for what’s to come.  While the cinematics and character portraits have a “Flash movie” art style to them, the in-game characters replicate their animated counterparts quite well, keeping a cartoonish look through most of the enemy designs that are quite unique.

The comedic point of the adventure really comes with using a normal everyday white dude who has a white collar job going around and killing hordes of demons with a gun that is powered by souls.  You’ll be accompanied by Hell’s seeming-antagonist Beezle and Tom has no choice but to do what he says since he can’t go anywhere else (much like his normal office job).  Tom vs. The Armies of Hell is full of ironic situations and comparisons to the real world like this, and is also full of inside jokes.  The game became an outlet for the developer to unleash his experiences onto the world, and due to the comedic execution of the writing, it is all very funny.  There is only voice acting during the cinematics, and not during the actual gameplay, however.

Tom vs. The Armies of Hell is actually quite difficult at times.  If you aren’t lucky or don’t figure out the exact way to beat a boss, you’ll be attempting it over and over until you do.  I personally encountered some game-breaking bugs that forced me to either restart the level or restart the game.  It extended the play time considerably for me, but it was usually not that difficult to get back to where I was considering I knew how to kill the bosses up to that point.  Enemy layouts are also randomized, but you’ll usually see the same ones pop up in particular places.  There was only one or two times where the set of enemies spawning made it a lot harder than the second time through where the more annoying enemies didn’t spawn.  Health is hard to come by, even on the easiest difficulty.  I didn’t see much nominal difference between Normal and Easy, but the game was difficult enough on Easy for me.  The last boss of the game can also be pretty cheap, and depending on if you have any upgrades available you’ll be in for a lot of “learning.”

Because the game is so short (I’d say max four hours without bugs ruining your day), you don’t earn many permanent upgrades like you may in a longer-form game.  Temporary upgrades are found in chests and are an assortment of buffs, like bigger ammo capacity, more damage, armor, etc; these are lost on death/respawn.  The one permanent upgrade is found on the second level where you are able to store a second type of ammo to switch to.  Your main modes of attack are your gun and your demon arm given to you by Beezle.  You’ll have to capture souls released by enemies with your gun and you’ll gain a limited amount of ammo to use that type.  The gun ammo is quite diverse, including but not limited to a rapid fire gun, shotgun, flamethrower, frost, penetrating plasma, lightning, and the most unique being a radioactive explodey-laser.  The demon arm is used for melee and as you hit more enemies, you’ll juice up your Energy bar.  Holding the melee button after a combo will unleash a large hit, expending your Energy, and is your best way to kill enemies fast at the risk of getting hit.  Finding purple demon shards (the game pretty much blatantly tells you it is demon’s fecal matter) will allow you to transform into a Demon and beat the crap out of everything around you while regaining health for the duration.  Energy drops and health drops are also common sights, but Health drops are quite a bit rarer.

While the game wasn’t super difficult, it can be a bit of a challenge.  The bugs are also strange; it feels like the game “forgets” to allow any Health drops at times, or a wall that stays up until you kill all enemies still stays up after you kill all enemies.  If you somehow manage to bug the game out in a different way, you’ll also have to restart the level.  For some reason when I continue a game from one of my older saves it doesn’t let me continue to any levels.  This is quite possibly the worst thing that can happen as you’ll have to restart the whole game again if you don’t play in one go.  While the developer appears to be quashing as many bugs as he can, this is an unfortunate side effect of a game that only has one person behind it.

Taking into account that Tom vs. The Armies of Hell is made by one person, the game is quite a marvel.  The art is great, the gameplay is decent-to-good throughout, and the bosses/enemies are designed well and are diverse.  The story is really funny and all of it makes for a quick, enjoyable experience.

 

Bear With Me (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Exordium Games || Overall: 7.5

Bear With Me is a horror fantasy Noire point-and-click game that puts you in control of 10-year-old girl Amber as she tries to find her missing brother.  Assisted by the gruff, retired private investigator Ted E. Bear, Amber also sets out to solve the mystery behind “The Red Man” and how it relates to her brother’s disappearance and other disturbances across Paper City.  You’ll have to inspect, have conversations, find items and combine them to solve puzzles to advance the story.

When it comes to point-and-click games, it can be hard to quantify the amount of “challenge” required to be enjoyable.  In general, the game isn’t very challenging as a lot of the puzzles are mostly logical and item-based (rather than clue-based).  You’ll sometimes acquire items through dialogue trees, but most come from the scenery, and by combining them in unique ways.  The puzzles require multiple steps and aren’t that quick to solve, so you will still need to experiment occasionally.  With all that said, the puzzles are still pretty enjoyable.  Most of the items in the scenery can be clicked on so you can hear Amber describe it with her tongue-in-cheek humor (more on that later).  Of course, being able to click on tons of things is very important to the genre and the detailed environments satisfy the impetus to click on everything you can.  Depending on certain choices or conversations you may actually affect things later on, and that may impact motivation to replay to see the different outcomes.  Since only one episode will be available on August 8th, your actions may not show much result until the game rounds out further with more episodes.

Art is an important part of how you enjoy Bear With Me.  The animation itself is nice and fluid, and while the color is primarily black and white (to fit its Noire motif), the color red is used in very particular ways.  While the game takes place primarily on the second floor of Amber’s house, the different rooms are diverse and full of elements you’d expect a house that was “lived in” to have.  You are more or less contained in one or two rooms at a time as you progress, and its always exciting to see what the next room will present itself as.  The art style reminds me of anime-influenced animation, but with a unique flare to it.

While most of what the game has to offer is of a very good quality, there are some serious problems with the story delivery.  The biggest of all is there is no visual emotional reaction from characters.  It loses a lot steam in the impact of the story to not see the characters visually distressed, yet their voices are conveying the correct inflection you would expect.  For the whole game, Amber has a stoic face no matter what she is saying and what scary thing might be happening.  Tongue-in-cheek humor is littered throughout the description of random items you click on, including “other game” references.  These jokes/references really pull you out of the mood of the story and feels like something that should have been left for an “Easter Egg” version of the game.  Not to mention the fact that the tongue-in-cheek jokes that a mid-20’s/early-30-year old would make are coming out of a 10-year-old.  Some of the most baffling things I encountered was a lamp that was referred to as a “sandwich” and a funny recording of a “developer of Bear With Me” asking for help as if he is in a basement torture chamber prison.  I get the joke that you are inspecting lamps and there isn’t much to say about them, but it feels like they are putting more effort into making these jokes than immersing you in the story.  Taking the jokes out of the context of the game, however, they are mostly clever and funny.  I would have just liked it for an “alternate” version of the game to play afterwards instead of during the first playthrough, or at least keep these jokes for something hidden.

The disjointed narrative also comes as you are thrust into the beginning of the game, with just a cryptic cold opening.  It was super weird to click on a living character and have it be referred to as “my toy Giraffe” — there is nothing introducing our suspension of disbelief to this world and why something that is obviously alive in the context of the game is being called a “toy.”  It throws the narrative off completely as you have to automatically make assumptions that the girl you are playing as might be insane or she’s making things up in her head and nothing is actually as it seems, which heartily cheapens the seriousness and experience you are supposedly supposed to build up due to the scenario presented.  A little less of a blunt admission that half of what is going on is make believe on the outset would have done a lot of favors to getting you into the world the game creates, even with the jokes.

The voice-work is above average.  Amber’s voice definitely grows on you, but at first doesn’t mesh with the fact that the girl is supposed to be a 10-year-old.  At first I assumed the girl was around 18 or 19 with her smart tongue-in-cheek quips about every odd thing in her room, not to mention there are a few references to “drinking” from Ted E. Bear, as well as some harsh language (not something you’d expect a 10-year-old to make-believe a Teddy Bear is saying to her).  The voices for many of the other characters are a lot better match and are pretty good, to boot.  The voice cast is important in delivering a pleasurable experience and seeing the story unfold.  The sound effects are also great and helps to enhance the atmosphere.

While Bear With Me isn’t at the forefront of the point-and-click genre, the foundation it has set for its characters, setting, and fantasy holds potential for a neat series.  As it will be an episodic game, the story will continue in parts.  If they rein it back on the tongue-in-cheek jokes everywhere, keep it a little more grounded in the fiction that is set up, it could be very enjoyable in the coming episodes and well worth playing the first.  It is definitely aimed at people in their mid 20s to early 30s with all of the references and script content.  Not to mention the horror elements, that are quite creepy would have given me nightmares if I was playing this game as a 10-year-old.

 

Infinium Strike (PC) Review

Developer: Codex Worlds | Publisher: 1C Company || Overall: 6.0

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Freedom Strike. Its continuing mission: to not really explore anything, to seek out the Wrog, and to boldly blow the buh-Jesus out of them.

What do you get when you combine Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, and a tower defense game?  Infinium Strike ::echo::.  Infinium Strike sounds like one of those random cool names you’d expect a sci-fi game to be.  One part “Infinity” and the other part “-ium.”  Don’t ask me what an Infinium is, but its the resource you gather in the game.  Thinking about it, I’m not entirely sure why the game isn’t just called Freedom Strike, since that’s the name of the ship you actually commandeer.  Freedom Strike’s goal is to hunt down a bio-mechanical race of aliens that have all but pushed back human civilization and space exploration back to its last line of defense.  Freedom Strike dives right into the thick of it and seems to be a magnet for humongous portals that the Wrog come through in endless droves.  That’s your cue to start lasering everything you can see.

Infinium Strike’s hook is its 360 degree tower defense layout.  Albeit, very unique from a tower defense standpoint where enemies typically follow a predetermined path and get laid into by tactfully-placed towers, enemies in Infinium Strike just barrel towards your ship and try to blow it up.  You have four platforms to build towers on, each with a limited amount of spots.  Depending on the enemies that spawn you’ll have to be aware of what sort of towers should be placed in each quadrant.  Each tower has the capability of shooting things within a certain range, known as Sectors.  There are three sectors total, and each tower can shoot one, two, or all three sectors in different combinations.  Some enemies will start way back in Sector 3 and make their way to Sector 1, while others always stay in Sector 3.  There are about as many different combos of enemies as there are towers to build, and if they begin to overwhelm your defenses, you’ll begin to lose Shield and Armor.  When Armor gets down to zero, you’ve lost.

Infinium Strike’s unique feature is also its greatest flaw.  Once you have to maintain all four quadrants there can be way too many things happening at the same time.  Monitoring one or two quadrants is not that challenging but when all four begin to have enemies spawning like crazy you’re going to be going a little bit out of your mind.  You will suddenly realize your Shield is taking a pounding because Quandrant 2 didn’t have enough towers that shot into Sectors 2 and 3, while Quadrant 1 has enough for all Sectors, but not for shooting projectiles… etc etc.  Its very hard to keep track of your capabilities due to the fact there are four different tower defense games going on and none of the platforms help each other while they are idle.

A large part of the challenge in a tower defense game usually comes in placement of towers, which can inspire you to replay or retry learning what you failed at.  Infinium Strike unfortunately rips out a large part of what makes tower defense fun by only having about eight spots in a horizontal line.  Most of the towers you’re going to want to rely on are laser-based, since they are the cheapest to place and upgrade, which lessens variety.  Towers upgrade their damage only by paying an increasingly exorbitant cost, but while you may opt to do that, you have to upgrade your base several times to get some vital buffs that allow you to live longer when the going gets tough.  Upgrading your base is kind of a no-brainer but at the same time you’re going to have to spend millions of Infinium to get it to its max level.

A fun mechanic that helps you reinforce one of your quadrants temporarily is the use of your drone Fleet.  There are three types of drones to use, all doing different things, and have a life span of about 30 seconds unless you upgrade.  You can summon a few here and there, but they cost a portion of a bar that maxes out at 250; the bar recharges at one unit per second.  Using your Fleet effectively is a must as you’ll always have at least one quadrant being overrun and you want to make sure they are all in a manageable state as much as possible.

Unfortunately despite turning the genre around on its head a bit, Infinium Strike is dull.  The actual action of things blowing up isn’t very satisfying and kind of gets downgraded to a fireworks show.  The graphics are fine, but the alien designs aren’t that great.  The ship you are in charge of is an okay design but the tower defense platforms are kind of an eye-sore on the design of the thing.  It could remind you of the ship Battlestar Galactica, but only if they glued some rectangular boards on top of it.  Through the 10 missions, you’ll be treated to a little Captain’s log voice over that gives more info about the Wrog (the aliens) and the conflict that is going on between them and humanity.  There are also different difficulty levels and extra objectives to meet if you are particularly inclined to complete them.  Another itchy point is that despite going through the motions of upgrading your base over and over and building towers, you always start the next mission with nothing.  There is no explanation about why you lost all of the progress you made in developing your ship in the last fight.  Considering there is no meta game where you are upgrading your ship through the campaign, it of course makes sense gameplay-wise why you start with a clean slate each mission.

Infinium Strike doesn’t have a whole lot going for it.  Other than its interesting tower defense scenario and a light sci-fi story to go along with it, there won’t be much enjoyment to find in the dredges of space.  I guess we know now why the Wrog want to destroy all of humanity, and its because one of them played Infinium Strike.

 

Defect: Spaceship Destruction Kit (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Three Phase Interactive || Overall: 6.0

Occasionally a game comes along that reminds me of something that I used to do as a kid.  I was very much into building my own custom LEGO spaceships or random things and having them fly around and shoot at each other, making up a story in my head about all of the cool shit that was “actually” happening.  Indeed, I was just waving plastic around in the air and making noises, but it was fun to me, dammit!  Defect: Spaceship Destruction Kit harks back to my earlier days, giving you a litany of neat spaceship parts to assemble and construct, then take it out for a spin through the universe.

The concept is great.  The shipbuilding is fun.  The game design is okay.  The controls, though… holy shit are they frustrating.  When you get out of the shipbuilding menu and into an actual mission, you’re going to be fighting against the user interface as much as you do enemies.  The game controls exactly as you would expect an Asteroids-floaty-space-combat game to be, and that’s not an especially great thing.  Because there are some micromanaging aspects in the arcade gameplay, it is hard to be able to control your ship during intense action as well as make use of the “Direct Control” options.

Your crew will automatically use weapons, but they don’t hit your target very often.  When you put weapons under “Direct Control” your weapons are a lot more effective, but it becomes painfully obvious that it’s a lot harder to kill anything than it should be, especially at the beginning of the campaign.  Your projectiles usually don’t have a very long range, or are slow-moving and dissipate before they hit the moving target (these are alleviated as you progress).  It would be a lot more satisfying if anywhere near half of the shots you are shooting hit something, but in my experience it was more like 25% unless I was right on their ass.  Considering your ships start with awful engines and awful maneuverability, that wasn’t very often.  You can also use Direct Control to buff another piece of your ship and also to repair them as they take damage.  There are plenty of weapons that will one-shot you, so you’ll have to be careful.  A major impact on your performance is how well you execute building a ship that is able to move fast, have enough weaponry, and have enough armor to accomplish the task at hand.  Not an easy feat, typically.

After the first couple of missions, I hit a wall in the difficulty level, mostly because of the controls.  It became frustrating for me to constantly fail despite designing all sorts of ships and doing all sorts of tactics.  Another grating thing on my patience was that the whole level had to load again for each retry, after booting you to the mission select screen.  Considering the game starts you out quite under-powered, your enemies seem to be a lot harder than they should be, and the missions don’t seem to ramp up in difficulty in a consistent manner.  I started out on “Normal” difficulty and once I hit the wall, I knocked it down to “Easy.”  Unfortunately, there was no tangible difference between Normal and Easy that I could see.  After getting through the first few missions, about six different ones become available for play and go into different branching paths for a total of 50 missions.  The mission variety is not too bad, but tend to boil down to “kill the enemies,” and rightfully so.  You are able to replay older missions so you can unlock more parts, but at the same time you don’t want to be stuck in a grind instead of doing new missions — especially since new missions grant you the most new parts.  Not to mention, doing an old mission isn’t an assured win by any means.  To top it all off the camera constantly zooms in and out; this removes you from the action and being left with not knowing who or what is being shot at.  Getting disoriented from the seemingly-random zooms is another obstacle in and of itself.

After defeating a mission, your ship will always be stolen away from you by mutineers.  At the end of the next mission, you’ll fight that ship in a duel.  This is a sort of clever progression mechanic as it forces you to at least have to build a “better” ship than your last and you can’t always rely on your older designs as they use lesser equipment.  The double meaning of “Defect” becomes quite amusing as you have to fix the defects (flaws) in your ships, and your ship ends up being your enemy when your crew stages a defection by mutiny.  As an Easter Egg of sorts, a fun homage to David Bowie is one of the mutineer character designs.

Since the game forces you to constantly design new ships after they are stolen, it is a great way to put focus back on the ship building.  Even though your ship designs are saved, you’ll typically unlock something new after each completed mission, so you’ll want to mess around with the new things you got or try to make something completely different.  Missions usually demand a unique ship configuration, anyhow.

There is a great variety in ship building even from the start.  Your main limiter in building is Power Level, which is dictated by the Power Core you have.  You earn better Cores as you complete missions, and as you have more Power, you are able to have more Crew.  Most pieces require Power Level+Crew, but since Power converts into crew, you’ll eventually hit a point where you can’t add anything more to your ship due to your initial Power Level.  As you equip stronger propulsion engines you’ll need to balance them out with Stability, which forces you to mess around with different combinations of wings and rockets.

Defect also looks great; the enemy spaceships are unique and quite inspired in their designs.  While many pieces of ships are obviously influenced by popular media, the combination of them all together make for some interesting sights.  As you progress and acquire larger Power Cores, you’ll be able to build larger ships.  The graphics in general are pretty good and the sound effects aren’t annoying either.  The ship building user interface is also pretty simple to understand and nothing hinders that experience.  You are allowed to save up to 499 designs and share them with friends, which is also cool.  Using a controller during missions is an option, but most of the game requires a mouse/keyboard, so there isn’t much impetus to use one.

Despite all of the good things I have to say about the game, justifying giving it a low score really comes down to me not being able to derive much enjoyment from the actual usage of the ships I was making.  The controls aren’t intuitive, which leads to the levels being too difficult which leads to the game simply becoming a frustrating experience.  I can’t in good conscience recommend this game to anyone unless you’re great with floaty-space arcade games.  It may be entirely possible that none of the defects (pun!) of the game make no impact on your enjoyment, as it is essentially Asteroids on steroids with ship-building.  And much like no longer playing with LEGO spaceships in the air pretending they shoot lasers, I’ve given up on what could have been.

 

George: Scared of the Dark (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: Wall West || Overall: 8.0

Hardware Used: iPad w/iOS 8.0

George: Scared of the Dark is the spiritual sequel to Ghostie and Ghostie 2.  Oh, you want facts about the game?  Well, apparently 10 years ago I made the joke that one of the Ghosts in Ghostie 2 was “George.”  Amazing!  What separates George: Scared of the Dark from its unrelated cousins is that it is a side-scrolling “running” platformer.  You command the spirit known only as “George,” who is covered by a cute little sheet (or perhaps he’s the sheet itself) across a treacherous, procedurally-generated platforming landscape.  Unfortunately there are no snowmen throwing presents at you, but you will be committing suicide quite a bit.

Oddly enough, this runner game has a story with the sensibilities of a Katamari Damacy game.  It is very mysterious and little is offered in the way of a plot.   Unlike Katamari Damacy, it is a bit morbid as giant floating skulls talk to you in ominous cryptic sentences after you finish a level.  Art is in the same vein, but has an indie feel with graphics that look very clean.  As you progress through levels, the colors get darker, the weather begins to change for the worse, and large knives/amputated limbs try to kill you, among other elements.

The game is made of procedural levels, but the way they are constructed feel more like “random sets” put together.  Retrying will never present you with the same exact layout but some portions appear to remain consistent or come later than usual, depending on the level.  It all starts out pretty tough while you get used to the rhythm of the game.  This is probably one of the only times I can remember that a Tutorial level was difficult.  All of the controls correspond with gestures you make on your touch screen — tapping to jump, swiping left to backflip, swiping right to do a mid-air dash and somehow/someway being able to double jump.  Double jumping still eludes me despite playing through the whole game and for some reason I do it randomly.

Controls are the weakest part of the game.  Tapping on the glass repeatedly can be taxing since I have to move my whole hand to get the rhythm down.  My fingers are also stupid and don’t always communicate to the touch screen that I am tapping it so I have to press down harder than usual (or repeatedly tap) to tell it to jump; that’s a personal issue that you might not encounter unless you have “stupid fingers.”  The “Retry” button is in the middle of the damn screen, so you have to move your hand off your device and tap the center before starting again.  My hands are big (hello ladies), but not that big (goodbye ladies).  It is much more convenient to have the “Retry” button on the bottom left/right hand corners so it is easier to reach your intended action with ease.

Once you get used to the tempo of the scrolling, you might be able to breeze past some levels and get less frustrated (if you get to that point).  Since levels are almost never the same, you can’t memorize them, but some combinations might be easier than others.  Some levels do have locked-in elements though.  As you run through a stage, your goal is to also collect Skulls.  Occasionally this may change your decision as to whether or not take a higher risk path for the reward.  The items you can unlock are mainly cosmetic, such as changing your avatar to a frog.  Six things are available to buy, three of which are different avatars, one is a cosmetic that places fire behind you.  The last two are boosts to your jumping and a shield that will protect you from enemies.  If you want to unlock all of the items, it will be 5700 skulls.  From playing through all of the stages, I earned a little less than 500.  Extrapolate from that what you will.

It’s very annoying that the screen goes up and down with George the Ghost as you jump.  There isn’t usually an opportunity to go very high, so the camera should only move when you are higher.  I was getting a little bit of a headache after about an hour or so straight and had to take a break since the motion was constantly up and down.  The game doesn’t seem to be designed for anything but casually playing every now and then, so it might not actually matter.

The music is very good.  It can be a bit repetitive since you retry levels a lot, and since the levels aren’t very long they aren’t matched with full-length songs.  You’ll be listening to the first 20 seconds or so of the song more than the last 20 or so, but it more or less is made to loop so you’re not going to hear much of anything different.  The music is ambient instrumental electronic sort of music, and I would definitely listen to something like it normally.

Only 10 levels are available at the moment for $1.99, which is a very reasonable price considering you can replay levels and they are practically never the same.  You can unlock cosmetics and boosts by collecting Skulls, which influences you to keep playing.  Expansion packs are planned for Halloween and Christmas at the moment.

 

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.

 

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.

 

8DAYS (PC) Review

Developer: Santa Clara Games | Publisher: Badland Games || Overall: 8.5

8DAYS is an indie twin-stick shooter from two-man team Santa Clara Games.  Drawing heavily from the contemporary example of Hotline Miami, you’ll even see influence from Metal Gear and traditional “shmups” in this genre cocktail.  The action is spread out over five Chapters, each with a satisfying length and unique theme.

The scenario for the characters you play, known as Lola “Wasp” Cruz and Mike “Ghost” Doe, starts with them working for a Private Military Corporation known as G.O.D. Inc. (Gold, Oil, Diamonds Inc.).  This PMC is apparently the most successful in the world and has its fingers in many political pies — being hired when shit goes down.  For example, the first Chapter has to do with stopping a rice embargo, and the second with a nuclear plant being taken over by Eco-terrorists.  Each Chapter starts with a little vignette to set up the specific mission at hand, and off you go.  The game has tongue-in-cheek humor, considering that the rice embargo is only a problem because the affluent want their daily sushi; another example being the sewers of the nuclear plant have tentacle monsters swimming around in green water, a sharp contrast from the “grounded” first chapter.  The nuclear plant is also occupied by droves of robots that use pistols/rifles/flamethrowers, and then in the middle somewhere you fight some strange mechanical/biological creature that barfs on you as one of his attacks.  It would seem all of these experiments would be a bit much for an energy production facility owned by a utility company.  You also see random “civilians” just moseying about as you have firefights and they tend to get killed in the crossfire or run around and make strange noises.

Normal gameplay consists of strategically taking down enemies before they kill you and getting to the next area.  While there isn’t a requirement to kill everything, if you trip an alarm or are seen by them, they will engage and have the possibility of flanking you.  Deaths will restart you at the very beginning of the area, and some of them can be a bit large.  There are usually multiple paths or strategies to take when completing an area, so if one way doesn’t work, you can try another.  Stealth is also an accessible strategy if you have a melee weapon, as there are a lot of places to hide while enemies patrol around.  Some situations require a gunfight, but as long as you kill whoever is engaged with you, you won’t run the risk of drawing more enemies into the fight.  Bullets are very large and also move slower than you might expect them to depending on the weapon, so it can either be a boon or frustration in that regard.  Co-Op is also available, with a friend being able to jump in at anytime during play.

At certain points through a Chapter you’ll encounter a boss, which breaks up the methodical think-before-you-leap gameplay and works in a traditional shmup-style fight.  As with many things in the game, they take the opportunity to be referential — the final boss of the first Chapter is a Rambo-look-a-like with a machine gun, knife, and red bandana.  You’ll also encounter some other Easter Eggs, such as a “V Has Come To” scribbled on the wall and a party with Metal Gear Solid characters (which is oddly appropriate for me since I’ve been playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for the past month and a half).

Weaponry is varied, and in the initial stages you’ll mostly encounter rifles, shotguns, and SMGs.  You will also see a lot of melee weapons, and as you get further along rocket launchers, silenced pistols, flamethrowers, and EMP bombs become available.  Sometimes destroying certain types of boxes/crates produce ammo, otherwise you’ll be scavenging from your enemies.  Reloading is clip-based, meaning if you manually reload before completely emptying your clip, you will lose the ammo you had remaining.  This might be a bit annoying considering the game let’s you reload even when you have a full clip, so you can easily waste bullets if you aren’t careful; you aren’t allowed to pick up a clip you threw away.  You are only able to keep two weapons at a time, so if you wanted to hang onto a melee weapon you may be exchanging guns quite a bit.

Considering the game can be very challenging, the amount of playtime would potentially vary for you.  Each Chapter kept me going for about an hour, and I died a lot on the way, having to retry over and over.  When done with a Chapter, you’re treated with a little resolution to the problem you solved and then go right into the next scenario.  Chapters are able to be replayed if you so desire, but will only fully unlock in the menu when you finish the level — if you are in the middle of the stage and start a new game you’ll lose all progress and start from the very beginning again.  When you get a Game Over, it is unfortunately very easy to accidentally select “Retry Mission” instead of just “Retry.”  There is no confirmation after accidentally selecting “Retry Mission” and you can lose all progress with no way to go back… admittedly, I learned that the hard way.  There is also no difference in the gameplay between the two characters you can choose, but I personally preferred the character design of “Wasp” over “Ghost.”

The art style is a purposeful throwback to the 8-bit days, though it has a lot more detail to its art than you may normally see when you think “8-bit.”  There is some gruesome death, such as decapitations and gore, and there are also depictions of torture and tons of previously-killed bodies are strewn about levels, which all enhance the violent atmosphere.  The little intro movies to each Chapter are pretty neat, but aren’t too long.  Other stylistic parts of the game also round out the unique feeling of the art and grows on you as you pay closer attention to the detail and are eventually exposed to the variety of locales each Chapter offers.  The music is also a high point, but dips in and out, crossfading with “battle music” every time you start an encounter with an enemy.  This takes away from the enjoyment of the main stage track since you’ll be constantly going in and out of two different songs, but it isn’t disjointed enough where its awful, just a questionable decision in the sound design.

If you’re in the mood for a side-scrolling shmup, 8DAYS is a challenging and satisfying experience.  Defeating each area rewards you with a feeling of accomplishment — earning your wins little by little and progressing you to a new challenge.  8DAYS will be available July 22nd on Steam.

 

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.

 

Super Mutant Alien Assault (PC) Review

Developer: Cybernate | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games || Overall: 8.5/10

Super Mutant Alien Assault (SMAA) bears no shame in calling itself a clone of “Super Crate Box.”  Fortunately for SMAA, I never heard of (nor played) the game it is a clone of, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt when it says that’s what it is.  Now, aside from the gasping in the back corners of the room by those who cannot fathom that someone does not know the “smash hit” Super Crate Box, I say nay nay, good sir.  I heard of it now, and Super Mutant Alien Assault appeals to me on its face much more than whatever that other thing is.  Plus, I like clones because it reminds me of one of my favorite Schwarzenegger movies, The 6th Day.

“You should clone yourself.  So you can go fuck yourself.” (Paraphrased quote from The 6th Day)

SMAA is a platforming shooter that constrains you in one small level.  Each level contains a particular objective that must be completed before proceeding to the next, along the way massacring as many aliens as you need to.  SMAA, at its core, rides on the “roguelite” wave, but only wades in just a bit.  Power-ups are collected, but don’t endlessly stack — you have a limited amount of slots available for special abilities, weapons, and defenses.  Your character isn’t going to get crazy combinations of power-ups, but most of what you use will be swapped for something else that drops.  This forces you to work on a constantly changing strategy throughout your gameplay, rather than sticking with “what works” for as long as you can.  On top of it all, health can be very hard to come by, which makes the game quite a bit unforgiving.  Friendly-fire is also a thing here, so you’ll have to be careful where you chuck your explosives, just in case it bounces back in your general direction.

Level designs and objectives are randomized, but there is a set amount of maps that cycle within each “Galaxy,” which is a set of four levels.  There are no procedurally-generated maps, and objectives will only appear on particular levels designed for that objective.  This doesn’t detract from the enjoyment but it can get a bit stale depending on how long you decide to play in one go.  Objectives include moving an item from Point A to Point B or releasing a build-up of pressure on multiple points on the map.  It is important to get the objective done as fast as possible, as enemies will gain strength the longer you stay in a level.  A level will always require you to clear whatever enemies remain once the objective is fulfilled, so the path of least resistance will not be rewarded in the slightest.

Game unlocks occur as you complete more levels.  Each time you clear a stage you gain a token that sets you along the path to the next automatic unlock.  As you unlock more weaponry/items you’ll also unlock more enemies to have fun with — although this seems more like a punishment when it happens.  It would have been nicer to see enemies unlocked in a different progression, such as number of enemies killed or if a particular boss was cleared.

“Kinda takes the fun out of living, doesn’t it?”

When you actually get into the gameplay it can be quite frantic and most of it is satisfying.  Each level is equipped with its own configuration of Weapon/Explosive vending machines that randomly equip you with one of the weapons you have unlocked so far.  Explosions are by far the most fulfilling thing about the game and it’s a lot of fun to be able to blow the aliens up with a well-timed grenade or cluster bomb.  Some of the normal weaponry is not as exciting, such as the dual submachine guns and the AK47, but the minigun, sniper rifle, and grenade launcher are fun to wield.  My favorite by far is the pogo stick that explodes things you jump on top of — it would have been great if this was more the kind of thing you saw in the game, but instead it is the outlier.  Your weaponry/explosives all have a set number of charges, so you’ll be needing to re-equip yourself as soon as you use up your ammo, which means you’ll get a random item and change your strategy to effectively use your new combination.  Each level also grants you new power-ups in crates to fill out your other ability slots, such as Special Abilities and Defenses.

Special Abilities are fun to use and varied, despite the fact they aren’t able to be used that much due to needing to collect Special Ammo.  Special Ammo drops when you defeat empowered monsters that stick around for a while on the map, and you have to run over the green squares that are dropped before they expire.  This may not always be possible.  Special Abilities and Defenses (that are free to use) include but are not limited to a pillar of energy, pushbacks, running fast, and bullet time.  Defenses don’t damage enemies, but not all Special Abilities deal damage either.

The art is nice and attention is paid to the aliens and levels.  The art style reminds me of old Windows 3.1-era games (not that far removed from DOS games) with a 90’s retro-futuristic design.  The game also runs like a dream 95% of the time, except when you enter hyperdrive when that objective comes around.  The frame lag is helped if you turn off the Screen Shake in the options, but is still apparent even after turning it off — I’m unsure if this is actually intended or not, though, since it “snaps out” of the frame lag as soon as you exit the hyperdrive sequence.  It unfortunately gets pretty annoying when you experience it for the umpteenth time.   The music is all high-energy EDM/Dubstep/electro music and depending on your personal tastes may either be enjoyable or create misery.  It all matches the tempo of the game, but I was somewhere in the middle of the scale with the arrangement.  After about an hour of gameplay, I muted the music and opted for some of my own with the sound effects still on top.

“Doesn’t anybody die any more?”

The game feels a bit bare-bones when you realize that the progression is tied to unlocking weapons through a small number of levels.  Three Galaxies of four levels account for a total of twelve stages, each Galaxy cycling from its own small pool of levels/unlocked bosses.  By design, you’ll be retrying the game over and over since death is inevitable.  Each Galaxy has their own color scheme and set of levels to cycle through, and the game lets you begin on either of the three galaxies you like once you’ve beaten the previous boss level.  To unlock a higher difficulty level you have to start from the first Galaxy and go all the way to the last without dying — which can be quite a task depending on your skills.  Familiarizing yourself with the levels that cycle within a chosen Galaxy is the only way you’ll be able to get through it all in one go.

Super Mutant Alien Assault essentially appeals to those who look for a challenge in their games.  A lot of gameplay comes from perfecting your skills and attempting to get through as many levels as possible before dying and resetting.  The assortment of weapons are fun, keep you on your toes, and as you unlock more powerful weapons and abilities, you’re bound to get further at some point.  However, the biggest buff isn’t a tangible item in the game, it’s your own perseverance to try again and again and again and again….

Super Mutant Alien Assault is available now on Steam for $7.99, currently discounted by 20% from $9.99.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Deadly Tower of Monsters, The (PC) Review

Developer: ACE Team | Publisher: Atlus USA || Overall: 8.5

B-Movie science fiction is always characterized by its low-budget charm.  You could see right through the awful costumes, terrible props, and strings the monsters would hang off from — all of which added to the fun.  The Deadly Tower of Monsters seeks to recapture this aesthetic of effects supplanted by computer graphics… by replicating them with computer graphics.

ACE Team, the developer of The Deadly Tower of Monsters, did an amazing job in recreating the B-Movie feel as you play, keeping it interesting throughout.  The set up for the story begins as if you are watching the “movie” on DVD with commentary by the belligerent director, Dan Smith.  As you defeat stop-motion monsters, while completing missions across the sprawling tower, Dan Smith will acknowledge and give background on certain aspects of the production — breaking the fourth/”fifth” wall, reminding you that you are “watching a movie” while playing the game, or rather listening in on the recording session for said commentary.  There are a lot of layers here.

Though the game is not usually laugh-out-loud funny (there are a few great jokes), it is entirely tongue-in-cheek.  Throughout, they introduce new elements that kept me consistently amused.  The attention to detail adds to the goal of being a successful B-Movie homage and the commentary track spreads a layer of cynicism about the film industry on top.  It is important to listen to the commentary while you play, as it is an integral part of the story, and the uniqueness of the game.  Your typical gaming tropes are also explained away using movie tropes, such as blaming watching deleted scenes for when you die and the director “intentionally” wanting the actor to stand still for five minutes “because it is artistic” if you decide to idle for a while.  Some of these tropes are less clever than others, but the narrative essentially includes all of your deaths and “mistakes” as part of the experience.

The visuals and art style are very important to the successful execution of the B-movie homage.  A stop-motion frame-rate effect is used on many of the monsters and is one of the best effects used.  Since most of the game runs at a higher-frame rate than an actual movie would, the most “filmic” part of the game comes with the stop-motion effect and serves to distinguish it from the rest of the “movie” quite well.  Homage is paid to practically every genre of classical sci-fi, with obvious references to Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and others including dinosaurs, bugs, an evil scientist, giant robots, clones, and a galactic emperor among a wide range of other characters and monsters.

The level design of the tower is essentially a humongous and vertically sprawling 3D platforming level.  You will go for what seems like miles in mostly one direction: up.  While the prevailing theme is space technology, on the ground-level you will encounter things like mutant insects and dinosaurs.  As you climb, the tower is very elaborate and changes themes more meticulously within science fiction.  You will encounter aliens, disembodied brains, space slugs, and other fun monsters.  All parts of the tower are fluidly accessible, and there are no loading screens unless you warp around to checkpoints.

The tower is used to the game’s advantage occasionally.  You are usually tasked with shooting enemies from below in reverse-Space-Invaders style.  At any time you can be knocked off the tower, sending you into a free-fall towards the bottom; mistiming your platforming will also have the same result.  To counteract the annoyance of having to re-scale the tower you can easily warp to any checkpoint, or use an “Air Teleport” button that is available if you haven’t landed on another platform yet.  You also take fall-damage and have a very low amount of jetpack fuel to adjust and break your fall.  Unfortunately, you are not allowed to control the camera very much, which can be annoying at times, but it wouldn’t make sense in the context of watching a movie to be able to switch an angle at any time.  On the plus side, the platforming is designed well enough where this isn’t usually an issue.  For similar reasons, the game is very linear and there isn’t as much exploring to do as you might expect in a 3D platformer.

Combat gameplay is fun and light, and the weapon variety is also great.  Enemies and weapons alike keep the “B-Movie” aesthetic, where you can plainly see re-purposed household items or other everyday items, such as a vacuum cleaner or a puppy, being used as space-age weaponry and monsters.  As you have access to three different characters, their real difference comes in their special abilities.  Dick Starspeed is able to use landmines, Scarlet Nova has a running speed ability, and The Robot is able to use a time vortex ability.  All of the characters will gain more unique abilities you can use during combat and only cost a time-based cooldown, whereas your energy weapons deplete from an energy bar.

Upgrading weaponry, skills, switching characters, and other gameplay systems are accessed via in-game computer consoles.  While they show up often enough, it can detract from the “joy” of playing around with the progression systems and possibly even the “movie” aesthetic.  The systems aren’t very complicated, but it is sort of questionable why they give you 16 different weapons, but only allow you to have access to four at any given time before switching around at a console.  It would have felt better to be able to switch out weaponry through a pause menu (a prop closet?) since in-game consoles aren’t necessarily used in an intriguing gameplay fashion other than to be more props to put in the levels.  The in-game consoles bring up a game-based UI regardless, so the argument for being immersive doesn’t hold very much weight.  It might have also been more convenient to halve the variety of weapons and allow you to use them at all times; instead I just keep four random weapons and rarely trade them out.  Despite that, the variety of weaponry is still a nice part of the game.

Difficulty and challenges in the game are not too bad.  If you die, checkpoints are usually pretty close to where you could possibly die.  That isn’t to say you don’t need to play smart (as health is hard to come by), but the only real punishment for dying is wasting time.  Puzzles aren’t too trying on the intelligence and there’s only a few situations where you need to use one of your special abilities to get items or into certain areas.  There are also miscellaneous missions that aren’t easily earned on your first trek up and will require you to backtrack certain parts of the tower to complete.  One fun side-quest is jumping off the tower and skydiving into floating hoops, using the tower’s height to the game’s advantage.  The game can be pretty short as well, but its nice to be able to get through a whole game in a couple of days.

If you are a fan of classic film and games, you will get a blast out of The Deadly Tower of Monsters.  Even if you aren’t knowledgeable about older sci-fi film, it is a light, fun, and short game that is visually pleasing and humorous.  It is available now on Steam at a sale price of $9.89, and regularly priced at $14.99.