Bear With Me: Episode 3 (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Exordium Games || Overall: 4.0/10

Click here for the Bear With Me: Episode 2 review.

I “beared” with this game for nearly ten hours spread out over a year. What we got for a third and final episode was underwhelming at best.  The last throws of the story went in a direction that took me by surprise — in a bad way.  Three banana cookies later, I’m completely in awe of the lack of gameplay Bear With Me: Episode 3 has and how much of the creative capital went towards the boring, sappy, and superficially contrived story.

The story could have gone in a lot of different directions, and perhaps I could have guessed where the story was heading, but we are left with something limp and illogical.  If it had to deal with subject matter that was going on, it might have actually been worthwhile.  I may have even been able to sweep issues with the story under the rug if there had been more gameplay; the entire episode is a cycle of ten minutes of gameplay and then thirty minutes of story, until the last act where it’s about half story and half lazily-designed puzzles and dialogue trees.  Why wasn’t it just a visual novel if they were so uninterested in having a game?  There weren’t as many puzzles or extra objects to click on compared to previous episodes and the jokes were almost completely excised — quite a departure from the “selling points” touted for the title. There are multiple endings, but none of the choices you made throughout really seemed to have mattered, or at least they didn’t make it obvious that something was affected in any particular way.

Most importantly, the conclusion to this long story needed to bring worthwhile closure.  There was no pay off from the creepy imagery portrayed in any of the three episodes.  The antagonist doesn’t get brought to justice.  Nothing really foreshadowed what the “point” of the story was until the last thirty minutes where you could instantly see where it was headed.  There was never anything smart or worthwhile happening.  The story hit a wall and since I couldn’t come to care for Amber’s character or the situation she is in due to the ridiculousness of the plot devices, I was left simply groaning.  Amber still remained as emotionally detached as ever except for a pivotal moment just before the end sequence — I was frankly surprised they even bothered animating something new for her.

In my experience, the audio was buggy and dialogue cut off at the last word often.  The time it took for the next line of dialogue was very short and didn’t sound natural (not exclusive to this episode, I might add).  Oddly, this episode was noticeably littered with weird typos or grammar issues, unlike the first two episodes.  The art is about equal to what has been seen before, and much of it re-used except for the new locales and a couple of new incidental characters.  Only a couple of characters show up more than one time, but the majority of the characters you’ve ever met through the entirety of the three episodes ended up being throwaways; their fates are of no concern because you’re never given a reason to care for them.

There’s really not much more to say about the game without completely spoiling it.

**SPOILERS**

**SPOILERS**

Basically, the story doesn’t matter.  The last thirty minutes of the game is the basis for the entire conflict, and we find the underlying reason we are in this mess is “banana cookies.”

Banana cookies??????????? Yes, that’s right folks.

Here’s the situation: if you are deathly allergic to bananas, yet your parents buy and bake cookies with them then only feed them to your brother, that is considered child endangerment.  Your parents are playing with literal fire keeping bananas in the house to begin with.  But these idiots are cooking them, having the fumes go everywhere, and also have to constantly worry how their ten-year old daughter might eat a banana product because she’s a dumb kid.  Not to mention, feeding supposedly-tasty banana cookies to her brother exclusively while only giving the daughter shitty cookies to eat instead… What the fuck did they think was going to happen?

So, why did banana cookies play a pivotal role in this story?  Amber eats a banana cookie, she’s about to die, choking on the floor, the parents call a cab to take her to the hospital, then decide its a good idea to leave their young son at home, alone, while they are dealing with this easily preventable, yet important issue.  It just so happens while the son is at home, a fire happens in the apartment below and then he dies of carbon monoxide poisoning.  …Banana cookies?????  WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON????  Why are they calling a cab to go to the hospital with a choking child?  CALL A DAMN AMBULANCE!  PUT THESE PARENTS IN JAIL, TAKE THEIR CHILDREN AWAY FROM THEM.  Why didn’t they just take their son with them???? I didn’t even know banana cookies existed until now!

So, the brother is dead; I could see that coming.  What I didn’t see is how little any of the story of Bear With Me actually had to do with this seemingly important story point, which they used as the linchpin for our emotion in feeling sorry for Amber.  However, that’s not what the story is about at all.  It’s about her relationship with her teddy bear.  Yet, there are also many other unexplained questions. Why is her imagined world rebelling against her?  Why does Amber forget things?  If this fire played such a big part in Amber’s life, why are fires used so sparingly in events throughout the story? Why does it seem like she has the pop culture knowledge of a 30-something year old?  Most of all, why is she seeing crazy shit?

If the game were brave, it would have addressed these issues in a more serious way.  I thought it was obvious this was all pointing towards some sort of serious domestic child abuse situation or a traumatic event that she actively witnessed which caused her imagination to show fucked up things to her, or something like that.  Instead, we got banana cookies and being told that the antagonist of the game was Amber all along. Whatever the fuck that means.  Also, why did Amber really even care about her brother?  We see and know nothing about their relationship to make us care that this brother even existed.  It would have been more interesting had he NEVER existed.  I suppose the brother being dead could count as the “traumatic event” that I asked for, but again, we don’t see how it could be since we know N-O-T-H-I-N-G about their relationship, not to mention no outright hints or foreshadowing to this fact.  Amber was the focus of the story throughout, and the brother was supposed to be a plot device, not the plot.  We never find out why Amber is looking for her dead brother in the attic, either, when she should have known her brother was dead; this leads back to the question of why she forget things.  There was never a concerted effort of actually finding the brother because we were too sidetracked with pop culture jokes.

The “red cloth” was supposed to be important, I guess, since it was actually colored red, as opposed to everything else that was in grayscale.  Across three episodes, it ended up only taking up inventory space and was barely ever used.  Of course this is an equally contrived plot device as it is ripped from a firefighter’s uniform by Amber on the day of the fire — first, how in the hell can a 10 year old girl rip a firefighter’s uniform, and second, I’ve never even heard of a red firefighter uniform, so that definitely shows a strange cultural divide despite supposedly taking place in America. It would seem to make sense since banana cookies must be more popular elsewhere in the world.  It must also be another cultural thing where you don’t call an ambulance, but call a taxi to take you to the hospital, because we all know those get to your house faster than an ambulance.

I remember they had planned for five episodes, but it seems they cut those plans and dumped the rest of whatever they had in mind into Episode 3.  The mystery fell flat after losing its way, and there was nothing that made me feel like it was worth the time investment when all was said and done.  What really gets me is the lack of gameplay sections and how everything is just so… misplaced.  The never-ending forest thing didn’t make much sense in its inclusion, nor did the trippy horror dungeon located within, since none of the horror-type imagery mattered.  There’s also “gaps” in the story where it felt like I missed an entire act and no one was going to clue me in on any of what happened.  It would seem important to have a complete story, but I guess I’m expecting too much.

So, I’m sad to see how this all ended up.  It took nearly a year to figure out Bear With Me is not worth the time investment.  The biggest pun of the game really was the title itself, after all.

 

Orange Moon (PC) Review

Orange Moon

Developer: Betelgeuse Zero | Publisher: Meridian4 || Overall: 3.0/10

Often times, the best way to approach reviewing a game is based on how it is advertised, and Orange Moon is no exception. Here’s how Betelgeuse Zero describes their own game on Steam:

Orange Moon is a surreal 2D action-platformer with RPG elements and complex puzzles. Take on the role of an explorer as you discover the mysterious world of Orange Moon – filled with hostile native life forms and harsh, treacherous environments. To increase your chances of survival, choose from a variety of weapons, equipment, and upgrades to aid your dangerous exploration. Can you uncover all of Orange Moon’s secrets?

  • Explore a mysterious world filled with hostile life forms.
  • Survive by acquiring and utilizing an array of unique weapons, equipment, ammunition, and upgrades.
  • Solve complex puzzles to successfully uncover the secrets surrounding you.
  • Fight bizarre enemies – from carnivorous plants to deadly biomechanoids – and defeat fearsome bosses.
  • Overcome harsh and treacherous environments with obstacles such as acid swamps, toxic clouds, and deep craters.

Oooh-eee! Sounds like a good time, huh? Some platforming, some complex puzzles… will I uncover all of Orange Moon’s secrets?

Yeah, very quickly, in fact. Under four hours, including an hour or so I spent with the game paused (which causes some weird bugs, so don’t do that).

Orange Moon is as described when it comes to genre: it’s a 2D platformer. Your character is sent to explore the game’s namesake on behalf of the Moon Resources Corporation in search of what clues of what happened, guided along by a Mr. Anderson. The story is sort of abrupt and rife with spelling and grammar errors, and ends up being somewhere along the lines of a porn’s story: it’s there just to explain why people are doing things in a particular place.

Players will walk a rather bland black and orange landscape whilst shooting at an inordinate amount of turrets, floating blobs and the occasional bipedal enemy whilst burning bushes to the ground and sucking the life out of the roots (literally) to sustain yourself. You walk, you shoot, you jump–standard fare in 2D platformer games. In addition to these, the player is able to use fuel to do rocket jumps in order to traverse the terrain.

The player unlocks a variety of weapons along the way, such as a shotgun and a minigun, all of which require ammo that can be found or purchased from an upgrade store using currency earned from killing enemies. If you’re short on cash and don’t have ammo, a flamethrower can be employed to kill foes using the player’s fuel reserves. Weapons and equipment can be upgraded with upgrade canisters that can be found or purchased. Upgrades include better damage on weapons, more health, larger fuel tank upgrades and the ability to use specific guns.

None of this sounds bad in practice, but none of this is executed in a satisfying way. Weapons that can be aimed aren’t very responsive to changes in aim, and the arc is limited. Most weapons require upgrades to be useful against many enemy types, and some weapons, like the flamethrower, are actually unable to do damage to most enemies even when upgraded. This leaves for some very heavy reliance on specific weapons to defeat some enemies, which isn’t a problem in itself aside from the fact that it means you’ve wasted upgrade points that could have been used on something worthwhile.

Fuel is tied to jumping, which means if you’re out or low you’ll spend a rather long amount of time waiting until you can climb out of a hole or make it through a jumping section, especially if you’re using the flamethrower a lot. This can be offset with upgrades, but the design isn’t really fun, it doesn’t add challenge, and it’s not interesting. Eventually, when upgraded, fuel is trivial and no longer serves a purpose, especially as the flamethrower becomes increasingly less useful. It just never seems to fit in with the rest of the game in a meaningful way that limits the player or forces choices outside of, “Do I want to wait a few minutes before I can climb out of this hole?”

Level design is simplistic at best, and the “complex puzzles” the developer touts as a feature are little more than a series of fetch quests that involve minimal amounts of backtracking. Exploration is also somewhat scant: secrets are usually as simple as falling down a hole, or taking a short detour. Considering the constant pallet of orange outlines on a black background, nothing is particularly interesting the entire journey, aside from the occasional scripted set piece.

While the game isn’t particularly bad, it’s nothing to write home about. It’s buggy, with the player character often getting stuck on flat terrain or getting stuck in a wall. It’s not particularly polished, with features such as the scouting probe being usable in situations that freeze the player character in the air, or mess up the camera afterward. The music’s not bad, but as a highlight it’s also nothing particularly special. Orange Moon is merely just a game that works when you boot it, and ends when you finish it, albeit with some performance problems (at least with an 3770K and a GTX 980ti).

I think Orange Moon‘s most common problem is poor design. Enemies are not particularly difficult to deal with, often blocking a corridor perfectly with their height, acting almost as an aggressive door that needs to be unlocked with a shit load of ammo. Outside of the crappy turrets and plants all over the place, enemies tend to have a lot of hit points and armor that renders many guns useless without a lot of upgrades. All story is conveyed via text in the upper left corner of the screen, but when these kinds of events happen the entire screen darkens, aside from a small circle around your character, even if you’re in the middle of combat. Why do this? To force me to read this uninspiring story? Don’t interrupt the gameplay like that, man. That’s like the missus asking, “Are you done yet?” in the middle of “doin’ it”–it doesn’t really inspire enthusiasm, and it’s an extra unnecessary hurdle in trying to have some fuckin’ fun. Pile those two on top of my other complaints, and you don’t really have much of a reason to hang out in Orange Moon‘s world. Other games that are somewhat similar, even classics like Super Metroid accomplish the same thing without all the egregious errors.

There’s a lot to fix, but even if these things were fixed it wouldn’t be particularly compelling considering many of the design choices.

 

Pylon: Rogue (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: QuantumSquid Interactive || Overall: 3/10

Yeah, a 3/10.  I don’t usually have to go that low because I have the good luck of playing games I can enjoy.  Pylon: Rogue is probably one of the more frustrating experiences I’ve had this year.  When the potential for fun is there, but you are cockblocked by unrelenting difficulty, it’s impossible to enjoy anything.  I can’t enjoy it.  There’s no way.  I’ve spent almost three hours wiping; most runs only last about five minutes, and one or two lasted maybe fifteen minutes.  I suppose Pylon: Rogue isn’t really that shitty, but it’s just a victim of its own balance issues and an extremely stingy reward system.

As a 3D roguelike action game, at first glance it might seem Diablo-esque.  However, it’s a single-button-combo beat-em-up game where you might sometimes come across some buffs before you die.  There’s no overworld, either, as you start out on a level selection board with no free-roaming — often you’re forced to only go one way.  Once you select a level, you’ll trudge through a number of rooms, ranging from about three to nine, and hopefully the “Exit” will spawn after clearing one, at which point you can go back to the level selection board.  If the Exit pops and you take it, you forfeit your chance to go through the rest of the rooms and potentially pick up more money/gear, though you’re more likely to just die.  Each “Room” can have up to three waves of enemies and depending on how well you can smash buttons and dodge enemy attacks, you’ll take damage and die or succeed and go to the next level.  If you stick around in a level after the Exit pops, you can clear all of the rooms and unlock a final bonus chest.  In the end, the overall goal here is to beat four levels, reach the boss of the area and defeat them.  Unlike your typical roguelike, there doesn’t seem to be any procedural generation, so after a number of wipes you’ll see all of the different level layouts.

Technically this all sounds fine, but the reward system is completely fucked.  They throw you into the fire as soon as you start out — forget having any tools to prepare you.  They don’t start you with seed money to allow modification of your spec in a different way at the shop, nor do they give you many opportunities to heal damage you will inevitably take tons of.  Three of the four classes are melee and each have three different weapon specs.  From there, you’ll gain your roguelike buffs, though they are curiously very scarce.  Since most of the classes are melee, you will always take damage as you get up close to enemies; this exposes a significant flaw in the game design: there is a lack of healing mechanics to make any of this a fair fight.  If you get lucky, a health drop will appear, though usually only for 50 points, at most 25% of your health bar depending on your class.  Considering you can lose that much in two hits, they don’t drop nearly often enough and you’ll almost always come out behind after clearing a room.  There is no guarantee a health drop will ever appear, as it is random.

Clearing rooms often gets you a very low amount of the “Gem” currency.  By the time you leave a level you could have around 200 or 300 Gems, but you’ll probably just waste all of it on buying health at the shop.  Most gear costs anywhere from 200 to 400 by itself, so good luck using that new piece of equipment to any effective order when you have 10% health left.  There’s plenty of other issues, all revolving around “balance.”  At the onset of a new run, your character feels much too weak, or in other words, the enemies take too long to kill.  Early on in a run we should be able to defeat most monsters with one or two hits, except it takes upwards of three to five.  Your enemies also hit like a truck and you’ll lose 15 to 20% of your health for one unavoidable hit.  There should have been some sort of stagger mechanic where if you hit an enemy it resets their attack swing and avoid potential damage — Hand of Fate does this and the action sequences between the two titles are generally very similar.  Spells that your enemies cast are nearly all instant and you often aren’t allowed the opportunity to move out.  For example, there is a lightning spell which will cast as a circle on the ground, and the only way to avoid damage is moving out within the first second.  Projectile spells are a bit easier to avoid, but if you are in melee range there’s not much you can do to avoid it other than constantly run around.  Defensive spells either are cooldown or charge-based, and often take time to actually react to any incoming damage, so it can often be more fruitful to run around like an idiot.

There are a few things the game gets right.  There are four classes with three different specs each, and they all play appreciably different.  You do have to unlock a majority of the extra specs depending on certain conditions so there is some longevity in what they offer you at first.  The single-button-combo system is fine and has some depth to it, though I prefer multi-button combo systems.  You can hold X after any number of button presses, allowing you to perform one of the four special “charge attacks.”  Finally, each character has a unique special ability that can only be used as many times as you have “scrolls,” at a maximum of four.  If a scroll drops and you’re at four, it’s basically wasted.  This isn’t awful in and of itself, in fact it could be nice to be able to make the decision to use your fourth scroll more liberally so you don’t lose out on a charge.

In the end, I think the biggest killer for Pylon: Rogue is that the rewards suck.  Most of the rewards you are earning aren’t even gear/powerups, it’s currency.  Currency you can’t even use until you exit the level; most of the time you’re going to die before getting the opportunity to visit the shop, or in the event you do get out of a level, you’ll waste it on health.  There should have been way more gear/powerups dropping from chests that spawn.  Chests will only spawn once you clear a room, and currently it feels about 10% of the chests will have gear in it.  The rest of the time you’ll get a pittance of gems which will not help you get through the level you are currently stuck in.  The percentage should feel at minimum around 50% for your first level so that you can gain a footing in a new run and make more interesting decisions at at a later point in the gameplay loop rather than having most of your wipes in the less than ten minute range.

So, Pylon: Rogue is a game that will boot up and responds to your controller commands.  It works, you can play it, but unless you’re some savant in the genre you aren’t getting anything out of this game farther than a couple of levels, if that.  There was some hope of a balance patch but the time frame for that came and went and the patch that did drop didn’t make anything easier.  The balance is so off here that we’ve sunk into the ocean.  I’ve already succumbed to the sweetness of death, filling my lungs with water, and air costs more Gems than what I have to spend.  Why are they selling air at the bottom of the ocean?  You got me.

 

Morphite (PC) Review

Developer: We’re Five Games/Blowfish Studios/Crescent Moon Games | Publisher: Crescent Moon Games || Overall: 8/10

Morphite is more than a game.  It’s about finding your purpose in life.  What is the meaning of your existence?  What is the point of anything?  Moreover, what is the point of Morphite‘s procedurally generated universe full of random planets?  I don’t know.

In a nutshell, Morphite is like a less ambitious version of No Man’s Sky.  You have plenty to “do” but there’s not really any motivation or purpose in doing “it.”  Outside of a single player story that has you finding out about the main character’s past and how it relates to the mysterious element morphite, there isn’t much impetus to “explore.”  You’ll want to find resources to upgrade your armor and ship, but the resources aren’t plentiful enough on planets to want to go grind for them.

Morphite has a full universe to explore with procedural planets, which is appealing to hear on its surface.  However, it would be hard to qualify these as actual “planets” considering their size and access, and its best to refer to them as “levels” instead.  In addition, the procedural planets aren’t anywhere near interesting or rewarding enough to warrant the effort of repeatedly visiting new ones.  I only ever wanted to run in one direction, hit a dead end, then leave.  The fauna is quite interesting and I hadn’t run over too many duplicates of creature models as I progressed through the storyline and visited a few of the random planets.

The story itself has hand-designed planets and boss battles, and they are usually way more fun to play on than the procedural levels.  The story takes about ten hours to complete, and there isn’t a point where the game says “ok, now explore” until you finish the story; outside of the random side missions you might come across until then, there honestly isn’t any point to exploration.  On the bright side, if you did want to explore every planet in the game, it will take you 5.9 x 103932349029302909530490394 hours, give or take a few exponents.  When you complete the game you’ll gain a significant buff to your ship’s capabilities, so if you are interested in experiencing more of the random levels, its probably better to wait until then.  Though, I haven’t seen much of a difference in levels the further you fly away from your origin point where all the story takes place.  So, your mileage will definitely vary, as once the story is over there’s nothing left to do but to visit these randomized levels.  On a more meta level, the long-term goal is to increase your character’s power by upgrading.  You are able to unlock new abilities by scanning plants and animals that pop up as rare, and have a special ability; using this scan in tandem with your other resources unlocks your potential.  With more upgrades, more planets become available for exploration, where you’ll continue scanning more and more.

Gameplay is your run of the mill first person shooter with different guns and explosives.  As you find more of the “elusive” morphite, you’ll get more weapons, as they morph into your new equipment.  Platforming and light puzzles will be the main activity other than shooting, but nothing usually on the scale of frustrating; some of the later story missions have interesting puzzle design.  You’ll occasionally run across items that will buff your character in small ways, such as a bracelet that gives you more health.  Ammo randomly spawns in boxes and you’ll probably be hurting for ammo at the beginning of the game when you only have a couple of weapons to use.  Later on there will be a lot more boxes to shoot open and more weapons to use, so this problem goes away eventually.  You can restock a moderate amount of ammo at the pod you used to land on the planet, but you’re usually going to be far away from the pod by the time you need it.  When you run out of ammo completely, your weapons will recharge up to a certain point, but anything over that number will require extra ammo drops.  Considering your ammo doesn’t recharge very quickly, this hinders your gameplay experience in the shooter department as you’ll have to run away a lot as there are no permanent melee weapons.  Relying on Puggles, who is a dog with a laser cannon on his back, to do most of your dirty work is the best way to conserve ammo.

Collecting resources to upgrade your stuff can be a grind, but the resources are so scarce its forced to become an afterthought usually.  Its also hard to monitor how much you have if you have the opportunity to buy more resources or the time to upgrade comes around.  No numbers fly up telling you what you’re currently at — you’ll have to menu hunt to see your current stock.  There’s also some story encounters while traveling from system to system where you’ll either get lucky or unlucky.  You may fly into an asteroid field where you actually get to control your ship for a bit, or lose resources due to pirates, or run across a trader from whom you can spend “Chunks” at to buy resources.  Chunks are the currency in this universe, and the primary way of earning Chunks is through selling “Common Scans” of plants and animals, whereas “Rare Scans” are used to upgrade yourself (or you can sell for a much higher price).  Unfortunately, scanning is pretty fucking awful until you upgrade it a bunch of times, and even then its sad that this is the only way to really make money in this game.  Resources are not found nearly as often to want to ever sell them, and the amount of Chunks you get from ammo boxes and the like is usually very low.

When traveling from system to system, you’ll also have to wait for your fuel to recharge.  This forces you to go space stations (which are available in every system) to refuel, or you can waste time and wait for it to refill automatically. You can use this time to explore a random planet, or do your laundry.  It’s your choice what you think is more productive.  The side missions I came across were also not appealing to try and complete as the rewards they offered were usually not that exciting.  I only ran across one side mission that I could complete then and there; most seem to want to send you out into another part of the universe to complete and I’m not about that life.

The standouts here are the art style and the music.  The art is actually quite fun and reminds me of old 3D DOS games, but obviously this title is much more detailed in certain aspects than that.  Low Poly definitely has its benefit when it comes to space as detail can often be left to the imagination.  The ambient music also fits the space theme accordingly and I was really digging everything I was listening to, which seemed to be at least ten different tracks.  The variety of music is done well and each song sounded was good in its own right, I would probably listen to this soundtrack on its own.  There was also weird sound mixing with the voice overs, sometimes the music would overtake the voice over and you could only understand what they were saying by reading the subtitles.

User interface is another story, however.  The space navigation screens, typography, and the menus all seemed like afterthoughts.  The spaceship cockpit distracted me in a way that felt as if it looked unfinished and they forgot to put some more polish into making it look good.  It’s quite odd, because you arguably spend the most time seeing your spaceship and the menus, but everything else about the game looks great.  Besides that, the usability of the user interface is much more clunky than I’d like and its a pain to use a controller to navigate it.  Considering this title is meant to be released on a phone, you can see some of the design decisions were not built for a controller, and too spread out for mouse/keyboard.  Its also a huge pain to switch weapons — how you can screw this up in a first person shooter is beyond me, but there’s no easy and quick way to switch to your weapons with a controller, and you are relegated to another menu hunt to switch logically.  This becomes increasingly exacerbated as there will be puzzles that require you to switch between three different weapons over and over.  Keyboard/Mouse isn’t much better and you’ll have to remember which weapon is assigned to the numbers on the keyboard.  You can also use the scroll wheel to go one by one, or menu hunt then click “equip” once you find what you want — there are N64 games that are easier to switch weapons in.

Admittedly, its hard to get too excited about Morphite, but it is fun while your interest holds.  The story isn’t too long and I don’t think it overstays its welcome.  The ending is anticlimactic and the boss battles tend to be a bit on the easy side.  The mystery of the story is good while it lasts, and it never takes itself too seriously, not to mention it takes a dark turn towards the end that I wouldn’t have guessed would be part of the story.  Coming into Morphite thinking you’re going to be playing an indie sci-fi shooter is a better way to go about it than thinking its anything related to No Man’s Sky.

 

Tangledeep (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer/Publisher: Impact Gameworks || Outlook: Positive

Tangledeep is the 16-bit roguelike that should be on your radar.  A beautifully artistic, colorful, and lore-based game that will seemingly have much to offer and iterate on when it finally releases later this year, currently planned for December 2017.  Tangledeep pulls deep from the SNES Final Fantasy games in terms of overall aesthetic with music, sound effects, and art but makes it its own with unique gameplay features and iteration.

I can’t praise the games presentation and production value enough.  This is a swell game to immerse yourself in and right down to the text boxes you’ll be hitting that nostalgia bong over and over (nostalgia bong legal for only 30+).  The music is beautifully composed and really sells you into the exploration dynamic of the game’s story.  The lore of Tangledeep is also mysterious and fanciful — it really piques the interest in discovering more about the forest of Tangledeep and figuring out what secrets it holds.  Since Tangledeep is but a snapshot of the rest of the world, you don’t know what visitors you may come upon in the base camp as it seems “guest” vendors are randomized and will sell things that aren’t usually available if you have the money for it.

Obviously, since Tangledeep is a roguelike, there are many roguelike features, and multiple ways to experience the game itself.  The overall progression comes from your town development, although it is a bit sparse in terms of actual benefits to be gained.  You have six plots where you can plant magical seeds that provide food to you at certain increments.  You can also tame beasts using a special item and drag them back to town for later use as a companion.  Many of your first attempts at getting deep into the forest will probably be fruitless as you discover the mechanics and how things work, as well as fiddling around with the different classes (called jobs) available for play and figuring out what works for you.

Gameplay-wise, you’ve got an expansive list of jobs to play with — currently nine.  Each job is unique and actually has a bit of an interesting spin on some of the usual class types, from a lore angle.  “Personal” stories of each of the individual jobs don’t seem to really get in the way of the greater narrative, but the customization and skill-based special actions go a long way in changing up the experience from one run to the next.

Though the game is turn-based, it’s played in real time.  It’s more like a turn-counter with particular actions taking a certain amount of turns to cast or recharge.  There is also an opportunity to pause during hectic moments of combat to plan out what you strategically want to do in case you get in a bind.  You can also progress time without moving, so you don’t need to get out of position.  Levels are procedurally generated, with some side rooms changing up the tileset dramatically, so the game doesn’t get stale at all.  Trying out the different jobs is also part of the fun and each class can be built to focus on different sets of skills depending on you preference, so the iteration just goes that much deeper.

The meta game is always important for a roguelike.  There is an “intended” way to play Tangledeep where you will encounter permadeath at the end of your run, only allowing for any progress in town to stand.  Being called “Heroic Mode,” this gives you the opportunity to switch your job and try out a new spec for the penalty of starting from scratch.  Adventure Mode is another option where instead of encountering permadeath, you will be sent back to town with penalties, losing your unspent Job Points/Money and half of your XP progress.  The penalties are hefty, but much less impactful than a full reset.  “Hardcore Mode” is the same as Heroic Mode, except all progress made with the character is wiped.  Each individual Save Slot is party to as many characters as you think necessary to play with, and you can only “Continue” progress with an Adventure Mode character.

Unfortunately, Tangledeep isn’t exactly the mode user-intuitive when it comes to its menu system.  Menu-hunting is a bit of a pain, and can be confusing at times as to what commands you are telling the menu to do.  Arrow keys don’t work at all, only being able to use the WASD to control a menu (this just feels weird) and using a controller instead also feels clumsy.  When opening the menu, you are not going to the menu you were last in, so if you need to make any tweaks to what you had previously done, its more than one click away when it shouldn’t be any clicks away.  Equipment is also hard to figure out sometimes, since it is hard to compare equipment efficiently and whether or not you are actually equipping an upgrade can be questionable at times.  You have four different weapon slots for changing up your strategy on the fly (ranged vs. melee, for example) — but the inactive ones don’t give you additional stats.  It feels like that there should be more information about equipment in general and how things affect your gameplay but as is it feels too underdeveloped to be satisfying.  You also don’t encounter enough variance or quantity of loot to really have to make interesting decisions as you get by with just equipping whatever has a better rarity quality.  There are also other lesser issues with the logic and layout of the menu that just don’t feel right and needs to be smoothed out before release to make it a more useful tool than it currently is.

Tangledeep has got a lot going for it, and I’m excited to see if more story lives up to my expectations.  I’d really like to see more progression mechanics that allow for strengthening your new characters further as you keep playing.  Refinements to the menu system to be a less frustrating experience is the number one goal in my mind, so hopefully that is on the radar of the developers.  A little more focus on the loot/reward system would also be in order.  Tangledeep is being updated constantly by its developers while in Early Access, so it’ll be an interesting title to watch.

 

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows (PC) Review

Developer: Witching Hour Studios | Publisher: Ysbryd Games || Overall: 8.5/10

One thing I’ve always had an interest in was creating lore from scratch.  I’ve got a couple of projects that I’ve worked on but never got too far in fully fleshing them out into a self-sustaining, interconnected, and intellectually interesting universe.  Masquerada: Songs and Shadows accomplishes this feat while telling an entertaining story and even some gameplay to boot.  While its hard to make all the connections to this and that unless you really pay attention, the developers at Witching Hour Studios really did an amazing job in crossing their Contadini’s and dotting their Regenti’s.  Oh, excuse me, I meant T’s and I’s; sometimes its easier to just make up words and hope you remember what they mean.

The immediate takeaway of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is that it is uniquely themed.  The buildings, words, and the way people dress are considered “Venetian” — to better put it into context, think 17th century Europe.  All of the terms, people’s names, and frankly just about everything is finely crafted in giving this “Venetian” feel.  This is in spite of the game taking place in a fictitious country named Ombre, and obviously not taking place in “Earth’s history” either.  The centerpiece of the lore is the magical masks, called Mascherines, and how their use brings out magical powers that its user would otherwise not be able to have.  From this simple concept grows the impressively detailed political situation of the country of Ombre, with upwards of twenty different factions, groups, organizations, and government entities, all vying for power in the world… and a place in your brain.

In fact, the game is so lore rich that I’ve spent what feels like half of the game time reading rather than playing.  This can be fine to a point, and it is definitely “optional” but if you want the full experience of the narrative, its necessary to take a 10-15 minute break every time a bunch of new lore entries open up in the Codex.  As the story progresses, you’ll unlock one of the grayed out squares in non-sequential order (they are also ordered by categories), and since there are made up names for just about everything and it can be hard to keep track of it all; it’s going to test your patience.  One Codex entry opened up about the relationship between the main character and a good friend of his, and it was probably about two pages worth alone; I didn’t care that much and I just said fuck it!  Sometimes it’s a huge pain to break up the gameplay flow to take these “lore breaks” and is the one obvious flaw of this title.

Obviously, there’s no way they could have included most of what is in the Codex into the actual game, since most of it has to do with everything other than what is immediately going on.  It would have been nice to have been able to experience as side stories or extra quests or something more involved like that.  By my fifth hour, the game felt exclusively just reading/watching an interactive story.  Not to mention, they hide many of the core lore entries on the map and you have to find them by exploring a little bit; this means you can potentially miss them.  The business of the story delivery is cumbersome, but the story is interesting, so I can give them a pass up to a point.  They made up so many fucking terms it’s like I’m reading a different language and its hard not to glaze over terms if you’ve forgotten their meaning.  In the end, the effort on their part and your part go hand in hand.  If you skip over the lore, you are doing yourself a disservice in playing the game.  But it would have been nice if they gave us a Venetian diagram (get it?) or a geographical map at least.

So I’ve talked about the story up until now, and while it is the center feature of this title, there is a battle system.  I would quantify the battle system as “light” — there is no experience grinding and skill points unlock after certain story events.  The talent system is varied enough where you can make different builds or choose different elements (fire, air, water, or earth) for your main character.  You can also set up tactics for your AI teammates, or take direct control of them if you so choose.  The battling takes place mostly with melee attacks and elemental-themed spells.  A group of three or four enemies will spawn and then you just try to kill them before they kill you.  Healing is mostly passive, and attached to other spells that go off, so it isn’t a mechanic that requires a lot of attention.  If an AI teammate falls in battle, you can revive them Call-of-Duty-style by hovering over their body and pressing a button.

Presumably you would replay the game with different builds if you wanted to experience the different intricacies of this battle system, but I can’t say I would personally be interested.  The battles aren’t really that hard on Normal — there is a difficulty slider including “Story,” “Normal,” and “Hard.”  I don’t know why anyone would really want to waste time potentially wiping with a Hard difficulty considering the only reward the game has to offer is more story.  There is no character progression or gameplay elements that motivate you to do well in the battle you just fought or take on a harder challenge for that matter.  Only a few encounters demand elevated knowledge of the battle system and tactics, which is unfortunate.  There’s also not a whole lot of exploration involved; you are basically going down corridors and running around in circles to make sure you pick up any codex entries before you move on to the next area.  Since the story is so heavily scripted I can appreciate that it would be hard to allow freedom of discovery, but nonetheless the beautiful art, music, and professional voice work try to paper over any of these particular faults.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows will hit the “story RPG” itch you might be yearning for.  With its unique Venetian theme, there’s not much that can really compare.  Being overwhelmed with lore words aside, the experience is not as daunting as I may have made it sound like, and while particular points kind of grate my soul, presentation-wise with the Codex entries, I am still well entertained.  Considering the story gets more and more interesting, it’s hard to not want to see the adventure through.  There is also a recently released New Game+ mode that actually adds more content, so you can think of it as a “director’s cut” of sorts with expanded features, dialogue lines, and a couple more boss encounters.

 

Original Journey (PC) Review

Developer: Bonfire Entertainment | Publisher: Another Indie || Overall: 2.0/10

What’s up, folks? Ever wanted a game where you play as a yam with guns or some shit? Have I got the fix for you!

Alright, so in Original Journey (“original title do not steal”) you’re a plant thing in an exo suit on a mission with dozens of others to save your planet. For plot device reasons you’re not told why you’re on the planet Shadow (“original name do not steal”) aside from these green crystals, which, incidentally, a vibrant green object in an otherwise monochrome game. These things, you see, heal your folk and planet, or something. I don’t know. Anyway, a bunch more stuff happens that doesn’t even make sense in any context, like you needing to get monster teeth to make a translation program for your droid, or talking to a dude with amnesia that gives you an emerald-looking thing called a Chaos Key (“original concept and name do not steal”) and some schematics only your race could ever utilize. I don’t understand who’s writing this, or if it’s a translation error, but the story really needs, like… a spit shine, at least. It’s rough, and, at points: totally inane.

Gameplay flows like this: you’re at base, where you get quests, deal with buying and selling, swap out equipment and prepare for your next run. Then you talk to this TV thing, and from there you pick where to go to start a chain of themed levels. As you complete each level, you’re taken back to decide if you return home or do a special event. Dying on a level means you forfiet all your loot, which stays there, not unlike Dark Souls or Shovel Knight, until you come back to reclaim it or die again. It says “procedurally generated levels”, but each level is more of an arena, and there’s not a lot of randomization in those or enemies. In fact, it’s more of an RPG with some roguelike elements than it is a real roguelike. In the few hours I played the forest section, I saw most of the same levels and elements, sometimes specific ones, over and over again. Anyway, you work toward your next story or side quest, come back home, rinse, repeat. There is some progression, like better equipment or higher character level even with death, yadda yadda, but that’s about it.

Okay, so, gather round. Scout’s honor sort of moment here. Alright, you listening? Here’s the thing: I didn’t finish this game. I couldn’t, even though I feel bad about it and kind of wanted to, and there’s a very, very good reason why.

So, this game’s a roguelike, and if you’re reading random game reviews on a humor website, you probably know what that means: death. Lots of it. Any good roguelike will force you to die. There’s plenty of roguelikes, both good and bad, and there’s lots of traits that can influence an opinion in weighing them against each other. One thing good roguelikes almost universally have in common, though, is good controls. Original Journey does not have good controls.

This title’s a sidescroller, and your character’s armament is limited to a suit (with a chip in it; think socketing items in Diablo or Path of Exile), a left weapon and a right weapon. Most of the weapons are guns, but for some reason you have no ability to aim these fucking things. Your vegetable’s aim sways back and forth at approximately an upward 45 degree angle, making anything with less spread than a shotgun annoying to use. Aiming directly at an enemy involves walking right next to them and fucking pulling the trigger. This means that often times, for air enemies, you’re jumping constantly in the air in order to do any good. Weapons have limited ammo, so often times you’ll be wasting most of your ammo trying to knock some bullshit out of the sky. This gets worse later, with enemies hanging out toward the bottom of the goddamn screen. WHY? WHY DO THIS? WHY THE FUCK CAN’T I AIM AT HIM? I HAVE TWO FUCKING GUNS AND I CA-

Excuse me.

So, shooting and aiming is already a problem, but it’s exacerbated by the design of the terrain in general. Many levels are oblong asteroid-looking hunks of shit with enemies on them. Considering our aiming problem, often times you will have to jump over enemies that are below your aim and attack from the opposite direction, entirely due to how your character holds a gun. Add on to this random terrain that blocks your shots and you have a REALLY GOOD FUCKING WAY TO GET MY BLOOD PRESSURE UP. FUCK.

They got these turrets that you can place two of each level, but they are just so dumb. The normal ones just sort of shoot randomly in the direction they are facing. The laser ones that you unlock next only seem better because they shoot through targets, including the stupid terrain obstacles.

Technically speaking, the game is fine. I didn’t experience any bugs, only “features” that were intended.

To repeat: I feel bad for not going through the whole game, but it just wasn’t worth the time. I know developing games takes work, but when you charge 11.99 for it, well, you invite criticism. There’s a multitude of better games to play instead, ones with plots that are fun, or gameplay that isn’t frustrating, some of them even being free. Play one of those instead. This one, in some ways, feels more like an inside Sonic the Hedgehog fandom joke attached to a random prototype game.

 

Graceful Explosion Machine (PC) Review

 

Graceful Explosion Machine.

Developer/Publisher: Vertex Pop || Overall: 6.5/10

If I’m wrong, tell me – I have no idea what’s going on here.

The title itself almost begs the comparison to Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, a point driven home by the fact that the protagonist is inside of a yellow vehicle. Like Bay’s movies, though, little is added to the genre with GEM.

It’s not that Graceful Explosion Machine is a bad game – far from it. It’s just that it doesn’t do anything to keep me coming back after two decades of playing games similar to it. GEM is a 2D ship shooter, much like the classic Defender, right down to needing to hit a button to turn around. The game’s premise being there was, like, this big ship, or something. There was a city in it, maybe? I’m not sure. There were some gems on it, and astro pops, I dunno. Anyway, these googly-eye’d robots spheres and oblong shapes came and blew it up. A ship popped out of the explosion, and the pilot was obviously distressed that the gems they had stolen from Bejeweled had been, in turn, stolen from them. So the ship pursued, intending to set fire to their planets. It’s open to interpretation, obviously, so I’ll just post a .gif of the intro sequence so you can decide. It gets the job done, but honestly, I would have been just as happy with no story, since the stills you see explain nothing aside that you’re killing things for a reason: sweet, buttery revenge on rye, dijon mustard and a side of coleslaw. I’ll take my revenge, hold all the other stuff. Thanks.

Alright, on to gameplay. The Defender comment was a hint here: it plays like Defender. The ship is moved in the cardinal directions, but it always faces left or right, a state that is changed with space (or left trigger if you’re using a controller, and I hope you are). Aside from the dedicated turn button, there is a dash/boost to dodge through enemies. If you’re in your 30’s and 40’s, you probably know what’s up here. It’s just as riveting as before, only by this point you’ve probably played PixelJunk Shooter and stuff. Kind of like when you have a succulent ribeye steak at any point before eating a New Castle burger.

Now, for some reason this ship is unarmed until it picks up conspicuously laid out weapons in the tutorial, which is probably why these yellow guys got their shit ruined in the first place. First you get a pea shooter, which rapidly fires out blasts until it overheats, which is its only constraint. Second weapon, you get an “energy sword” which spins around twice on use, tearing into enemies and destroying enemy bullets. Next is a sniper beam, which is a very powerful beam that does a lot of damage and tears through enemy shields, but forces you to move slowly. The last is a missile barrage that can be directed out of your ship with a directional input before they race off to seek targets. With exception of the regular blaster, all weapons require weapon energy to fire. This is harvested from enemies on death via the yellow crystals they drop. The weapon energy meter doesn’t say what the max is, or how much each crystal is worth, nor is the energy required for attacks displayed anywhere, so it’s more of a fuel meter in that regard. Crystal/weapon power management seems to be the main bottleneck of player skill. Players need to swoop through slain enemies in order to get close enough to collect weapon power, which dictates how often you can use area of effect attacks. Gameplay quickly maxes out as an advanced game of chicken, blowing through enemies to collect weapon power to in turn massacre more enemies. The only real thing that mixes this up is how close enemies spawn, and if there’s an enemy that requires you to use the sniper cannon to kill quickly.

The game is divided into levels on four planets. A few open up for play, unlocking more as you complete them, culminating in a “warp” level to move on to the next planet. Each level has phases, which are this game’s checkpoint system; waves of enemies will spawn throughout an endlessly scrolling cave section as the player kills everything. Points are awarded for each kill, a multiplier in effect for consecutive kills and keeping a spree going. The ship is able to take three hits before dying, but each level has two continues, which can be utilized to restart from the beginning of the last phase that was started. The game isn’t exactly easy, but with tools like these, it’s not difficult either.

There’s plenty of different enemies, but most of the time, they either require a specific approach or a specific weapon, neither of which is much of a puzzle in the grand scheme of things. The problem is inherently with the focus of the game, which is entirely on score and leaderboards, rather than actual gameplay progression. This, coupled with spawns that don’t randomize, makes for a very stale “replayability” factor. Defender, way back in the day, got away with this by being a fixture in a public place with minimal mechanics and increasingly difficult and unforgiving gameplay, mostly to siphon quarters off kids. Well, that, and Defender is 36 years old. Graceful Explosion Machine has too many mechanics that it doesn’t dole out to keep the player interested, and thus have to use new enemies in lieu of new mechanics, powers or features to keep the player interested. Maybe it’s bad to expect more from games that go for $12.99 without a discount, but competition is stiff; there’s a myriad of games competing for your cash, and unless DeMar’s and Jarvis’ Defender is the model of what you consider an amazing experience, chances are you won’t be whisked away by this without a heaping spoonful of competitive spirit. Other games offer that competitive element too, obviously.

To its credit: the game runs well, and makes use of high refresh rate monitors. The music is benign, but not bad by any means. The controls on keyboard are serviceable, though I recommend controller. What’s more to say about a game that, mechanically, is solid even if there’s no carrot on the stick past score-whoring? There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but it’s uninspiring, like a joke you’ve heard before, or a monologue on a topic you’re uninterested in.

And, with that: I’d like to talk to you about our Lord, Gabe Newell. Our Father in Seattle, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Dot-gif us this day our daily gameplay, and forgive us our unpaid credit cards, as we…

*The droning of a long-winded joke, built on a foundation of memes, hits for 3d6 focus damage: 14 points*
*You roll d20 to save – a one*
*Quietly, you drift off; memories of your homeship and your ill-gotten Bejeweled gems haunt your dreams*

*You wake up, covered in a sticky substance. You’re not sure where you are or what you’ve been doing, but you have a feeling it was spent doing something slightly mediocre.*

That’s what the game is like. Some people might be interested, and may even find some enjoyment out of a Defender game with some extra bells and whistles, but the depth is shallow and the ride is short.

 

Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Freekstorm || Overall: 8.0/10

What were you doing seven years ago?  If I remember correctly, I was probably in the middle of watching every Star Trek series on Netflix.  There’s some stuff I was doing on Squackle back then, like posting Jokes and posting some chats I was having on Chatroulette, apparently.  In the mean time, developer Freekstorm had an idea for a space-themed puzzle game that had a game show feel to it and spent the next seven years making it, and eventually releasing in late July 2017.  In the meantime, Squackle still exists and I’ve seen every episode of Star Trek — quite an accomplishment for both of us, I suppose.

Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game took seven years to make.  Seven years is a long time to spend on one game, one concept, and a special kind of motivation was required to get it to release day.  This title seethes “passion project” through and through, and with a little research into the title I was able to find some history on its development, including presentations given by its developers, which gives you a nice insight into how the game came into existence.

Filled with puns, and occasionally written in verse, Doctor Kvorak’s game show he runs, making you choose what to do with the universe.

The theme is what kept my interest throughout — a game show taking place in space, hosted by an all-powerful being known as Doctor Kvorak.  “Liberate or Obliterate” is the tagline of the “game show” as you decide the fate of a planet Doctor Kvorak chooses; often times populated by worthless-sounding beings.   You participate as the character Greeboo from the Planet Noo, and later on, eventually find his “friends” whom you will also control.  While Greeboo is just a vessel for you, the player, the real characters of the game are Doctor Kvorak himself and a hen in an astronaut suit named Eggloot.  The titular character Doctor Kvorak is the antagonist, and sounds like some sort of weird German stereotype added with a Japanese stereotype; subtitles are really required to understand every word he’s saying.  Eggloot is not necessarily a protagonist but antagonizes the antagonist, as they go back and forth with strange writing that all rhymes.  Much of the “story” hits on the same points over and over:  Doctor Kvorak is an evil omnipotent being, and Eggloot is the thorn in his side.  There’s not much in the way of story progression, because you’re going through about fifteen levels of the same formula, but it is all funny/entertaining in the context of the game.

The script is oddly clever at times, and a lot of effort went into the rhyming.  There wasn’t a whole lot of lazy rhymes as far as I could tell, so it really kept up the “charm” in a fairy tale sort of way despite all of the space shit going on.  They slip in and out of the verse dialogue, so it isn’t kept up the entire time, which prevents the rhyming from getting old.  Another interesting thing that happens is Doctor Kvorak talks right into the camera most of the time, towards the player, rather than at Greeboo, who is acknowledged separately.  It gives it a strange “breaking the fourth wall” aspect here as if you are an observer rather than a participant, even though you are controlling a character.

Despite the interesting theme, the gameplay itself is basic.  The puzzles are pretty easy, most are solved with little trouble.   Slow-moving characters draw out the length of game despite the easy puzzles, so the easy-to-figure-out steps take like five minutes to execute rather than one or two.  The puzzle variety is a mix of switches, moving boxes, swapping things around, platforming, and avoiding death.  A large part of the challenge is also in collecting items; there are 50 collectible items (for what purpose I’m not sure) and also 10 pieces of the planet you are trying to save — which seems to be the only actually important thing to collect.  Once you find your friends, you will switch off between the characters to work your way through more elaborate puzzles.  They also each have their own unique set of power-ups that are used in that pursuit.

Most of the puzzles are compartmentalized, meaning you don’t want to go too far ahead before you collect or solve the puzzle for the thing you just saw.  Though, there are times where you’ll loop back around, depending on the level design.  It also seems like you can complete puzzles in ways that aren’t necessarily intended, and I’m not entirely sure that was meant to be.  For example, you can “climb” up a box by pushing it and jumping it at the right angle and velocity, allowing you to access higher platforms.  There’s usually some sort of other puzzle piece that allows you to do this a lot easier after doing some other task.  Another example is how you can use a bunch of boxes to block a laser gun and get an item, when what they really wanted you to do was simply find the switch and turn the laser gun off.  It seems too accidental to be intentional, otherwise more puzzles could be completed “in an unintended way.”  There is also optional VR support, and that seems to add something to the formula, but I don’t have that equipment so I can’t try it.

Character animation is not great, but oddly charming since they are “aliens.”  There are some physics-based animations that are triggered when you fall from a high ledge, or somehow trip.  Cosmetics are a curious addition, and you collect a lot of them.  Most of the outfits are made for Greeboo, it seems, but they serve no real game purpose other than mixing up what you are looking at on the screen.  Otherwise, the puzzle elements look okay and achieve a certain style, almost reminding me of American Gladiators or one of those other ridiculous-looking physical challenge game shows, except… taking place in space.

The game runs smooth at the default settings.  I had increased the sliders to the maximum at one point but couldn’t tell much difference except for in the shadows.  I encountered only one crash after I had increased everything to max; when I launched again the settings were back to default, so I left it there.  Otherwise, there haven’t been many other technical issues.

The soundtrack is a notably positive part of the game.  The music mostly goes with the theme and they’re pretty catchy tunes, which is important since you’ll hear them over and over.  It is hard to pick out how many songs there actually are, but there appear to be 17 according to Steam.  They may slowly get put into the rotation as you get further in levels, so it is hard to tell just how many songs I was hearing at any given time.  Since each level was taking me on average thirty minutes to complete, I felt like I was hearing the same songs.

Unfortunately, the theme of “Liberate or Obliterate” is predetermined.  You have to save every planet to eventually progress to the next set of levels.  It would have been more fun to have some sort of long-term consequence depending on how diligent you were in collecting all of the planet pieces.  Instead you’ll have to replay an entire level and do it right when you miss even just one piece of a world.  The “overworld” is split into three segments, with about six levels on each platform.  They also included a level creator which was sort of hard to futz around with, and wasn’t as intuitive as it needed to be to make it worth using.  Seemed like it may have been some sort of default level-maker included within Unity, but I couldn’t be sure since I’m not experienced with the inner workings of the engine.  There weren’t any other Community maps available, or maybe the feature wasn’t working at all since I couldn’t see anything available.

Overall, the game is not awful, and if I was 12 or 13 this might have been a lot of fun if I was playing it as an entry-level puzzle game.  The puzzle elements are light (perhaps the VR support had something to do with that, I’m not sure), the theme is fun, the characters are “unique” and there is some replayability if you so desired to do speed runs.  The novelty of the title doesn’t really wear off, but the puzzles might be too easy for older players to keep their interest.

Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game is available on Steam.

 

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Prideful Sloth || Overall: 8.5/10

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is the unique exploration/crafting game from indie developer Prideful Sloth.  Usually a game doesn’t make itself unique by omitting, but in this case, the fact that there is absolutely NO combat really provides for an interesting experience.  Exploring, unlocking, and collecting are the main activities that you’ll be participating in, and while it is a slow burn at first, once you get into the rhythm of the game its charm will reveal itself to you.

The entire game takes place on a secluded island named Gemea.  As a nameless human vacuum, you’ve come by boat to clean Gemea of its crafting materials.  I call you a nameless human vacuum because you are provided no name, and also because for the first two hours you’ll be doing nothing but picking up rocks, sticks, flowers, and random shit on the ground with no idea what to do with any of it.  You’ll stumble upon a couple of quests that will send you every which way across Gemea, picking up even more rocks and sticks until you realize you have about 200 of each, and then you question the meaning of life and existence.  Is there a reason why Gemea doesn’t have some bureaucratic government agency to do this for them already?  They obviously have some sort of problem with rocks and sticks.  I guess the main threat of the game has libertarian motives.

The quests you happen to stumble upon are very simple, and the quest-givers look the same/animate the same way.  You go around and complete quests for the sake of completing them, sometimes getting useful rewards, but often you’ll get nothing for your efforts.  Each zone has a number of things to do, and as you complete them you’ll be notified.  The main story sees you collecting Sprites, which allow you to unlock blocked off areas, covered by a magical dark mist called “Murk.” While the story set up could have been a bit more impactful and set up the island/scenario in a more elaborate way, it seems like most of this was intentionally left extremely simple and you are forced to “fill in the blanks.”  There aren’t really any charming characters, and most of what you do is by happenstance and not necessarily because you wanted to.  There are at least some important quests that take more effort to complete than others, but most of the unique areas associated with the main quest will only need to be visited once, it seems.

The best way to describe this game is a mix of Dark Cloud or Zelda and Stardew Valley, but removing all combat.  The story sensibilities of a generic hero-type character who has come to save the island by collecting magical Sprites that only s/he can see, reminds me of an old 3D fantasy-adventure game.  Exploration is a big part of this game, and you’ll constantly be finding new nooks and crannies as you accomplish goals across the island.  You’ll also begin to run an assortment of farms, one in each zone, but there is very little maintenance or work that is required to be done on these farms.  You aren’t planting and watering crops, but rather leaving animals in pens and picking up the materials they produce.  Each animal creates different materials, so you’d want to have a variety across the farms.  There is even less maintenance required once you hire a farm hand that will essentially do what you need to do on each of these farms, freeing you up for more of the regular tasks and exploration across the island.

While Yonder is a relaxing game, it is mostly about exploring, and I found myself constantly making detours to suck up all of the random shit I could.  I had no idea why I needed to pick any of them up before I could actually craft with them, but I did it anyway.  Until you learn how to actually craft, you will get by by taking advantage of the barter economy.  It is a bit odd since all of the things you will initially be trading are just strewn about the island so freely, but that fact is reflected in the “Value” of the items you are trading.  Since there is no traditional currency, you’ll just have to fill your bags with everything you don’t want and then trade for something you do want.  The only purpose to trade is to craft or complete quests, at the end of the day.  There are a number of traders in each of the villages and once you meet or exceed the value of what you are trading for, the deal can be completed.  You’ll want to have the value of both sides be as equal as possible so you don’t lose out on materials in a bad trade.

Crafting is a large part of the game, and each profession has its own town where you’ll embark on a quest to learn a few recipes and then become a Master.  Once you actually begin these Master crafter quests, you’ll be wishing you didn’t skip any resources up until this point because you’ll realize you need like another thousand more of everything.  You’ll eventually start taking quests that require you to use your crafting talents to complete, but sometimes its easier to just trade for what you want than going through the motions of crafting.  There are also trading posts which provide a unique material that can only be created there, so you’ll have to bring the prerequisite with you if you need them.

The island of Gemea is a sizeable area to explore.  It is larger than it may seem when looking at a map but it doesn’t take very long to get across it, either.  The transition between each zone is very natural and you almost can’t tell you’re in the next zone sometimes.  The different biomes give enough variety while still being “realistic” in that you could expect grasslands to be next to a forest, and that a desert would be on its own secluded area away from the main island.  Not that they are necessarily needed, but there are no survival mechanics such as getting tired or hungry, despite there being a day/year counter.  You can run around on the island for two years straight and you don’t get tired or hungry.

As with all games nowadays, new additions are inevitable.  If combat were ever introduced, it would be nice to break up the monotony of running around unfettered forever, but I understand why they didn’t include it in the game initially.  It would ruin the main “threat,” which is the Murk and the underlying reason why it has spread across Gemea.  While it doesn’t matter to me that generic puffy people who ask me to do inane tasks are under threat from the Murk, my real connection comes with how beautiful the island itself is, and wanting to see it preserved.

At first I was not a big fan of the art-style, but as I grew accustom to it, it is probably one of the prettiest games I’ve played recently.  Every single part of the island is a joy to be in and I love being in all of the different biomes, seeing what new things I can find despite having already been there.  One of the great things about Yonder is that new things can constantly be found or unlocked due to progression or simply because you didn’t stumble across the thing before.  Fast-travel points are also in only-barely-convenient places and require a quest to be completed before being able to connect to the travel network at that location.  So, sometimes fast travel might be more annoying than regular travel.

No loading screens past the first loading screen is also great for not breaking the immersion.  Cutscenes are used sparingly, as well, but what semblance of a main story there is, often has you listening to a very large Sprite telling you where the Murk comes from and how to fix Gemea’s problem.  The superb sound design really delivers in creating the right mood and feeling for each biome, with the music supplementing the ambient noise.

The only real fault of Yonder is that if you are not intent on giving it a chance, you may not find enough to motivate you to keep going; it is a very slow burn.  It wasn’t until around the six hour mark where the game “clicked” for me.  By the time I had begun writing this review I had put in nearly eight hours of game time; typically I’m able to formulate my opinion about a game way before that.  Because there is so much to explore on the island of Gemea, there is a lot of potential game time, and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.  If the game grabbed me earlier in the process with some sort of interesting character to latch onto or being forced into the main story for just a couple of quests, I would have personally had a favorable opinion a lot quicker.  As is, after the introduction they instead dump you in the middle of the first zone where you can have at all of the rocks and sticks you can suck up into the singularity you call your backpack.

As previously mentioned, there’s a lot to explore and do in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.  Give it a good few hours before making your mind up on it and you may just find one of the indie hits of the year beneath the “real-life Murk.”  Being a human vacuum doesn’t really go away, but at least you’ll be using the crafting materials for something… eventually.

 

First Strike: Final Hour (PC) Review

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

Final Strike: First Hour is a real-time strategy game that gives you command of a nuclear superpower.  Your one and only goal is to destroy everyone else in the world and do it before they destroy you.  As a mobile port to PC, it’s lack of content and lack of sensibility for the platform it has *ahem* launched on are the largest drawbacks to the game.  After about fifteen minutes into my first game, I wanted to send a nuclear missile at myself just to end it quicker.

Final First: Strike Hour allows you to take control of a multitude of different countries as a starting point.  While they don’t have much in the way of actual differences, your starting point and concentration of “Nations” to take over will force you to adjust your strategy so that you aren’t immediately wiped out.  If you choose to start in the USA, you are able to more focus on attacking since the “Nation” land masses are much larger and one nuke can only destroy one at a time.  However, if you choose Western Europe, which has a high concentration of countries, one incoming nuke can easily take out three in one go.  The benefit to being in Western Europe is that you basically have easy access to most of the world and can expand much more quickly due to the increased amount of Nations you are able to take over.

Strike First: Hour Final doesn’t have much in the way of resources, other than what you use to attack and defend.  Cruise missiles and ICBMs have to be used tactically to eliminate your enemy to the point they can no longer expand.  Once you tell a Nation to do something, it goes on a long cooldown, at which point it becomes helpless.  If you or your enemy take advantage of these cooldown phases, you’ll be able to make a large dent in their capabilities to further their goal.  If you don’t want a Nation to build missiles, you can have it research, which leads down a tech path to your superweapons, of which you get two.  There are two tech trees and you’ll need to research everything; each research item grants a buff to allow you to get an upper hand (if your enemy hasn’t already researched it already, that is).

Hour Strike: First Final is kind of boring, and very dependent on micromanaging your Nations.  There is no way to select multiple Nations or mass produce your nukes.  You’ll have to click on each individual Nation you currently have and tell them what to do, and eventually it gets to the point of clicking things as fast you can just so that things keep happening, making it difficult to make truly strategic decisions.  Of course since the game is singleplayer only, you’ll be fighting against the computer, who doesn’t need to click shit, so they can just sit back and watch their missiles blow your shit up while you have to click on floating circles and wonder why your nuke won’t launch even though you’re clicking a bunch of times on the map.

Strike Final: Hour First has very little in the way of content.  There is no multiplayer (though, I wouldn’t want it anyway), no “campaign” (it is all essentially free-play), and very little to shake up the formula or do something different.  There’s plenty of countries and weapons to unlock, and there are also achievements to achieve if you so desired.  The look of the game is more-or-less what you’d expect, having a military-war-game-computer sort of feel.  The music is not varied enough, and it felt like I was listening to the same one or two songs throughout, with some shorter interludes weaved in as things occurred in the game.  After one or two games, it sort of begged why you’d want to keep going since you’ve essentially seen what the game has to offer.  If the game as is works for you, there’s definitely a lot of potential to replay, working towards the different unlocks.

All in all, Strike Strike: Hour Hour isn’t a game that held my interest.  Hell, it’s hard for me to even remember what the name of the game is!  It’s a competent piece of software, honestly, no bugs, no real issues with the play experience itself.  There was nothing impeding me being able to play the game as it was designed — it is just too simple to give it much attention.  It’s frankly just your typical example of when a mobile game port doesn’t translate very well to the PC at an intrinsic level.

 

MidBoss (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Kitsune Games || Overall: 5.0/10

Not every game can be a winner.  MidBoss kind of stinks, and that’s unfortunate because the concept was interesting on its outset.  I’m a sucker for taking over your enemies or learning their abilities, and MidBoss is all about doing just that.  The idea being, that you slowly work your way up in possessing stronger and stronger enemies — hey, that’s cool!

Unfortunately, it isn’t very cool.

MidBoss lands in the range of “playable.”  Considering the array of games available nowadays, you can’t get away with a game simply qualifying as such.  The foundation is there, but the key thing that is missing is VARIETY, especially when you’re talking about a roguelike.  The map you play on never changes, the diversity of monsters is very low (nor are they very exciting), and the roguelike element itself leaves a lot to be desired.  MidBoss tries to be a loot game, but the loot sucks; half of the stats don’t make much perceivable impact on how you play.  It is also a turn-based game, but the controls are wonky at best; controllers can’t even be used!  I don’t really enjoy holding down my mouse click for 90% of the game, and using the keyboard is even more frustrating than that for some reason.  It sort of boggles my mind why turn-based grid movement that is Isomtric is 4-sided rather than hexagons.  There’s also practically no animation — though the art is okay, it is boring except for a few stand-outs.  It also reminds me mostly of a DOS-era art style, straight out of the early 1990’s.

You hit a ton of crates, shelves, and chests to find crap, equip the crap, then try to find more crap to swap out.  For some reason you have to identify loot in this game, but none of the loot is very exciting to begin with so it isn’t even worth the extra clicks to unlock useless stats.  You find a vendor, eventually, where you can unload your awful gear for Balls of Yarn (the game’s currency), which is pretty funny to do… but only to a certain point.  That’s when you realize you just want to vendor everything you came across.

The roguelike mechanics are perhaps the only moderately-well executed part here.  They revolve around the concept of “Death Cards” in which each run (after you die) is memorialized in a screenshot of you dying, along with a snapshot of all of your gear and abilities.  You can share this card with other people so they can play your seed and with your equipment, if you are so inclined.  When starting a new game, you can also take one item from each of your previous deaths (up to six individual cards) one time.  So, let’s say you play from scratch six times and were able to get one legendary item in each run — in your seventh run you’d be able to pick all of the best items from the previous six runs and start out with them.  This improves your chances to get further in the game, but if you die you’ll lose all but one of these pieces of gear.  Other than this, there is no meta game — no way to improve, collect, or slowly rise in power to be able to get further.  There are a limited number of floors, so it’s not like it goes on endlessly.  Of course this shows how there isn’t really a need for a grander meta game, but that’s besides the point.  Most of all there isn’t really a “different” way to play the game, or extra variations on the formula to keep it fresh; you’ll be in pursuit of trying to perfect your runs using what you’ve already been introduced to.

The story is a bit humorous, but barebones.  You play as an Imp named “Boss” and along with his chatty tutorial companion “Mid” you’ll work your way through all of the heels in the dungeon after your face turn.  I guess health insurance premiums just got too outrageous in the dungeon business, so “Boss” goes on a workplace violence rampage.  And since Boss is no longer willing to accept the role of beginning-experience-fodder, his goal is to possess stronger and stronger enemies and to eventually become the actual Boss of the dungeon.  This sounds a lot like a normal work atmosphere, doesn’t it?  Just wait until you get to ogle the hot chick while you are getting coffee.  And then jerking it in the bathroom to keep yourself from spontaneously ejaculating in the middle of the office and into your fresh coffee.  You better hope the copy machine has a technical issue, am I right?  …I don’t know where I’m going with this anymore.

Since it seems like updates are planned for MidBoss in the future, a few of these concerns might pan out and the game could become more interesting, but as of right now it is pretty boring and actually tiring to play.  While it’s unfair to completely characterize the game as “Early Access,” it isn’t far from it.  I can appreciate completing initial development of a game and saying “this is our vision,” but when you are severely lacking content and have to hope whatever comes down the pipeline in updates remedies your initial issues, there are consequences to be had by that.

 

Mighty Monster Mayhem (PC/HTC Vive) Review

Developer/Publisher: Rank17 || Overall: 3.0/10

It’s a Monday night, and I’ve got my Vive on my hip; Soup Tyrant is on the prowl! Reeoww!

Tonight I’m playing… let’s see here… glasses… “Mighty Monster Mayhem” by Rank17. It’s a VR monster game where players get to smash stuff up as a big ol’ hulking brute. Hard to fuck up what’s essentially Rampage in VR, right? Anyway, here’s what the Steam store page says:

As an outcast-scientist-turned-mutated-monster, seek vengeance against those who rejected your research! In Mighty Monster Mayhem, you can tear down buildings, make entire cities crumble, and munch on unsuspecting pedestrians. Choose from a variety of creatures, and battle with (or against) friends, wreaking havoc in multiple campaign modes – unleashing fury on everything to increase your score! How much mayhem can you cause?”

First thing’s first: the unskippable tutorial. You’re not allowed to play the main game or multiplayer without being a big boy and/or girl and playing along with the voiceover’s lesson plan, so I figured I’ll just jump through the hoop. I appear to be a big fishy monster with a big ass watch on my left arm. It’s not super clear from the narration, but from the store page description you can piece together that this annoying dude in your ear is yourself. They teach you how to walk, and then explain some basic monster techniques at your disposal: punching, grabbing, throwing, climbing and jumping.

The controls aren’t bad in theory. The locomotion alone is kind of neat. Locomotion is activated by squeezing either controller’s grip button and then swinging your arms. The rate that you swing dictates the rate that you move, from a tiptoe to a sprint. It works pretty well, and it’s one of the better thought-out aspects of the game.

Punching is what you think it is. You ball up your first by holding the trigger on the controller, and then swing around to punch. Swinging your arm around without holding down the trigger doesn’t do dick, so swatting things doesn’t seem to be an option. Grabbing things is done by moving your hand close to something and holding the trigger down. You can grab a bunch of things, but what I’ve found is that if you grab things that are too close together, you destroy the thing you’re holding along with whatever you’ve “collided” with that was next to it. If you’ve managed to pick something up, congrats: you can now throw it at something by doing a throwing motion and releasing the trigger. Throwing has weird physics to it. Either something flies off into the horizon, like shitty Pokemon villains, or it flops a few feet ahead of you straight into the dirt, like my hopes and dreams do. It’s also your only ranged attack. More on that in a bit.

Now for the weirder things. For climbing, you grab a part of a building and pull yourself up, repeating the process with your other arm. Moving around the building isn’t very difficult, but doing things on the building is kind of annoying. Punching the building requires you to move your hand far enough away from the building that you don’t grab it. Otherwise, you can grab and twist the part you’ve grabbed to rip it off, which sometimes happens unintentionally when you’re climbing frantically. Jumping rounds off your skillset, which you control by holding both triggers down, raising your hands in the air, and then throwing your hands toward your feet while releasing the triggers. Jumps are, for the most part, uncontrollable catapults into the air. You can control direction and power, sort of, but most of the time I felt like a fly without wings. There is no method of controlling your descent, so often times you will just have to hope shit works out.

Monsters can interact with the environment, picking up people (and eating them for one hit point), cars, you name it. Most things you can pick up, most things you can smash. Most of them share use, though; you either want to break something, or throw it at a building or enemy. Nothing you can pick up is functionally different from anything else, aside from humans, which you can eat, and powerups, which are used rather than grabbed and thrown.

There are a few monsters in the game, but the change is cosmetic as no monster has a unique ability or function. I unlocked “Toni the Oni” twice in two different levels. I’m not sure why I did, but when I used Toni, the change was of no real significance, at least none that I could find or had any explanation. I’m sure this is more geared toward multiplayer, as the game does offer drop in/drop out four player coop.

“My fitbit says I’m behind on smashing. Excuse me, officer.”

The meat of the game, single player or otherwise, is in a quasi free roam environment. The player’s goal is to look at your watch and figure out how many buildings you have to smash. There’s some side objectives, too, like eating scientists, smashing mailboxes and some other dumb shit, but it only seemed to add to score and ended up being more trouble than it was worth. Buildings are felled by doing damage to them, but for some fucking reason the way you take down a building is via “structural supports”, which are random, unmarked bits of building that have to be destroyed to take the building out. The only way to see them is with a powerup called “x-ray”, which outlines them in red. It ends up being more like a game of “needle in the haystack” once you get to later levels, since players have to take out about 6 or so buildings before the level’s finished. Building chunks are huge, by the way. It’s like the pentagon built all these fucking things. Each building is layered with several feet of concrete, to the point where pulling out chunks obstructs your vision and clutters the damn place.

As the player ruins the city’s shit, things change a bit. At first the city is a vibrant environment, with like 5 guys walking around and a few dozen parked cars, but when players start breaking shit it goes into chaos, with up to 5 guys walking around, some of them soldiers! Soldiers shoot these slow blue shots at you as they clip through buildings out of view, or into the assload of debris on the ground that doesn’t disappear. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Nah, they fire through buildings and debris. If players take out a building or two, they start sending these fucking weird looking cars at you. They have a few miniguns on them and rocket launchers, but only shoot the same blue bullets the little soldiers fire out of the middle of their hoods, rotating perfectly with you as you move around them. This makes more sense with the treaded tanks that come later, but cars? C’mon. It’s not like there’s a lot of detail in anything else. Could it have killed them to at least have the projectiles come out of the guns?

So, on top of all this, the game doesn’t run particularly well. The recommended specs for this game are at (unspecified) i5 and a GTX 980 or better. Even on superior hardware, this game has a bunch of issues rendering buildings without chugging. This is problematic, as it seems some physics and most player movement is tied to it. It becomes harder to eat people or pick them up. Throwing things is a crapshoot. Jumping becomes hopping. It’s just not a very pretty or busy game to be having these many problems.

Mighty Monster Mayhem is still indeed playable, but it’s a frustrating experience that can’t be carried by its novel approach to player locomotion. The game suffers from such a textbook case of, “great idea, terrible execution,” that it would make No Man’s Sky blush. It feels like Early Access, even though it isn’t. It feels like a tech demo, and with a heapin’ helpin’ of polish and some expansion of the “break buildings to win” formula, it could be a great game. Mighty Monster Mayhem may truly, one day, be the VR monster game to beat, the benchmark, defacto “you are a giant monster” game.

As it stands, though, as of June 2017… pass. There are other VR experiences more worthy of your $14.99 right now.

 

Rocking Pilot (PC) Review

Developer: Gungrounds | Publisher: Mad Head Games || Overall: 8.0/10

I’ve always been a bit soft on bullet hell shmup games.  I mostly get frustrated at how cheap some of the elements can be and well, just the ridiculous amount of <curse in Xartraxian> flying around never screamed “fun!” to me.  Rocking Pilot is a top-down twin-stick shooter that nestles right in with others in the genre.  The titular character is a sarcastic romp through a futuristic war story that has the appropriate amount of tongue-in-cheek and rockin’ tunes keeps the pace up, the adrenaline flowing, and the decibels rising!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  YEAHHHHH!!!!!

Rocking Pilot is a pretty simple concept.  You shoot stuff and stuff blows up.  However, the unique feature is using your helicopter’s propellers as a weapon as well.  You can consider it a “melee attack,” going right up to the enemy, mowing them down, or enabling Overdrive, which makes you temporarily invincible and empowered to kill and deflect everything.  Besides that, using Overdrive tactically is a necessity, otherwise you die, so you cant really use it on cooldown.  Many enemies also require you to use Overdrive to kill them, so having a limited amount of Overdrive charge becomes an important resource to manage.

Game progression is interesting, taking its cue from mobile game trends.  There are four worlds to unlock, each with about 10 levels.  When defeating a level, you’ll earn an assortment of awards, each independent classification (such as “Keys,” “Crowns,” and “Skulls”) unlocking their own string of levels and/or weapons.  Eventually, unlocking all of the weapons available makes your helicopter the most badass helicopter in all of history and all of the upgrades work in tandem.  Power-ups will show up on the board and you’ll temporarily use one of your unlocked weapons; there isn’t much agency here to “choose” which weapons you want to use, but you take what you can get and use it all up.

There’s not much more to the game, but there’s a lot of gameplay to be had.  I had spent about two hours and beat the main storyline, but there were still quite a few levels left to unlock, and most of the upgrades had yet to be discovered.  Once you acquire upgrades it’s well worth going back and trying previous levels you left uncompleted to see if you can earn even more upgrades.  The upgrades definitely make things easier for you and also keep things fresher.  The Score Attack mode available seems to be based on leaderboards, and challenge you to get higher on the board before awarding you, which can be quite an ask.  You can also restart your progress by deleting save data, so if you pine for the half hour where you only had a minigun, no missiles or shotguns and <curse in Xartraxian>, then it’s there for you.  Also, since you die a lot, having to wait a few seconds and physically confirm two times between each retry can get a bit tiresome, and breaks up the fast-paced feel the game tries hard to sustain.

The art is not too bad; it starts out generic at first then gets a little bit more wacky.  Eventually you start fighting aliens and that’s when the art begins to please.  There are some talking-head characters which are very nicely drawn, but this creative look doesn’t seem to carryover at all into the actual game for some reason.  The helicopter is also just some generic-looking helicopter, but maybe that’s the point there.  The sound is also very important in creating the experience of fast-paced craziness.

Rocking Pilot is mostly a challenge waiting to be had.  Once you get through the main story, you’ll have to go back and clean up what you didn’t do the first time around, and then some.  There isn’t anything in the way of a “free play” mode other than the Score Attacks, but those aren’t available on every mission anyway.  You’ll be heading into each mission with particular objectives in mind, most of them fairly unique.  The price tag is also very reasonable and if you are looking for a simpler, contemporary shmup, Rocking Pilot might be your <curse in Xartraxian>.

Rocking Pilot is available on Steam.

 

Bokida – Heartfelt Reunion (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Rice Cooker Republic || Overall: 7.5/10

“Bokida – Heartfelt Reunion” is like one of those game titles that screams at you.  You don’t know what the fuck it is, but it is loud, and your first inclination is to run.  Peel back the layers of potential pretentiousness and in essence, the game is about space, in more ways than one.  Space in the literal sense, the metaphorical sense, and I guess even the hard drive sense.

Cutting to the chase here, Bokida – Heartfelt Reunion is a puzzle game with “exploration” elements.  I suppose most of what you do could be described as exploring, but the world(s) you visit are barren with puzzles sprinkled throughout.  Your real goal in exploration is to learn about the story(?) and solve the puzzles you do eventually find.  Solving puzzles unlocks some more puzzles and eventually you would presumably get to the end of the game.  When you reach the “Epilogue” it seems you are mostly left with a traditional collect-a-thon with orbs strewn about the huge world.

The actual gameplay elements are essentially Minecraft.  You can build, cut, push, and erase blocks on the field in the pursuit of solving 3D puzzles.  The 3D puzzles I was able to encounter were “fill in the monolith,” “fill in the other monolith,” “bounce the line to the rock,” “construct blocks in this manner,” and some other things.  Most of the time the puzzles are done once or twice and you don’t need to do a lot of heavy thinking.  I’m not usually a fan of the whole “make your own fun” genre, but when similar tools are thrust into a constructed experience like Bokida, you get something a lot more freeform within its boundaries.  There isn’t a whole lot of explanation initially about why you are able to do the things you do, at least from what I’ve seen.  Despite what the screenshots convey, you never have to make buildings, though I have no idea if the world is a blank canvas on purpose so that you can fill it in with your creations or what.

The art design, sound, and use of colors are all part of the very intrinsically artistic experience.  This game is equal parts presentation and gameplay, with not much left in the middle.  This would be fine if you actually enjoy this sort of genre of puzzle game that attempts to achieve high art by being purposefully abstract.  Personally, the game just didn’t appeal to me after a couple of hours and I got really bored.  I made it to the “Epilogue” and there wasn’t much more to motivate me to continue exploring further.

Here’s the thing — it’s not awful, buggy, or annoying.  It is very competent and well-designed; I just didn’t like playing it very much.  I liked the way the game made you question how you move through space in a way that only a video game can present it to you: going through a door, turning around and seeing the door no longer there.  Or falling off the edge of a room and landing into the room you just fell from.  I’ve also figured out that falling upwards is annoying as hell and gliding through the air like a jet-propelled feather is an exercise in decision-making rather than physics.  Whatever details you can glean of a story are basically just all proverbs and metaphors and I unfortunately wasn’t really inclined to try and figure out what any of it meant.  The intro cinematic I guess is about a lonely planet trying to find its binary pair that got lost in another dimension, and there’s some Yin & Yang metaphor shit going on.  I suppose the story could just be a puzzle within itself, or it’s possibly just heavy on the religion thing and that all went over my head.

So, I could recommend the game to someone who likes 3D puzzles, high art indie games, or even just to play something out of the ordinary.  It’s just not something that ever clicked with me.  I just didn’t get why I was playing something that frustrated the hell out of me, spending 30+ minutes trying to get the line to the rock.