Armello (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: League of Geeks || Overall: 9.0/10

The Kingdom of Armello is in peril.  The unifying King of the diverse clans has gone mad and peace is decaying into war.  How to deal with the King and counteract the instability is the issue at hand as the fate of your home allegiance rests with you.  This is the scenario that the tabletop card-based strategy game Armello presents.

A very appealing art style is the first thing I noticed.  Armello is a beautiful game with charming characters and world-building card art that gives you glimpses into the society that exists in the Kingdom of Armello.  In the fantasy setting, animals are the primary characters, representing races and clans that rally against one another in the impending breakdown of society.  The main characters of the game are represented by (male and female) wolves, rats, rabbits, and bears, each with their unique buffs.  The art of the cards you eventually begin to play with show other types of animals like badgers, weasels, dogs, and the like, with a lion being the king.  A great amount of care is put into the art, and the animation each card has gives the game a lot of life.  The Day and Night cycle of turns also makes the world feel lived-in.  The soundtrack is very delightful and fits in perfectly with the game.

After a light and fun Prologue, you learn a bit about each of the major clans and the stake they have in the conflict.  The Prologue primarily focuses on teaching you about fundamentals of the information you see on screen, most of which is actually very simple.  Where the complexity enters is when all of the aspects integrate together.

There is a lot of terminology to learn, and how each individual thing affects you.  Gold, Prestige, Magic, Rot, Wits, Body, Fight, Spirit, and Action Points are the primary values you’ll need to be aware of.  Each of these are manipulated in a multitude of ways by yourself and enemies alike, and each are used for specific purposes.  Most are used as resources to be able to play cards, while Fight, Spirit, and Rot give you dice to roll while attacking — each have multiple uses and can be very powerful depending on your overall goal.

You’ll draw cards that layer on to the complexity of Armello.  Like many other card games, the order in which you play them matters a great deal.  You can also burn cards you don’t want to use to assure certain dice rolls, and at the beginning of your next turn you can pull cards up to your maximum.  Your maximum cards held is dictated by your Wits stat.  An example of a card is spending three Magic to give yourself a +1 Action Point buff for two turns.

Starting from your Clan Grounds, you’ll move your hero across the board with objectives in mind.  If you encounter a town, you’ll gain one Gold per turn as long as it is held under your banner.  If you run across a Stone Circle, you will heal one Body (the health stat), while entering a Swamp removes one Body.  Dungeons offer a chance to gain one of many possible rewards or spawns a Bane, which is a creature born of the Rot corruption plaguing Armello.  Your overall objectives come in a few forms.  A personalized objective, given as a quest, offers permanent buffs to your stats and a chance at obtaining a piece of equipment or another useful buff.  Using the board to your advantage is required to be able to accomplish the game-winning objectives.  Deaths will also occur over and over, and you’ll respawn at your Clan Grounds if you die or are killed.

To win the game, you are able to do a number of different things that everyone is competing for.  A Prestige win is considered a political win; killing other Heroes gains one Prestige, as well as completing quests.  At the end of a turn, the Prestige Leader gets to choose a King’s Declaration which is a per-turn decision that affects the game’s flow.  As the Prestige Leader, you can choose the one that is most convenient to you or will help you keep your Prestige Leader status.  Dying or killing the King’s Guard loses one Prestige, allowing others to catch up.  The Prestige win is a long-game win, as you’ll have to wait until the King expires from the Rot, which is typically at most ten full turns.  If any other objectives are completed before then, the Prestige win will be defeated.

Another way to win is by collecting Spirit Stones to hand over to the King to cure him of his Rot.  You can also gain as much Rot as you can so you can defeat the King in battle and rule the lands yourself as a corrupted king.  Gaining Rot can help you if you have more than your enemy, as during the attack phases you gain bonus dice to roll.  However, Rot can lead to Corruption and with it come instant death on Stone Circle plots.   As a result, you are unable to heal without using cards and Rot subtracts one health at the start of every turn if you have any.

A single game can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on how slow plays are.  Tactics will shift several times during the game depending on others’ progress.  The game board’s setting always takes place at the foot of the King’s castle, and is shuffled at every new game, so the plots will be in different places each time.  As of now, there is also a “winter theme” of the board where snow covers the entire board, and it seems like other themes could eventually be developed.  While there are no alternate locations to play, they wouldn’t make much sense in the context of the existing story conflict unless something new were set up.  They could easily expand on the game with more cards, and extra story to set up new maps would also be a nice addition.  As you play the game you’ll unlock more pre-game perks which can customize your play style.  Finding all of the cards (there are around 130) is also very satisfying as you try to complete your card gallery.

While the story of Armello is interesting and there is a lot of world-building, it isn’t very deep.  The majority of the story comes in the Prologue you play to learn about the game, and whatever you can glean off of the quests.  There isn’t really a resolution to the story other than the eventual ending of the King’s corruption, by death or otherwise.  A single player mode is included in which you play with AI, but the game is clearly built for a multiplayer environment.  An online mulitplayer mode is available that allows you to jump right in and play with other people, as well as a Ranked mode due to be released with free patch v1.1.  An assortment of free and paid updates are planned for the game, so it will be interesting to see what comes about from the developers.

All in all, Armello is a diverse mash of several different objectives, quests, resources, and characters.  Using all of it to your advantage and learning the order in which you should play certain cards is very important to completing the objectives you have at hand.  People who enjoy tabletop board games will certainly enjoy this game and being able to play with their friends.  Armello is available on Steam and PS4 at $19.99.

09/18/16 – The Usurpers Hero Pack (DLC) Review || Overall: Recommended

Released on August 30th, the Usurpers Pack DLC adds on four unique heroes into the Armello mix.  There are also an assortment of new buffs that are available for selection before entering a new game.  While new players may not necessarily understand the benefits the new heroes or buffs provide, know that it adds a new layer of strategy on top of the diversification of the hero roster.  The main addition, of course are the heroes:

Magna – a shieldmaiden.  My personal favorite of the four new heroes.  Can reflect attacks.

Sargon – a “veil gazer.”  The top card on the deck can be seen during draw card phase.

Ghor – Magic spent is more efficient on forest tiles, and can cast globally on any forest tile

Elyssia – Permanent fortification of settlements if a turn is ended on one.  Good for taking a defensive approach against your enemies.

If you are an avid fan of Armello, it will be worth the entry price to enjoy these new heroes.  On account that there are no new game modes in this DLC pack, there isn’t anything that will change your opinion of the game; in my view it is still a great time.  All of the new characters fit right in with the others and while a couple are plainly a better choice to pick, any of the new heroes hold a viable path to victory.

 

Puzzle Craft (iOS) Review

Developer: AT Games | Publisher: Chillingo Ltd || Overall: 9.5/10

Seldom do games made for a smart phone really impress me.  Puzzle Craft did.

Puzzle Craft is a charming, fun, and simple puzzle game that is the most fun I’ve had with any single phone game yet.  I originally downloaded and played the game to completion about a couple years ago, and introduced it to a some people.  Every now and then I hear about how those people still play it to this day, long after I uninstalled it.  I fully intended to review it, but I never got around to it.  I took pictures of my end progress, but somewhere along the way I forgot to do anything with those screenshots.

Puzzle Craft is the story of your people and your town that you create from scratch.  As you progress, you build out your town, hire more workers, earn gold, and endlessly match a variety of different resources.  As long as you meet a minimum match requirement (the base is three), you can string together as many other items along the way by drawing lines through them only once.  Being able to go in diagonal directions, you have to think outside the box and can get some long matches going.  With limited turns, it is very important to try and maximize each turn you take as it costs resources or Gold to do so again.

There are only two locations to play the matching game — the farm and the mine.  The farm requires only 30 Gold to begin farming.  The mine requires 100 Gold, but you can also use the resources you gather from the farm matching game to begin a mine matching game.  Eventually you gain enough resources to progress your town and gain experience by matching.  Some buildings allow you to gather new resources, use new tools, and eventually new obstacles present themselves within the unique matching games.  The game slowly ramps up in complexity and difficulty to keep things fresh.  You’ll need to learn how to use tools to elongate your turns and set up big matches — it is very important to learn how to maximize your earnings as furthering your buildings and experience will require pulling out every trick you can muster.  Unfortunately, when doing long matches, your finger can also get in the way of seeing what direction you want to go — it can be a bit cumbersome at times to figure out the best path as a result.  I suppose this could be part of the challenge, but I doubt it was designed with that intention in mind.

One of the most satisfying things about Puzzle Craft, is that everything you do adds toward your progression.  As you learn tricks on how to be efficient when farming and mining, you’ll be able to quickly get ahead of the game and build a lot of buildings fast.  A nice part of the building process is you are given the freedom to choose which plots buildings can go, which allows you to customize your town.  Some buildings can only be used in one location, however.

Buildings are very important and offer rewards on cooldown.  Depending on the building it might offer you tools, resources, gold, or simply be part of the cosmetic look of your town after its initial benefit is earned.  You might have learned that it is very annoying to have to try and tap anything on the very sides of your phone, especially if you have a case protecting it.  Unless you know what buildings do what, you have to take a chance that you might place a building in an inconvenient location for your finger to tap.  Sometimes buildings are placed behind other buildings and you end up tapping the wrong one and you are put into a different menu, away from the town, then must try again and be more precise in your tapping.  Considering all of those bonuses are endless and only require time before they are replenished, you deal with it, but it would be nice if there was some sort of catch-all button, as once you build out your town to capacity, it can be a chore to click 50 things every time you start it up after a few hours.  It would have been nice if there was a way to move buildings around, but there is no option to do so.

Gold is essentially the primary resource in the game, and with gold you can buy or do practically anything.  When you grind your resources in the farm/mine, you can sell extra resources for gold at the Market.  Gold is the limiting factor of the game, and if you had a lot of it, the game’s challenge would go away.  Initially when I started playing there was no way to buy gold, but with an update sometime last year (shortly before I uninstalled it) they added an option to buy.  If you play enough, you’ll have as much gold as you could ever desire, so the impetus to buy is pretty low.  Considering once you get to the end you can Reset the game to the beginning and start anew, I’m not entirely sure what happens to the gold you might have bought.  You can look at this more as a “cheat” rather than something that allows you to play longer.  I did get a bit disappointed when that was added, but it didn’t take away anything from the core gameplay, so it is easily overlooked.

Workers are also a nice cosmetic addition, walking through your town when hired.  As you hire more workers, they benefit you in specific ways and you can become more efficient.  You can only hire up to five of each worker, so you have to plan for which workers will benefit you the most at the time of your progression.  They cost resources, so you may have to decide between a worker and a building at times.

The art style really grows on you, and as you get used to it you see the charming aspects it has to offer.  The animals and the vegetables have a lot of character to them, and the workers and buildings all fit in and have unique art.  There are lots of colors and you really feel like you’re in a old time utopia town making your denizens happy with your progression.  The music isn’t terrible, either, and the sound effects also add a bit of fun as the chickens cluck, pigs oink, and the cows moo when you match them.  Different tools also have different sound effects and the dynamite can be satisfying along with its visual action.

Late in the game, you are able to open treasure chests which offer nice bonuses.  To open treasure chests you have to meet the requirements of the treasure map, which may be something like matching 14 grass.  To open the chest at this point, you need to drag your finger through 14 grasses before ending up on the chest.  There are also different levels of chests, and they may require more rare resources being matched to have them open.  This adds a challenge to the game in its later stages, but also can mean nice rewards.  There are also items to collect that appear in your archaeology hut, and once a collection is complete, you gain a permanent buff.

While there is a long end game to play once you’ve completed your village, it can become old fast as it is very grindy.  The exciting part of the game is building up your town and making more buildings.  Once the game changes its focus to completing treasure chests and defeating enemies, it becomes a little frustrating at times and not as light-feeling as it is when you initially start the game.  Fortunately you are able to reset the game and start from scratch, so you are able to play as you see fit.  If you are really good, you’ll have so many tools you don’t know what to do with them.  Tools can be frustrating to use over and over as it takes two clicks to use them, and if you have 80 of them to use as extra, you’re going to have to click 160 times to use them all.  Some tools become redundant and obsolete as you progress, but you are still stuck with them as the only way to get rid of them is to use them.

Puzzle Craft deserves a lot of attention.  It is such a great smart phone game to play, and without being pestered to buy in-app credits every ten seconds, you really feel like the purpose of the game was to have fun rather than sell you endless amounts of digital goods or peddle ads to you all of the time.  A rare thing to see in games, nowadays.

 

Poker Live Omaha & Texas (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: AbZorba Games || Overall: 8.0/10

A part of the AbZorba Games’ casino line-up, Poker Live Omaha & Texas for the iOS is essentially the same user interface as the previously reviewed BlackJack Live Casino.  Many familiar aspects are present, and it won’t take you long to get used to the differences if you have experience with any of their other apps, like I did before playing it.  Poker Live Omaha & Texas shares the amusing avatar system, and has the same social-network-of-sorts functionality that is included in the previous title I reviewed.

Uniformity across titles is the basis, and many of the same comments I made about the game’s functionality and social network would just be reiterated for this title, so the best thing to do is to focus on the game of Poker itself as it is presented in Poker Live Omaha & Texas.  As an aside, I did include the avatar pictures in the screenshot gallery from the previous game, as they are identical.

The benefit to having two or more of the titles from AbZorba installed on your phone grants greater daily bonuses to earn.  You gain a bonus for each title, which understandably entices you to have all of AbZorba’s games installed on your phone at the same time.  If you enjoy their games, it’s not a bad bonus to have, as it’s not really difficult to obtain.

Unlike Black Jack where you play against the dealer primarily, you are playing against other players.  Calling bets and raising each other to the point they either fold or lose all of their money.  The competitive aspect can be a big draw for some who like that, and not to mention it is Poker, after all.

Texas Hold’em and Omaha are represented in the game.  Unlike in Black Jack, you’ll kind of need to hit the ground running to make sure you don’t play awfully, since you are competing against other players out for your sweet chips.  You’ll also have to take risks to get ahead, and that doesn’t always pay off.  It is smarter to play the lower limit tables initially since you only start with about 30K chips.  Sitting at a table that meets your betting position is important to the longevity of your play.  You may also benefit more from going head-to-head rather than being at a full table.  It all depends on the amount of chips you have, the limits of the table, and the balances of everyone else at the table.  You can, of course, buy more chips to limit the guesswork here or to replenish your credits if you are run ragged, otherwise you’ll have to wait for the bonuses to add up before playing again.

The game-specific user interface allows you to pre-play your hand in a certain number of ways to get the game moving faster.  If you know you are most likely going to win a hand because you have a 4-of-a-kind, you can click the “call any” bet.  You may also just want to wait until it is your turn to do a proper raise, though.  You can also tell the game to check/fold so when it hits your turn you automatically check or fold depending on if someone bet in that round.  I always like to maintain full control over my hands, so I seldom used those functions.  It might be more useful on tables that have people taking a long time to play, however.

There’s not much point to explaining the rules of Texas Hold’em and Omaha, as these are popular games you can look up on any number of sites.  The Poker Live Omaha & Texas app on the iOS store can be a fine choice if you are looking for one of these apps, and along with the other apps in their offering, the bonuses end up being worthwhile.

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BlackJack Live Casino (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: AbZorba Games || Overall: 8.0/10

Black Jack is your classic old-time casino game.  Counting cards, hitting at the right time, and making sure your six-shooter is at the ready just in case someone thinks you’re cheating.  Nowadays, it’s not so dangerous as Black Jack is now available on smart phones.  You can play it on the go, in your home, or on the can.  It would be hard playing in all three of those situations at the same time, but at least you have your gun in case anything unexpected happens…. like… umm… a jet fighter dog-fighting with your flying house that is powered only by the propulsion of toilet water?

Anywho, that’s enough of that.

BlackJack Live Casino for the iOS is one such Black Jack gaming app available.  While it’s a pretty normal casino app, it offers a few standard features to extend your play time such as buying more Credits (to play the actual Black Jack game) and a higher-tier currency known as Diamonds (for bonus games and customizing your avatar), and the usual time-based free bonuses for returning.  There is also a leveling system that automatically awards you Credits at each level up through play.

When using Credits to play Black Jack (which is arguably the whole point of BlackJack Live Casino), you can join a table and start playing against a dealer.  You can have up to four players (including yourself) at a table, going through the regular flow of Black Jack.  The game can be a bit social as you can chat with other players while playing, and you’ll watch each player take their turn against the dealer.  Unfortunately, you have to wait one by one, instead of everyone taking their turn at the same time.  This can make you feel impatient and not exactly make you want to join a table that is full as a result, since the games will take a little longer.  If people are talking, it can help with socialization as people have some extra time to type.

The game can be welcoming to players of all skill levels, but I think that the game would be useful to learn the ins-and-outs if you are just starting to learn Black Jack in general.  The user interface is pretty friendly and helps you out by automatically awarding you when you attain a Black Jack and automatically standing when you hit 21.  Lesser games would allow you to “mess up” and hit again to bust, so it is a nice feature to have included in the game.  There is a help menu that will explain Black Jack’s rules and as you play you’ll basically learn the flow of repeated plays.  The text can be a bit small at times, as well.

A funny aspect of the game, though I’m not sure how much it actually affects the gameplay, is that you or the other people at the table (including the dealer) can draw identical cards.  One game I drew two Five of Diamonds in the same play and although the game “shuffles” the cards after a certain amount of time, I’m unsure if this means they combined multiple decks or what.  This basically makes any inclination to “card count” pointless, if you were able to.  There are a couple of bonus games outside of the Black Jack game that requires Diamonds.  Diamonds are attained by purchase primarily, and you earn a lot more Credits with these bonus games.

What is possibly the most “interesting” feature is the Avatar system.  I was thoroughly amused by the amount of random items and costumes your avatars are able to wear, including sexy Santa, a mummy, a spy, a matador, a Texan waitress, etc.  Imagining all of these random people sitting around a table playing Black Jack is a bit fun to think about.  The avatar gallery provides an alternate use for your Diamonds and if you don’t want to use a preset avatar (known as a “Hero”) you can customize your avatar to your liking using a smattering of all of the pieces available.  When other players click to view your profile, they will be able to see your avatar as well as your other stats related to your career in the game.

Another funny aspect of the game is the “Cocktail” feature.  You are able to buy gifts/items/drinks for other people you are sitting at a table with, presumably for the times you want to impress people or something.  There are a few funny items in there, such as developer-branded French Fries, sunglasses, a hamburger, and other random things.  There appears to be a seasonal store that changes up depending on the time of year, as it currently has summery items available.

As far as free casino games go, BlackJack Live Casino is about all you can ask for in a Black Jack game.  A few tweaks here and there and I wouldn’t have anything to point out to complain about.  Black Jack can be fun for a round of hands every now and then and BlackJack Live Casino is a worthwhile option.

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Dungeon League (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer: Achebit | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games

Ever think of taking a cooperative game like Gauntlet and turning it on its head to make a competitive party game out of it? Taking fantasy classics like the warrior, cleric, wizard and… um… unicorn and putting them against the dungeon and each other? Then having them compete in various game modes that support fast and furious gameplay for the sole purpose of bragging rights? Nah… neither did I, but the guys at Surprise Attack Games and Achebit thought it would be a good idea so here I am to talk about it.

Dungeon League is a competitive party game that uses fantasy tropes to paint onto a foundation of competitive gameplay tropes to come out with a game that is shiny and new. Reminiscent of classic dungeon crawlers like Gauntlet, it takes those basic 8-bit designs and turns them into a party game where you’ll face the dungeon and each other in an assortment of competitive game modes. Add to that an assortment of varied classes, quick leveling and gameplay that supports it, you come out with basic building blocks that this game is built upon.

Still in a very early build and only about an hour’s worth of content to play through, I did enjoy the bit of multiplayer madness that the game delivered. Featuring matches that only last a couple minutes at a time, the game thrusts the players into one familiar competitive objective after the next with only a bit of downtime in between. Throwing you into a randomized assortment of objective-based gameplay like deathmatch, king of the hill, capture the flag and many more, the game seems to thrive on a fast and frantic play-style meant to push the players to complete the objectives as quickly as possible. After each round, the players are then tasked with using the bit of downtime to level up their character by way of an experience and gold system that allows them to upgrade special moves and buy items to create a beefier and stronger character for their next objective. All of this comes together into a quirky party game that could be enjoyable with friends.

The problem with friends, though, is that they have to be there to enjoy them (or they don’t exist to begin with but let’s not digress into my own personal problems) and, unfortunately, that’s not always the easiest to have around. The currently-available Tournament mode, and one of the future game types requires at least two players and with no online option to speak of, it means you’d have to gather a real life party to be able to properly enjoy half of the games types for some local play. While not too much of a major issue, it still presents a problem for those that prefer to play with friends online and for those that have no real friends (cries). On another note, while the game has some personality when dealing with the in-game vendor and trainer, that same personality seems missing in the monsters you encounter in matches. It is mostly a mix of generic monsters you’d find in most media based on a fantasy setting.

While not spectacular, Dungeon League has some potential. With a helping of two cooperative game modes and another competitive game mode on the way, the game plans to add variety to your dungeon crawling fun. Gauntlet (I see what you did there) mode provides a cooperative experience where up to 4 players will traverse a monster infested dungeon on a quest to defeat the Dungeon Master. In other cooperative fare, Survival modes pits the player and others against an endless stream of monsters all for the purpose of seeing how long they’ll last against the countless waves. Lastly, Dungeon Ball seems to be the last competitive offering to round out the game, where two teams are tasked with destroying each other, upgrading their minions and ultimately getting their ball to the end zone.

With a promise of other game types and an already fun early build, Dungeon League might warrant a look upon full release in 2016.  In the end, it might just be a game worth gathering friends around.

Dungeon League is available now on Steam Early Access.

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

 

PixelJunk: Nom Nom Galaxy (PC) Review

Developer: Q-Games/Double Eleven | Publisher: Q-Games || Overall: 9.0/10

Walk the aisles of your normal, ideal, grocery store.  Rows full of food line the aisles begging for your grubby little hands to take them and put them in your shopping cart.  But does any food really speak to your soul as well as soup?  Canned soup is one of the most important pieces of human culture, after all.

…Yet have you ever really thought about where your soup comes from?

Do you perhaps think that the planet of Alteria in the galaxy of Soupcon Valley would produce your favorite can of Green Sun Chowder made from Sunblossom and Greenstalk?  Or do you think the civil war and strife of the robots on Nozesi fuel the good time tastes of the delightful Split Sea Soup and/or Filet of Fission?

PixelJunk: Nom Nom Galaxy makes you ask these questions and more.  Well, actually none of that matters because the name of the game is business and market share.  The real test comes in beating your enemy’s robot workers into eternal jobless poverty by creating an efficient soup factory that satisfies the needs of the universe.

Getting down to the essential basics of the game, the robots need soup and you are making the soup, delivering it to the hungry patrons via rockets.  Finding material that is usable for cooking across sprawling sandboxes, you are equipped with your buzzsaw which cuts through and helps you gather many of the things you’ll need.  You’ll also be punching a lot of things.  On the factory production side, you’ll have to maintain, defend, and build out a soup factory that is as efficient as possible.  Robot workers can be hired to assist you in this pursuit, and their operation is a small callback to the logic of Lemmings.  What this ends up being is an interesting mix of game genres in a sci-fi setting with some sparse story to set up the scenarios each planet presents.

What I mostly enjoyed about Nom Nom Galaxy is that it is a sandbox game with a clear objective at hand.  As far as the sandbox genre goes, Starbound is the only other game I’ve played with any large amount of time, which is built mostly on a free-form playstyle that centers on improving your crafting and character’s gear.  Nom Nom Galaxy distinguishes itself from this by giving you developer-designed planets full of ingredients to exploit to the best of your ability, earning upgrades after beating a planet.  The factory’s efficiency becomes a main focus of the gameplay as a result — which can be detrimental to the exploration aspect the game provides, as it essentially becomes the opposite of business efficiency.

As you make your way through the planets, each will provide an upgrade or new thing to buy to change up the gameplay a bit.  Eventually you hit a point, about midway through the game, where scenarios start to take place and you’re no longer able to use defense towers, robot workers, or other things you’ve grown accustom to using.   As the existing system can be a bit complex to learn and understand the controls/logic of the game, the pace is set about right.  Enhancements such as, and being able to use, a double jump or a rocket boost changes the way you play entirely.

Ingredients are varied and many have specialties about them.  There’s about 20 unique ingredients which can be combined with each other, resulting in 400 recipes.  Some ingredients are special and take a long time to find/grow, some you have to kill mobs for, and others are common and plantable.  It’s always fun to find something new in the game and seeing what will result when you combine two different ingredients can be satisfying.

When you combine ingredients, a Soup Can pops out of the Soup Machine.  You take the Soup Can into the Soup Rocket, and the rocket delivers the payload which affects your market share by a base of 5%.  Depending on the market trends that pop up every now and then, the game influences you to try and find different ingredients, or stop using one that might be a commonly used on in all of your Soup Machines, forcing you to change your focus.

A good 20 hours or so of gameplay got me within range of the last three stages of the “Conquest” mode.  Unfortunately Nom Nom Galaxy didn’t live up to the same perfection in its difficulty as PixelJunks Monsters did, and I had a relatively easy time getting through it as I mastered the game’s logic.  Half of the levels in the Conquest Mode are used to introduce you to the gameplay itself, and the latter half tests you to master it to only some unique challenge.  Each planet introduced something new, but the core gameplay being so complex brings down the experience a bit, I fear.  We spend too much time “learning how to play” that when we finally get around to unlocking everything substantial and playing “for realisies” you only have a couple of planets left and the last level of the game, which will require you to use everything at your disposal.

Each planet has the option for endless play, only after you attain 100% market share.  You are also able to continue building your factory as it was or start from scratch in this “S.O.O.P Simulator” mode.  While the planets will always be the same, they offer enough variety and quantity to not have to worry too much about that.  Though since there is no meta game, you are working on each planet on an individual basis.  There is also a mode called Galactic Challenges which take a unique approach to the games formula and pretty much anything seems to go here.  You could be racing from point A to point B or trying to sell as much soup in 10 minutes as you can.  Challenges expire after about 36 hours, and you compete against all other players here, either at the same time, or asynchronously via global rankings.  You can also “Quick Join” and matchmake with another player, however the capability did not seem to be enabled in the review build before release.  I assume there could be some sort of generation for planets in this mode but I can’t be sure.

A lot of the aspects of the baked-in challenge actually disincentivizes you from exploring.  You’ll be dealing with maintaining the workflow of the factory, depending on its need to rely on you to acquire/scout for ingredients.  You are also equipped with an Oxygen tank which limits the distance you can go without finding a source of oxygen or heading back to base.  You’ll also be called back to base when your rival sends monsters to disrupt and destroy your base.  You can automate the defenses a bit by loading it with laser guns and missiles, but you’ll still need to make sure you are there to pick up any of the stragglers and repair buildings.  If at any point your Office is destroyed, you automatically lose the game.

At the end of each day, the game pauses for “Break Time” and saves your current progress.  During Break Time you’ll be shown informative stats, graphs, and how much money you earned.  An added layer of planning is involved as any ingredients that are not currently inside Soup Machines or planted will disappear.  When planting items, it will expand your potential to increase your output substantially, but only if you plan correctly.  Personally I felt like it made the game a lot easier to have the capability to grow your own ingredients since you could plant a lot of the same common ingredients over and over in each level and usually the AI competitor would not match very well in a challenge as long as you had a good production going.  Progression to new zones is limited by recipes you discover, so there is an incentive to experiment, but not much since it was easy to meet those expectations and I never really had to replay anything unless I fucked up severely or neglected my base on purpose.

Sound and visuals is also another high point.  There is a lot of insanity going on initially.  It will take a while for you to understand what is going on, but the art is fantastic and intricate.  The robots are uniquely designed and I loved discovering something new, or going to the next planet to see the theme.  Sound is also well done for the most part, but there was a surprising lack of music.  PixelJunk Monsters and PixelJunk Eden had great soundtracks, but Nom Nom Galaxy seems to take its cues from PixelJunk Shooter with a minimalist approach to music and sound, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just different.  Monsters is probably one of my favorite soundtracks ever, so it was a bit disappointing to not have another great soundtrack to listen to.

As a big fan of the PixelJunk series I was completely satisfied with this entry.  While it breaks the mold of “simplicity” all of the other games established within their own genres, Nom Nom Galaxy files down several different genres into core tenants that work together in an interesting fashion.  The game is very ambitious and I enjoyed the humor quite a bit.  Replayability might be Nom Nom Galaxy’s biggest fault, but there is certainly plenty to do and you can keep doing it for pretty much as long as you like.  There just becomes a point where you kind of “get it” and in this case I don’t see myself coming back to visit it very often like I do with PixelJunk Monsters.  It is, however, a lot easier to play the game for very long sessions.

 

Slots – Pharaoh’s Fire (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: Cervo Media GmbH || Overall: 8.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Reviewing sequels to games you enjoy tend to be a typical thing when you are a reviewer.  It’s easy to sit there and write out how everything in the sequel is the same, but better in so many ways, and even pull from your previous review for inspiration.  In this case, Slots – Pharaoh’s Fire is the sequel to a previously reviewed title, Slots – Pharaoh’s Way; it essentially boils down to this: it is a slots game that is a sequel to a slots game and it is still… a slots game.

In my previous review I went through the ethics and personal feelings I had with the business model this slots game (now series) presents itself with.  The structure is very much the same in Slots – Pharaoh’s Fire as it was in Slots – Pharaoh’s Way, and really all that you’ll initially see (if you are moving from the previous game to this) is that you are resetting back to zero.  Slots – Pharaoh’s Way is an endlessly-updated grind to the next slot, and Slots – Pharaoh’s Fire is not much different.  There’s no point, really, in talking about what is the same, but it’s an opportunity to talk about what IS different.

It is an interesting observation that many of the improvements I had suggested in my previous review seems to actually have come to pass — namely in more significant time-based rewards and an interesting meta game which rewards you as you play.

Free bonus credits are earned by increment of four hours as Slots – Pharaoh’s Way had done and still seem to scale higher as you progress — you also get a “special bonus” on every fourth redemption, which is a unique bonus game.  The “Money Rain” bonuses (credits you earn as a bonus to leveling up) that occur also scale higher along with your level.  Another vital, new, free bonus happens now in the form of a Return Bonus independent of your hourly bonus — if you visit every day your rewards slightly increase as each day goes on.

A meta game has been introduced in this title that revolves around collecting relic pieces, signified by a moving piece that represents your progress through leveling.  As you complete the relics you gain a large payout of credits.  Whereas before you would attain this payout at a certain increment of levels, the progression is “broken up” and given a visual representation to tell you that you are almost at the next milestone.  This is a welcome change as it gives the feeling of an adventure and collecting relic pieces to add to your overall collection — of which there are many relics to collect.  Your piece moves every 1/3 increment of a level and you gain a relic piece at every two levels.

Included with the meta game is also a bonus chance to earn credits within that meta game progression.  A chest moves every five turns (slot plays) within your progression path, and if it appears on top of your moving piece, you get into one of the bonus games unique to this chest.  One is a spinning wheel that lands on a number and the other I encountered was a “Risk to Double” game – you roll a number and risk it (to double it) by choosing heads/tails.  If you lose in the Risk to Double game, you get a consolation prize regardless, but it is usually going to be a paltry amount.  It is pretty much the same idea as the bonus card game that you get access to on regular slot wins.  The bonus card game is still essentially useless, and the same rules apply as in the previous game.  Because they are essentially the same game, I am lead to think that the Risk to Double just isn’t worth the risk.

There is more diversity in the initial few slots, and it is seemingly less reliant on the “Pharaoh’s” theme, unlike the first game.  The second slot level you are all of a sudden in the African safari with elephants and shit.  What happened to the God damn pyramids and whipping slaves?!  I want some more Anubis and King Tut shit before I start traveling all over the world.  Every 10 levels unlocks a new slot and this time around there are no numbers showing how many diamonds you earned so it’s not as easy to tell what your progress is other than a visual bar.  I assume that they’ve reigned in the required amount of diamonds to make it more linear rather than it’s exponential growth that occurred in the last game, but it isn’t easy to tell.

Buying credits still seems like something predatory, but there can be plenty in-game to at least make you feel like you are earning credits with the extra bonuses and the new meta game portion.  Where the ethics get involved here, is that the game has to feel rewarding to keep you hooked, but they can’t be too rewarding since they want to sell credits. It’s a very fine balancing act that appears to sometimes rig the bonus games to not be very rewarding all of the time. For example, a risk/reward game that stops between a large number and a small number will seemingly skew towards the small number more often than not. Even the “meta chest” game is privy to this, despite being essentially an added system for overall bonuses.  There are lots of added bonus games involved with the title, but none are overly rewarding, which takes a little bit of the excitement out of hitting one of them.

As someone who grinded quite a few million diamonds in the previous iteration, it feels a bit daunting to get into and start yet another slots game (with essentially the same progression system) from scratch.  Personally, it feels like there should either have been some sort of credit sharing between the two games, or Slots – Pharaoh’s Way upgraded with the additions they made for Slots – Pharaoh’s Fire.  Business-wise, I completely understand why you would want your players to experience a full reset — the grind is necessarily subject to becoming hooked as you gain levels with more regularity at the lower levels and hitting level 243 might not mean anything anymore.

There are some graphical enhancements (addition of more 3D graphics/animations is the biggest difference) and some sound “additions” that are a bit corny as some deep-voiced European-sounding dude (read: not Egyptian) is one(?) of the performers.  As always, I turned my sound off within ten minutes of booting up the game, so it didn’t matter to me.

Is the game good?  Sure.  It’s not any better or worse than the previous game, really.  A lot of the additions I proposed were actually included and its made the game a better package, however the intent of the game is to make money at the end of the day and they can’t go too crazy with the fun.  For the benefit of the series, it would be interesting to see a different progression system than grinding diamonds and levels to unlock more slots.  For a more in-depth look at all of the basic functions of the game, please check out my previous review as almost all of it is relevant for this game.

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Lost Dimension (PS3) Review

Developer: Lancarse | Publisher: ATLUS || Overall: 8.5

Telepathy, telekinesis and psychometry are pretty legit. Pryokinesis, cyrokinesis and healing are stretching things a bit but are acceptable. Though, I absolutely refuse to believe that super-strength and teleportation are proper manifestations of psychic force. Super-strength is the supernatural ability to exceed the physical limits of natural strength and thus is regulated to the body and not the mind where psychic abilities dwell. Teleportation is the ability to instantaneously move from place to place without any of the travel in between and is centered on spatial manipulation rather than the power of the mind. Psychic sympathizers would have you believe that just because they could involve a conscious effort that they must be placed under the oppressive umbrella of a psychic power. Nay! Rise up against these ability oppressors and embrace superpower diversity!

superman_and_goku_colored_by_benhurvillar-d63px70
“Behold! The world’s greatest psychics!” – Ability Oppressors

Well, that’s enough of that…

Developed by Lancarse, and published by ATLUS, Lost Dimension is a Strategy Role-Playing game (SRPG) that borrows various ideas to give you a game about a group of psychics climbing an enigmatic tower. Shades of video games like Dangan Ronpa, Valkyria Chronicles and Persona, as well as other media like A Certain Magical Index (To Aru Majutsu no Index), Tokyo ESP, Arkham Horror and more are used to make the psychic SRPG soup that is this game. Though, what really sets Lost Dimension apart is a traitor mechanic that has you offing a member of your party at each floor. It all combines to make quite the familiar product with a diversifying gimmick that captures the attention.

School Girl
Also includes elements that will interest the school girl
fetishist out there…

At first glance Lost Dimension looks like a rather by the numbers SRPG. A simple romp where you’ll move characters across a map and eventually level your way to the top of the tower, but with the borrowing Lost Dimension does from other games it proves to play better than it looks. Much like Valkryia Chronicles, the movement is freeform instead of grid based. This usually translates to the characters having a full circle of movement and is especially useful when characters have movement abilities, like teleportation, that lets them completely bypass some obstacles on the map. Borrowing an aspect from Fire Emblem, the game’s Assist attacks reward good positioning by giving inactive units a chance to do a follow-up attack if they are close by. While this all usually plays out rather fluidly, the occasional mid-attack load screen does disrupt the flow. Though despite the minor inconvenience, both of these aspects give the game charm where there otherwise wouldn’t be any.

The story won’t get any awards but fits as an acceptable excuse for the game to play out. Thrown right into the story with very little frame of reference, you find yourself as confused as Sho who just so happens to have amnesia like the rest of his group (and every other protagonist from a JRPG). The group tasked with 13 days to climb a mysterious tower and stop a dangerous terrorist from ending the world, the most aptly named final boss in video game history, The End, thrust them into a malicious game where their trust will be tested and their allies will be killed by their own hands.

Evil Dude
He also forces them to wear skinny jeans and listen to the
bad poetry he wrote.

The characters, on the other hand, help to make the story stand out a bit more. In a Persona-like fashion, Sho can speak to his teammates between missions to build bonds of trust with them. Small conversations eventually lead to more meaningful talks as Sho’s teammates reveal their history, concerns and even their motivations. This not only fleshes out the character, but can give you different and more impactful dialogue during certain scenes. Also, the character designs deserve some note, they’re all reminiscent of a style found in 90’s anime as opposed to a more modern approach, which some might say is “Da bomb!”

Box Art
The only way for this to be more 90’s is if this was brought to you by the
same company that brought you LA Gears.

In terms of strategy, it never really evolves past taking advantage of the Assist attacks mechanic to add on extra damage. On the other hand, I did find that the difficulty increased at a fair and steady rate. In particular, the Berserk mechanic grew increasingly difficult to control and proved to be quite the double-edged sword. Much like in Arkham Horror, each character is outfitted with a Sanity meter that decreases with every special move and attack they receive, and unlike it, once depleted causes the character to go Berserk and out of control. Now other than the obvious detriment of having a character go out of control and attack both ally and foe alike, the mechanic can also turn the character into quite the heavy hitter. Time and again, I’d send a character far and away from his allies and deep into enemy territory to purposefully deplete their sanity and then immediately hit with another attack for about 2x or 3x the usual rate. Of course, if I didn’t position them wisely, my characters would be given the same treatment. Though, it was a shame that you couldn’t use the mechanic to figure out the traitor.

LD Screens (8)
See those bright blue letters over the character’s face?
They mean you’re playing the game right.

Every floor up the tower, Lost Dimension tasks you with voting for who the traitor is among your ranks and “erasing” them from the party. If the traitor is found, they’ll be eliminated. If not, an innocent teammate will be killed instead and the traitor will then betray you some time later. Usually there are three suspects every floor with a single traitor between them that you will fish out by way of an after-battle cutscene where the main character, Sho, will read the thoughts of his teammates. Then through a mixture of careful positioning and a Vision Point system that allows Sho to dive into the minds of his teammates to discover their true intention, the traitor can be exposed. Once armed with that knowledge, Sho is able to sway his teammates by way of simple dialogue choices at the end of every encounter. Overall, being the games defining gimmick, I didn’t find it exactly inspired but still enjoyable. It gave the game an almost Dangan Ronpa-esque feel to it whenever it came time for a judgment.

Suspicions (1)
…or all of you could be innocent, regardless prepare to
have your privacy invaded!

Though an interesting gimmick, the fact that the traitor is chosen at random (except on the first floor during the first playthrough) still means the party will lose a playable character at random. This can be a bit disheartening, considering that every character plays completely different from the other. Still, Lost Dimension does it’s damndest to soften the blow. Even if a character isn’t used in battle, they get about 80% of the battle exp and, when erased, leave behind an equippable item containing their abilities for someone else to enjoy. The equipment also proves useful in unlocking combination abilities that tend to be quite powerful. Still, random is unpredictable, so your favorite character might get “erased” or you might end up with a rather sexist play-through like I did, where the game killed off all of the women to turn it from an ensemble piece to what I pretended was a buddy cop film with way less cops and way more buddies.

LD Screens (1)
“I’m taking away your badge, Sho!’
“I didn’t want to be a psychic cop anyways!”

With the Playstation 3 now at the end of its lifespan, I found the graphics in Lost Dimension acceptable for a budget RPG. My only real complaint is that the “budget” part of the game showed during a few of the special attacks, some of them having rather big build-ups only to finish lackluster. The music was a slight step above the graphics with mysterious melodies that complemented the environment and narrative. Overall it is a pretty standard job on both fronts. The same could be said for the Vita version that has an expected reduction in graphical quality and frame rate.

Speaking of the Vita, I found the battles in the game to be much shorter than is usual for the genre. Unlike battle-heavy games like Fire Emblem and Project X Zone, the encounters only last for about 15 to 30 minutes, making it perfect for gaming on the go. Adding to that, Lost Dimension is also compatible with PlayStation TV which should make all five of you that bought both systems rather happy.

Lost Dimension was enjoyable, even if it was marred by the mid-attack load times and attacks that seemed to reflect the game’s budget price. Overall, it’s a mixture of several fun elements that make it a fun game. The borrowing it does from games like Dangan Ronpa, Valkyria Chronicles and Persona as well as other media like A Certain Magical Index (To Aru Majutsu no Index), Tokyo ESP and Arkham Horror elevate the game up to a higher bar than one may initially expect. And if you understood all of those references, you should definitely give me your number ‘cause I think we should marry.

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

 

A reviewable copy of Lost Dimension was provided to Squackle.

 

Fort Meow (PC) Review

Developer: Upper Class Walrus | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games || Overall: 7.5

 

The question is as old as time itself: Which four-legged beast makes the better domesticated pet? A dog or a cat? The dog, known for its obedience and loyalty, is commonly known to be “man’s best friend.” On the other hand, cats are known for their independence and for being the little super-villains of the household, which makes them the favorite animal of the internet. Though, thanks to Fort Meow, I now know the answer to this conundrum is dog. It’s definitely dog.

Grumpy Cat
Don’t give me that face.

Fort Meow is a physics-based strategy game that involves building forts, cats and bad adult supervision. Playing as young Nia (I see what you did there…), you find yourself at your grandparents’ place only to find them missing. After not calling your parents, and instead rummaging around the attic (like any good horror movie character), the only clue to their whereabouts seems to be hidden somewhere in your grandfather’s journal. The game then tasks you with building fort after fort with household items to defend yourself against a constant onslaught of cats that want to distract you from reading the journal and discovering their nefarious schemes. Along the way, you encounter your grandfather’s flying robot to help you further explore the house and eventually stop the Catpocalypse… Which all seems like a pretty complicated setup for a tower defense puzzle game about evil cats.

 

Despite the silly and complicated set up, the game itself is actually quite fun. Fort Meow switches between a tower defense and exploration portions and both do well to make the game enjoyable. The tower defense portion of the game is much like Angry Birds, but in reverse. Instead of trying to destroy buildings and those inside of it, you take the role of the person inside of the fort who must build one strong enough to prevent any cat from forcing their way inside. Though, like any good game, the premise may be simple but it still manages to challenge the player. Constantly, I’d find my forts barely surviving and on the verge of collapse. Plus the time mechanic, which serves as a sort of cost for the items in your fort, is an effective way to limit your resources enough to make your forts strong but nowhere near impregnable. Lastly, while the gameplay in Fort Meow is mostly solid, the “physics” that the game mentions as a selling point don’t always play out as planned and would probably leave Einstein scratching his head in confusion.

Gravity
E=What the heck is that?!

The exploration portion of the game may be a smaller part but it still manages to do a good job at integrating your expanding amount of fort pieces into the overall plot as you unlock every room in your grandparents’ house. While a few of the items you pick up are simply roadblocks that attempt to withstand the flying cats, others are roadblocks that have rather interesting gimmicks to them. From lamps that halve damage, to boxes that capture kitties and fortify themselves in the process, and even objects that attempt to shoot the felines out of the air, the game offers you a wide assortment of items to build your fort around. Unfortunately, the same amount of imagination wasn’t put into the puzzles used to unlock more rooms in the house. Simply being notes that you unlock with gameplay, they tell you exactly how to solve the uninspired “puzzles” in the game. This makes unlocking more rooms into a meaningless “Where’s Waldo” exercise instead of a fun brain teaser.

Vampire 2
Like other evil creatures, light weakens cats.

On a more positive note, the art style in the game is a treat. Fort Meow uses simple and cartoon-like animation during its cut scenes, a comic style for the dialogue and storybook like drawings during the actual game to great effect. These styles mix well with the story and the atmosphere of the game. To a similar degree, the melody and sound effects are used to a comparable effect.

 

Regrettably, the game does have its downfalls. First, the game is short, coming in at around 2 or 3 hours of content and offering no replayable features such as challenge stages or a “new game plus.” This lack of replayability is a shame even with the small price tag attached to it. I would definitely pay a few more dollars for several extra hours of gameplay.

WTF

I’d gladly pay a few more dollars to dick around and make more fort
monstrosities like this one.

Another of the game’s undoings is the fact that luck plays a moderate part on whether or not your fort will withstand the cat’s flinging themselves against it. Enough times for me to notice, I would use the same fort in the same stage and each time things would play out differently. Whether it would topple over to one side, stand firm but eventually fall under the cat’s assault, or even withstand the full brunt of the cat’s attack seemed to be random and completely arbitrary according to the game’s whims, which took me a bit out of the whole process.

 

Charting this last bit of negative input on a mostly fun game as personal preference, I feel that the PC port would be inferior to the iPad version. This game seems like a fun portable companion to help offset any boredom while outside or while looking to kill some time before whatever activities the day has in store. Plus, playing it in short spurts while outside, as opposed to a sit down session at the computer, would probably make the game seem a bit longer in comparison.

my_drunk_cat_by_lowchord07
On the IPad, you could also play it while making
bad decisions like this cat here.

Don’t get me wrong, though. While Fort Meow has its hiccups I did still find my time with the game enjoyable. The only real decision to make is if these hiccups are enough to dissuade you from buying the game at the low 8 dollar price tag. If the game has anything else going for it, Fort Meow gives me another good reason why I prefer dogs over those evil cats.

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

A reviewable copy of Fort Meow was provided to Squackle.

 

Chariot Wars (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: OM Entertainment || Overall: 1/10

Hardware Used: Windows 8.1, i7, Nvidia GTX 780

When it comes to reviewing bad games, it’s always a hard decision to make. Do I make a tongue-in-cheek positive review, or perhaps a sharply sarcastic review full of jokes, or just a traditional opinion about the hopes and dreams that “Chariot Wars” completely and utterly destroyed? For this review I’m not quite sure what direction to go, because Chariot Wars just leaves me confused and maybe even a little sad when reflecting upon my time playing.

Considering the game is originally developed for mobile phones, the basic features are limited. You have only three modes of play to choose from: Multiplayer, Single Player Time Trial, and Single Player Story Mode, called Championship. Multiplayer requires you to register an account with the developer’s web site rather than using Steam. Single Player Time Trial is racing around one of the four possible unique tracks, alone, with no A.I. to race against.  Each track has two variations: Night and Day – all of which are unlocked only through the Championship Mode.   Time Trial is consistently pointed to by the “Game Tips” and even prompted as a gate before you enter the real “meat” of the game, which is the Championship Mode.

Here’s where things get… “interesting.” Chariot Wars’ Championship mode is a graphic novel murder mystery story with boring gameplay in between chapters. The story is by far the only redeeming factor this game has to offer and is actually quite hilarious and dark, in a campy way. The backdrop of Ancient Rome is used as the Captain of the Guard is called to investigate a double murder – one man crucified and a woman with her throat slit, holding a tattered symbol of the Cabal, which is a group of conspirators who assassinated Julius Caesar. The murdered man is related to Ben-Hur (we finally have our sequel to Ben-Hur, ya’ll!) and before researching much of anything about the murder, the current idiot Caesar thinks it would be a good idea for the lead investigator of a murder to stop doing that and to instead replace the dead guy in the chariot race — and that’s when you take control of your chariot and race.

After winning the race, Quintus Octavian, the protagonist of the story makes out with a hot chick with a very large rack in some random room and then with her help figures out what the symbol is from, and so on. I don’t necessarily want to explain every facet of the story here, but you are rewarded for your effort of winning races with these story interludes. It may take a few tries depending on how well you know the track and if you can catch up to the computer players, but you’ll eventually win each race… hopefully.  Besides, you don’t have much else to do.

The gameplay itself is very standard in its rules – just get first place and win after two laps. For some odd reason there are huge floating coins that give you temporary speed boosts that don’t really make you feel like you’re going faster. When using a speed boost, everything becomes blurry and it feels like you’re all of a sudden in a Michael Bay movie, not knowing what the hell is going on. Considering the boosts are supposed to be good, they sure as hell don’t make you want to use them other than hopefully never having to play through that race again. Wonky physics, bad collision, weird animation, and the lack of any “warring” with other players (though you can bump into them) just isn’t fun. The scenery is also very strange, considering chariot races were always in a coliseum. There are snow-covered mountains surrounding you everywhere (and curving with the sky, which is fucking weird), waterfalls, random mixed species of trees, a blinding light source as bright as a sun coming out of a mountain (while it rains), and other oddities. This alternate dimension doesn’t seem like a very nice place to spectate or even race, not that the game is meant to be an accurate representation of anything.

And that’s kind of the game.   The music is generic and there is a strange chime that rings every time you click one of the menu buttons.  There are a lot of weird translation things going on, which adds a certain “charm” to the game, and the incessant badgering to go to the Time Trial mode to learn how to play is almost hilarious since you can’t play any new tracks unless you unlock them through Championship Mode, which you only do by beating the track! The races get harder as you go on, but you have to wonder how the difficulty is really ramping up when your chariot likes to all of a sudden go out of control a lot more often on turns as you progress.  At least the game didn’t crash while I was playing it.  You can also make funny things happen when you boost into one of the invisible walls on the race track.  If you ever get stuck in the scenery of the game, the only solution is to restart the track from scratch.

You can choose from several racers, chariot colors, and horses (all of which you have to unlock through play) which may or may not have an influence on your racer – it is sort of hard to tell. Another point of contention is that it’s $25 on Steam. Considering the amount of content the game has to offer, you have to wonder what the hell is going on.

And so there’s not a whole lot to keep you going. Other than the graphic novel portions and the strangely long CG video that displays a full length chariot race (presumably what you’d be “experiencing” while playing) full of random characters you probably don’t even play, you aren’t going to want to touch this game.

A reviewable copy of Chariot Wars was provided to Squackle.

 

Windward (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Tasharen Entertainment || Overall: 7.5/10

Hardware Used: Windows 8.1, i7, Nvidia GTX 780

Sandbox games are varied and plentiful nowadays.  Needing to strike the right balance between theme and progression is important, otherwise interest can be lost quite quickly.  Windward, a naval-themed sandbox game, is one such game with an interesting theme and progression system.  While the game can feel rewarding, you may find that you are stuck in an endless grind cycle on the high seas that will test your resolve in more ways than scurvy can.

With no formal tutorial, single player might seem the obvious first choice for a new player of Windward. When starting a game, you’ll be asked to create a character, choose a faction, and start a new procedurally-generated world.  Once you establish a new game and character you’ll enter the map that you’ve generated and with your little starter boat you’ll find your way through figuring out the mechanics and progression the game offers.  Little help tips at the top will pop up in lieu of being initiated through a tutorial.  This may feel a bit cryptic at times depending on your ability to understand and find things with little direction as the help tips seem contextual and will change or pop up as you stumble across a new feature or thing it wants to tell you about.

While the maps are probably never the same, not much is unpredictable in the way the regions are laid out.  To actually play the game you’ll visit a town, take up quests, complete the quest, then get more quests, and repeat the cycle.  Quests usually fall in a couple of categories, such as killing pirates or traveling from Point A to Point B (which is what I named a couple of my towns).  Quests can be framed differently (such as hunting down a pirate/defending a town) but the end result typically is a variation of those two main quest types.  You’ll build up your resources and get equipment as you complete quests.  You also build up XP which allows for the assigning of talent points that increases your ships stats at certain thresholds (essentially levels, but they’re not really framed that way).  Selling the gear/random items you find is probably the fastest way to earn gold, but you can also dabble in trading cargo between towns — although that isn’t as straightforward as you would think as not every town is willing to accept all cargo.  Quests and Cargo both take up cargo space, so it usually ends up being more worthwhile to take a Quest instead of spending money to buy Cargo.  Depending on the faction you are in, you may fight against other factions (players and/or AI) who are vying for control of your region.

The first couple of hours I was in single-player mode, the grind became very prevalent.  Once you “get” the point of the game, there’s not much left to really “do.”  There is general game progression: leveling up towns by completing quests, and capturing/establishing new cities, and capturing zones until you ultimately capture everything in the map you’ve generated.  The progression in single-player is very slow and that is purposeful because the game actually seems to be balanced for a multiplayer environment where there are a large group of players completing quests and upgrading towns instead of just one person doing all of the work.  With that said, the game gets a lot more pleasant and less daunting if you play on an Internet server where you can find upwards of fifty people playing depending on which server you look at.  Albeit they are typically spread out on the world map, you do interact with people using the chat system and can potentially coordinate zone takeovers/defense by following orders.

The character you make at the beginning of the game will carry through to any new Worlds you generate and can be used online as well.  Your progression is saved locally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were server settings that force a cloud save for your character, which may mean starting from scratch.  You can also enter an Instance, which is separate from the main world you are currently playing in.  In Instances you fight against pirates and capture towns in a completely fresh region, offering gear and rewards from doing so.  Once you leave the instance, it disappears and will put you back into the persistent map you’ve been previously playing on.  Moving through the World’s map requires you to gain talents as regions have a minimum requirement to enter.  Being exposed to the multiplayer chat on a larger server, talent levels seem to extend past at least 100 and may extend as the game is updated.

The equipment in the game increases your stats, and generally improve your ship and abilities.  Combat can be a strategy-laden ordeal depending on what you get yourself into and equipping the right gear will allow you to hit harder challenges and capture towns/towers faster.  Most of the strategy comes from the way your ship is facing and making sure you keep within the firing arc to maximize your damage.  The equipment is ship-themed, such as hull, sails, crew, and captain among other things.  There are nice in-game customization items that change the look of your boat, as well.  You can also upgrade by buying larger ships, which take a significant amount of gold.  Apparently you can also get airships/blimps but it seems to take a very long time to get to that point.  It also seems that more ships are currently being added from chatter in-game on the server I played on.

Visuals of the game are nice to look at, although you’ll mostly see the same stuff over and over.  The game’s visuals all have an island/beach theme and you don’t see the art taking much of a varied approach to try different things.  It would have been nice to see different tile sets for regions so everything in the game doesn’t look and feel exactly the same.  The music in the game is very nice, but most of the tracks seem to be very short and loop quite often.  Water also looks really nice and I can appreciate the quality of the visuals existing in the game considering its scope.  Altering terrain is also an interesting aspect and you can make areas passable where they weren’t before.  Combat is also visually pleasing, although it can be a bit funny to watch cannonballs bounce around like basketballs and then disappear.

Perhaps the worst part of the game comes from its user interface design and potential quality of life enhancements that aren’t included.  My biggest problem is that the on-screen mini-map doesn’t display town-names, forcing you to open the larger map to see which town is which and how to plan out your quests better.  The larger map is also not resizable, so you wouldn’t be able to have it open as you were moving around.  I was also pining for an auto-travel or a way to constantly change direction of your ship without having to click down the whole time.  Positively, your ship’s abilities are able to be re-bound on the fly by right-clicking them and then assigning a key which reduces any sort of option-hunting.  The old-paper style of the UI is also very pleasant as it keeps with the naval theme and it’s more-or-less easy to tell if an item is an upgrade or not due to color-coding.

The most admirable aspect about Windward is that it is completely designed and programmed by a one-man developer.  It also seems that regular updates are coming through, as my game has updated at least two or three times since I started playing.  As far as a future update plan goes, nothing was currently readily available on the Steam Community that I could find.  I personally experienced no game crashes or frame rate drops and had a very positive technical experience.  The server I connected to a few times never dropped me and I was able to connect without much difficulty.

Windward is a nice, slow-paced experience that can definitely just be used as a time waster or a multitask while watching Netflix.  If the theme resonates with you, you may enjoy it more than others, but the grindy progression system could be a potential turn-off.  There’s no story and not even really an ultimate goal other than getting the best gear and ships, so the motivation to play is driven solely by progression in power level, which can easily get stale unless you get into the persistent PvP aspect of the game.

Windward is currently available on Steam for $14.99.

A reviewable copy of Windward was provided to Squackle.

 

Jungle Rumble: Freedom, Happiness, and Bananas (PSVita) Review

Developer/Publisher: Disco Pixel || Overall: 6.0

When Dave first contacted me to play a rhythm-based game featuring orangutans searching for their stolen stash of bananas, I was more than excited to brush off my old Jungle Beat Drums to play Donkey Konga 3: The Search for More Hard-to-Find Wii U Accessories. I was prepared to camp out for the official attachment that would end up being scalped left and right, due to limited supply from Nintendo, all to play a game that some have been waiting nine years to play. Then Dave told me that the game was actually called Jungle Rumble: Freedom, Happiness and Bananas, that it was on the PlayStation Vita, and it had nothing to do with the loveable banana eating kidnapper …

Happy DongSad Dong

My before and after pictures, respectively.

Jungle Rumble: Freedom, Happiness and Bananas is an iOS port, featuring some extra content, of a rhythm-based action game that challenges you with reclaiming the stolen bananas of the Mofungo tribe from an aggressively red-colored rival tribe. The game uses a four-beat rhythm to have you perform tasks from moving, to attacking, and to ultimately defeating the rival tribe and reclaiming your tribe’s bananas. Overall, playing to the rhythm will ultimately decide whether your teams of simply-drawn monkeys succeeds or if the opposing team of simply-drawn monkeys does so instead.

Graphically, Jungle Rumbles isn’t really much to look at in action. While the attempt to give the game a particular style is there, it falls flat before achieving any notable flare. What’s left is a rather simple art style that tries it’s best to be simple and cute, but does not possess the small intricacies to achieve that goal. Don’t get me wrong, the game is nice enough to look at, but it appears rather stiff and lifeless when in action. The monkeys seem to perform the same repetitive actions ad nauseam for whatever four-beat command you manage to perform to the point of monotony. It’s a shame too, with a few more variations and perhaps a creative idle animation the art could have been much more pleasant to look at.

Red Light
Like in any good game of Red Light, Green Light, it only
screws up while in motion

The music in Jungle Rumble is serviceable, which would be alright if it weren’t for the fact that music is sorta the most important part of rhythm games. While games like Lumines are remembered for their sweet techno beat, games like Dance Dance Revolution have catchy J-Pop, and even Donkey Konga tickles at the nostalgia bones by playing through classic Nintendo beats, Jungle Rumble seems content with providing a four-beat-rhythm that simply repeats infinitely and calls it music. To add (or subtract), the rhythm itself hardly changes between levels to any noticeable degree. On a better note, the meeps of the monkeys, the sound of a coconut hitting its mark and other sound effects add charm where the art and music does not.

Gameplay-wise, Jungle Rumble has the honor of using the Vita’s least used gameplay set-ups, which involves turning the Vita vertical, to good effect. While this set-up took a bit to get used too, I found it particularly useful in the game’s many scrolling levels to have the screen longer as opposed to wider. The game itself is controlled completely with touchscreen commands and its manipulations through the game’s four-beat rhythm. For example, to move from tree to tree requires the simple alteration between your starting tree and the tree you wish to move to. To throw a coconut requires you touch yourself three times (hehe) and the enemy once. Moving two spaces is much like moving one but requires an added touch on the third beat and a final touch to the far tree you wish to land on. Unfortunately, this is about as complicated as the game gets and I found myself expecting more when there was nothing left. Furthermore, the fact that each maneuver requires you to adhere to the previously mentioned 4 beat rhythm made me constantly get further out of tempo as I had to wait for the rhythm to repeat itself before starting another command. This was only further hindered by the fact that someone thought it would be a good idea for the game’s visual helper, colored circles and a tiny ball that bounced to the levels beat, to disappear after a few successful repetitions, making it the harder to get back into rhythm as I waited for it to reappear. Thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with that for long.

Fear
If playing games in new and interesting ways scares you, then
stare at the face of FEAR!!!

Jungle Rumble, while simple, is also very short; the five dollar prince tag will get you about two hours of gameplay. The content consists of three worlds filled with various stages that are easy to complete. While the game’s grading mechanic of a bronze, silver, and gold medal offer some replay value, overall it doesn’t add much more time to the already short game. Though, if two-hours-plus of content justifies five dollars is up to you.

OneThird
You’re looking at about 1/3rd of the game
right here.

Overall, Jungle Rumble: Freedom, Happiness and Bananas feels like a game that had a lot of good ideas that never truly came to fruition. The game never really seems to hit its stride, whether it is the art style that only looks charming when still, the rather forgettable “music,” the sometimes frustrating 4-beat commands or just the game’s short length. While not a horrible game, it perhaps could prove useful as a way to break into rhythm games for the uninitiated.  Personally, however, Jungle Rumble: Freedom, Happiness and Bananas is not something I would look forward to.

Barrel of Meh
More like a Barrel of “Meh..” for me.

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

 

Hand of Fate (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Defiant Development || Overall: 9.5/10

Hardware Used: Windows 8.1, i7, Nvidia GTX 780, Xbox360 Controller

New trends such as Kickstarter and Steam Early Access have made feasible genres and products that theoretically may not have been available otherwise. With investment on the front-end rather than the back-end, some game developers take this opportunity to fill in very specific niches which may (or may not) further garnish interest and investment. Hand of Fate is a product of this investment trend in the form of a deck-building card game featuring action-based combat.

The set up for the story is you are challenging a talkative mystic to a card game, sitting across from him at a table. You get thrown right into the game, moving your piece across a set path of cards on the table with a boss at the last level. As you make your way through the first couple of bosses, you slowly learn the flow and mechanics of the game and learn more about the Dealer himself and the origin of the card game. With further progression you assemble the pieces of the story that each card tells and how they relate either to your nameless character or the Dealer himself. Hand of Fate begins to feel more like a throwback to an old adventure game with a narrator as you start to settle into the gameplay.

As you progress through the board, you primarily get items, equipment, or encounter scenarios. How well you do dictates what gear you get and how easy the action-oriented encounters can be. While you will primarily be spending your time at the table, you will port into encounters to beat up enemies and, eventually, bosses via action gameplay. The best comparison I can make for these interludes is something like a grounded God of War. That doesn’t mean you can’t feel quite powerful depending on the gear you get, though.

These action encounters are really only one part of the greater picture, but they are very important to successfully complete as competently as possible — namely not losing health. The action gameplay takes a little bit to get used to, but is mostly satisfying. Normal swings with your weapon feel like they “snap” to one enemy and you don’t cleave other enemies who seem like they should get hit as well – this is counteracted by being able to quickly “switch” targets around and stun them with a shield (if equipped) or counter an enemy ability. The combat seems to be mostly based on your ability to counter and dodge attacks and when to use special abilities (if you have any) as there are no combos to perform. The combat doesn’t feel flat, but can feel a bit like spamming one button over and over — this can take the fun out of it if you prefer at least some sort of alternate attacks despite there being special abilities that are on long cooldowns. You can also stun with your shield and it is required to interrupt an enemy’s impending attack in certain cases. Sometimes you sort of fly at enemies that are a couple of steps away due to the way the “snapping” is designed, which can be a bit jarring but ends up helping you more than not.

Encounters include combat, mazes, and shops. The locales in the combat are a bit varied, but you’ll begin to notice you see the same ones pop up over and over which allows you to familiarize yourself with the maps, which inevitably helps you. Traps are also set on the maps which can hurt both you and your enemies, so you may have to strategize exactly where you can run and which direction to dodge to. Mazes use these traps (and other unique ones) to hurt you, the motivation being to get through with minimal injury and to the treasure at the end of the maze. Shops allow you to buy health, buffs (called blessings), food, equipment, and remove debuffs (called curses). Depending on your progression and when you stumble upon a shop, it can be a game changer.

Since the overall goal is to essentially prepare your character for the boss, doing terribly in one of the encounters could swing a good game into a bad one. As with other rogue-likes, death is permanent and you will lose the current progression of your run and have to start over if you end up failing. Any tokens you earn from cards will be yours to keep regardless of the outcome, which unlock more cards to play with.

The Dealer reveals (and you are shown) early on that there are twelve bosses to progress through. For me, it was pretty smooth sailing for the first five bosses, but the sixth boss I felt a very large difficulty jump. Where you notice this difficulty jump could potentially be different for you depending on how many cards (and which cards) you unlock, but you’ll begin to notice that chance takes a very big toll on your progression. Some cards have a 25% chance to succeed, while others require you to have two lucky 25% draws. Most of the chance games require you to choose between four cards, but other chance-oriented games involve actions you take in a given story scenario. Depending on if you memorize what card does what you can mitigate chances towards the desired outcome in a story scenario.

Rogue-like progression takes charge in unlocking more and more cards as you naturally play. As long as you accomplish a particular card’s challenge you’ll attain a token which rewards you more cards. These cards may or may not be able to unlock further cards, which adds to the amount of encounters and equipment you can acquire in the game. There will be cards that you’ll have to encounter multiple times before you get lucky or remember what didn’t work last time before you’re able to acquire the card’s token. This can get subtly frustrating if they are based on chance on top of choosing the correct prompts.

Graphics and sound are also boons to the overall experience. Character designs and animations work well with each other with a cartoony “flavor” to it. The more unique character designs come from the Lizardmen and Mages, while other characters in the game such as Thieves and Skeletons leave a bit to be desired in the style department, but serve their purpose fine in the end. The soundtrack is enjoyable and properly matches what is happening on the screen. The table has ambient music and little sound effects for every time you activate a card. I also experienced no noticeable frame rate drops or graphics issues during gameplay.

Hand of Fate is fun to play, but in the end what is it that actually tries to excite you to come back for more? The challenge is certainly there and despite being a bit frustrating at times, you do get a sense of accomplishment when you finally take a boss down. But what is really fun, unique, and even mysterious about the game itself is one thing: the Dealer.

The gameplay of Hand of Fate seems to become only a tool in learning about the character of the Dealer. It is almost as if it is a character study when he says little tidbits about himself or what the purpose of certain things are, such as the card game itself and who he has played against before. He also voices a very strong opinion about in-universe-specific problems such as fake fortune tellers and other strange outbursts. As you replay the game over and over you’ll notice that you are hearing him say a couple of things repeatedly but for the first four or five hours, almost everything is unique, and he will usually have a little blurb for each new card.

The Dealer’s fluid animation is interesting as he will occasionally play with his bracelet or make amusing gesticulations. What primarily sells the character is the voice acting, which is perfectly executed in the context of this game with the voice actor chosen. You also learn a little more about the Dealer himself from the set design. The slowly panning camera reveals what is on the table, and the halls where the game is taking place are able to be inspected a bit. The progression in the game itself seems to head toward a particular goal, but without taking wild guesses (or cheating and reading spoilers) it isn’t outright predictable.

Game options may feel a bit sparse. You can only choose between Story Mode and Endless Mode. Endless Mode allows you to play with all of the cards you’ve acquired so far, which allows you to grind out locked cards. Endless Mode diverts from Story Mode’s rules in that every level you progress you draw a bad card which can be a Curse or something less impactful like loss of gold or health. The point of this mode would technically be Leaderboards, but I was using it to grind out some cards to unlock since I was having a lot of trouble with the sixth boss (and finally beat it before writing this review).

Also related to game options is a curious lack of character customization for the avatar you use in the encounters. It would be one thing if the avatar you play as were characterized, but since he is seemingly vacuous, it feels like something is missing in that regard. It doesn’t take anything away from the gameplay, really, but if they were at least somewhat randomized each time as far as the face/skin tone went it wouldn’t feel as large of an oversight – I’m just left wondering why the avatar you play as looks like that and what his purpose is. Part of the mystery, to me, is whether or not the Dealer actually sees “you” or the “avatar guy” sitting across the table from him.

Being that Hand of Fate has been available via Early Access, it has seen many changes: balance, UI, and otherwise.  There are also plans for DLC, such as extra cards which would expand the gameplay down the line.  It will be interesting to see just how much gets added by way of DLC and what impact it has on the game as more additions are made.

Hand of Fate is a very enjoyable game and a unique experience. Pushing on and completing the game, as well as unlocking all of the cards, can prove to be a time-intensive and challenging endeavor, but with hardly any harsh criticisms to be had about the game it isn’t a particularly daunting proposition. Hand of Fate is available for PC, PS4-PSN, and XBone-Live — console versions are available for download at 4 PM.

A reviewable copy of Hand of Fate was provided to Squackle.

 

Swordsman Online (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Perfect World || Overall: 8.0

World of Warcraft never wowed me. I didn’t ground myself in Tera. I didn’t enlist myself for Guild Wars. Neither did I ever play EverQuest. Much like the old Zelda CD-i games, what your humble reviewer is trying to say is that he avoided Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games like the plague. Perhaps it was due to a lack of interest in taking the RPG experience online, or maybe it was the fear that the time sink would melt the proverbial face off of my free time à la Raider of the Lost Arc. At least, that was until I gave Perfect World’s MMO Swordsman a try.

giphy
Always make the Indian Jones reference.
Always. 

Disclaimer: This review is based on my experiences playing the Infinity swordsman class up to level 37, during the open Beta. There may be some changes when the game goes live on July the 29th and after as the game is updated.

 

Swordsman Online is Perfect World’s latest foray in the Free-to-Play (F2P) Action MMO market. Inspired by the popular writing of wuxia (martial hero) novelist Louis Cha, Swordsman trades in the typical fantasy-styled combat and races found in most MMOs for martial arts action and oriental locales. The game touts wonderful graphics, an abundance of visceral martial arts inspired combat, exclusive guild-only quests, a variety of classes based on schools of martial arts, a rich story, and an overall fun experience for any MMO junkie.

 

Though, does the Action MMO hold true to those boast? Well, without further ado, here is my review.

Lets get this started
LET’S GET THIS STARTED!!!
YEAH!!!

Right off the bat, Swordsman introduces you to a rather aesthetically intricate and detailed character creation process. From height to build to facial scars, the standard character options already provide an ample playground to create a character to your liking. Furthermore, the advance options offer you sliders to adjust the size, shape and location of those features allowing anything from an eye-catchingly attractive character model to a grossly hideous one.

Character Creation 2Character Creation 3
Character Creation 4Character Creation 5
It ranges somewhere between Cloud Strife to Quasimodo.

Along with the varied character models, the graphics in the game are much better than I expected from a F2P offering. The fields are decorated in a lush mixture of greens, grays, blues and browns that capture the various dirt roads, mountains and areas of water you’ll come across. Inside the cities, the graphics do well to bring the various decorations of the city to life, and also include some neat tile designs that can be seen along the main roads. The shadows in the game also deserve a special note with every item in the city casting its own distinct shadow and, at times, overlapping with others to create an almost realistic effect. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the greenery outside of the cities’ wall. The only other graphically lacking part is that a few of the enemies and other NPCs don’t seem on par with the rest, but it still turns out to be a very minor flaw when compared to the depth of the other visuals in this Action MMORPG.

 

Being an “Action” MMORPG, the combat in this game appears to take on a far more involved attitude than with other MMOs. Instead of targeting an enemy to constantly unleash a swarm of basic attacks, every swing of the character’s chosen weapon takes either a button press or mouse click to execute and actual aim to hit the enemy’s hitbox. The typical flow of combat takes on a mixture of those attacks along with special moves and a dodge mechanic to round off a standard fight. There is also a combo mechanic that grants more damage depending on the number of continuous hits you have scored… as long as another player doesn’t move your target out of the way mid-combo or the clunky controls don’t screw it up.

Not Giving a Shit 2
Currently Pictured: My character not giving a shit as he spins around like a
doofus for a high combo.

Regrettably, while the game offers three control options, the controls aren’t the most intuitive with the combat. No matter which of the three control styles your choose, you will find yourself having to get used to the clunky controls rather than naturally having it blend with your own personal style of playing, which can delay you from enjoying it at the onset. The controls themselves have an effect on early combat that causes it to appear stiff until you acquire a more diverse move set later in the game. Though, with that said, each successful hit does carry a distinct weight to it as it makes contact with the enemy. Watching a finishing blow send the lifeless body of an enemy flying did solicit a grin from time to time.

 

The questing itself is rather generic, however. Most taking the form of fetch quests, defeating a certain number of the same enemies, talking to NPCs or the occasional boss fight. Considering that the game has a rather robust acrobatics system that offers triple jumps, air dashing, and gliding, I was hoping there would be more quests involving these abilities that are ripe for platforming elements. Unfortunately, only one quest asked me to use such skills to climb to the top of a building to meet with a man’s wife. Also, word to the wise, there are guild specific quest that serve to spice up the gameplay a little bit, so I’d recommend joining a guild at some point.

Secret
“Golly, Mrs. Lin! I’m okay with that, but I sure hope you told Mr. Lin
about it.”

In addition, early on, the quests give a considerable amount of experience points for whatever you have chosen to do, from important to inane. Constantly I would find myself talking twice to the same character only to have him vomit out about ten percent of the experience points I needed to gain a level. I would prefer to see all that experience be bundled up at the end of the quest line in a neat box, rather than be given out in parts like that for every unimportant task I do… but that’s just, like, my opinion… man…

well-thats-just-like-your-opinion-man-gif-the-dude-lebowski
Abide.

Out of the figurative box and onto other parts of the game, Swordsman offers a whopping ten classes under the guise of martial arts schools your character can study. While each of the schools or “classes” are different, they all follow the standard roles of tank, DPS (Damage Per Second), healing, support and control seen in most MMORPGs. Delving deeper, each of the schools offer three distinct styles that can be changed on the fly even during mid-combat that are usually either a variation on the school’s role in combat, or a dip into another of the usual combat roles.

 

Being comfortable with my masculinity, I chose to study under the Infinity Style that is usually practiced by nuns and offered quite the unique counter mechanic to their tank-ish style of combat. Most of the skills are charged attacks that release high damage the longer the charge is held.  However, if hit during the charge the class will unleash a completely different move that usually substitutes damage for a negative status effect or a “debuff” on the opponent. I found that to be a rather interesting mechanic, and would love to see what other mechanics the other schools introduced in the story could pull off.

SWORDSman
The Infinity School also attempts to make a two sword style viable, which is about
as unrealistically awesome as I wish to be. 

Taken by itself, the story is a little bland and hardly noteworthy. When seen through the eyes of a martial arts film aficionado (i.e. me), it’s quite the enjoyable love letter to genre and the books the game is based upon. All of the tropes are there: the main character’s village being destroyed, ancient relics, feuding martial arts schools, revenge, secret scrolls and the glorious Fu Manchu facial hair. To add to that, Perfect World made the decision not to dub the dialogue and to keep in its original Mandarin Chinese. This proved to be fairly wise decision as the authentic Chinese voices give the story an authentic vibe, in turn. The only way it could be more authentic is if it replaced the voices with bad English voice acting that doesn’t exactly match the lips flaps of the character. All in all, the story is a mixed bag; those that enjoy the genre will enjoy the homage to the books and films the story is based on, and those that do not will hardly care for it.

Fu Manchu
Though early cinema has given the Fu Manchu facial hair a bad rap,
few things are as majestic when properly maintained.

Beyond the story, the game offers a variety of instances, dungeons and events for a group of people to run. Starting at around level 15, the player is already offered their first instance to play at one of three difficulty levels. While most instances can be tackled by themselves at the normal level, swordsman and hero levels ramp up the difficulty to be better tackled by a team of players. Along with those, the game also offers a variety of dungeons at higher levels that offer their own form of exp rewards and items gains. Adding to that, there are many daily events and activities that are sure to better your character in one way or the other.

Generic
The instances are as important to do as their names are generic.

The Player versus Player (PvP) options come in a few flavors. While typical one on one and group combat can be enjoyed in the game’s arena, which includes customizable settings and a reward system for the victor, the game also offers guild based PvP that allows guild to take over land in-game. However, the most intriguing option lies in how Swordsman handles PvP in the open world. PvP players outside of the arena and the guild wars come in three types. First are the Harmony players that aren’t allowed to attack others. Then there are the Outlaws that can attack any player above a certain level for a monetary reward but at the cost of their name turning red and branding them as a player killer. Lastly, there are the Avengers that are only allowed to gank (kill) characters whose name has turned red, netting the player an item from the character’s inventory once defeated. In a way, this game of mouse and cat (and dog) is a fascinating way for the player characters to police themselves.

 

As for the audio, I found it rather lackluster to say the least. Not that it ever detracted from my experience of the game, but nothing struck me as noteworthy in the music or sound effects department in the open beta.

 

Being in open beta, Swordsman is riddled with enough bugs to make a roach motel jealous. A few I encountered included: graphical glitches, closed doors that I could pass through, opened doors that looked closed on screen, the sound randomly cutting out during cutscenes, my character freezing in place for several minutes and an invisible enemy hunting me down until I could escape to a safe zone. As a special mention, the most amusing glitch in the game allowed me to make the enemies windmill uncontrollably after being killed by certain moves. While none of these glitches are game breaking, they sure do bring you out of the game’s immersion.

Dance
I like to think that sometimes I don’t kill my enemies, but instead their defeat
inspires them to take up their true passion in dance.

Lastly, for the duration of the game, I was offered the Hero’s Pack by Perfect World. Included in the package comes a combination of a mount, a unique companion, equipment, an exclusive fashion and consumables all meant to make your Swordsman’s experience all the more enjoyable for $59.99. While most of the items only serve to streamline the experience and literally make things faster for you, like the Blazing Stallion that goes about 3 miles per hour faster than a typical horse, there is some worth in the rather powerful Ring of Valor, which is an upgradable piece of gear that can boost its stats as you level. Also, the package offers you a unique fashion  which doesn’t serve anything outside of an aesthetic sense that this is the closest you’ll be to looking like Mortal Kombat’s thunder god in Swordsman, which admittingly, is still pretty cool. Overall, while it can be convenient for those starting out or seeking to raise an alternate character, I found the Hero’s Pack unnecessary for a patient player.

Raiden CosplayThunder God

Maybe if you squint your eyes and turn your head to the left…

Though the game definitely has it share of glitches and faults, I believe the game is worth a try for anyone looking for a new MMO to enjoy. From the unique setting, variety of classes, abundant PvP and eye-catching graphics, the game more than makes up for getting use to its clunky controls and other lesser traits. Plus, it made my first true MMO experience not all that bad…

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

 

Long Live the Queen (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Hanako Games || Overall: 8.0

Welcome Lords and Ladies, gentlemen and women of esteem to the tale of Princess Elodie. A young girl caught betwixt her royal appointment as upcoming queen and the many dangers that the title holds. Watch her take classes on the many facets of a proper ruler and matriarch. Watch her weave her way through the tribulations of both political intrigue and royal scandal. Watch her conquer both the battlefield and the ballroom with her might and refinement. And watch her die… and die… and die again…

Cheerful

Don’t get too attached, her many deaths will be the result
of your bad decisions.

 Okay, I had my fun.

 

Long Live the Queen is a visual novel of political intrigue, war and death all dressed up in a pretty, pretty pink ribbon for your playing pleasure. The game casts you in the role of young princess Elodie, fresh from the sudden and unexplained death of her mother; this understandably depressed young lady is now tasked with running the country until her proper coronation on her fifteenth birthday. You, on the other hand, are in charge of keeping her alive by means of a point and click adventure where you will raise up skills to complete tasks through menu commands. You will fail.

 

At its core, Long Live the Queen is a literal numbers game. You have a number of weeks until Elodie’s coronation, attempts on her life occur on certain numbered weeks, and you then avoid them by having leveled the necessary skills to survive to a certain number. Long Live the Queen’s success in this formula is in how fluidly this all comes together. The game does the number crunching for you while clearly explaining all in-game mechanics.

 

If described in one word, the “game play” in Long Live the Queen is “light.” A typical in-game week consist of first sending Elodie out to learn two skills in the form of classes, and ends with having her participate in some sort of event during the weekend. Both skills she has focused on are raised by a base of two points per day and, with no bonuses, results in 10 points for the week. This is further diversified by her mood; every weekend you are asked to have Elodie participate in some sort of activity that affects her mood and, in turn, her mood affects how well she does in her studies. If done correctly, you could gain a bonus that is about three times the usual rate. If done incorrectly, you could succumb to a penalty that results in an effective score of zero points for the whole week.

Skills

The skills range somewhere between “a lot” to a “crap load.”

Now while simple enough in execution, to make the most out of your skills and moods requires a careful point and click balancing act. First off, the skills are quite numerous and the game doesn’t really allow for your princess to train evenly in all fields. More often than not, you will find that making Elodie a jack-of-all-trades will lead to an earlier demise than min-maxing (minimizing the effect of undesired skills and maximizing the effect of desired ones). This can get particularly difficult when you find out that each skill has two associated skills that must be raised over 25 points before the skill you want can be raised over 50 points. Overall, you’ll find that a well-rounded princess usually equals a hated, useless and dead one.

 

Moods, to the same extent, also require their own special balancing act to make the most out of them. Each mood is set at one end of an eleven point scale and at the opposite end of that scale is a mood that is contradictory to it. For example, in this game, you can’t be angry if you are afraid, you can’t be cheerful if you are depressed, and you can’t be lonely if you are pressured. How much each of those makes sense is up to you. So whenever a certain activity gives you points in one mood, it also detracts points from its opposite mood. This will often have you subject your princess to a constant state of manic depression as you go from one end of each mood scale to the other in search of the right mood bonus to complement the skills you desire. Though, even with perfect mastery of both skills and moods, it doesn’t mean your princess will make it out alive.

 PassiveAggressive

 It’s not like I think that the combination of angry and afraid is being
passive-aggressive, but it could make sense, man…
Source

Elodie is going to die… she’s going to die a lot… but that is also part of the fun of Long Live the Queen. Even when you believe you have a perfect set of skills and moods to take your little monarch from princess to queen, the game has no problem throwing a surprise curveball at you and killing Elodie off. The process, while frustrating, often times fills you with a renewed sense of determination as you start fresh and tweak her skills to overcome that particular obstacle and then find another one to have you repeat the whole process. Even when you do eventually manage to make Elodie a queen, you can find yourself eagerly replaying the game to find out what other sets of skills can make her a queen and not a cadaver. Altogether, Elodie’s constant deaths give a sort of morbid charm to the game.

SwordBlood
ArrowBlown_up

Never before has brutal death been more adorable.

Visually, the game takes many cues from the art styles found in most shoujo (girl) comics in Japan, which makes sense since this game is targeted towards girls but with a wider audience in mind (justifying my manhood: done). The girls are cute and the boys are just as pretty. My only problem is that despite the game fitting the visual novel category, it seems far more inclined to just describe the story rather than illustrate it. The game could do well to provide more illustrations during the more important points of the story than just a portrait of a face and some text next to it. Though, when illustrated, the pictures are a treat to see.

 

In the audio department, the piano arrangements that accompany the story give it a fairy tale ambiance, as well as, just being pleasant on the ears to hear. It does well to highlight the sad, cheerful, and action scenes throughout the novel. In contrast, the sound effects are virtually non-existent. Which is a shame, since a well placed clang of steel or cheering crowd could have picked up the slack where the visuals did not.

 

There isn’t really much to say about the interface. To its benefit, everything is easy to get to, clearly explained and hardly confusing. You point. You click. You get on with Elodie’s life (or death).

 

The narrative does a good job at juxtaposing the pretty princess theme with the darker tones of rulership. One minute Elodie could be enjoying a grand ball, and the next she could be at the end of an assassin’s blade. Though, in that regard, it does exactly what the game promises; it takes you through the “typical” year of someone destined to be queen. Where the narrative thrives is in the fact that, despite one scene near the end, it is exactly what you make of it. Often times, you will even find that events from much earlier have great impact on events found later on in the story. Though, whether princess Elodie makes the castle her gilded cage to protect her from the world’s troubles, becomes a war mongering tyrant, or goes on an adventure to vanquish fantastical beast is completely based on the skills she takes and choices you make.

 Military Elodie

…or you could play her like I did. As a warlord skilled in both decoration and public speaking that I imagine
screams, “I AM THE PRETTIEST!” after every victory to the cheers of a loving crowd

 

and so ends our tale of princess Elodie. A tale, while lacking both in effects of visual and of sound, can be an intriguing piece that is delightfully frustrating and wonderfully addicting to come back to. To all the Lord and Ladies in the audience, I bid you “Adieu.”

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