Solo (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Team Gotham || Overall: 7.8/10

One part 3D puzzle game and the other part online personality test, Solo asks a lot from you.  It asks you to bear your soul about Love.  It also asks you to arrange a lot of boxes so you can solve puzzles, which I suppose is another metaphor for love, especially after you move in together.  There’s a lot of boxes.  There’s also a lot of strange alien-like fauna, like elephants that eat cheese, cat-things that eat bananas, and some other cute creatures that you can pet.  You can also play guitar.

The most obvious thing you’ll notice about Solo is its elaborate art style.  While it has that disgusting Unity “marshmallow” look, it makes it its own by creating a unique atmosphere.  Each puzzle takes place on a little island in a greater archipelago; solve the puzzle on the island and a new one will pop up from under the water.  Interacting with the myriad of inanimate objects, cutesy creatures, and ghostly characters adds to the experience.  The fauna and the general aesthetic of the world feels very “not Earth-like” which leads to the feeling you are either in some sort of dream or on an alien planet of some kind.  You’re referred to as a “sailor” but there is very little actual sailing going on other than moving from one archipelago to the next.  Additionally, the name you put in as “your love” ends up being the name of the ship…  QUITE EMBARRASSING!

As far as the puzzle aspects go, it uses a system in which you re-use a set of blocks in continually different configurations, rather than using said blocks one time and leaving them there.  You’ll have to design your solution to a puzzle, of which there are multiple solutions (depending on your ingenuity), and then you get to answer an overly personal question about your love life.  Rinse and repeat, and you’ve essentially got the whole experience.  The types of boxes you’ll encounter are normal boxes, boxes with fans in them (that allow you to glide in your parachute), boxes that stick to walls, and boxes that extend a platform from them.  Using the boxes to create platforms is your primary pursuit; you can use these boxes in different configurations as you can rotate them and whatever works, works.  You also use terrain (no jumping), your guitar (occasionally), and other elements in the immediate area to solve puzzles.  They also let you take pictures with a camera, but considering your character looks like a horrendous sack of potatoes, no thanks.  And there doesn’t seem to be a functional reason to making animals happy other than to get them to shut up.

The theme of Love is pretty heavy-handed.  The first thing you do in the game is choose your gender, including giving you a non-binary option.  They also ask what gender you are romantically attracted to, which non-binary is also an option.  At this point they give you a choice of avatar to represent yourself in-game, which is only three white characters.  It’s odd that the game seems to strive for some sort of inclusivity, but only so far as it matters directly to “love.”  I suppose race wouldn’t fall into that category per se, but it seems out of place that these options are presented and then you can only choose white characters.

The writing itself is pretty good and gives a feeling that there was a lot of care for what is being said so that it doesn’t sound too sappy or too ridiculous.  In theory, there seems to be different writing depending on your choices regarding your relationship status and the like.  Interestingly, despite the game looking like it is “for kids,” the subject matter of love, relationships, and even sex, is definitely not for kids.  This is just my paranoid side speaking, but you have to wonder if there is some sort of collection of data with the answers to these love questions — it seems generally out of place in the manner they present it since they make it about “you,” the player, rather than an in-game character.  They say to get the most out of it, you should answer truthfully as much as possible.  It also wouldn’t surprise me if this was all a disguised recruitment tool for some box-fetish cult.  “Only the ones who can solve these box puzzles need apply.  10 Inch dicks or DD+ boobies only.”

So, while the game is generally a positive experience, it’s really not that engaging.  The puzzles can be fun to figure out, but they can also be fairly frustrating considering the controls.  You’re also constantly fighting against the camera which doesn’t seem to allow you to zoom out at all.  Placing the boxes in a 3D space depends on the angle of your camera, and even though there is an “aim assist” for placing the blocks, sometimes the cursor will disappear and is fifty miles away.  Holding the left trigger and clicking it over and over can also be a bit taxing on your finger and it feels like there should have been an easier way to do all of the stuff you’re doing without having to constantly hold it or trigger it.  Otherwise, the performance of the game had no issues outside of random frame drops, and the sound/music is quite good.

Giving a score to this game was hard to do.  It’s definitely an enjoyable game, and I’d recommend it if you are into 3D puzzle games, or at least interested in having your privacy violated by unknown data gatherers.  If it weren’t for the controls and camera frustration, I’d probably score it in the higher 8 range, but when a game makes my fingers hurt for no good reason, it’s getting docked.  It is perhaps a bit pretentious as well, given the subject matter being matched with it’s cutesy art style, so it makes me question possible ulterior motives of Solo.

 

Keeplanet (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: BiggameIncubator || Overall: 5/10

It’s often that I’ll play random games and discover that I like them or hate them.  It’s quite another experience to play a game that brings the question of “why does this exist?”  Keeplanet is more of a game that confuses me more than anything else.  I don’t hate it and I certainly don’t like it, but mostly I just don’t “get” it.  There’s some sort of design philosophy to this title, but the end goal didn’t seem to be “fun.”

Keeplanet‘s concept rides on the principal of “balance.”  You are the “World Commander” of a set of planets in a solar system, your role being to develop the new home for humanity after Earth got blowed up.  Your goal is develop your world by placing objects on the outer rim of the planet and keep the balance of all of the objects such that the world keeps spinning and isn’t dragged down by being too heavy on one side.  You can balance the world on the fly by placing more objects down and hoping you are “calculating” correctly before your world’s inhabitants are killed off from the lack of rotation.  Gravity seems to have taken a vacation from the rules of physics, but there’s stranger things happening in quantum mechanics so anything is possible, I suppose.

There’s nothing that’s inherently fun about the concept of randomly placing objects on the extreme edges of a planet, though.  Not only is it a pain to actually see where you’re placing things, but the planet will get “bigger” as more objects are placed and you put down even more objects between those objects.  Some levels require putting down a hundred or more of these “objects” so you’ll really have to be paying attention to what the hell is going on.  Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really provide you with the tools or information to help you in this manner.  There is a weight scale that defines the weight of the planet’s “left” and “right” (whatever that means) and as the world rotates on its axis and more objects are built, these numbers change constantly.  The goal is to keep these numbers as balanced as possible and the world will rotate.  If it stops rotating, then your population will start dying out from heat and cold and once it reaches zero, it’s game over.

The user interface leaves a lot to be desired.  There’s a large “Play” button on the menu screen that you only use one time, but stays there after you click it.  Selecting your level beckons you to click a WORD that says “Play” not the big Play button that becomes a quick way to close the entire menu and put you back to the Title Screen.  Like, why the hell do I need to go back to the Title Screen at that point?  Just hide the Play button or use it as the level selection.

The information provided regarding objects is basically nonsensical and I just don’t care about the numbers when I have to plop down 300 objects quickly — otherwise I’d be here for 30 minutes for one of these levels and that ain’t happening.  Of course, I die over and over regardless, so I’m stuck playing that long anyway!  I also really don’t get why the outer edges of the planet are the only thing being used; when the planet becomes bigger it becomes impossible to see all parts of the planet without zooming out, which makes the objects you are placing much smaller.  Where’s the joy in placing some stupid ass mountain on a planet if I can’t see it????  Or those dumb trees, for that matter.  There’s no agency here where I can pick which objects I want to place and create a strategy to overcome the task at hand — it’s more of a Tetris with objects being served to you and you dealing with it.  So, some World Commander you are.  Who is building these unwanted mountains for you?  Why not some big speakers that play Spanish music to liven up the place?  There’s also a big wasted space in the center of the planet which I feel could have been used for the user interface information in a more creative way, but instead the UI elements get in the way of the game play, and you mostly just stare at blank space on your screen.  The graphics are generally inoffensive, otherwise.  The sound isn’t that annoying, but there’s a siren that will go off when your population is dying, which can be a bit annoying.

The only real positive aspect of this game is that it is really cheap.  It is currently $1.99 on Steam at full price, so you can probably get it with some Steam balance and check it out if it interests you.  There are probably about twenty levels including the “Challenges.” It’s not particularly impressive, but it works and you can play it.

I don’t really understand why the title of the game is “Keeplanet,” but it probably goes along with the translation errors that can be picked out in the text.  Maybe it’s as simple as “Keep your planet alive.  Keep.  Planet.  Keeplanet.”  ::facepalm::

When it comes to the store’s page, it’s almost comical how weirdly it is worded at points.  Two quotes from the Store page and my analysis:

Develop the planet
In Keeplanet, you create your own history – there’s no right or wrong way to play! Become a world’s landlord, spread out trees, mountains, houses and other objects to make the planet rotate around its axis. Remember, the most important thing is not to let the planet stop. Otherwise, all inhabitants of the planet will die out from sunburn or freezing.

Except there is a right or wrong way to play.  You get game overs when you don’t play the right way!  It says it right in the same paragraph that if you let the planet stop you lose, that’s the definition of having a wrong way to play!

Fight for the humanity
Universe is a dangerous place, protect people from external hazards – meteorites, meteor rains and vigilant aliens are waiting for your mistakes.
Don’t let them break you!

Fighting for “the” humanity = fighting for our morals?

External hazards from outside of the universe?

The vigilant aliens just ram your planet, similar to meteors.  Meteorites are also meteors that have hit the Earth, so are meteors that hit Earth, flying off of Earth across the universe and then hitting your new planet?  What a bunch of assholes.

The same sort of thing happens with the in-game text, but there isn’t nearly as much writing, so there’s less to fuck up.  Some of the English is so broken, they are just words on screen with no association to each other.

 

Bombslinger (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Mode4 || Overall: 7/10

Bombslinger?  Looks like roguelike Bomberman.

::plays it for 5 minutes::

Yeah, it’s roguelike Bomberman.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the Bomberman series, but I got the point of it.  In fact, Bomberman is a lot more fun than the evolution of the game into roguelike territory.  Bomberman‘s appeal was using the map in such a way to kill the other enemies that were running around while not blowing yourself up.  All of these concept carries over, but considering you are in a roguelike, you’ve got procedurally generated room layouts, dungeons, and bosses.  Except, in Bombslinger, the game intentionally slows down the pace significantly by adding obstacles you have to blow up.  In doing so, Bombslinger becomes much more like a strategy puzzle game than an action game where you go around and put down a bunch of bombs and run around hoping you don’t blow yourself up.

As always in a roguelike, there is loot and powerups you can unlock.  Killing enemies nets you gold most of the time, but they can also drop Spirit, which allows you to use the special abilities you find.  You also gain XP to earn levels; leveling up allows you to choose one of three bonuses, depending on your need at the time/gameplay style, usually being health, bomb, or spirit-related.

Without bonuses, you only have one normal Bomb and three Hearts.  It is very easy to get hit by your own bombs if you’re not paying attention.  In general, it can be a bit annoying if you don’t already have a lot of practice in anticipating when bombs will explode, and if you don’t really like “Bomberman” gameplay, you’ll lose the will to play pretty quickly.  Especially since you get hurt by your own bombs, and always have to move out of the way, it becomes tedious having to blow up fucking corn stalks one at a time when the map is full of them.

The whole reason Mr. McMean (your character) is on a rampage is because his wife dies in the opening cinematic.  I suppose it can be ironic that you also die over and over, and I suppose your wife dies again every time you start over as well.  The first level is the main character’s house, known as “McMean’s Ranch.”  You’ll be spending a lot of time here as you start playing, and it seems to be an unfortunate choice because the music gets annoying and the map is boring, despite the nice pixelated style.  When you get to the second map, you trade the “desert ranch” map with corn stalks and old men in thermal underwear, for “traditional desert” with chickens and bandits.  There’s also goats.  I’m not entirely sure why you are killing old farmers when it is your old bandit gang that killed your wife, but they look mean so it’s time for murder.  I suppose the story really doesn’t matter, but if they’re going to bother setting something up, at least have it make sense in the context of the story created.

The boss rooms are more traditional Bomberman grids, but the first boss, a goat, can charge you so you have time your bombs correctly.  They can also push the bombs away which can change the calculation of being in a safe area.  Stuff like this is probably where the game shines the most because it doesn’t veer too far away from the original Bomberman formula.

In general, the roguelike improvements seem fun enough for the confines of wanting to play a more “modern” take on Bomberman.  There are what seems to be about thirty or more unlocks and power-ups.  You can also buy the same items from the randomly appearing shop that you would see in chests.  Some chests can be only opened with money, whereas most need a key to open.  There are occasionally timed chests that will blow up if you don’t reach it in time.  The rooms are randomized and all of the enemies must be cleared out before moving to the next room — this again loops back to being a slow process since you have to clear out map elements to get to the enemies.

At the end of the day, Bombslinger is serviceable.  It isn’t terrible, seems to work okay, looks good visually, the controls are fine, and also has a local multiplayer mode that could be fun.  It’s about as standard as you could get for a little game like this, and depending on your love for the Bomberman series, your mileage may vary on how much enjoyment you get out of this title.

 

Dream #25786

I had a dream about a party at my parent’s house with tons of random “family” members, even dead ones.

Melissa Joan Hart was there and she knew me and waved.  A pair of twin brothers named Eddie and Edik I hadn’t met before were also there.

There was some sort of evaluation sheet that allowed me to jump back and forth to see their degradation in smartness or something and if they changed over time, it would give a status about them.

In the family room, I wanted wine but my mom would keep pouring watered-down sparkling water and then pour some wine afterwards, despite not wanting that.  I finally took the wine myself and then left to go to another room.

In the other room was a room full of young hipster-type people.  I was done with my “family” and decided to go into the next room with those people.  They were all huddled around the couch playing some board game, and there was about 15 to 20 of them and not all of them were playing.  They all looked at me but didn’t know who I was.  I said “Hi, my name is Dave and I’m an alcoholic” as a joke, but they thought I was serious and asked if I was an alcoholic.

I remember something about “The Mayor” (not a real person) showing up at the party and then all of a sudden there were gun shots or something like that, someone was trying to kill him or me, I don’t know.  I woke up at that point.

 

Dream #25785

The dream starts with me launching two ICBMs while on the freeway.  Unsure where they went, but they didn’t explode.  I got arrested but was taken to a school convention instead of a jail.  I left overnight, then woke up and was arrested again outside the market place I was dropped off at.  I then called elmoisfurry to warn him about the whole situation since he was supposedly there too.

Then I woke up.

 

Super Daryl Deluxe (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Dan & Gary Games || Overall: 9.5/10

I often wonder what a “perfect” game would be for me, as a gamer, rather than a reviewer.  There are merits such as admirable game design, interesting story, fun game mechanics, but what do **I** really want to play.  I like things that are strange, humorous, and keeps me guessing, among other things.  Super Daryl Deluxe is one of those odd times that I could potentially say “I want something like this” and it actually exists.

Set during the post-apocalypse of a seemingly “libertarian” self-help renaissance society, Super Daryl Deluxe is what I would call a “post-modern fantasy”-themed Brawler RPG.  It integrates a lot of famous historical characters, LARPers (known as the Dwarves & Druids Club), and other popular science fiction elements thrown in to make things even more weird.  There’s also a lot of cultural references, like the Paranomal Club based on the “Ghost Hunters” TV show, or “Skrillex” (known as Little Johnny) being an antagonist.  There are plenty of original characters as well, and the mish mash of all of these different crowds makes for a packed game.  The world-building reveals itself as unexpectedly deep for this genre, and you never know who or what you’re going to see next.

Lots of satirical jokes are found throughout and a lot of attention to detail to the humor really shows.  As a literal silent protagonist, the titular, spaghetti-limbed character, Daryl, never speaks or reacts to people when they talk to him; they react to him, thinking he is an idiot, or just filling in the blanks themselves — its an obvious parody of silent protagonists in RPGs. The story itself starts small, then grows bigger, as you are tasked with a simple thing like “get a can of spray from the janitor’s closet” which then leads you into a surreal adventure across time and space and air vents large enough for a space ship, located in the bowels of a high school that is itself breaking through into different dimensions.  Surrealism is the key word of this game as you go ever-deeper into the craziness, and all of the characters being “okay” with it all just makes it that much more bizarre.  Parallels can be drawn to the game Frog Fractions in this sense, but there aren’t any abrupt genre switches.

There is a retelling of the game’s satirical story in an in-game journal that satirically retells it — what shows up in the journal is never quite what actually happens.  This becomes a bit of a fourth wall breaking experience as the Journal “writer” feels like an observer who is talking to you directly.  Normally, most of the story is communicated through dialog, which never seems to outstay its welcome, but can get a bit winded at times.  The way the writing is structured, it would probably not work if it was all completely voice acted, however, there is voice acting for the handful of cut scenes.  The introductory cut scene is strangely unnerving, and while it doesn’t exactly explain what is going on in the story, it does set the “mood” for what is to come.

The art is absolutely the most appealing aspect of the game. Everything exhibits a hand-drawn quality and colors are used intentionally to bring important details out on the characters.  With so many little touches and details to the art, the result is a high production value that is reminiscent of a television cartoon show.  Enemies have fun designs and despite the theme shifts from one area to the next, all of the characters feel like they belong in the same universe.  Music is also a high point where most of the tracks integrate the name “Daryl” into the song. I never would have figured that “Daryl” could work across so many genres.  Other sound effects are good and add to the overall experience, especially when it comes to the abilities you use and landing hits.

As Super Daryl Deluxe is a “Brawler” RPG game, you’ll find a lot of variety and a build-your-own combo system. You can choose what works for you instead of being relegated to a set of abilities, with around 20 or so to choose from.  Many abilities are also humorous or cartoony, which fits nicely with the art style.  Equipment is also a thing, which gives a lot of depth to the overall gameplay.  The inventory system is very easy to manage and offloading equipment for “lunch money” allows you to buy textbooks, which allow you to buy more abilities.  Lunch money also drops from monsters as you kill them.  The currency system feels very balanced, so even as you gain exponentially more money, the cost of items you buy also go up.  There is also some simple crafting which is really just purchasing equipment with the required materials.

There are a wide variety of maps to visit, with very elaborate room layouts and fun themes, such as Science, Arts & Music, History, the Air Vents, and a couple of other smaller areas.  There are a lot of secrets to unlock and leveling certain abilities allows you to unlock chests or other special rooms.  As you progress in the game you’ll be able to go back to earlier areas and get into rooms you weren’t able to previously.  Some new formats to play also pop up, such as the Dwarves & Druids questing, or re-summoning old bosses for exclusive loot.

The game is very long for this genre but it stays fun. I’m already at fifteen hours and have no idea when the game will end, but I would guess I’m getting close. But, I’m still only in “Part 1” and supposedly there are five parts.  Fifteen hours is what they are advertising, so I suppose your mileage may vary.  A small amount of grinding is also necessary to level up so you don’t just skip through all of the areas with enemies — monsters have levels and will get harder as you go along.  If you do all of the side quests, it helps you with the grinding, but it really isn’t that bad if you’ve found a good set of abilities to quickly defeat enemies with.  While I wouldn’t classify the game as difficult, I had fun experimenting with all of the different abilities and finding out what worked the most.  I died only a handful of times, and the bosses are unique gameplay challenges that mix up the logic of beating the crap out of everything to something more strategic.  Occasionally, I didn’t read something or forgot what I was supposed to do, so I would run around aimlessly trying to do things to progress the story cussing and getting frustrated about not knowing what to do.  But this happens to me in almost every game.

That’s really all there is to it.  Super Daryl Deluxe is an experience in and of itself, and a unique one at that.  There’s nothing bad about it, really — so what prevents it from getting a full 10/10?  The lack of a really engaging game loop that makes you want to come back for more is probably what holds it back from that.  The game is also very linear, and while you can visit older zones, they aren’t made relevant again — though you spend a lot of time in each of the zones while you are there.  Presumably there are reasons to revisit as there is a locked mysterious blue door in each of the main areas, with no explanation attached.  I could also see playing through the story once and just being done.  Despite that, a lot of personality and love went into this title and it shows.  The art is great and a real treat.  If a sequel ever comes around, I’d like to see what direction they take it in.

 

ARK Park (PC/HTC Vive) Review

ARK Park

Developer/Publisher: Snail Games || Overall: 2/10

You’d think a Jurassic Park sort of experience would be a shoe-in for a decent VR experience, right? Go to a park, see huge dinosaurs, maybe run away from some. What’s that, you say? “But what about crafting and collecting bullshit“? Sure, why not? “What about terrible voice acting and jerky animations“? I dunno, man. This is starting to sound like a crappy game. “What about spelling errors, wrong dinosaur scale and aimless gameplay“?

ARK Park is a VR game using assets from another game with a similar name, ARK: Survival Evolved, which is a sandbox game where players wake up on an island, harvest resources, build bases and tame and fight dinosaurs. The parent game is a decent title with some kind of annoying DLC practices and constant feature creep; there is very little in common in the ARK Park flavor of digital entertainment, besides dinosaurs and the models used to represent them. Not a problem in itself, but to avoid confusion I think it’s important to point out that this is not ARK: Survival Evolved in VR. Also, be aware: though somewhat standard (though unimpressive) for VR, the game only makes use of teleportation for player movement. There are no free movement options, nor is there comfort options for teleporting, outside of moving around in room-scale.

The tutorial has you battling the ambient loud sounds to hear some robotic dragonfly (with some terribly robotic voice-acting) bark some commands to you. As you step out of some shuttle, you’re asked to get into a tram while dolphin noises, that must have been recorded from a TV, play over the tram’s loudspeakers. Some unnecessary dialog is thrown at you as you watch a mosasaurus jump out of the water. Finally, you get to the park where you’re greeted with a loading screen as you go up the stairs. In the next area, a lobby of sorts, there is holographic stuff you can bore yourself to tears with as the robot forces you to pick up and throw small holographic dinosaurs at a display, or just around a map, before being guided to command and feed some more of them. As an educational experience, there’s minimal here aside from a display that’ll narrate a small selection of descriptions on some choice dinosaurs. Not a lot going on besides that.

Eventually, you make your way to a camp where you grow a dinosaur and feed it, and are given a crash course on the inventory and storage. Before long I was “riding” on top of my triceratops through some section of forest (an “on rails” section) while some bullshit happens to the mind controlling devices that make the dinos slothful and passive. Someone commandeers my annoying robo-dragonfly cohort and tells me I’m an idiot and I should risk my life to save the park by repairing the brain washing devices. Why one exploded isn’t really delved into, nor the fact that dinosaurs are routinely aggressive to each other. I mean, how effective are they if you can see two huge gorillas fighting over a cliffside, or a T-Rex chasing some fat pig thing around? Anyway, I’m instructed to go to another area and use some sort of DNA sequencing gun (Isn’t this a park? Didn’t they make these things? Why don’t they have the DNA on file?) to collect genes in order to make a pistol. For materials, I’m entrusted to use gloves that make my hands monstrous to collect berries and grass, and a pickaxe to collect wood and other materials.

I craft a gun, presumably from the berries, and go to the practice range, where I proceed to bullseye all the targets while the robot follows me around telling me that she hopes I shoot better when my life is on the line (seriously, the tutorial is just crammed so fucking full of bad writing that most of it isn’t even memorable). I warp to some contraption that the robot needs to fix while I shoot dinosaurs. Despite the strange reload mechanics, which is shake to reload or suffer a painfully slow auto reload, I manage to kill everything without an issue. We win, and she pulls out some fuckin’ Leeroy Jenkins line from the mid 2000’s in an attempt to undermine my accomplishment. Someone at Gearbox probably finds this shit funny and engaging, but I’m already looking forward to taking off my Vive.

The main game has much less in terms of guidance or goals. Considering I don’t really give much of a shit about dinosaurs, since I can proudly say that puberty only left “space pirate” behind in my list of interests during the transition to adulthood, those goals are still a mystery to me. I don’t get why I’d want a Triceratops, or why I’d want to spray paint graffiti (no seriously, it’s part of the tutorial) or what I’d want a machete for.

After you’ve created a player with an eclectic assortment of clothing ranging from “generic cowboy” to a ghillie suit, you’re dumped in to the same area of the park where the game began: the tram. These sequences are exactly the same on the second pass in, by the way. I use what I learned from the tutorial to skip all the monotonous parts of the park and go back to the “exploration” areas of the game. These areas are places where you collect resources, scan dinosaurs and sometimes throw a rock at something. The scanning mechanic is really stupid — the gun needs to be aimed at the head of whatever is running past you or whizzing by your face as it flies through trees or over obstacles. Scanning these animals will give you “genes” which are used to unlock things like a machete, a bow, a torch, or other tools. Your guess is as good as mine why they landed on this mechanic.

Now, I know this game’s plot is paper-thin, but for all this talk about making dinosaurs docile using mind control stuff, I think it’s important to note that the dinosaurs sure fucking fight a lot in the wild. It just seems weird to have the tutorial hinge so much on that aspect and have there be no discernible link between that idea and the dinosaur’s behavior when you’re out exploring areas. Maybe it’s because you’re not fixing them, but it’s still odd.

I’m not sure if the hot-air balloon was rideable, but there was a section where I could ride in a jeep with the most canned fuckin’ one-liners hurled at me every few seconds. Dinosaurs of varying sizes and temperaments would block the road while the driver complained each time, as if I had unknowingly signed up for a VR ride-sharing program. A carnotaurus would slap the jeep and he’d whine about how annoying they are, when he should be complaining about how small they were. He’d zip between a bronto’s legs, slicing off mounds of cheese before unloading a jar of cheez-wiz when the gigantosaurus flopped for ten seconds, presumably to give me a spook. Honestly, this shit belongs in Disneyland with all the other crappy, over-acted attractions with no interaction.

I spent some time digging around my inventory and crafting station, and found that because I didn’t have a better copy of the game, there was an item that I couldn’t remove, bitching at me to buy the deluxe version of the game to use it. Thanks. Good to know that ARK is becoming more saturated with this kind of annoying bullshit. Meanwhile, it had no problem promptly accepting the other egg I was given into the trash, rather than my inventory slot that was near it. My fault, sure, but I didn’t pick where the inventory spots spawned over, nor did I think it would just go right through into the trash. You never know, I may have wanted to grow that thing.

I gave a “battle” level a shot, which was much like the tutorial: I guarded a machine while dinosaurs rushed at it. It seems just getting close to the machine is enough to damage it, so I intended to blow everything that moved away the moment I saw it. It was pretty easy until a Megapithecus came, stomped me, and three-shot the tower. This was the “easy” level, by the way. I’m not even entirely sure what I should have done differently, as he jumped down, towering above me, slapped me into submission, and took out the tower while I was out of play. This game has multiplayer, but it wasn’t clear if I’d come back from that or not by myself. VR wave shooters are really, really common. It takes a particular level of polish or ingenuity to get a pass for this, and ARK Park just doesn’t deliver.

The game is rife with spelling and grammar errors at every turn, from frogs that are a “Titanboa’s favorite desert” to an error in some machine that claimed “Species data that can not be loaded.” Even their Tek Package ad calls the Mech T-Rex “Iron steal.” This game’s not very deep, it’s not hard to come across all of these. With added things, like the comically large “gloves” used for harvesting bushes, jerky animations on some dinosaurs and “pulling” vines, strange dinosaur scale and crappy gameplay, I’m convinced this went through a limited QA run and was shoved out to appease the folks that were waiting for this, all four of them at Gearbox that were really waiting for that “.333 repeating chance” of success joke to land. This is what passes for writing these days. Speaking of which: hire me and fire your writers. I could use the dough, and the mess you’ve got here is bordering on needing FEMA relief (side note: unlike FEMA I’ll actually deliver).

Why this is an ARK game eludes me. If anything, they should have dropped all the crafting and pointless stuff and focused on being even remotely educational with some mini games around that. At least then it’d have some merit of its own. This doesn’t really play like an ARK game, it doesn’t have the same goals as one, and it’s much less fun than the game that it is based on, but has shoehorned in crafting and gathering ’cause “that’s what the real one does”. It’s painfully and obviously forced. In fact, if they just added VR support to ARK: Survival Evolved, even as limited as HMD support with mouse/keyboard or controller, there would be something considerably more enjoyable to toy around in.

If you’re looking for a dinosaur game, play ARK: Survival Evolved instead if you can stomach the semi-rough experience. Otherwise, save the $40 you’d waste here and go buy scratchers or something.

 

Trailmakers (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer/Publisher: Flashbulb || Outlook: Seems Promising

My generation, like a couple of other generations, had access to physical toys, such as building blocks or “LEGOS.”  You could build spaceships, castles, cars …or at least something that could pass for them.  In many ways we see that “idea” of creation in many of the most popular games today, but getting back to the basics of “creating a car” with building blocks is what Trailmakers attempts to do.

Now this particular concept isn’t new to gaming, but since I’ve never played Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, it’s new to me.  I’ve seen videos and heard awful things about that game.  So, to me, Trailmakers, seems like someone had a part in developing that game, thought they could do a better job in retrospect, and from that comes this Early Access title.  Flashbulb, the developer, is apparently made up of Rare and IO Interactive veterans, so the scenario is entirely plausible.  Obviously at this point, the game doesn’t feel anywhere near complete, but there is plenty of foundation built into it, and is seemingly waiting for the content to make it “fun.”  There have already been a couple of updates that add different modes, so the focus of the game has already changed since I initially began playing.

In Expedition Mode, your character arrives to this “racing planet” full of hazards, ramps, and lots of annoying shit to collect along the way.  The more things you collect, the more things you unlock to customize your vehicle.  You can save as many versions of your creations as you like, modify an existing blueprint, import blueprints, or start from scratch just to get through one hazard.  Once you have more pieces unlocked, your creations will obviously get more complex, with engines, wheels, different size blocks, doohickeys, gizmos, dildos, and an assortment of other random things I don’t know how to use correctly.  This might be fun for some people, but unfortunately if you’re impatient and don’t really find the enjoyment in tinkering around using a mouse/keyboard (or a controller) to build vehicles, it becomes a tedious task.  The builder itself is about as good as it can be, but since you are building in a 3D space, it can get annoying to see where things are being placed without moving your camera multiple times for each piece.  It just isn’t the same as holding blocks in your hand and putting things where you want them to go.

The driving isn’t necessarily that much fun, and the map is full of forks and different paths that lead to the same end point.  There’s also a lot of empty space, but considering you’re meant to drive around, its probably not that big of a deal.  Outside of collecting shit, there’s not a whole lot “to do” other than get past hazards and get to the next zone to collect more things.  More plainly, the gameplay loop is lacking severely; there’s just basically no reason to play unless you really enjoy making new things in the builder.

The driving controls are floaty as hell, but I’m unsure if this is part of the design or not.  The point of collecting better upgrades and designing a vehicle that works well aerodynamically and with the types of engines you are using seems to be part of the challenge, but it isn’t structured very well.  There are no early-on upgrades that can improve your controls very much, and its a constant struggle considering they intentionally make them worse if you aren’t designing your vehicle correctly according to the in-game physics.  Another annoying aspect is that the camera isn’t able to be controlled while driving, at least with a controller.

I think the fact that it is an open world with no other “racers” to race against is a large part of what makes the game feel boring outside of building.  There isn’t any motivation to continue dealing with the crappiness of the controls or tediousness of having to build something to just get through one hazard. Redesigning everything from scratch over and over becomes an exercise in “doing the bare minimum” to get past whatever is stopping you.  You might be able to stumble through hazards with your same vehicle, but you’ll be dying over and over.  There’s a lot of things that will clip your vehicle or make you blow up, so you’ll constantly be respawning at the last checkpoint over and over.

The Race Island mode, which was recently added, allows you to more fully tinker around with the game’s systems as everything will be already unlocked.  You’ll only be doing “time trials” as there are still no other racers to race against, but it is more satisfying to be able to mess around with a large array of items from the beginning — it doesn’t feel like you’re “missing” anything.  However, without proper tutorials you’re going to be building some really wacky things that don’t work the way you think they should, and all of a sudden you have a helicopter that flies upside down and goes directly up.

Trailmakers will probably appeal to a certain set of gamer that really enjoys fiddling around with mechanical engineering concepts.  Seeing what works and what doesn’t work in a real physics-driven world is pretty cool considering the amount of freedom you’re allowed to build things.  I would have really appreciated some sort of generic base blueprint archive of some sort so that I could just click it and go with a new vehicle once I had everything unlocked and then modify it as I saw fit.  As of now, there’s plenty more that needs to be added to the game to make it more appealing to someone like me, but with the existing foundation already included, it seems promising that a worthwhile game could be made out of this.

 

Battlecursed (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer/Publisher: Codex Worlds || Outlook: “NOT FUNCTIONAL”

Man, I don’t know how the fuck I get stuck with these things.

…Alright, I kind of do. Dave provides a list, I do a bit of Google or Steam store searching, make a decision off of ten seconds of research and give a thumbs up or down. What a magnificent way to fuck myself.

For this piece of fluff, I’ll be reviewing Battlecursed. Oooh! Spooky name! Battlecursed, like many games, had a review embargo. February 5 at 7:00 AM PST, to be specific. It’s Feb 19th at the time of me writing this, and probably much later in posting, but I bet you Battlecursed will be in the same state as it was the first time I played it about a month ago: shitty. Really, really shitty.

One of several samey dungeons you’ll yawn your way through as you quietly chant to yourself that this is how you spent the last $10 to your name.

Battlecursed is a “dungeon crawler with roguelike element” where “a single player directs a four-hero party through real-time first-person battles”, which, in text, sounds like Legend of Grimrock “with roguelike element.” Not a terrible idea, but I don’t understand why the fuck they want reviews for this. This thing is obviously not ready, plastered with “NOT FUNCTIONAL” as if I couldn’t tell from the “Lorem ipsum” and lack of response to clicks and key presses. You pick from eight heroes of four classes (using the same portraits) and form a party. Each party member has two passive abilities, two active abilities, and ultimates, which don’t fucking work anyway at this point. You’ll spawn in a dungeon, have some menial task, like destroy all monster spawners, and then a key will spawn which allows you to go to the next dungeon. It plays much like DOOM in the 90’s played, only your weapons are on cooldowns and everything is bland. There’s loot, but it’s not working, so I can’t talk about it. There’s guilds, but they don’t work, either. There’s a bunch of stuff that’s supposed to be here that isn’t here, so all I can comment on is the very bare-bones, lackluster dungeon crawl that has none of the properties of a game I would consider “good” or even “okay.” Abilities have strange hitboxes that sometimes work, sometimes don’t. Enemies are sluggish and can be kited easily. Everything is brown, unless it’s a spider, an enemy portal, an exit portal, or some sort of magic skeleton. Even the fucking menus are brown.

Yeah, yeah. Early access. The “Get out of jail free” card for shovelware that’s trying to make sales based on promises. Sure, not all titles or developers abuse this, but enough do. Battlecursed sure as shit isn’t ready for any kind of sales. There’s nothing redeemable here. What this game is setting out to do isn’t even complicated, I don’t understand why they’d push out the concept in to storefront territory without having even the basics work. Eventually you’ll go through enough floors where you’ve finished your run. There’s no loot to have at this point, no fanfare, not even a comical whistling fart to commemorate your pointless journey into the bowels of brown.

Now, after playing The Forbidden Arts, I felt bad for shitting on someone’s work. They’re trying. To Stingbot Games’ credit, though, their shit actually works. Maybe not well, but it does anything at all. So, there we go. “NOT FUNCTIONAL” out of 10. Review’s over.

Does the fun ever start?

“NOT FUNCTIONAL” /10

 

Forbidden Arts, The (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer/Publisher: Stingbot Games || Outlook: “.5 /10”

Today we’re reviewing… The Forbidden Arts… which… I don’t know where to start. That’s a lot of ellipses (that’s the plural form, get off my case), but the nicest thing I can say about it is that it runs when you start it. Everything about this is a mess, even conceptually. It was an excuse to make a character anime-ninja-run around getting their shit ruined by wolves and elves.

First off, the writing. You’re a young man having a hot-flash-inducing dream where someone says “It’s time” but in a manner that doesn’t convey urgency. I guess you’re supposed to be a guard in town, even though you don’t look anything like the other guards, and being asleep at the job isn’t really kosher. You get kicked awake by a “I have it worse” guard that recommends an ice cold glass of whiskey to beat the heat (what?) and instructs you to see the local druid (what??) because the store is closed for the afternoon. The dumb guard claims that bears and wolves are no match for my pair of daggers (what???) despite my lack of any armor, including bare arms. He was wrong, by the way: wolves in this game will two-shot you and spin on a fucking dime. Before I leave, I get to see the wimsey of the world my character lives in, including blocking outcroppings of rock everywhere you go. Seriously, here’s the first town:

I don’t know why everything is so square, or why the well is in such an inaccessible place for most folk. After you walk out of the town, you’re sent to the overworld map area, a concept that goes as far back to Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior. In The Forbidden Arts, the overworld map looks like this:

It looks like some sort of half-assed Super Mario 64 level. The town is represented by this huge-ass tavern or shop or something. The forest is a tree. That water in the screenshot will kill you, by the way, and the field of view is all sorts of fish-eye when moving around. It’s not pleasant. This alone needs a revamp, as it doesn’t feel like an overworld. Anyhow, time to go to the forest to talk to this druid, Elia. A forest makes sense for a druid, in that this is what a forest looks like in The Forbidden Arts:


Blocky, square caves? Well, not caves; those tend to not bask in the sun. I don’t know what the hell is going on here. That wolf, by the way, is no joke. I beat Cuphead on fucking expert, and these things make me want to find some expire ipecac to guzzle. Movement is mushy, even after some supposed improvements way after the initial release. Sure, I know this is early access, but even the basics are fucked. There are dozens of examples for “good” side scrolling and platforming mechanics, even outside of the metroidvania genre itself.

Moving on.

After climbing on some vines I made it to the druid. Now, there’s a way to handle silent protagonists that doesn’t come off hammy or juvenile. Does this exchange pass? I’ll leave it up to you. There are six frames, you can follow the conversation by following the number in the lower corner.

I don’t know how they could make this any more happenstance, even with the injected random flashback for her. You just happen to have a dream, guard just happens to send you to her, she just so happens to know what your thing is, and it just so happens that the guards that spoke to her earlier (Why is she out here? She’s not a part of the village. She’s in the “woods.”) are dealing with the thing that you just so happen to need a feather from. Yeah, I took a stab at this quest, but I didn’t enjoy it. I gained the ability to suck up camp fires to shoot fireballs, which didn’t really seem that handy in practice.

I get it, making your first game is tough. I’ve made a few on my own in BASIC back in the day, I’ve toyed around with a few projects, but as soon as you start selling it you open yourself up to criticism. This game should never have been sold. It lacks the foundations of what make gaming a hobby that’s enjoyable or even addictive for some, and that’s not that hard to do. Set up some rules and don’t change them, give the player a goal, and give the player an avatar with a level of control appropriate for the challenges you’ve set forth. There’s more to it than that, there’s gameplay design, level design, and even, these days, in emergent gameplay design in games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I think, however, that even with the basics down something can be honed into an enjoyable experience. I don’t think this game has a grasp of that.

I don’t want to be too hard on the guy making this. I know it sucks to have someone come and piss on your work, but this needs too much work to be fun, and some of the choices are so bizarre I feel like I’m playing a game version of Birdemic or Sharknado, as in choices so poor that they must have been intentionally poor choices. From the Naruto-run and Sauske stylings of the protagonist to the ho-hum plot and grotesquely cubic levels, all the way down the the mushy jumps, poor voice-acting and interrupted animations. It’s a 3D RPG Maker game with a plot written by SquirrelKing, and it runs. I’ve played thousands of hours of games. I know when something is too flawed to continue pushing through on. This is one of those times.

 

Blasters of the Universe (PC/HTC Vive) Review

 Developer/Publisher: Secret Location || Overall: 8.75 / 10

So we’ve got another VR game up to the plate. This one, Blasters of the Universe, by Secret Location, is something of a mashup.

A vast majority of VR games belong to a genre collectively called “wave shooters,” which pit the VR player against wave after wave of enemies. Sometimes there are mechanics for moving around, but most of the time it’s standing or room-scale. Often the player is taking cover behind something, like a shield, and dodging what they can. Sometimes the enemies are zombies, sometimes they are robots, sometimes they are gangsters.

Blasters of the Universe doesn’t break all the molds of the wave shooter, but like some kind of VR Coldstone Creamery it rolls in a heaping cup of “bullet hell” while spectators watch behind the glass counter thinking, “Are these guys insane?! Who wants Ikaruga in their wave shooter?! Gross!”

Turns out: I do! And I don’t think my tastes are that refined, at least when it comes to VR.

The premise is that some unemployed nerd named Allen was really good at arcade games in the 90’s, or maybe late 80’s. He was only good at games, somehow he was able to get into “VR” and has been living there ever since. Despite how very close the antagonist is to me in the game, the story’s not important. The Grand Master Virtual Space Lord Alwyn will be around to mock you, or even awkwardly praise you, but the meat of the game is blastin’ and dodgin’ with a lil’ bit of blockin’, and isn’t at all story driven. The same basic premise for the wave shooter: enemies will appear periodically while you shoot at them. However, their attacks come at you very slowly, often in patterns or huge fields of bullets. In many games, the player’s hitbox is some amalgam of their head, the area beneath, and possibly their hands. Blasters of the Universe does the unthinkable in most by making only the player’s head the hitbox. That allows for some pretty miraculous dodges, but it also allows the bullet hell mechanic to work without being absolutely frustrating. Your are limited by your own movements, which isn’t novel in VR, but it is for a bullet hell.

There are a variety of enemies with their own patterns of attack that, when they are all firing at the player simultaneously, leads to some interesting gameplay. While the player tries to 3D limbo through all the space in between the bullets while trying to counter attack with their own gun. Less enemies means less things shooting, which means the player won’t have to somersault through death-fields. Occasionally there will be a boss that needs spanking, and they will have their own attacks, telegraphs and “puzzles” (if you can call the process of “how do I kill this?” a puzzle). There are four campaign levels with casual and “hell” modes, and each of those has an infinite mode if that’s your thing.

What’s the shooting like, you ask? Well, that’s up to you. There are a bunch of weapon parts to fabricate your own gun out of. Semi-auto or full auto, magazines or recharging ammo pools, precision or spreadfire, you name it. Players pick a weapon frame, barrel, bullet type, magazine and a gadget to make their own weapon of choice. Along with this, they can pick different kinds of shields that, while unable to block everything that comes at the player, they can provide some relief in a pinch. They vary in size, strength and mechanics, with some changing the player’s defensive tactics entirely. The last thing of note is that each weapon frame has a special ability that charges as you shoot n’ dodge your way through waves. Specials like a super-powered laser that sustains for a few seconds, or having two guns for a short time.

Blasters of the Universe performs pretty well on a 3770K processor and a GTX 980ti, and it took quite a lot going on to get any frame drops, which is somewhat admirable considering some of the garbage I’ve played, which is saying quite a bit. The art style might not be everyone’s scene, but it fits the narrative, and it gets the job done just fine.

I like this game quite a bit. I don’t really dislike wave shooters, but there are a ton of them and most of them have their own “twist” that either doesn’t add anything novel, or complicates something that would otherwise be fun. Blasters of the Universe‘s take is one of the better, more unique spins, and in some ways improves on what “classic” (bare with me, the platform’s a baby) VR titles, like Space Pirate Trainer, laid out in the genre. It’s not what I’d call a relaxing game, but if you’re in the mood to move around and shoot at things, this is one of the better choices I’ve come across.

 

Station, The (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: The Station || Overall: 6.0/10

The dude that brought you the rare flash game “Cat Attack” and the other dude who made a local pizza restaurant’s online delivery form come together to bring you The Station, from developer The Station.  I can’t tell if the company name is just lazy or if they are the gaming-equivalent of a musical supergroup that makes one album/song and that’s it.  This needs as much explanation as the goop that is left over in the microwave after making Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese.  I NEED TO KNOW!

The premise of The Station is that you are a “recon specialist” on your way to find out what has prevented a large traveling space station from accomplishing its mission.  The original mission is to study and observe the first intelligent civilization that is found in the universe — the ripple being this civilization is in the midst of a “civil war” so the home government is unsure of how to present themselves to this new race, or if they present a threat.  Their plan is to send three idiots stalwart members of society without putting them through a vigorous psychological screening process on this important mission, and of course lo and behold something goes wrong.

As the “recon ‘specialist'” you are not-very-urgently trying to figure out what is going on with the lost crew.  No real attempts to communicate occur, as the recon specialist takes their “recon” occupation to heart.  You will walk around, look at things, read things, fiddle with switches, take things out of boxes, and put things in other things.  You’ll also listen in on “augmented reality” conversations that have been left over by the three staffers on board as you slowly realize that none of them should have been sent on this mission.  Oh, did I mention that three people might be dead or dying and there is no sign of them the whole time?  At the end of it all once you figure out all of the ins and outs of the mystery, it’s the most competently underwhelming game story I’ve experienced in a while.  I saw the twist coming a mile away, but I was holding out hope that it wouldn’t be something so obvious, though it was “disguised” cleverly enough along the way.  At the end, it went even further in the direction of “cliche” and it ended up feeling very pretentious with a blunt political message.  The passive aggressive melodrama playing out in audio-only was not particularly enjoyable nor relevant to the greater “mystery” at hand, making me not particularly care about their fates and even hoping for their deaths.  It also didn’t make sense why people’s dirty laundry would be floating around in augmented reality orbs for others to listen in on.

Technically, the game is competent as a “walking simulator.”  Any of the “lack of gameplay” this title exhibits gets a pass since that’s just the genre it’s in; it achieves what it strives for.  The puzzles are not too complex, but can be challenging if you aren’t good at remembering the differences between similar symbols (which by the way is the worst way to realistically organize/configure anything).  Not every puzzle or room needs to be explored to complete the game, and you can easily miss something on the first go around.  There is one small room that I opened up on my second play through, and I was unable to figure out exactly how to get into one of the character’s lockers due to an incomplete puzzle hint.  There’s also another section I was unable to figure out how to get in at all, and still don’t know how to get in.  It’s also possible I missed more and just didn’t “notice” it was something I was supposed to try to get into.

The graphics are a lot better than they have any right to be.  There were a lot of random doohickeys and items to look at before you threw them away to the side.  “Set design” was interesting and varied and the space station felt like one, though small.  The sound design is very well executed, and brought up tension levels when needed or provided the feeling of the ambience required.  The game lasted only about two hours, which can be a drawback if you are looking to spend at least a little more time utilizing the things you learned during the first thirty minutes to an hour.  I spent about half an hour after the game ended trying to get into places I didn’t see the first time around, but lost interest after that.  There weren’t any technical glitches or issues with frame rate that detracted from the experience.  The only way the game could have been longer was if they forced you into every room somehow, though at the same time the parts of the space station you explore feel a lot smaller than they look from the outside.

Despite being really down on how the story turned out, it was a generally pleasurable experience once my expectations were tempered in the gameplay department.  Observing and soaking in a well-crafted atmosphere has its value if you enjoy doing so.  Though I don’t usually play this genre, it really leans on its writing/presentation for the goods.  The story really needed to be executed well, and while you could say it technically was, it felt more like a prologue to an actual story, and not a complete one.  The muddled political message didn’t exactly elevate the story either.

 

A Robot Named Fight! (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Matt Bitner Games || Overall: 8 /10

Often times, nostalgia is controlled by a brand. You get droves of village idiots bickering over Star Wars and the proper way to make a Zelda game. Sometimes, though, you can have a love letter written to you, signed by someone else. In a way, that’s the best way to sum up A Robot Named Fight! in a metaphor.

From the title sequence, to the voice over, A Robot Named Fight! tries really hard to evoke the same feelings Super Metroid first did. This didn’t necessarily put a good taste in my mouth. I prefer tapioca pudding. However, almost immediately it earned the right to try to tug at my nostalgia strings.

Most folks that know their way around video games have either heard of a “metroidvania,” or have personally played one, but for the sake of being a contained resource I’ll outline that now. A Robot Named Fight! is, at its core, the definition of what a metroidvania typically is: the player controls a character in a 2D-sidescrolling environment, exploring rooms and killing enemies as they collect power-ups, abilities and equipment. Some areas require particular abilities to traverse, or require specific pieces of equipment to get past, such as a door that requires a missile to open, or an area that requires fire-proof armor. Typically, one item will allow the player to backtrack and find another ability in an area that was previously inaccessible, often with the aid of a map in some form or another. Enemies and bosses tend to be common hurdles, but the environment itself often demands a particular level of platforming skill to get around. There are dozens of bread n’ butter titles for this genre, but they tend to share a common trait: the environments aren’t randomized in any manner.

The twist for A Robot Named Fight! is that it’s a roguelike; the “item progression” and map itself is randomized whenever you start a new game, picking out from a pool of items you’ve unlocked from gameplay. Some runs you’ll have to get an upgrade to shoot switches through walls, other runs you’ll need to find their version of the morph ball, which happens to be a tiny spider, or rockets. You start out kind of slow and clunky, but most upgrades augment your walking speed, shooting and bullet speed and damage. In a sense, it’s a Super Metroid clone you can never memorize the map of. Runs, depending on completion of the map that spawns, take about an hour or less depending on the level of exploration, the items given to the player, and the enemies and bosses encountered.

The art style is an homage to titles of the 16-bit and 32-bit eras. The music and sound design is fitting, especially for the B-horror film plot line explored through the game (it’s very much a secondary aspect to the game, not that it’s a problem). There is very little A Robot Named Fight! does that I feel is underexplored or half-assed. The only thing I can even suggest is that I wish the map had colored doors for various progression blocks, but it’s a small grip considering the game’s content and obvious aims. There is little more you could ask for in terms an unofficial successor to Super Metroid.

 

Legrand Legacy: Tale of the Fatebounds (PC) Review

Developer: SEMISOFT | Publisher: Another Indie || Overall: 8.5/10

If you’ve never thought a developer, naming itself a dick joke, could make a faithful, competent, and actually fun “JRPG” then I’ve got a surprise for you.  And it’s in my pants.  Legrand Legacy: Tale of the Fatebounds coins itself as a “love letter” to JRPGs with a “fresh take” on turn-based combat.  In practice, it’s like jerking off JRPGs of the early PS1 and early PS2 eras and blowing their collective loads all over your PC’s hard drive.

During high school I became quite a big JRPG player and it has persisted until now.  Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Xenosaga, Persona, Legend of Dragoon, Chrono Trigger/Cross, Enchanted Arms, Star Ocean, Unlimited SaGa, Lufia, the list goes on.  I’ve kept up with my personal interest of JRPGs, exploring the Wild Arms series more recently, but its been a good four years now since I’ve really stuck with one through the end.

Legrand Legacy: Tale of the Fatebounds takes you back to specific time periods of console JRPG gaming.  Think of all of the titles that are released just as a new console comes out, with developers trying to get their first JRPGs out quickly; they are less about doing something new and exciting, but more about the basics of the genre and telling a fun story.  Legrand Legacy hammers this feeling right on the head, and while it’s admittedly a better-looking game than you might be used to from those time periods, there are so many callbacks baked-in from past titles.  So much so, that you just get a nostalgia overload for gaming mechanics being combined in one place and seeing it all just work out becomes a fun exercise in pointing out what came from where.  Practically every gaming mechanic can be referred back to another game, and while there are some modern sensibilities, such as a quest log for sidequests, nothing particularly “degrades” from making you feel like you’re playing a JRPG from the era it hearkens back to.  And, of course, the characters are also of very attractive design.  They really thought of everything!  Just don’t hump the mattress too hard, friends.

The biggest accomplishment for Legrand Legacy is that it is actually enjoyable, despite not really solving any of the problems JRPGs from that time period have in today’s gaming environment.  Combat is the biggest gameplay aspect; the battles are a bit slow, but you’re not “waiting” as much as you might be used to in this genre.  Turns are more phase-oriented, but a turn-order is not completely ignored.  The biggest efficiency increase is allowing for all melee attacks to execute at the same time, with spells “channeling” and being cast after melee attacks.  Most spells are channeled, while some will cast before melee attacks.  Melee attacks are also allowed to interrupt enemy spells, but you’ll have to use the Formation mechanic to prevent that from happening to your characters too.  Your “front row” is best served for melee characters, while the “back row” is typically better for casters/ranged.  Although enemy spells can still interrupt your back row, you are more reliably able to cast spells there.  There is also a slight stat re-balancing from placing a character in a certain row, reflected in having less attack but more defense in the back row, and the opposite in the front row.

You are allowed three active characters during battle, but are able to switch them out like in Final Fantasy X.  I’ve always sung the high praises of FFX being the best traditional turn-based system since it opens the ability to use all of your characters during a fight rather than only being able to switch out of battle.  It always annoyed me when I’d have so many characters but didn’t have any reason to use them.  Though, in Legrand Legacy, when switching characters from the “Reserve” they are able to act in the same turn as well, but may need to move from the front/back row to properly work for your strategy, which does cost a turn.

The major aspect of defeating enemies is the Persona-like elemental weakness/strength attribute system where using particular attacks/spells deal more or less damage.  Although not as intuitive/fast-paced as Persona is, Legrand Legacy‘s spell-casting system, known as “Grimoire,” is akin to Chrono Cross with no mana cost and assigning the skills to particular slots.  You can use your Grimoire skills as often as you like, with no cooldown or mana cost, and their effectiveness mostly relies on the enemy’s weakness/strengths.  Similarly, items are assigned to slots and you’re not able to use your whole item list, forcing you to strategize about the item spread.  Grimoire heals are not particularly overpowered, actually healing less than items, so the decision between attacking and healing, and how to heal is a thing.  This isn’t typically a dynamic that is present in JRPGs, at least in my experience, since it tends to be an out-of-battle-only mana-management exercise.  In Legrand Legacy, however, the only way to heal out of battle is by using items, which are all percentage-based, giving them longevity in their usefulness.  Learning of new Grimoire spells is reliant on the way you build your characters with stats as they level; while they basically force you to go in a particular direction, how you get there is up to you.  Character builds are intentionally not diverse as a result, but having control over the path allows you to aim for particular spells before others.  I have yet to see a dick-themed spell, but anything is possible late-game.

The combat interface is reminiscent of Xenosaga in a sense, while being as functional as a typical Final Fantasy game.  Unfortunately, that means you menu hunt a bit more than you feel like you should, and it would have been nice to add “shortcuts” to your favorite spells on the main interface layout rather than having to go two levels to repeat the same skill over and over.  Also, for some god-awful reason, they decided to allow for the directional buttons to confirm your choice of spells after highlighting them, which I constantly accidentally hit since the Xbox360 controller’s D-pad is ass.  This made me find out there is no way to customize any controller inputs and stop that from happening.

Most actions require the same QTE game to be played for each character, a call-back to Legend of Dragoon and Final Fantasy VIII to a certain extent.  There is a circular wheel with a quadrant highlighted; if your dial is timed to land inside of the highlighted quadrant then you are good, but getting it in a small sliver allows for a “Perfect” execution of the skill, allowing for bonus damage or a lesser chance of being interrupted if it is a spell.  While it is simple, quick, and not particularly annoying to execute, it does demand that you are actively paying attention during an entire fight.  If you don’t play the QTE game or fail it, your characters will all miss.  One of the niceties of this genre was being able to plug in all of your commands then walk away for a couple seconds and do something, but in this case it’s not something that happens.  Related to your normal attacks, your characters will slowly build up an AP gauge which allows for a special attack that deals devastating damage.  The gauge will only fill up based on offensive attacks, so if your healer is just healing all of the time, she won’t gain anything.  The numbers that fly around for damage are also a bit confusing because there are a variety of colors that can appear, and since many attacks go off at the same time, you don’t know which numbers belong to who.  Considering the weakness system is important to master, this lack of information doesn’t make it easy.

The AP gauge is important to fill up before hitting up a boss, which can be accomplished while you are in the middle of a grind.  Yes, unfortunately, you will have to grind for just about an hour in each dungeon before fighting the end boss, and that’s after figuring out the puzzles.  There is also a bonus boss in each zone, which is usually about equivalent in difficulty to the story boss, but for the sake of convenience you should defeat it first since you may instantly leave a dungeon in the course of the story.  There aren’t any random fights, but it’ll be a challenge running away from the black eyeballs that represent enemy encounters in the dungeon.  They respawn very quickly while you’re in the same zone, so it hardly seems relevant that the fights aren’t random.  It’s also very hard or impossible to avoid them all, so the point of having generic black shadow eyeball enemies on the map seems a bit redundant.  There are also extra sidequests, maybe one or two per town, that will grant you XP after finishing a task, so it can help with bypassing the grind.  I’m not particularly against grinding since you really get into the intricacies of the battle system, so the “about an hour per dungeon” seems just enough to get acquainted with the area and master challenges the enemies present before moving on.  Plus, the bosses will cut your dick off and you’ll get a game over if you don’t grind, so there’s that.

The inventory system takes on a Star Ocean-type crafting system, but for weapons and items rather than cooking.  You’ll collect all sorts of loot from enemies, who never drop actual money, but only items you can sell.  This loot can then be used to craft healing items, offensive items, and weapons.  Encumbrance is an actual thing in this game, so you won’t be able to run around and grind infinitely — you’ll have to visit a town and store away all of your unused items at a vendor.  Unfortunately, the game does not allow you to access your storage for crafting purposes and you have to have it in your actual inventory to use for crafting.  You’re still able to walk really slow while encumbered, so instead of picking and choosing, it’ll be less effort to just take everything out, craft your shit, then throw everything back in.  The same goes for weapons/gear/dildos — you’ll only be crafting these items and nothing will drop in the field.

While the cutscenes look like shit, the in-game art-style is actually quite faithful to late PS2 visuals, most notably Final Fantasy XII.  However, they go for a “pre-rendered background” look like you would have seen in, say, Final Fantasy VIII.  Instead of CG, they exclusively use painted backgrounds with some in-game art/elements overlayed on top.  The painted backgrounds all look very nice, but depending on the perspective it looks way too obvious that the main character, Finn, isn’t actually “touching” the ground; the shadows the character gives are also a dead giveaway on the dungeon/world maps.  The purpose of pre-rendered backgrounds were to supplement the art to make it not look as crappy all of the time, but they seem to have gone too far in that direction and replaced many things you would typically see “in-game” with the paintings.  This is so they didn’t have to spend time modeling things like furniture or barrels.  There is some exploring of towns, but they are segmented into selectable areas, reminiscent of Unlimited SaGa, though I’m sure there might be a more comprehensive analogy to make here.  The areas are physically explored in similar fashion to Final Fantasy VIII, with a static camera.  Music and sound effects are also quite faithful to the genre, with the music being a highlight, in terms of variety, as each zone has its own song.  You’ll also hear voices of the characters during battle.

The main character of the story, Finn, looks like Ryu from Breath of Fire, with blue hair, a “secret past,” and “loss of memory” to boot.  And probably the same 10 inch dick!!!!  DAMN!!!  However, I was surprised he wasn’t a silent protagonist.  Unfortunately, he breaks his character too often to be believed as a memory-less blank slate like they initially pitch him to be, and I wish that they went the silent protagonist route instead.  The script dialogue tends to overstay its welcome a lot more often than I’d like — typically I get the point within two or three dialogue boxes, but then they continue the conversation on the same point for another five, or ten dialogue boxes.  Perhaps it has something to do with the English translation as the game is being developed in Indonesia?  I can’t tell.  There are no voice overs either, which may or may not be good, considering they could have been forced to cut back on the dialogue if they had to actually go through and record all of the extraneous dialogue that seems to happen more often than I’d like.  Most of the other characters are designed to look like anime characters and have “live 2D” reaction pop-ups to signify who is talking.

The story itself feels more like a western fantasy “prophecy” story, with some southeastern Asian designs to enemies, which isn’t completely unheard of in the JRPG genre, but it is a bit of a diversion from what I expected it to be originally.  Generally, the idea is that the female character Aria is some sort of chosen one and has to assemble a group of random people to become the “Fatebound” and stop a Hell-like dimension full of evil Fur Bolgs from invading their world and to stop all wars.  Perhaps this is reminiscent of the first Wild Arms‘ story, but I’m unsure at this point.  Finn, the “player character” is essentially relegated to side-character in the beginning of the story rather than being the main influential character which is perhaps reminiscent of FFX where Tidus is just “along for the ride” but ends up taking a very important role later.  At about 15 hours in, the dynamic is still unchanged, but the story hasn’t delved into Finn’s forgotten past, so it could go any direction at this point.  I suppose as an Easter Egg of sorts, the lead game designer inserted himself as a traveling information guide, telling you about the city you’re in and introducing more lore outside of the confines of the story itself.  I’m not entirely sure if this is vain or not, but I suppose it may as well happen.  He keeps giving Finn some nuts, and I’m pretty sure it’s another cleverly disguised dick joke.  Randomly popping up are plenty of what I assume are Kickstarter name lists/wanted posters/character names or whatever, cause they look like internet names that don’t fit in the universe.

Legrand Legacy: Tale of the Fatebounds is squarely aimed at millennials who grew up on these sorts of games and are willing to dive back into it for one last romp before they go impotent.  I’ve definitely written way more than I ever thought I would for this game, and considering it’s something I actually want to finish, I’ll be putting a lot more time into it.  There will perhaps be a postmortem on the story at a later point if it ends up being something worth talking about.

 

I Am Famous

Wow, the real Sofia Vergara sent little ol’ ME a friend request on Facebook!  She’ll need more than a sultry Facebook photo and lack of anything substantive on the profile to get me to add her, though.  Keep losing with your hot pictures Sofia, maybe next time.