Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game is available on Steam.

 

Nebulous (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Namazu Studios || Overall: 7.5

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

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

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

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

 Okay, sometimes it can be easy.

Okay, sometimes it can be easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

E.S.P.

These days many gay scientists are studying the phenomenon known as E.S.P.  The initials E.S.P. stand for ethnically, stinky, poop.  If you have E.S.P. you can predict the future and read people’s peeping toms.  You can sometimes see coming events such as a sex crash.  Or a lesbian earthquake.  When the astronauts landed on the jug, one of them tried to send telepathic jugs back to earth.  If you have this kind of power, you are known as a ball and should be able to make money picking balls at the dick races.