Mighty Monster Mayhem (PC/HTC Vive) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Loot Rascals (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Hollow Ponds || Overall: 8.0/10

Loot Rascals is one of the most unique-looking games you’ll ever see.  If for no other reason, play it just to see the art.  The other stuff is fine, but geez man… so much fun is to be had just by seeing all of the “Baddies” the developers at Hollow Ponds were able to think up.  Anyway, enough gushing about the art, I guess.  It’s what is underneath that should really count.  And what is underneath, is a turn-based roguelike loot card game.  There’s a bit to unpack there, but once you get the idea around the game, you’ll need a lot of luck and a bit of strategic-thinking to get far into it.

The story is very basic, but fun.  You are a space theme park employee on your way to make repairs, but what you find is that the planet is full of hostile creatures known as “Baddies” who have completely overtaken the planet-sized theme park.  It’s your job to rescue a machine known as “Big Barry” and after your first death, you will be introduced to a strange pink tentacle monster thing that has an interest in helping you save your friend.  Of course the real motivations are left to question, but that’s the set up for you to play in.  Sound design helps in the world building, including the funny sound effects the Baddies make.  The music is also pretty good, but unfortunately doesn’t feature a whole lot of variety.

Movement occurs in a real-time/turn-based environment.  While always being able to move freely, when you move to other hexagonal spaces on the map you’ll use up a turn, of which you have a limited amount before more annoying Baddies come around.  The turns are important to monitor because every five turns, the time will switch from day to night.  Depending on the Baddies that are around you, you will have to strategically plan out which are best attacked depending on what phase you are in.  If you attack a Baddie while it is your advantage, you will be able to attack first, the idea being that you kill them in one hit, or at least hope to take no damage when killing them.  If you don’t attack at the right time or get caught by a Baddie, you will not have the advantage and you will get attacked first — depending on your luck this may or may not have you meet your end.

Loot drops in the form of cards, of which you have ten open slots.  Loot cards are quite wide-ranging and unique, with different modifiers.  These modifiers can either help, hurt, or give you more flexibility, depending on how you place them on the board.  For example, a card may gain +2 Attack if it is the only one of its type, or if it is placed on an even slot it will add +1 to the card below.  Combining a repertoire of cards together creates a complexity that is fun to mess around with.  Any extra cards can be decompiled for Tokens, which can be used to heal or are spent for other abilities.

Your strategy in moving, attacking, and defending is going to be your greatest help here.  When you advance to the higher levels, drops will become more powerful, and you will presumably be building up the availability of spells and replacing less useful cards.  This progression is satisfying as long as it lasts, but when you die all of your cards will disappear, with a few being “stolen” by Baddies.  These cards will appear in other player’s games, and you may have them returned to you via an in-game mail system.  The same will happen with other player’s cards in your game, and you can choose to use them or return them.  This asynchronous multiplayer aspect to the game has the goal of limiting the slog of trying to progress, since you will be starting from scratch over and over otherwise.  Unfortunately, the “other player’s cards” thing doesn’t seem to be pop-up very much, since presumably people would have to play the game a lot for the cards to populate out in the wild.  But, there is no transparency in regards to any of those stats so who knows what is actually happening behind the scenes.  Other than that, you may just get lucky enough to get the right loadout and get pretty far, but the Baddies scale up pretty fast.  There are also “Card Rockets” that you may find that allow you to sacrifice a card so that you can use it the next time you die, but those are far from assured to find.

Loot Rascals is a fun game, but the roguelike experience can be a bit lacking.  There isn’t that much personal advancement or unlocking to be had.  Your play experience will change depending on the loot drops, but after a couple of hours you’ll probably have seen most of what the title has to offer.  It can be a challenge getting through all of the levels, though.  You can “continue your progress” by saving your current deck as a “Practice Deck” for later use.  Starting a Practice Game will allow you to use your previously saved deck to continue on in advancing through the areas you have yet to visit, but there seems to be little difference in a Practice Game versus a normal game other than having a deck available.  Since the levels are all randomized you’ll see a different map every time.  A Daily Challenge is also available that is mostly only for bragging rights.  And again, since there is no overall progression in the game that influences you to play the Daily Challenge or even a normal game (why not just keep playing Practice Game?), it doesn’t seem like its worth doing.

Recommending Loot Rascals is pretty easy to do, and I had fun while I played.  Content seems to be the biggest gripe in this game, and there isn’t much to work towards that a roguelike typically would include.  No meta game really hurts the title from being something more.  However, being sufficiently weird and humorous is probably worth the ticket price depending on your personality.  I can see myself returning to Loot Rascals once in a while just to see how far I can get.

 

Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition (PS4) Review

Developer: ACE Team | Publisher: ATLUS || Overall: 6.5

Ever date someone? Yeah… me neither, but let’s play pretend. Let’s say they’re nearly perfect for you. The type of person that not only tolerates, but even shares your hobbies with a pleasant personality; no shortage of devotion and enough physical beauty to put the Greek’s description of most gods and goddesses to shame. In short: the perfect fantasy. Now, let’s say with all their apparent assets there is still one thing about them that gets on your nerves; a single stain among the canvas of perfection that is your potential lover.  You try to ignore it but it pops up in every conversation, and when you try to accept it, the very thought of encountering it again causes a sharp chill to run up your spine. Despite all their positive qualities, you can’t help but notice their one glaring flaw and have it mar the relationship entirely until you’re forced to break up with them. Don’t you think that sort of thing is a tragedy?

Laura
It’s not you, Laura. It’s the way you chew your food.

Taking a stab at the Roguelike subgenre, the developers at ACE Team have teamed up with the good people at ATLUS to give you Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition. A 2D side-scroller and an updated edition to the Steam and Xbox versions for the PS4, Abyss Odyssey is a game about swords and sorcery that takes place in Chile. Yeah, that’s right, I just said Chile. *Add wink and boastful head nod here.*

Chile
One of the few countries that actually looks like what it’s
named after. If you twist your head and blink.

A huge departure from most games in general, Abyss Odyssey takes place in a fantasy version of 19th century Chile. The backdrop serves as the ambiance to a rather mystical and dark setting for the tale. It borrows heavily from Chilean lore to infuse the game with monsters ranging from the macabre to the downright menacing, even as the setting may change drastically from floor to floor. The further you go into the dungeon, the more apparent it becomes that the developer, ACE Team, is very familiar with Chilean lore — it is probably a happy side-effect of basing a game in the country where their headquarters is located. The playable characters do not fall far from that aesthetic either, and feel like they were plucked right out of some dark fantasy painting hanging in the corner of some alternative art house. This all comes together to make it feel like you are traversing through some sinister nightmare… because that’s exactly what you are doing.

The story in Abyss Odyssey is a simple one but it does small and effective things to bring it to life. Though the tale of a nightmare becoming reality is a common one, this is the first time I’ve become so enthralled with the concept.  Most of the story doesn’t take place in grand cut-scenes but is instead hinted at through character dialogue and the various documents enemies drop. Once you get the whole story, it brings new meaning to previous interactions and sometimes provides motivations for the main characters. Furthermore, Abyss Odyssey does an excellent job of integrating the game’s mechanics into the story. Wonder how the main characters keep coming back to life? Well, it’s because they are also part of the nightmare and, like any dream, they can be reimagined. Is it odd that the dungeon changes with every play through? Not so much if you consider it a part of a person’s nightmare, ever-changing and malleable to the dreamer’s will. These traits in the story already warrant high praise but that isn’t even the best part.

Every character has a story. From the main characters to even the lowly NPCs, Abyss Odyssey takes the time and effort to give them a reason for existing outside of the gameplay mechanics that they are there to represent. One of my favorite examples of this can be seen in the dying soldiers that can be randomly encountered throughout the dungeon. They are there as a fast and easy way to give the player a chance at more loot but each comes with a story all their own. Sometimes the story is courageous, other times it’s heart-breaking, and can even be downright embarrassing, but each story helps make the world of Abyss Odyssey feel real. Those dying soldiers weren’t there solely for the player’s benefit, they had dreams and aspirations all their own.

screen2
Protip: When you die, you really don’t. Before even reviving at the beginning
of the dungeon the game gives you control of a random mook. Make it to an
altar and you’ll be instantly revived from death.

The music does a fine job of complimenting the nightmare aesthetic. Each theme is a haunting melody of classical beats that wouldn’t seem out of place in your nightmares… only if you were more cultured and/or educated… you swine! Though, the way the game interacts with its music deserves some credit. Often times it can be used as an audio cue of what is nearby, and other times it can ratchet up the intensity of specific encounters. There is a certain enemy whose theme overtakes the current music whenever you find him. This sudden musical clash makes his appearance all the more terrifying during the fight. These sorts of “reactionary” musical queues make the music feel almost as alive as the setting.

So, by now you are probably wondering why, despite all of accolades I gave this game, it has a big fat 6.5 under its review score? You’re probably also wondering why I would start a video game review talking about dating? Well, that’s because I have a good reason for each. First, the combat sucks. Second, allusion is a pretty awesome writing device.  To put it plainly, at its worst, the combat is a clunky and unresponsive mess and, at its best, it is a poor man’s version of Smash Bros. The shielding, dodge-rolling and fighting mechanics seem mostly there, but what isn’t there is the polish the titular party game has gone through over the years. So while the game may have the know-how coded into the game, it doesn’t possess the necessary grace to pull it off properly. The rigid animations and unresponsive controls lead the player to fight against the stage and controls instead of the monsters in front of them. So much so, that I began to dread every encounter because either my attacks would whiff past enemies or my controls would randomly not function the way they were intended. This also applies to the game’s competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes, both suffering from the same bad combat mechanics. It’s really quite the horrible stain on what could have been a great game.

screen8
Okay guys, as usual. No items. That weird-eye-lion-thing only.
FINAL DESTINATION!!!

I could have forgiven Abyss Odyssey for anything other than the combat. This tragedy could have been avoided if the music was lackluster, if the story was bland or if the graphics were 8-bit. Instead, the game falters on its most important aspect, the combat; it drags everything else down with it. Instead of enjoying the world this game takes place in, I’m forced to drop it like an annoying girlfriend. This game could have easily gotten a 9.0 or 9.5, instead it’ll have to do with the 6.5 I gave it. It just wasn’t meant to be.

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

 

Deadly Tower of Monsters, The (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dungeon League (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer: Achebit | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dungeon League is available now on Steam Early Access.

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

 

Aspects TD (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: Sabaton Games LLP || Overall: 7.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Due to a supposed shortage of tower defense games on iOS (I’m not personally an expert on the statistics of genres of the games on the App Store), Sabaton Games thought it prudent to create the recently released Aspects TD.  So, has Sabaton Games developed the experience one should expect from a tower defense game on the iOS?  I suppose the answer would be yes, but at the same time, no.

Aspects TD is a little bit different from most tower defense games I’ve played.  Most of my genre experience comes from the fantastic PixelJunk Monsters, as well as many StarCraft (the first one) Use Map Settings games, among other games I can’t particularly remember.  The most unique thing about Aspects TD is certainly being able to essentially “combat” against an opponent.  More than just defending your base with towers known as Totems, you are assaulting your enemy’s base with your OWN monsters known as “Phantoms.”  Monster waves are sent to each player at the same time, from what I can tell, and you’ll have to be able to time your summoning of extra Phantoms at the right moment to throw a kink in your opponent’s tower coverage in hopes to get some of your Phantoms across the map and through to the opponent’s base.

This game-play design forces a balance.  Either build more Totems to defend or summon Phantoms to attack your opponent.  You automatically gain a resource called “Mana” every time one of your Totems kills an enemy Phantom.  When you summon your own Phantom,  you begin to gain Mana from something called “Faith.”  You gain more Faith by summoning Phantoms — 10% of their cost goes into this Faith pool.  Every ten seconds or so from the time you summon your first Phantom, you will begin to gain Mana equal to the number of your Faith in addition to what your Towers gain from killing monsters.  This process continues until the end of the match, and your Faith number will grow as long as you summon more Phantoms.

Depending on how well you do at placing your Totems, you may be able to be more economical and send more Phantoms out against your opponent and gain resources over time.  The investment can build up into something worthwhile, but depending on what kind of enemies end up being sent at you, you can definitely use that extra 1000 mana to build more Totems rather than waiting for the long-term interest on your investment.  Unfortunately, the game does not reward you for being truly economical with your Mana — you don’t see the typical percentage gain of resources based on what you have pooled.  This can create the issue of needing to keep your Mana at near 0 or you will run the risk of possibly being behind in either defense or attacking.  If you choose to spend on attacking, your Faith will grow to almost ridiculous levels and you won’t have enough time to use it on building more Totems or attacking.  But at that point, you’ll probably be able to overwhelm your enemy with a ton of Phantoms — so that isn’t a big deal, per se.

On top of the prior circumstances, due to the mishmash of enemies each wave, you can’t really construct a strategy other than hopefully having enough damage to get through each progressive wave.  Phantom waves are not usually themed, such as “flying only” or “this type of enemy only” so it can be hard to plan for all contingencies at all times.  Each wave increases difficulty of killing the monsters, because your Totems do not grow in strength and your enemies get more health.  The tuning in this regard seems very exact and they don’t really give much leeway in exploring the use of different totems in different places.  Totems cost a lot and there’s not a huge diversity, not to mention they can’t be upgraded at all.  It feels like they were going for more of a Plants vs. Zombies feel more than a traditional tower defense game in some aspects, but in the end after trying a lot you can get through most of the fights just by trying to perfect your strategy as much as possible.  Overall, the game tends to just be super fucking hard and you can get the feeling you are relying on luck to get past the challenges rather than actual strategy.

Your profile will have experience gain, but for what purpose, I couldn’t tell you.  I can only assume that your Phantoms/Totems gain power as you “level up” but that means you have to lose several games before you gain enough power to actually beat a mission you might be having trouble with.  There is no indication of actually increasing your power through these levels, since when you level, there is nothing that tells you what you’ve gained.  Even if you notice that some of the numbers in your profile change, whether or not they are large enough to affect anything is left to question.

As you play the game, you’ll notice that numbers fly all over the place signifying how much damage your Totems are doing.  These numbers are useless, and clutter up the screen, not to mention they are absolutely redundant since there are also health bars — which can’t be seen because they are hidden behind all the numbers!  There is wayyyy too much information and it is to the detriment of the visuals of the game.  The satisfying aspect should be seeing the damage you do to your enemies, not the damage numbers covering up the actual visuals.  Health bars are more than enough to gauge if an enemy is going to die, and should be all that is needed.

Controls are a whole other issue with this game.  For one, the squares are way too small.  I don’t know how much of an issue this would be on an iPad, but since they opt for a “tap and drag” interface rather than something that is more natural for a touch screen, it can be quite cumbersome to place your tower somewhere you actually didn’t want it to go or on a square you aren’t able to build on.  A more natural option would have been tapping an existing square on the board and then choosing the Totem you want to make from there.  The same is true with the Phantoms — you are “tapping and flicking” them upwards when really all you should have to be forced to do is tap them.  The User Interface can be cleaned up considerably if they put a little more effort into those systems.

Lag can also be an issue — when you have a ton of Totems and a ton of Phantoms going around on your opponent’s map, numbers are flying everywhere, shit is blowing up, and you are left with a game dropping down to four frames per second.  This goes to the root of the issue where the words “less is more” comes to mind.  It may have been a more pleasant experience to be able to place less Totems on the board in a more strategic fashion, with less enemies, and less stupid numbers flying all over the place.  Not to say that you can’t have a game that is designed like Aspects TD is currently — just that there are some things you can do to prevent a clumsy game-play experience that chugs at a low frame rate when too much is happening.

The character art in the game is pretty cool — but the actual game-play art is below what you may have expected at first glance.  The “Phantoms” pretty much all look like crap, but some of the Totems look very cool.  The totems have this weird sci-fi shamanistic thing going on — think Avatar, I guess.  There’s no real explanation as to why Totems launch missiles and shoot lasers or flames, but at least they look cool doing it.  This leads into the story itself.  The story is actually very interesting in the beginning and I was very hopeful for what the game would have in store.  I had been putting a lot of effort into this game since it was so freaking hard, but it came to be my extreme disappointment that the story completely fell off and most of the missions became something like “Oh, I have to defend my people” and “Oh, there’s bad guys over there, but whatever I’m going to go and kill them.”  The story had started with some sort of conspiracy thing and mystery as to where the evil forces were coming from.  Also, I was hopeful that the technology would be explained somehow to add more layers to the story.  But they never really propel that story forward by the time you’re on the 19th mission, which is the currently last mission available.  Not to mention, the 19th mission also feels like it is rigged against you and unless you grind some levels, I don’t see how its possible to beat the mission at all.

According to the game, there are more missions “coming soon.”  It is kind of weird, because the whole way through, you’re “unlocking” more Phantoms and Totems — even in the last available level!  Like, for what purpose am I still unlocking things on the last level?  Is there a time where I actually get to play the full game with all of the options available?  Apparently not.  At least, in this current version of the game.  This isn’t a “free to play” style game in which you expand your options or buy more missions.  By saying there are missions “coming soon” it is essentially saying that you are buying an incomplete game.  It’s nice to have an update to look forward to, but when you’re playing a game you outright bought and you get to the end of the game and you haven’t actually started to use all of the skills you learned about during the progression, you can feel cheated.  It feels almost like the game is too hard on purpose, just to elongate the amount of time you have to spend on the game to get to the last mission, with the last mission being practically unbeatable.  There is also no information regarding when “soon” is or how many missions are to be expected.

There are three different characters to choose from… but you can only save the progression of two separate characters.  Each of the three characters have their own perks, and special totems.  But as you might expect, the story is the same for all of the characters.  I am unsure why you can’t have one save slot for each character, but it’s not like it really matters that much since the game is essentially the same between them.  Save slots don’t even seem very useful at all in this game, since you can go back and play any mission at any time.  It only seems to serve as restricting you from switching characters on the fly and to keep your “levels” contained to only one of the characters.

Oddities arise with the game as well — you will see the occasional bad spelling error or a grammatically incorrect phrase.  I think there also might be a tower that has had its description switched with another tower, but I can’t be too sure there.  Considering there isn’t a whole lot to actually read in the game, it is fairly rare throughout the experience where you’ll encounter these bizarre errors.  Sound is another issue with the game, which is easily solved (hint hint).  The music is repetitive and the sound effects are just annoying.  While I can agree that the music is nice to listen to maybe one or two times, there doesn’t appear to be any variety at all — they keep playing the same song over and over.  Sound effects can be really annoying if they are not used correctly, but like many other games you may play on your iOS device, it’s better to just turn off the sound.  The game has been stable, and except for the massive frame drops when there is a ton happening, there is only one consistent crashing problem.  When you lose, if you press “Next” the game will just quit completely and you will have to boot up the game again to replay the level.  To prevent having this happen, you have to tap “Skip” and then replay the mission.  I have no idea what “Next” is supposed to do if it was actually meant to work.  It’s almost like the game is saying “You suck, you shouldn’t play this game anymore, so let me quit the game for you.  See ya later asshole!”

Currently the game is $1.99 for a release sale, but will go up to $2.99 once the promotional period is over.  Two dollars is definitely not a lot of money, but in the case of this game it might be worth it if you’re really into seeing a different tower defense game, or if you absolutely need something like this on your iOS devices.  Multiplayer is a feature in the game, but can only be played locally, so if you want to take advantage of that feature, you’ll have to convince another friend to pay their two (or three) dollars to get into the game, as well.  I suppose that the multiplayer aspect might actually be “the thing you were meant to do” with this game, but considering Tower Defense is a niche genre already, you’re not going to find someone to play this with unless you make them buy it.