Squacklecast Episode 34 – “Your Post-Oscars Oscars 2018 Trailers Guide”

This entry is part 34 of 34 in the series The Squacklecast

Hi there!  We have a podcast?

Oh, right we do… well get ready for the POST-OSCARS OSCARS 2018 TRAILERS GUIDE!!!  WITH THE SQUACKLECAST!!!

This is Peak Squacklecast right here folks.  Or is it “Pique?”

We talk about The Oscars, and how we would improve it.  A pear is also involved at multiple times.  We talk about the movies we did and didn’t see during The Oscars.  There are other things too, I guess.  I sort of forgot at this point.

We also do a quick recap on Black Panther, our likes and dislikes.  I NEVER FREEZE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Something I forgot to mention in our mini-recap about Black Panther — I would have liked more “panther” type kinetic releases (like swiping and jumping or whatever) rather than a big kinetic cloud coming out of a suit.

We also recommit to doing a Squacklecast more often so that our listeners out there can get more content!  Or maybe we didn’t recommit.

Welp, see you next time!


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.


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.


Quote #25668: Talking in the mic

“But new day Dole walked faster bastard bastard bastard bastard I can like halo you sock soccer soccer the sock and sought soccer sought to the socket socket soccer sought to the socket socket and button uday Dole walked faster bastard basta best


Messrs. Backspace that at that and an ten ten ten ten then then then that in But at But the prop of that, but Pope, ,.  Zero nine eight seven seven six and 54321 supply goal notebook gates of dell Galvin that’ll back”

– davepoobond, talking into one of those text to speech programs like 15 years ago


Mr. Burnfur’s Grading Scale

Mr. Burnfur’s Grading scale is really the worst you could see, he makes it so that people that aren’t in shape have to work harder but still get less points than people that are in shape that do the same work and the same effort, but get more points, in P.E.

At one time in the year when our grades were posted up, half the class had over 100%, one even had 150%, while one person had a negative 3%. Who knows how the hell you’d get negative 3%? It didn’t even exist until Mr. BurnFur posted those grades up.


Space Wars: Interstellar Empires (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer: Desert Owl Games | Publisher: ToHeroes Game Studios || Outlook: Not Good

Space Wars: Interstellar Empires ventures into the bold frontier of slow, turn-based MMO.  Space Wars: Interstellar Something or Other takes the usual issue you have with this genre, speed of gameplay, and doubles the issue by having two phases per turn.  It’s a bit baffling how anyone can have the patience to play when the rule-set is laid out like this, not to mention since this is an MMO where you have to grind to get anywhere.  Uhh… No thanks.

For me, it was easy to make the comparison to Star Trek: Online.  You have warring factions, you get a ship, then you have space battles.  You allocate shields, power, choose which weapons to shoot, yadda yadda.  Except where Star Trek: Online is all real-time, you have a slow and plodding turn-based mechanic in Space Wars.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no qualms with it being turn-based by design, where it becomes an issue is speed and seemingly needless complexity.

As stated, Space Wars has two phases per turn — an Allocation phase and a Combat phase.  Each turn has an Allocation phase where, depending on the stage of the battle, you decide what issues to fix and how to change your combat posture.  Your combat posture includes allocating power to different systems such as shields, movement, weapons, etc.  You can also repair damage if you’ve got any to repair.  This phase lasts until everyone hits “End Turn” but the maximum amount of time is sixty full seconds.  Then, you have the Combat phase where everyone gets their own sixty full seconds to make their moves and attack considering the preparations they made in Allocation mode.  Depending on how many ships are in battle, your turn may not come for another few minutes, and after you’re done with your turn, it could be another few minutes before the Allocation phase starts all over again.  We’re talking about the potential of ten to fifteen minutes per turn at this point, and I already want to open the airlock and get sucked into the emptiness of space.  At least I’d die quicker that way, and wouldn’t have to live knowing how much of a disappointment Star Wars: The Last Jedi was.

The interface isn’t bad, but does feel outdated.  It isn’t really pleasurable to hit the different buttons and modify shields by clicking just the right pixel or clicking multiple times to modify one piece of your Allocation phase’s bells and whistles.  The interface adds to the feeling that there is a layer of needless complexity involved, and many of the numbers/doohickeys don’t feel rewarding considering the gameplay flow.  Each weapon you shoot has a targeting arc meaning you have to be pointing the right direction to shoot.  You can change the direction your ship is facing to shoot with your other weapons in the same Combat phase, so its like why do I have to go through all of those hoops?  Just automate it for me, or simplify it with some other value.  I don’t want to control my weapons through three different mechanics, I just want to control them directly.

On a grander scale the game is based on PVP between factions, which two of the four are currently available during this phase of Early Access.  The map is persistent as each faction vies for more territory and the only way for a faction to expand is to take over another faction’s slice of the galaxy.  Entering on-going fights to help out in this effort is the highlight of this dynamic.  However, if you enter a sector already in the midst of battle, you’ll be stuck in a limbo of sorts until the battle has a “Transit” phase, typically after a full turn has been completed.  I can appreciate that tactics may all of a sudden change when new players enter the battle as existing battles rage on, but it sucks for the person waiting upwards of what could be five or ten minutes before they get to do anything without forewarning.  Also, there is information on what ships are currently fighting, but this can change at any point since players hop in and out all the time.  If you go into the sector looking to fight similar ships to you, you may just end up fighting ships that can one-shot you instead.  Now that’s what I call fun!

There are some PVE missions to take part in.  While the gameplay flow is much less cumbersome, it’s also not as eventful and half of the time you’re searching for the enemy on a large map, hoping you run across them before Alt-F4 becomes a viable plan to defeat them.  There is also an XP system and Leadership Points that you can earn to unlock things and progress your Captain/Crew.  Of course, as a free to play game, there are currencies you can purchase to improve your game and skip all of the grinding and immediately begin to pound asses without knowing what the hell you’re doing.  So there’s, that, too.

Since the game is in Early Access, all of your progress and characters can be reset to scratch at any time, without notice.  Cool!  Granted the game can change drastically from one patch to the next, it doesn’t exactly inspire me to keep playing something coined as an MMO if progress can be reset on whim.  What is the point, especially when it takes a lot of time to get a level or unlock ships?  I don’t even get brownie points for the 10 xp I earned before the reset.


Squacklecast Episode 33 – “Star Wars: The Last Shit I Give”

This entry is part 33 of 34 in the series The Squacklecast

This episode has it all!


Net Neutrality!

Justice League!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

Fuck my life!!  I thought this year was supposed to have good movies!  Instead we just got fuuuuuuuucked.  Fuck you Ajit Pai!  Fuck you Rian Johnson!

Go watch Blade Runner 2049.  It was the only one worth watching this year.


Hand of Fate 2 (PC) Review

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

Hand of Fate 2 is Defiant Development’s refinement of one of my favorite games from 2015.  Technically, it’s hard to remember what I play what year, so I just look at the release date and say, “Oh yeah, I played that in 2015, I guess.”  Consequence, destiny, call it what you will; Hand of Fate 2 has made its way to release.  Has two years in the oven, building on what Hand of Fate accomplished, provided a substantially greater experience to recommend as a follow up?  As you might tell with the score, I am quite smitten with the second, just like I was with the first.

Though it’s been a couple years since I’ve actually played the first Hand of Fate, the sequel proves to be an interesting evolution.  The core elements of what makes the game are still there — you have your story scenarios, unlocking cards, games of chance, and combat.  Hand of Fate 2‘s new gambits include Dice Rolling, Pendulums, and Wheels.  Cards are more likely to have multiple ways to solve them, leading to multiple rewards or different gambits, which provides a fresh feeling to accomplishing the new story beats cards provide.

If Hand of Fate 2 is the first time into the series, the introductory challenge lays out the flow of gameplay and how cards work.  Basically, when you move your avatar’s token onto cards laid out on the table by the Dealer, the purpose is to reach the next room or achieve an objective; each card will present a scenario and your goal is to get through with the maximum benefit or the least amount of damage possible.  In addition to cards you pick, the Dealer will shuffle in his own cards tailored to the particular challenge at hand.

Combat is improved considerably and it feels like it is more likely to occur this time around.  Since the combat is much more fleshed out in terms of mechanics, you now have weapon types that actually affect your performance versus enemy types.  You’ll be mashing the X button still, but not as much as before as there are now finishers, as well as special charged attacks which are built up through a combo meter.  The special will change depending on your weapon and is typically a powerful attack that can do double damage; you’ll also “ignore” incoming attacks as you are delivering the special.  Having allies in battle is also a new mechanic, and opens the doors for Companions with their own stories.  Additionally, it seems that the “mazes” from the first title have been completely removed as I hadn’t encountered any of them in about ten hours of playing.

Variety was a huge problem with the original, and is basically solved in the sequel.  There is a much broader range of enemies, enemy types, and locales to fight in.  Equipment is also more varied and less cumbersome to manage with the updated inventory screen.  Many of the powerful pieces of equipment require a new stat called Fame, which you earn by completing certain encounters or cards.  There are also new roguelike features introduced, such as starting supplies or weapons; these are unlocked and improved based on progression/challenge mechanics.  Some cards carry through their rewards through different games which can help you as you retry challenges.  You also have companions with their own respective buffs, and each have their own story to progress through.  Your companions will help you in combat and also provide a special combat ability, such as negating damage from an attack or running through all of your enemies in a straight line.

Nearly all of the cards are new, but there are familiar events/equipment that will call back to the previous title.  Two new tiers of cards, known as Platinum and Brimstone will provide special boosts or challenges which may come at a good or bad time depending on your current progression goal.  The game limits each depending on the challenge at hand.  Challenges for each of the scenarios/bosses also feel a lot more varied and change up the formula significantly as they are more entwined with the story.  Of course, the challenge is still there and you’ll be replaying challenges multiple times, of which there are about twenty to go through.

The meta-story follows the Dealer from the previous entry after his defeat by your previous avatar.  He has all new voice lines, some new animations, and the setting itself is in a caravan traveling to an unknown location.  You can choose your challenges on a pretty top-down world map, where previously you just chose cards in a locker.  The story of your new avatar comes with the cards on the game board itself.  Unlike the previous title where you fought alone, you’ll also fight with and learn about Companions through their own stories and as they interact with your character through text.  Another big change is the ability to customize your avatar, being able to pick male or female, and among many different face/skin types.  Unfortunately, some of the faces look a bit dopey since they have big mouths and some have cross-eyes, so it’s kind of odd that this wasn’t fixed by release.  Some choices are less distracting than others, however.

Though Hand of Fate 2 is a better game than the first, I rated them the same.  While there are plenty of new additions and refinements to be happy about, we’re not talking about a perfect game by any stretch.  Frustration can set in from repeatedly doing the same challenges over and over, as only a few open up at a time, and if you haven’t gotten lucky with unlocking more powerful cards you can feel stagnant.  I found Hand of Fate 2 to be good in small doses where I played something else for a couple hours, switched to Hand of Fate 2 for about thirty minutes to an hour, then went back to playing the previous game again.

Currently the game launched without the Endless Mode, but that is supposed to “come soon.”  The same happened with the first title as the Endless Mode was shipped at a later point.  Over the year I had Hand of Fate installed on my computer I saw a lot of updates download through Steam and I would expect Hand of Fate 2 enjoys the same sort of support with new cards, balance changes, and features.

Like most things, Hand of Fate 2 is available on Steam.


Bear With Me: Episode 3 (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pylon: Rogue (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Morphite (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tangledeep (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer/Publisher: Impact Gameworks || Outlook: Positive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Masquerada: Songs and Shadows (PC) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Squacklecast Episode 32 – “‘Soft’ Reboot”

This entry is part 32 of 34 in the series The Squacklecast

Another year has passed, and for some reason we finally remembered to do a Squacklecast!

Lots of things have changed, and we talk mostly about Wonder Woman, Batman, and Twin Peaks.


We talk about MTV, Ryan Seacrest’s dildos, how Carson Daly will share a burrito with you, and a 15 minute long awkward “ending” to this week’s podcast.

Since my old iMac finally was booted from having an up to date version of Skype, I had to record on my new computer with a new configuration.  We might sound a little different than usual, but hopefully it isn’t bad.  It is easier to set up though, so we may once again be able to do these more often.

See ya next time!


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.