OH BOY, let me tell you a tale.
I knew about the “three months of Xbox Game Pass for one dollar” deal for a while, and I even used Microsoft Rewards to get a $5 gift card so I could get it without actually spending money. However, I thought to myself “I’ll wait until after the holidays, when my brothers go back home. That way, I’ll have more time to play.” Alas, by the time that happened and I went to buy it, the deal was over and I could only get one month for a dollar! To make things worse, the Microsoft Store app on my gaming desktop stopped downloading anything; whenever I tried, it would show up in the download queue and not progress (and since the app is baked into Windows, it’s not like I can just uninstall and reinstall it). I did what I could in an attempt to fix it (going into settings to “repair” the app, typing commands into PowerShell, etc.), but no luck; the only other options left would involve wiping a lot of the files I had downloaded, which I didn’t want to do since they’d take days to re-download, with no guarantee of success for what I was trying to do. This meant not only that I missed out on two months of Game Pass, but I could only download and play these games on a much older computer, one that is far less powerful and inevitably lagged when running the more detailed games (even on their lowest settings). This is easily the worst thing to happen to me this whole decade. ;P
I’ll still try to give the games a fair shake, though. First up:
This is a metroidvania. You start off only being able to move and jump, but you get more abilities as you progress, like an attack, a wall jump move, and even a move that lets you grab a projectile and launch yourself from it, sending the projectile in the opposite direction. Your attack is a short-ranged projectile that auto-targets the nearest enemy, so not only does attacking not interfere with your movement at all, but you also won’t have to worry about aiming or even facing the enemy. Also, designated save points are few and far between; for the most part, you have to save by spending a point on your magic meter. While that may seem scary at first, it can be done almost anywhere, and the game is pretty good about giving you more magic (especially as your max magic grows, eventually surpassing your max HP).
Something I liked about the game is that it isn’t afraid to have challenging platforming segments. Specifically, there’s a part near the end where the floor is lava, and you have to grab onto the enemies’ projectiles to launch yourself to the other side of the room. A bunch of other metroidvanias I’ve played have pretty dull level design since the focus is supposed to be on “exploration” or something (and then when you do explore, you hit a roadblock that needs a later power-up, so you gotta go back to where you were), but games like this one, Battle Kid, and the Metroid games are why I still keep metroidvanias on my radar. It even has a pretty solid difficulty curve, which I’ve noticed has become increasingly rare among games.
There were some things I didn’t like, though. Not far in the game, you’ll encounter some logs covering holes, and at first, I thought I needed to go back and get another power, but it turns out I had to bait an enemy into shooting it with a projectile, something that wasn’t conveyed before. The game also has a tendency to make hazards blend in with the environment too well, and I’m not just saying that because I had to play at a lower resolution; here’s a high-res screenshot of one of the flame cannons (something you likely wouldn’t notice during game-play unless it was already shooting flames):
There’s also this one area with a gravity changing gimmick that never shows up again: as long as you’re holding the orb, you can walk on red platforms, some of which curve into the walls and ceiling, and walking across them shifts gravity so that now you’re on the walls or ceiling (letting go of the orb turns gravity back to normal). The problem is when it tries to have standalone platforms change the gravity. You see, the mechanic is introduced with these giant, broad curves, clearly transitioning from the ground to the wall, etc.:
But then the game introduces these platforms, and you’re supposed to figure out instantly that they also change gravity if you keep walking??
Those look no different from practically every other platform in the game, especially these, which not only don’t change gravity (you’ll just end up walking off them if you try), but are also introduced before the block in the previous image, making things even more confusing.
Why couldn’t the gravity-changing platform have been a proper circle instead of a square with the edges filed off? Or heck, change the level design a bit so that the player would want to try walking off one instead of having the first one be surrounded by spikes on all sides? This is such an easy problem to fix.
Also, instead of bosses, the game has escape sequences. The first one is in a vertical climb where you have to run away from a flood. Not a bad concept, but the flood has rubber-banding AI, meaning it will always be right behind you no matter how well you do on previous segments. Because of this, I’m convinced that it isn’t possible to get some of the experience orbs without taking damage.
The second one is in a collapsing temple, and while it isn’t always a vertical climb, there are still way too many parts where you have to go up while parts of the ceiling are falling down, giving you less time to react. This is especially an issue when you’re going up and suddenly there’s a ceiling covered in spikes that’s also a dead end, so you have to go back down while also being chased by the falling spikes and duck into the nearest horizontal turn so the falling spikes can break through the floor and reveal the actual path forward. This is followed by a segment where you have to backtrack through an earlier area, but the antagonist is watching, so you only have a couple seconds to run between background objects before being killed. It’s much better designed, though despite there being plenty of safe areas, you can’t save until afterward, so you may have to re-do quite a bit just for another chance at the part that killed you last time.
The third (and final) one takes the worst parts of the second escape sequence (bounce to reach a higher platform while lava rocks are falling from above, also some branches will collapse when you touch them while others are safe, and we won’t tell you which ones!) and combines it with the “escape the antagonist’s attack” thing, except now the time between being seen and being attacked varies between each segment of the escape (and you can’t even see the antagonist, unlike last time), so you never know how much time you have. This is also the last part before the credits, so it’s a bit of a disappointment to end on.
Overall, I did like the game, but I don’t think I’d recommend it at full price since it does have some rather noteworthy problems. Still, though, I’m looking forward to the sequel; I can’t wait for it to be free on Epic. Next game:
This is a hack ‘n’ slash with RPG mechanics. You have a melee attack that automatically moves you forward for the last couple hits in the combo, a ranged attack that not only makes you move much slower, but also takes a second of aiming before you can shoot straight, and a dash move that can only be used three times in a row before pushing the button just causes you to spin in place and delay the dash’s recharge. You can also stop in place to spawn a shield, but you still take damage even if an attack hits the shield part. Also, you get knocked back and stunned for a bit each time you’re hit, but you don’t have any invincibility frames.
First, I should point out that the game fails my one criteria for good graphics: being able to distinguish what’s what from a glance. It’s fine for the most part: edges of the floor are clearly outlined, and enemies and other hazards are easily distinguishable from the ground. However, the game also tries to have jumping segments and elevation, and this is where the problems arise. See, it isn’t uncommon for these jumping segments to have multiple elevations mixed in with each other (instead of just one or two), but there’s no easy way to tell if that next platform is in jumping distance for your current elevation or if it’s actually a taller one located further south. Sure, it’s possible to see a platform’s height by counting how many wall tiles are between it and ground level, but again, that’s only if you can see the wall, as it could be blocked by an even taller platform. Why couldn’t the game give the ground a brighter palette for higher elevations and a darker one for lower elevations? The sad thing is this flaw was probably an intentional part of the game’s “challenge”; after all, jumping is done automatically after running off a ledge or walking into a one-unit-high wall (the latter of which slows your movement). There’s no designated jump button, and thus, no actual platforming challenge; the only way you can mess up in these parts is if you don’t point the stick in the right direction, and the only way that can happen is if you don’t see where you need to go (and the only way that could happen for these parts is if the graphics don’t do their job).
Credit where it’s due, though: this is one of the few hack ‘n’ slash games to utilize level design. The game may introduce enemies in empty arenas, but they’ll show up later around other enemies and/or in an arena with holes that you need to avoid falling into (and sometimes can knock the enemies into). The first dungeon even has actual puzzles between battles (even if they are pretty easy ones), which is something I wasn’t expecting. Too bad they get phased out in the second dungeon, so by the time you reach the third and fourth, the non-combat parts are all just switch-hunts, timing, and the occasional introduction of a new mechanic that requires trial-and-error to figure out (except for the brief moment in the final level where it brings back the first dungeon’s puzzle mechanics, having actual puzzles once again).
Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to like the game for getting right what so many others get wrong, it ruins its goodwill with pretty much everything else it does, especially its RPG mechanics. The start of the game is pretty linear and not too bad, and even when you reach the overworld and can head over to the first dungeon, there aren’t too many problems outside of side-quests being either switch-hunts or killing a bunch of the same enemies (one of which is a mole that stays underground for most of the fight, making it even more boring to fight). Even the part where a side character challenges you to a duel, tells you that you’re under-leveled, and has attacks that aren’t telegraphed because they’re modeled after your own, isn’t so bad since you don’t have to win those duels to progress (though having it be a “best 5 out of 9” is an absurd waste of time in my opinion; why couldn’t it just be one round, or at least a “best 2/3”? There’s even one point where you’re forced to do three duels in a row–three “best 5 out of 9” matches–before you can progress, and again, you don’t have to win; you just have to do them). The MAIN problems start to show up when you make it to the first dungeon and are once again told that your stats are too low. See, unless you actually grind on those side-quests, you won’t have enough money to buy the only available attack upgrade, meaning enemies in the dungeons will take a while to kill (though it’s still easier than parts of the overworld up to this point since you often only have to deal with one or two enemies at a time in the first dungeon). I did happen to find an attack upgrade in the first dungeon, but that was the only time that happened; I had to buy equip-able items every time afterward. However, it gets worse when the game introduces bugs and ice. See, ice is blue, and when the bug enemy is about to charge at you, it turns blue, and to top it off, the game makes you fight multiple bugs at once (starting with four, then going up to like twelve or something, then having so many that the enemy counter goes haywire, and don’t forget they still take a while to kill if you can’t afford the attack upgrade as a result of not wanting to do the boring stuff), meaning it’s hard to see if any of the bugs are about to attack you. At least the first dungeon’s boss isn’t so bad; only issue is that if its flame cannon hits a bomb, the bomb auto-targets you instead of moving in the trajectory it was hit like it does when you hit a bomb.
But then it gets worse. See, before you can access the second dungeon, you have to do a side-quest that involves going into a cave and killing sand-worms; it’s basically a mini-dungeon with the arena walls showing up and blocking all exits until all the enemies are defeated. The problem is with the sand-worms’ attacks: basically, one is a regular rock that goes in an arc into the air before coming down (you have to watch its shadow to see where its headed), and its second attack is a slightly bigger rock that looks and acts nearly identical but splits into smaller rocks that fly in random directions when it hits the ground, effectively giving it a much larger area of effect. However, these rocks have a much more sinister issue: they’re GUIDED. You can even test it yourself: stand to the lower-left of a sand-worm, wait for it to launch its rock, then dash to its lower-right and you can see the shadow visibly alter its trajectory to head towards your new location. At least with regular cheap shots, you can try to look out for them when you get back to where you died, but with this, it could be several attempts before you learn their true nature (and you have about the same amount of time to dodge both, its just that this one is much more deceptive about exactly when that is). Worse still is that the last sand-worm you have to defeat is on a pillar surrounded by smaller pillars you need to jump across, but they’re placed so close together that if you’re targeted by a rock, there’s no way you can avoid it without jumping down from those pillars and starting over (and if you’re hit, you’ll be knocked off of them and have to start over anyway). This is the real tragedy with this game: a piece of level design that could have been fun in a different circumstance is instead paired with unfair AI, making it literally impossible unless you have an AI-controlled ally to distract the sand-worm’s attacks (or vice versa since there’s no way to guarantee who it will attack).
While the game may not get quite that bad afterward, it still manages to find all new ways of being bad. First of all, after this point, almost every attack is guided; okay, fine. But when you reach the second dungeon, you’ll see it follows the same formula as the first: start off okay, but slowly spam more enemies during combat parts, and unlike the bugs (which only attacked one at a time), these enemies will gang up on you: one scorpion will dig its tail underground while another one will come at you from another angle to do a regular melee attack, and right when that’s over, another one will be starting up its attack. Honestly, the level design in this game isn’t a way to expand on what you’ve learned and offer a more clever challenge, but instead to compensate for the fact that you will (or should) have upgraded your equipment by then; the game all but has unavoidable damage as part of its foundation. If it isn’t clear by dungeon 2, it will be clear when you make it to dungeon 3 and 4 where you have to deal with the flying fish that shoot three guided projectiles at once, each one moving slightly faster than your top speed and not dissipating until after at least five seconds, at which point another fish will have fired more of them, meaning you literally won’t be able to counterattack them without getting hit since both of your attacks interfere with your movement. Or perhaps you’ll realize it during the mandatory side-quest before dungeon 5, where you have to fight six electric cats at once, who not only deal contact damage and drag you towards them when their guard is broken AND gang up on you with their attacks like the previous enemies, but with each attack that hits, they can inflict you with a status effect that stuns and deals damage to you at regular intervals, further opening you up to attacks that you might have been able to avoid (and when you make it to the latter half of dungeon 5, you’ll have to fight WAVES OF THEM). I get that the game was meant to be challenging, but unavoidable damage is never fun. Of course, the game’s challenge was never about avoiding attacks and countering during an opening; it’s about rushing forward and dealing as much damage as you can before you yourself are inevitably attacked; it’s about having enough attack power to get rid of problem enemies before they have a chance to do anything and having enough defense power to live through the attacks you had to ignore to kill the previous enemies; it’s about taking what could only work in a turn-based RPG and trying to force it into a real-time hack ‘n’ slash. Hell, there’s even a slug/snail boss between dungeon 2 and 3 that implies the devs think more HP = more difficult because, despite the boss being able to spawn little enemies to attack you, its pattern is far easier to dodge than the dungeon 2 boss’s pattern! As you may be able to guess, the only thing it has going for it is a bigger health bar. If any of you ever wondered why I don’t like RPG mechanics in action games, this game does a pretty good job of realizing my worst fears about the trend.
Because of the game’s approach to combat against regular enemies, the bosses are much more fair in comparison (dare I say even fun at times) since there’s only one enemy you have to look out for, meaning you actually have a chance of dodging them. Not to be outdone, the bosses have a few cheap hits in their arsenal. The dungeon 2 boss shoots a laser at the start of its second phase, which is not only guided and fast, but comes back around for another two attack attempts, leaving very little room for error even after you figure out how to dodge it. The rabbit hologram spawns so many projectiles so quickly that, again, it feels like the devs were trying to compensate for the fact that you can have AI allies during this part (though it’s also possible to use the walls to block projectiles, but then you also can’t hurt the boss and the boss can just jump over said walls). The monkey in dungeon 5 has a charge attack that requires, if not a frame-perfect dodge, one that’s pretty darn close (because again, with the attack being guided, dodging too early will just have the boss alter its trajectory), which might just make this boss the hardest one in the game. The whale boss at the end of dungeon 5 has the option of letting you choose which boss to kill first, but it deliberately obfuscates the objectively easier choice behind the same tells it uses to indicate attacks, meaning you’d only know about it if you’re slow or you read some dialogue after the fight is over. The final boss is actually one of the easier ones, but to compensate, it’s absurdly long (longer than those “best 5 out of 9” duels) to the point where you get a checkpoint when the boss is at half HP, and the second half of its second phase spawns little enemies that have their own attacks incongruous to the boss’s attacks.
To add insult to injury, one of the dream sequences goes from being just a cut-scene to a full-on walking simulator, but if you go the wrong path (out of the several ones available), the camera will slowly pan toward the end, then slowly pan back to your character, who is slowly walking backward before handing control back to you. Also, when you do stumble across the specific path the game wants you to go down, you’re sent back to the center of the map and have to do it three more times.
To add even more insult to injury, the game has a bad ending if you just do a casual play-through. It at least gives you a general idea of what to look for and where, but that area is really huge and empty, and you’re encouraged to explore it well before you reach the point where you can access what would get you the good ending.
Needless to say, I wouldn’t recommend this game. It does get some little things right, but just like when a platformer tries to be a hack ‘n’ slash, it doesn’t seem to understand why people like those elements since they’re all but ruined by the rest of the game.
P.S. Some of the side-quests even interfere with exploration: one of the mandatory ones between dungeon 2 and 3 has an enemy arena show up in a formerly-empty corner of the map (which, by the way, still doesn’t show itself until after you walk inside it).
MINOR LORE CRITICISM: I get that the protagonist can’t talk and doesn’t know sign language, but she can read and move her fingers, so why doesn’t she just spell out what she wants to say by making letters with her hands? How does nobody think to suggest this?
This is a metroidvania. You start off with a dodge-roll and a melee attack, but also a much faster ranged attack that always shoots straight. It feels like the game wasn’t designed around the player having a ranged attack since quite a few bosses can simply be pelted from afar while they attack the air. I think the only exceptions are the giant, the white dress lady, and the knight (who’s immune to arrows). Even the final boss was really easy (definitely easier than the knight). By the way, pushing select brings up the map, but doesn’t pause the game. However, if you push start, that pauses the game, and you can select an option to view the map from the pause menu while the game is paused.
This game has the opposite problem as the previous one: it’s just too dull. Most rooms, despite being pretty decently sized, only have three to zero enemies (some of which, again, can be pelted from afar with arrows or don’t react at all if you come at them from behind); even in the final area, things don’t get that tricky outside of the knight boss. Of course, just because a game is pretty dull overall doesn’t mean it can’t also have some cheap hits: various rooms will spawn enemies directly on top of you if you wait too long (like, for example, if you’re looking at the map after pushing select), and one of the areas will suddenly have a flurry of arrows shoot from the floor right when you get next to those floor tiles (at least those tiles are distinguished from normal ones, though). Also, there’s a transparent ghost dog placed in front of a bookshelf in a dark vertical section that can barely be seen; every time I went through that room I’d inevitably hit the dog and take damage because of how hard it is to see it.
Oh, and this one also has a bad ending, except there’s no indication of what you need to do differently (and at this point, I had explored 95% of the map and didn’t feel like retracing most of my steps just for the chance of stumbling across whatever I needed).
But yeah, most of the game is pretty dull and boring. Not recommended. Next game:
This is a turn-based tactics game. Different units have different strengths and weaknesses, and many maps have properties that can be captured, some of which let you build more units. If you’ve ever played an Advance Wars game, you’ll feel right at home with these mechanics (and you’ll even recognize a few of the units as the blatant re-skins they are). There are three major differences between the Advance Wars games and this game, though:
1) COs are their own unit on the map. They’re strong against almost every unit and can capture properties. Likewise, their CO power is based on how many units they kill (instead of the army as a whole) and, when used, affect the area around them instead of the whole map. Needless to say, killing the CO automatically ends the match, replacing the Advance Wars “kill all units” victory condition. All of this helps some of the base vs. base missions be less repetitive since you often have the deck stacked against you and need to use your overpowered CO to help even the odds, or maybe the enemy CO is aggressive and you need to play the map more defensively.
2) Only neutral properties can be captured (but they can be captured in one turn, regardless of the health of the capturing unit); captured properties have to be defeated. They can be attacked by almost any unit and become neutral when defeated; likewise, they counterattack if they aren’t defeated, and unlike every other unit, their attack strength isn’t based on their health, instead being a fixed amount for each type of unit. They still can’t instigate an attack, though.
3) On top of usual advantages and disadvantages, all units (except COs) get an attack boost if certain conditions are met (though the conditions are different for each unit type). For example, Aeronauts get an attack boost if they’re on a mountain tile and dogs get an attack boost if their target is next to another dog. The game calls these “critical hits,” but if you’re familiar with how that term is used everywhere else, you’d understand why I’m avoiding calling them that.
Also, both COs and properties regain some health per turn.
Another noteworthy difference is that, for some missions, the opposing army has Fire-Emblem-style reinforcements show up on the border of the map (with reinforcement locations indicated by a road leading off the map). I don’t have much issue with these since it only happens if they don’t start with any bases, and they always appear from the same locations that the first couple waves spawn from (those first couple waves also appear far enough away that it isn’t much different from the enemy army buying them from a base). They do result in some of the harder missions in the game, especially since reinforcement locations can’t be blocked like in Fire Emblem (the units will just appear on the next unit over).
There are a bunch of minor differences, like certain units being infantry (and thus able to capture properties) unlike their Advance Wars counterparts, or like your mission ranking being based solely on how quick you win and not on how many lives you feed into the war machine, but those are better discovered during game-play than on a wordy internet post.
For the most part, the campaign is pretty solid. There are times you’ll have a tough mission immediately followed by one where you’ll get an S-rank on your first try, but the Advance Wars games aren’t a stranger to having a wonky difficulty curve, either. Really, the only parts of the main campaign that I didn’t like were when there’s a group of enemies standing still, waiting for you to reach a certain point on the map to move out. This is because, unlike the parts where you need to get a certain unit to a certain location to win, the threshold to trigger their advance isn’t indicated, nor is their any certainty of how many of the stationary units will be activated (it could be all of them, or there could be another trigger later on for them). This is especially egregious in the final mission: not only does the game introduce a mission-exclusive mechanic here that you need to plan your turns around, but it suddenly takes that mechanic away as soon as you move a unit into the zone that triggers the final wave of enemies (a zone that doesn’t even reach the end of the peninsula, by the way). In other words, not only are you at a disadvantage after having planned for something that didn’t happen, but now you also have to deal with the final set of enemies getting the drop on you. Oh, and did I mention that, for this mission only, you lose if even one of your units is killed? Yeah, this was the only mission I used a save point on since having to redo the same 17 not-that-difficult turns over again just for another chance at the game’s gotcha moment isn’t my idea of fun.
However, the campaign isn’t the only mode in the game: there’s also arcade mode and puzzle mode. Arcade mode is incredibly bland: it’s just five maps in a row, but they’re all symmetrical (save for giving the enemy an extra infantry or two to balance first turn advantage) and usually include a split path that the opponent completely ignores, meaning you need only send one or two infantry units over there to capture all the properties and overwhelm the enemy with high-cost units. I admit I played on normal mode, but if the campaign’s difficulty selection is anything to go by, that wouldn’t affect the game’s AI. Literally the only noteworthy part of arcade mode is that it’s the only part in the game (outside of 2-3 turns in one mission early in the campaign) that has weather effects, but they don’t have that big of an impact (does wind even do anything?).
In contrast, puzzle mode might be the best part of the game. Its entirely focused on pre-deployed missions that have to be cleared in one turn, so even if you lose, there isn’t much you have to redo. This mode also has some of the most difficult missions in the game, and I’m always up for a fair challenge. My main problem with this mode is that the solutions to a couple of these puzzles involve obscure effects of certain CO powers. For example, Emeric spawns a crystal next to himself that increases the defense of units in a 3-tile radius, but mages gain an attack boost when their defense is high enough (which normally only happens when they’re on a forest or mountain tile). Needless to say, this extra detail is rarely ever relevant in the campaign, but is crucial for Emeric’s puzzle mode missions. Nuru’s is a bit more sinister: while the description for Emeric’s power goes out of its way to tell you that it activates mages’ attack boost, the description for Nuru’s power makes absolutely no mention that the list of available units you can spawn is based on whether or not you own a property that can build said units (for example, if you want to spawn a warship, you need to own a dock first). The only way you’d figure this out is to infer it based on your play-through of the campaign. Beyond that, though, the worst thing it does is spam a bunch of red-herring units (both for your own army and the enemy), meaning you have to spend some time sifting through the mess before you can start solving the puzzle (I swear, these missions don’t necessarily get more difficult as you go, just more cluttered).
Lastly, there is a post-game mission that goes over what happens after you beat the final boss, but not only does it require 100 stars to access (I only had 88 after a casual playthrough of the campaign), it is also really long (A-rank turns is FOURTY EIGHT!) and kinda boring, especially when compared to the previous mission in the campaign. If you don’t have enough stars after finishing both the campaign and puzzle mode, I wouldn’t recommend grinding for more. It feels like the map was designed around being difficult to get an S-rank rather than being a decent challenge on its own.
Overall, this is a pretty good game, and I’d recommend it to those of you who like tactics games (and especially to Advance Wars fans). It even does a few things better than Advance Wars in my opinion. I still wouldn’t recommend playing arcade mode, though; that’s only for people who want a bit more lore or who prefer game-play loops over difficulty curves.
MINOR LORE CRITICISM: When you capture a property, a banner displaying the nation’s crest is unfurled on the building, and playing as the final boss (or post-game boss) in arcade mode is the only opportunity the purple army has to capture bases. However, the purple army’s banner is blank! Come on, why doesn’t Cacophony get a logo? That’s half the reason I even played arcade mode in the first place! Speaking of the final boss, she can possess one of your party members for a turn, and right before it happens, the character in question warns that it’s going to happen to them. Thing is, even though one of your units is a dog, the dog never actually does the attacking; it’s his bodyguards. Why don’t they just restrain the dog themselves when it happens to him, or if they also get possessed, why don’t they say something? They’re pretty talkative during the dog’s solo missions, but when it comes to the safety of their queen and her allies: nah, who cares, just let the dog try to warn them, and if the dog wants to usurp the throne, sure, just randomly side with the dog and kill your actual employer.
This is a run-and-gun platformer, similar to the Contra games. You can shoot in the 8 cardinal directions and can hold a button down to aim and shoot while standing still, and you can also do a forward roll by holding down and pushing the jump button. Not only does this continue to make it tricky to shoot down when you need to (since you have to jump and THEN push down), it also means you can’t drop down from thin platforms since that button combination is re-purposed for rolling.
If you read my post on Contra Re:Birth, you’d know I wasn’t a big fan of it, but this game is better than Contra Re:Birth in almost every way. Visual clutter is limited to when an enemy dies instead of having explosions for the sake of explosions. Enemies and other hazards don’t try to mimic or blend into the background; you can always see them coming. Foreground objects are rarely (if ever) used, meaning you can actually see the stage. Heck, if I remember correctly, you can even do short hops by tapping the jump button. Bosses are even better about conveying their attacks: sure there are still plenty of exceptions (like when the stage 2 mid-boss suddenly leaps forward, being the first time in the game you HAVE to use the roll to avoid damage, or when the stage 2 main boss shoots electricity on the ground which suddenly splits off into two more projectiles that travel along the ground), but you’ll usually be able to see attacks coming and react to them, which is always appreciated.
Unfortunately, one of my biggest issues with Contra makes a return in this game: segments where enemies constantly spawn in from the sides of the screen, especially during otherwise empty horizontal segments. I’ve never understood why modern games try to mimic this; in old games, it was a way to add “content” without spending precious storage space on actual level design, but nowadays that isn’t an issue, so it just comes across like the devs were too lazy to have actual enemy placement. There’s still plenty of real level design in the game, but that just makes the lazy parts stand out all the more.
Beyond that, there isn’t much noteworthy about the game. It does a decent job of having enemy variety without relying too much on introducing new stuff, which is always nice. There are three levels that have a mech suit in them, all of which can take a few hits before exploding (similar to the Ride Armor from Mega Man X or the tanks from Metal Slug), though each one has a different weapon, making them kinda gimmicky. The third one is the worst since it will overheat if you use its laser too much in a row, making you wait before you can fire it again. Can you imagine if a Contra game made your weapon overheat? The fan-base would be livid and the game would make everyone’s top 20 worst games of the year list.
Also, while the game is better at conveying attacks than Contra Re:Birth, it still has a bit to go. Notably, the giant gun mid-boss of stage 5 has doors on each side of the screen, and they indicate that an enemy will spawn by having a dim yellow light show up above the doors. Seems fine on paper, but when you have a giant gun pointing a laser-sight at you that gets electrified as an indication for when the gun will fire its actual harmful laser while also having machine gun enemies camping out in the upper corners that are also taking aim and firing at you (and also respawn after a bit if you kill them), those yellow lights become much harder to notice.
Overall, this game is okay. It does have its fair share of issues, but there’s also some fun to be had, even if it’s only around 6 levels long. It’s definitely more worthy of a ten dollar price tag than Contra Re:Birth.
EDIT: It’s actually seventeen dollars! …wait for a sale.
This is another metroidvania, though it’s modeled more on the vania than the metroid: level design is pretty flat (even in many vertical segments), so the game relies more heavily on enemy AI to add challenge. The problem is that, for the most part, enemies aren’t that tricky to deal with, either (especially if your level is high enough that you can kill the enemies before they have a chance to attack). Even if you do have a bad run and get hit a bunch of times, your massive health bar will still see to it that you make it to the next save room without dying. The only time standard enemies were ever a threat was in the final area; every other time I died, it was only to a boss. Heck, the game has a shop that sells equip-able items, but you can find better items as drops from the enemies in that same area! I admit I played on normal mode, though.
While you’re given your standard weapon shortly after starting the game, you’ll find other equip-able weapons during your journey, each with varying degrees of input delay. However, unlike its inspiration, your weapons also gain experience and levels, so there’s little reason to switch from your responsive starting weapon. You also have a magic meter and have to equip whichever spell you want to use, but while these don’t level up like your normal weapons, the first one you get is still the best one since it’s a proper long-range projectile that shoots straight.
Not long into the game, you find an item that lets you stop time for a brief period of…well, time. I really like the way its introduced because the room starts off with time stopped permanently (indicated by everything being sepia), and the only way to reach the item in question is to jump on the frozen enemies, letting you know–without using words–that stopping time lets you use any enemy as a platform at the cost of being unable to attack them, including bosses. It’s a perfect example of how level design can be used in place of traditional tutorials, and more games could benefit from proper implementation of this design philosophy. My only issue with it is that the time-stop mechanic is very rarely used in the game, to the point where I had forgotten about it completely by the first few times it was needed to progress or to avoid a boss’s attack (only finally getting it in my head right before I got the double-jump ability). My first death was against the second boss, and it was mainly because its spinning flame attack is the first time you absolutely need to use the time-stop to avoid an attack, but it’s about a good hour away from when you actually get the time-stop item. I also feel like the time-stop power was used as an excuse to give certain attacks (especially boss attacks) quicker wind-up animations, making them significantly harder (if not outright impossible) to avoid without stopping time, especially when you realize that attacking while on the ground locks your movement until the animation is over. Of course, once you realize that’s an option, even bosses (including the final boss) become pretty easy since you can just stop time whenever they attack and move out of the way at a much slower pace than you’d normally need.
Lastly, I want to point out that although the game has a choice between two endings after you beat the final boss, the endings are barely any different from each other (just with a couple lines changed here and there). This is despite the game implying one of the choices leads to additional content (namely the “go into the past and fight demons” choice).
Overall, I don’t know if I’d recommend this game. It does have some interesting ideas, but it’s also pretty dull for the most part. Bosses can be challenging, but only if you stop yourself from using the time-stop power (or forget about it like I did). If you’re interested, wait for a sale. Next game:
Yeah, I know it was free on Epic, but I missed it because I was on vacation when they started their “one free game a day” thing.
Anyway, this is a tactics game with roguelike elements. You start with three units, each with a different attack, and have a set number of turns to defend yourself (along with nearby buildings and sometimes mission-specific units). Your units heal after each battle, but the buildings’ health bar maintains its value throughout your play-through (however, it’s possible to buy back lost building HP between each set of missions). What helps make the game stand out from other tactics games is that enemies telegraph their next attacks at the end of their turn (even reinforcement spawn points are telegraphed the turn beforehand), so even if you can’t kill the enemy unit that turn, you may be able to push it to the next tile over so that its attack misses. However, sometimes there isn’t a way to avoid every attack from enemies, especially since not only are there often more than three enemies to deal with, but one of the earliest foes can trap its target in a web before telegraphing its attack, so if it targets one of your units, said unit won’t be able to move that turn (but can still attack).
I think my biggest issue with the game is how long-term everything is, particularly the building HP. Because of this, the game can’t ever be too difficult or it risks running into the typical roguelike problem of “how was I supposed to know that would happen?” and forcing a full restart because of something the player couldn’t react to. Then again, it seemed like the game’s idea of a difficulty curve is to spawn even more units at once, meaning there’s an even lower chance you’ll be able to avoid all damage to buildings (let alone your own units), so it probably does that anyway if you keep playing long enough (you unlock the final mission after the second set of missions, and its difficulty scales to wherever you are in the game). I played on normal mode and was able to beat the game on my first try.
Overall, I guess this game could be worth a dollar or two for its interesting concept, but I would like to see its mechanics used in a game with more hand-crafted, short-term missions. Next one:
I’m not sure if calling this a metroidvania gives an accurate idea of how the game plays, so I’ll call it a MotherLoad-like. The game has a side view with fall damage, and much of the game-play involves digging down into a fairly wide mine shaft, collecting minerals to bring back up and sell so you can afford upgrades. Like the first SteamWorld Dig, this game is also a platformer: you start off with a jump and a wall jump, only getting the jet-pack much later on. Because of this, you have to be a little careful with how you approach some of the minerals so you don’t fall into an air pocket, unable to get back up since you can only swing the pick-axe while standing on ground. I did take issue with the jumping physics, though: it’s kinda like Super Mario World in that if you let go of forward in mid-air, you keep moving forward, but as soon as you push backward, your movement shifts in the other direction, making it hard to fall straight down without a wall next to you.
The game does have some enemies spread throughout the mine shaft, though it’s definitely slow to start; it took until I reached the eastern temple (a good 1/3rd into the game at least) for the difficulty to start picking up, even with the Blood Quest upgrade equipped (though I admit I played on normal mode). Unfortunately, part of what makes that area of the game so difficult is that the spear enemies have a really quick melee attack (there’s literally no telegraphing for it; it just happens suddenly) that they can use before you kill them, making them really annoying to kill since you can only get one hit in before they have a chance to counterattack. Other than that, the temple is pretty well designed: the lava drops and bomb birds help add some challenge to the game, and the bomb birds can even be knocked above you to get minerals stuck in the ceiling (above where your pick-axe can reach). There are even parts where the mine-shaft becomes horizontal (instead of straight down) with the floor being lava, expanding on the game’s platformer side while still having plenty of minerals to look for.
I did have some issues with the game. That first third is really dull (on par with Momodora), the game’s “secrets” are just fake walls that cover up either axe-able dirt or an empty path, and the fire golems can’t be killed but are really slow, meaning most of your time with them is just spent waiting for them to shamble out of your way.
Back to something I liked: the bosses were pretty good. The first game only had one boss, but this one has three (even starting off with one). The second boss was pretty annoying since it would teleport after attacking, and when it was low on health, bright fireballs would shoot out of marked tiles and blend into the bright background, making it that much harder to chase the boss after it teleports. My least favorite one might just be the final boss, though: it shoots out waves of bullets and sometimes charges at you, meaning you need to make good use of your jet-pack, but it also summons dirt patterns, and since you STILL can’t use the pick-axe in mid-air by this point, it’s way too easy to get trapped between the new dirt pattern and the boss charging at you. The combination is a solid concept, but it needed some polish on its execution.
Overall, this game is okay. It has some good ideas, but the first third is pretty dull and the bosses could use a bit of polish. Get it on sale.
EDIT: MINOR LORE CRITICISM: There’s exactly one line where the game accidentally refers to Shiners by the wrong name. At first, I thought it might be trying to distinguish between different types or something, but it goes back to calling them Shiners for the rest of the game.
Yet another metroidvania. This one actually calls itself an “Igavania,” and I’m considering humoring that label–not as a re-branding, but as a subgenre to metroidvanias that refers to the more vania-inclined ones like this game. I know I don’t have enough clout for that definition to spread to everyone on this site, let alone actually establish it in the popular conscience, but it will help me to distinguish the Oris from the Timespinners when I make a post about another metroidvania.
So yeah, this is an “Igavania.” You collect different weapons and have to choose between slow animations or small weapon hit-boxes (even smaller than what Castlevania games normally have since at least the tiny weapons in those games would still cover half of your height; here, bats can slip between where your knife would go for standing attacks and ducking attacks). Also, despite the sprawling, interconnected maps, most of the level design is pretty flat and dull (mainly consisting of either flat ground or slopes) and relies more on enemy AI to add challenge. While enemies usually do a decent job of telegraphing their attacks, it can still be hard to avoid them since ATTACKING STILL LOCKS YOU IN PLACE! How are people okay with this mechanic?? Even Mighty No. 9 got this part right! Yes, it’s possible to interrupt your attack animation with a back-dash, but you’re only told about this during loading screens! Plus, that’s the only way to interrupt your attack; what if you need to jump or duck? Sure, it is possible to interrupt the back-dash with a jump or duck, but at that point, why not cut out the middle-man and let me jump and duck from the get-go? Also, there’s no forward-dash, so if you’re facing the wrong way, you’re just screwed.
To be fair, this one is a bit more level-design-inclined than the other Igavanias I played recently. It starts off subtle with the Shovel Armors’ attack being a projectile thrown in a small arc: you can avoid it by ducking if you’re on a flat plane, but that won’t work if the enemy is below an incline. Later on, in the second half of the library (after you get the laser-teleport ability), it gets more ambitious: there’s this one hall that has Medusa-Head-re-skins, but there are also some small spike-pits you need to watch out for. There’s also this one vertical room where the bottom is covered in spikes and the lowest platform has a buzz-saw rotating around it, but the next ledge up has a guitar enemy blocking your path, so you need to jump up and attack it while also avoiding the rotating saw and spikes below. That might just be my favorite part in the game. And you wanna know how the game follows this up in the next area? It ends. Right when the game was starting to break its sub-subgenre conventions, too. Oh well.
But yeah, beyond brief, rare moments like those, the challenge is about learning enemy tells and dodging their attacks. You’ll likely get hit the first few times since, on your first try, you won’t know for sure what kind of attack the animation will lead to, but I guess that’s just a given in this genre. Also, when that’s all the game has, it can get a little repetitive. Even bosses suffer from this: the final boss isn’t any more difficult than the first boss or any boss in between, in either learning attack tells or dodging them. Heck, the dragon boss right before the final area is literally just a larger version of an earlier dragon enemy with maybe one or two new attacks, and as such, isn’t that much more difficult to kill than its normal enemy counterpart.
And to top it all off, we’ve got another bad ending that gives no direction on how to get the good one. With all these games having bad bad endings, I’ll compare them to one that did the bad ending trope right: Portrait of Ruin. Not only does the game tell you what item you need in order to get the good ending, tell you which area it’s in, and tell you what you need to do with it to get the good ending, but it does this before you even have access to the area in question, let alone the final boss. That way, you know to be looking out for this item in that area instead of aimlessly wandering around whatever unexplored branches of the map remain. The area in question even has actual content, unlike that part in Cross Code. In comparison, this game regresses to the likes of Aria of Sorrow and Harmony of Dissonance, where all you get is a subtle hint that there’s a secret final boss and a better ending, and even then, only after you beat the game normally. I hope Order of Ecclesia isn’t like this, too.
Overall, this game is okay. I can kinda see why people like it, but it doesn’t really have much of a difficulty curve or build on its mechanics that much over the course of the game. Wait for a good sale if you’re interested. Next game:
This is by far the worst game I played with Game Pass. It looked like it could’ve been a hidden gem based on the trailer, but it’s actually an extremely bland beat ‘em up. There are only, like, five different types of enemies at best, and you’ll only be seeing two of them for most of the game (one far more than the other at that). Plus, there’s very little level design outside of stair placements, so the majority of the game is spent fighting the same “rush at you and do a melee attack” enemy on flat ground with the only variation being how many enemies are being spammed at you this time. Seriously, there’s so little to this game, it could be procedurally generated and not make much difference. Heck, sometimes the enemies can’t even jump, so you can just stand there shoot them dead from slightly higher up. Oh, and if the game still wasn’t easy enough, dying doesn’t reset anything in the level (not even boss HP); you just get teleported back to the last checkpoint with full health.
I was ready to give up out of boredom after beating the fourth level, but then I decided to skip to the last one (all levels are unlocked from the start) just to see if it did anything different, and I was impressed to see some actual variety for once. It starts off simple (of course it does) by reintroducing an enemy type I only saw before on the first level: the bomb throwers (though they always throw the bombs at a fixed distance, meaning you can stand right in front of them while attacking and be perfectly safe). The ranged-weapon enemies have a level-exclusive gun whose bullets stick to their target for a second or two before exploding, so you gotta do a bit more than just walk around those bullets. There’s even a slightly different melee-attacking enemy in the form of slimes. However, the most notable difference are the addition of pillars that have scythes rotating around them. Yup: it took nine levels, but the game finally has some actual level design. There’s even this one part where the only way to reach a chest is to jump over some spikes (before this point, the jump button is pretty much only used for climbing stairs), and when you make it there, there’s a projectile-shooting enemy off in the distance aiming at you, so you need to use the chest as cover and pop out to counterattack when the wave of bullets goes past you. It’s a good example of what the game could have been.
I then decided to play the semi-final level, but unlike the final one, this really is just more of the same and little else: mostly dull rooms with the same two enemy types spammed throughout it. The only real difference with this one is that the boss has a shield that takes very little damage from your weapons; what you’re supposed to do is go around the arena and activate objective markers. This is something you wouldn’t know to do since they’re different for each level and normally shown to you at the beginning of the segment (the beginning of boss fights just shows the boss and says “defeat the boss”); otherwise, they’re only indicated by a little yellow dot on the HUD.
Not recommended. The only thing good I can say about the game overall is that it’s better at conveying elevation than Cross Code (though that’s not exactly a high bar to reach). Even the hit-boxes are off because there were plenty of times an enemy was right in front of me, but swinging my sword did nothing to them. Next game:
I was under the impression that this was a tactics game, but it’s really more of a visual novel with tactics elements. You’ll be spending the majority of your time reading text and making dialogue choices, and when you do get into a battle, it’s less about making the combat interesting at all and more about just being another potential consequence of your VN choices. With the exception of the final battle (and one supposed-to-lose battle), I won every single combat segment on my first try with very little strategy. There’s a bit of an element of strategy to the VN parts since you need to make sure you have enough food to make it to your next destination, but that also doesn’t have much of an impact either due to how many opportunities you have to restock (and how little consequence there is for running out for a few days, even including long term consequences). There’s an icon for morale, but this only affects how much “willpower” your units have in battle, and that stat is only used for adding a unit to your movement or an extra bit of damage to your attacks, so again, it doesn’t have much impact even if you let it drop to its lowest point.
Here’s all the combat mechanics. Each unit has armor and health; when attacking a unit’s health, damage is dealt equal to the attacker’s health minus the target’s armor; if the number is zero or negative, damage remains at one but now has to rely on a steadily decreasing percent chance to hit. It’s also possible to attack a unit’s armor, and the damage dealt is equal to the unit’s armor-break stat. Also, unless one side only has one unit left, turn order always dictates that one of your units moves, then one of the enemy’s units moves. Also, if one of your units dies in battle, it gets “injured,” which is a 1-3 point penalty to its max health that doesn’t go away unless you rest for a day per point-penalty (which costs one food per day). Interesting on paper, but the game never does anything with those mechanics. Almost every battle takes place on the same size-and-shape grid with no unique tiles (it may look different, but it acts the same); the only exception was at this one optional ruins near the beginning that had some holes on the battle arena, but that still didn’t matter much since you only fight the same 2-3 enemy types for the majority of the game: melee, ranged, and stronger melee. Seriously, the whole game is like this. I never even had to rest away my injuries to keep my winning streak up. It’s even worse than Momodora in regards to being really dull.
The only exception was for what I can only assume is the final boss because of how absolutely absurd of a difficulty spike it is and how many rules it changes. First, the boss has more health and armor than any other unit in the game, which is expected. Second, each time it moves, it automatically heals health and armor on top of whatever attack it does. Annoying, but still manageable. Here’s where things get nuts, though: you can’t kill the boss by normal means; if its health reaches zero, it just heals a third of its health back. The only way to kill the boss is to break its armor completely, then use a special item that can only be held by one of your units, so you’d better hope it doesn’t get another move right before that unit’s turn or you’ll need to re-break its armor and wait for the turns to cycle back around. This also means that if the unit in question dies, you automatically lose (as opposed to other missions where it didn’t matter who died, just which army was the last one standing). Ah, but even if you successfully use that item when its guard is broken, the game won’t just let you finish the boss off right then because that wouldn’t be enough of a difficulty spike. Instead, the game transitions into a second battle, healing your units and giving the enemy a new set of units, while also completely healing the boss (health and armor). However, there’s yet one more change, and it’s the one that finally made me quit: for the first time in the game, attacking an enemy (the final boss, in this case) instantly gives it another move. This means that when you try to break its armor, it will not only immediately heal that armor back, but it will also attack you, dealing significant damage to your unit’s health and lowering its attack power in the process (if not outright killing the unit in question). You don’t even get a checkpoint between the two battles, so losing the second one means you have to redo the first one again.
Absolutely not recommended, regardless of what you look for in games. Last one:
This is a first-person shooter, but the gimmick is that the speed of enemies and bullets is directly related to how fast you’re moving (whether you’re walking or just changing the camera angle), kinda like Super Mario Bros: Time And Place, or maybe that one part in Braid. The game claims that time only moves when you do, but even if you aren’t doing anything, time will still move forward slowly (just look at the bullets for proof).
It’s definitely an interesting concept, but the game needs a radar or something because most of your deaths will be the result of being attacked from off-screen by enemies you never knew were there. One of the earliest levels (the melee weapon tutorial) is also one of the hardest because the arena you start in is so small, you barely have enough time to turn around and see that there are three enemies behind you before they’re too close for you to avoid all their attacks (you die in one hit, by the way). It’s not just about knowing that they’re there, either: you then have to figure out how and where in that tiny arena to position yourself so that you can attack the enemies without getting blindsided by the others and killed again.
Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the game also really likes to spawn in more waves of enemies after you kill some of the ones present at the start. See, enemy spawn points are only indicated by doorways leading into a white void, but not only are these places hidden in alcoves, spawned enemies can shoot you before their model finishes forming. Plus, enemies usually spawn a couple feet in front of the door, giving you less time to react (especially since other enemies are spawning simultaneously elsewhere).
Overall, this game is okay. Like Into the Breach, it may be worth a couple bucks for the concept and the few challenging levels that don’t have any cheap hits, but it could still use plenty of polish.
P.S. You know that tree cutting game where you have to pick which side of the tree to cut down to avoid branches? That’s a mini-game in this game, so if you have this one, you don’t have to buy the other one. ☺