Arby's Backlog Hell Arbiter Libera’s profile
~ Let's Get Some Games Done ~
An Ongoing Exercise in Clearing the Backlog Extraordinaire
Nothing special here for now, really. Just my updates divided for somewhat navigable lists
using the artwork I used when updates were originally published with all now updated to current art assets fitting to match 2019 updates and also easier to click on if you're using mobile. Maybe I'll add more to the "homepage" at some point, but this is serviceable for now.
It's almost like I never left. Tends to be the case when you play short adventure games one step removed from playing themselves. Not that I'm complaining or anything. Glad to see The Walking Dead finally concluded or until they pull the “we never said it was over!” sequel card. Hell, I totally forgot Telltale actually went bankrupt and their resurrection may go a long way to explain why this is four episodes long rather than usual five I've become accustomed to. Looking forward to what they'll do next.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season
( PC (Steam) – Adventure – 2018 ) + TRAILER
So here we are at long last with the last of Telltale's offerings. One appropriately titled The Walking Dead: The Final Season and promising to deliver on the story of Clementine, whom we have followed since the days she was a little girl under Lee's tutelage and now come into her own as young adult. Is this newfangled offering worth it, though?
It has been a few years since A New Frontier and our girl has diligently taken care of her little goofball AJ. Being a kid of five-six years means he is also a more fully realized character as opposed to a cutesy prop he used to be... although, that might be its own problem as I'll go into later on. Story catches up with Clementine and AJ as they stop their cool wheels to inspect a derelict train station house in hope for some supplies. This being The Walking Dead franchise things don't exactly pan out as intended leaving them displaced until they're seemingly rescued by kids from Ericson's Boarding School for Troubled Youth who have managed to stay hidden since the zombie outbreak began. Realizing this just might be her opportunity to a stable home for AJ, and owing a debt to students for saving them, Clementine decides they just might stay and contribute.
I'll refrain from divulging specific story beats, but seeing as this IS a Telltale zombie game you already know what tools it has to work with. One sidetrack I did like is how passage of time is acknowledged in more than just our two protagonists aging. It has been seven years since the first game, after all. While zombies are still a major problem in the world it's not like everyone stood by idly. For example, problems and conflicts are even more human-focused than they've been so far as we hear about survival groups engaging in all out war with both sides being spoken of as despicable in their methods. There are even weirder groups like the Whisperers who have their own ideas about the walkers and humanity's place in this new world. Titular walking dead are treated more like instant instant danger and drama rather than focal point of this particular story.
So we come to characters themselves and this [supposedly] being the very last game you all know why you're here.
The Final Season definitely aims to emulate the original game with its setup aka having this older, more experienced character step into a mentor role for a young newcomer. For the most part it works. For Clementine, at least. I was much less sold on AJ which could be due to how the game handles him. You could say it's somewhat believable because Clem herself knows being a kid doesn't mean you're helpless, and in fact leaning more to brutal pragmatic side just might be the desirable mindset in this new dead world, but AJ is simply too reasonable and entrusted with too much for a five or six year old. I had difficulty buying into it and characters questioning why he was given a loaded gun honestly made me wonder the same thing. Reason, of course, is Telltale never really said goodbye to your choices just being flavor because story is pretty set and game decides to pull a fast one on you at the very end. Had it not been a happy outcome I would probably be ranting about it because they piss all over your final decision totally invalidating it in the process. This ties into the whole raising AJ goal that persists throughout the game. Developers are rarely comfortable just letting the goofball act based on his learned lessons and Clem aka player still tells him what to do. In rare instances you don't character operates based on his own leaps of logic that never left me satisfied with the outcomes. For god's sake, Episode 1 ends in a disaster because there is no way to teach AJ the “correct” lesson and there's a fixed outcome that has to happen. Bringing a character I had a hard time remembering as the main antagonist felt like a C-list pull game could've done without.
Replacing tighter QTE sequences with simpler button prompts has loosed up the formula somewhat, but has also lead to shorter gameplay loops.
Ironically enough I think this may be the first Telltale game where technical changes are notable in more than just skin deep appearance. Visuals have definitely come leaps and bounds from the first game, and built upon the last one's foundations, but I think a single major change may have kickstarted attention to detail work – The Walking Dead embraced over-the-shoulder camera perspective. Because nothing good lasts forever real issue now is how samey the game looks. West Virginia as portrayed here looks very brown and dull green, with swamps and rundown buildings all blending together. Odd textures here and there notwithstanding I find this to largely be an issue with the art direction.
While we're on the subject I'd also like to point out The Final Season also plays somewhat more loosely. Gone are the days when every single interaction was presented as elaborate QTE sequence. Oh, those are still around aplenty, but there are more sections where Clementine can actually move around “combat zones” and engage enemies on her own with simple one-two attack or take aim for ranged attacks when scenarios call for it. It's actually integrated into gameplay proper now, albeit in very rudimentary fashion with hotspot prompts. This sadly came at the expense of nonexistent puzzles as game will not only automatically use whatever you need to, but will also turn the camera to WHERE it is if you don't have it. Idea of character inventory is just window dressing here and collectibles you can adorn your room with are more tangible as far as importance goes. Which reminds me – this is the first game in which Telltale implemented achievements for more than playing through the normally. How much this matters to you will vary based on how (in)tolerable you find unskippable cutscenes for repeat plays.
Here I am again and faster than last prophesied. That's one good outcome from when you mark a game as “finished” after just one successful playthrough, while said game was built for multiple ones. Not that I'm complaining or anything, mind you. Dodged a bullet by choosing not to commit to a general re-do of the game review format for two reasons; I'm too attached to covers on the side and because it would require more work on my end with dubious availability of the assets for each game. I at least brought the basic info section more in line with Multimedia style. Speaking of which I covered a novel decidedly out of my comfort zone.
How are newly introduced Steam awards treating you? Kinda surprised they went and tied actual money into it, but hey. I even managed to get a few for my reviews which means someone is reading them on Steam. ;)
Skyhill ( PC (Steam) – Roguelike, Survival – 2015 ) + TRAILER
You could say there's very little to expound upon when it comes to Skyhill. Probably due to lack of general variety for a sort of game it sets out to be. Is that necessarily so bad when you observe the offering as a complete package? Well, I guess that's what we're here to find out.
Guy rents a VIP suite in a 100 floor hotel and is extremely fortunate seeing it has “the latest bio-hazard protection installed” because come tomorrow everything seems to have gone totally bonkers. Discovering the elevator system is malfunctioning he realizes there's an arduous descent awaiting him if he wants to reach the bottom floor and escape. Along the way some monsters, mutants or whatever lurk in the rooms on the lookout for their latest victim. Putting together all the resources he can muster, with only his VIP suite as safe haven, our protagonist embarks on his merry way hoping to retain fragments of sanity.
You know I'm a story kind of guy, but as far as direct plot goes that's kinda it – escape. There's a bit more in what you scrounge over the course of playing, though. Game drops stuff like New Europe info early on and you can tell this isn't exactly our world anymore. What really fleshes out Skyhill are notes you find. In fact, piecing [parts] of the bigger picture is how you get alternate endings. I actually fairly liked how different all three of those are even if the game is arbitrary about it in a sense they're independent of one another, but can be unlocked in a single run. For example, I made both alternate endings available, but one overrides the other so you don't get to choose. If you ask me the default ending is probably the most effective seeing as it's heavily hinted at if you pay attention to audio recordings protagonist comes across. I remember the initial crowdfunding pitch numbered three playable characters so maybe they would have expanded the story more had that come to fruition as intended.
Setup we're operating with here gameplay-wise is that every floor has a stairwell/elevator area + two rooms, one to each side. Moving from room-to-room costs you one unit of food, which feeds into the survival element because you have to keep your hunger in check lest you start losing health. I'll go into it later on when I talk about specific systems, but in each of these rooms are almost always containers holding everything from weapons, ingredients for all your crafting needs or consumables like low-tier food and health kits. You can move between your VIP and any floor with operational elevator access by spending two units of food which is a lifesaver when you're nearing the exit and need to craft and rest to heal. Trick is that sometimes a panel has to be fixed and you have to keep doing this whenever you see one because if the chain of working elevators is broken you won't be able to use them at all. Game does throw you a bone by not requiring a specific skill or to fix things, but rather putting a certain part requirement up OR you can improvise, spend some time and lose a random item from inventory with a chance of failure. In practical terms this was never an issue for me because you have plenty of stuff in your backpack and losing some wiring won't immediately kill you.
What just might kill you is combat, though. Rooms I talked about can also be populated by enemies you need to do away with before you can loot and they're also your main source of experience. I counted handful of enemy types, but considering how long a run takes I didn't find that terribly restrictive. Skyhill also decides to throw more dangerous enemies at you as you descend further and further while keeping in mind you CAN backtrack to the VIP room if you need a quick upgrade. You fight enemies by either simply clicking on them and letting the skill/weapon formula do its thing or you can enable the aimed attack mode where you choose three body parts to attack, each with differing percentage-to-hit and damage. Latter seems like a reasonable choice to go with as most of the time you want that fine control in order to optimize. If there was one enemy I dreaded coming across it was the toxic bloated one who would attempt to poison you if you didn't kill him fast enough. That's quite the problem as it sends your health ticking down without an antidote you must to craft. Speaking of which...
Crafting is a thing that I, much to my own embarrassment, didn't get the importance of while I was doing so well early on. Reaching low 20s and I understood not returning to the suite where crafting station and bed are located was a mistake. You see, you can upgrade your “home base” which lets you unlock more recipes and such. Those are key to acquiring better weapons and actually filling food because what you find as loot is just enough to get you by. Taking into account weapons depend on stat(s) you may want to plan ahead and work with those points you get with each level to put into Strength, Speed, Dexterity or Accuracy so you don't suffer handling penalties if one or more isn't up to snuff. Especially since some advanced weapons require you to have not only crafting ingredients but also other weapons. One issue that stood out was how final damage output could have been a bit more transparent. You can only see what effective damage, with skill bonuses factored in, your weapon will do once you actually equip it seeing as base damage is more of a guideline. It just leads to unnecessary back and forth until you find the best one.
While I'm on the topic of character development I should also briefly bring up active and passive Perks. Those are all locked at first, but as you play through the game they open up and can be quite the game changers. Lucky Bastard, for example, lets you one-shot anything and then goes on extensive cooldown making it something you save. Or Rampage where you always strike first, but cannot retreat from fights. Perks somewhat alleviate that absent degree of major differences across multiple runs in that they can also alter non-combat functionality like make you see through what's on other floors, start off with a strong medpack, etc.
On the production end Skyhill definitely subscribes to making good use of the chosen art style. Visual highlights peak at dramatically drawn shadows once combat is met for higher tension, but presentation also reveals mobile version as the likely baseline. Some detail work like weapon types having their own attack animations pleasantly surprised me and what is in the game certainly looks polished enough. Audio offering is sparse albeit functional, especially with creepy mutant noises. Ominous and moody exploration track is the one you'll grow accustomed to the most as it follows your every step and loops eternally.
Courtship Rite ( Drama, Romance – 1983 – 409 pages ) + QUOTE
Occasionally I aim to ambush myself and start reading a book as ignorant of what it's about as I possibly can be. Courtship Rite is one such case and I honestly don't know how to even makes the sales pitch.
Think civilization building within alien society where polyamory is default. Not to say latter is the primary focus of the novel, but when have you have a family with three husbands and two wives to start off, where they genuinely work as a unit to further their goals, it's a big part of the novel. Weirdest thing? That's the most normal aspect to come from this setting. Geta is a strange world without domesticated livestock with humans and Eight Sacred Plants serving as only familiar ties to good old Earth we know and love. Novel goes to great lengths to convey just how inhospitable Geta is to human life, in large part because there's, well, other life on it and all of it will kill you unless you know the tricks around it. What this has resulted in is perpetual food scarcity and cannibalism is not only NOT taboo, but also normal and expected at times. Bad harvest? Old will volunteer and everyone joins the Funereal Feast where the VIP prepared with plenty of meat strips to go around, bones to turn into broth and skin to be worn when tanned properly. You see, society on Geta isn't really familiar with concepts like countries and is more or less divided and ruled by priest clans. These sit on top of the food pyramid and govern in their own fashion. Two of such clans novel concerns itself with are Kaiel and Mnankrei as they inevitably come to blows in a world that does not know the meaning of war. Or even weapons.
Our aforementioned family belongs to the former clan, who cull their children all year long and do not reserve cannibalism for famine which has earned them a certain sort of reputation, and they get a specific mandate from up top - they must forsake the current woman they were pursuing to be third-wife and instead marry an unknown, so-called Gentle Heretic, in a prelude move to the upcoming clan struggle as Kaiel leadership suspects Mnanekrei leadership may be causing a famine to up the food prices or extort higher "flesh tithe" from weaker clans. It's all part of the great global picture dealing with the fact Mnankrei have big ships and Kaiel are land-bound which limits trade capacity in comparison. If that sounds kinda dull that's probably because it starts off that way and takes a backseat before you get some basic know-how regarding how this madhouse operates. Let's just say that Gentle Heretic, herself opposing cannibalism and who may have an artifact concerning God in the Sky, a star denizens of Geta can see shinning bright, has a role to play. Only for Courtship Rite to backhand you across the room dropping a rather impressive revelation, one that seems to have been spoiled in most summaries I've read after the fact. Three brothers send their loudest and wanton to test the waters with their bride to be as well as expand Kaiel influence. One of the wives is sent with him to temper his fiery nature as they masquerade to hide overt meddling.
I realize I haven't exactly told you much about the book. That's because A) can't get into it without spoilers and B) it really IS more about the world itself and reader becoming accustomed to it. There are brief pieces of fiction opening every chapter that set the mood just right for my taste. People here adore their skin with decorative scars and tattoos, and as rare form of leather it is seldom abandoned. For a technologically agnostic nature of Geta important clans seem to have access to chemistry and genetics to a mental level of proficiency. What we would procure technologically they achieve through genetic tampering. Kaiel leader, for example, is called Prime Predictor and is chosen based on how accurate his "prophecies" were when observed years later. Of course, no good leader just waits for things to happen and always nudges with just enough force to set things in motion.
Entire thing is extremely bizarre and my only complaint is that romance probably takes a good 20% of the book. I lost count how many times everyone has sex almost like saying hello to one another or just sheer dynamics of a marriage five people can have and all the drama that entails when it goes wrong. Strong recommendation despite that, though. I was taken aback by how Kaiel clan interprets discoveries that could shake their entire belief system and seemingly temper it with wisdom. Then again out of all priest clans their shtick is bargaining.
Aww yeah, I'm back with a quickie. Only wish it was for a better game, but Divide is what we have so we'll make the best of it. It just so happens today is my last day off so who knows when I'll again have the time to pen a proper review. Checked out some additional demos on top of those I turned into earlier report and cleared up my wishlist even further. Wasn't the exact opposite supposed to happen?
Having finished Divide I immediately struggled whether a review would be forthcoming and that's kind of a rarity on my end seeing that I enjoy plopping out walls of text much to everyone's dismay. Why? Well, it's a game that both overstays its welcome and manages to leave a lot cut short. Let's check out how and why.
Starting at the very beginning game opens with in medias res setup and we control this unknown guy accompanied by equally mysterious woman as they both find themselves on the run from something called the Vestige. I have to admit it's kinda overwhelming at first because Divide doesn't really ease you into things, but compared to when you actually reach that moment in the actual progression, game certainly gives you a beefed up version of the main character with plenty of upgrades you won't really have then. Still, you continue running through futuristic corridors, activating strange nodes and firing upon security forces with some sort of energy gun only to get ambushed and taken out by a snarky henchman who's been teasing you along the way about the fact you two are apparently intruding somewhere you shouldn't be.
There ends the action bit for a while and our protagonist is taking caring of his daughter Arly on a train ride to meet his wife's acquaintance because he has something important to discuss with him over his wife's work... for Vestige Corporation. More than earlier adrenaline-packed opening it was this segment where we see very charming characters and believable father-daughter dynamic that drew me in. Sadly it also demonstrates rather weak dialog “system” where you use the right stick to choose one of the options and seemingly over-sized levels with nothing to do. We'll get to levels later on, Did I mention your wife Marian is dead? Yeah, her pal Alton hands you a case for safekeeping. Needless to say you open it back home, find a strange orb and AR lenses you put on. Imagine my shock when you end up back in those tunnels with no idea how or why you ended up there. Or where your daughter is.
If that sounds jumbled or disjointed that's probably because it was intended by the game and less so by me in this awkward summary. Basically, you end up somewhere with no idea what's going on and there's robot guards, AR nodes as well as locks you can interact with, the whole shebang. Our hero David only has one question on his mind – have you seen a little girl?
Apart from one major thing left that's all I'll say about the story because the rest would be spoiling. Not to say there's much to spoil, though. Other than brief dialog bits you have with your companion there's very little of it directly told to you. What there is exists in the form of news, technology, upgrades, etc text you'll come across while playing. I found all of it rather gripping and now knowing game end so abruptly I can't help but feel cheated out of this tremendous narrative that could have been. If you go into it blind and absorb all the entries you find from it's pretty interesting to follow how a company interested in technological improvements goes to become... this.
I'll cut the preamble short with a message you need to hear before playing Divide – this is a three hour game stretched to ten or so if you take your time. No idea why they felt the need run with this other than someone really likes having the player wander through identical corridors and similar room layouts, checking out identical console interfaces and looking for Supervisor one to get the Prime key in order to open the next segment of the underground base. I have explained about 80% of the game with that single overly long line. It's not varied and is the equivalent of “collect 3X instead of X to advance” kind of nonsense. Yeah, it takes you around the complex, but that's not a strength because you can only vary the few tilests so many times. I also lost count how many times you're simply left to find your own way using a very general map. Be aware if you have trouble orienting yourself or poor spatial awareness because I could see myself easily lost had I not taken breaks only after clearing entire segments.
To make matters even more confusing there's a matter of combat.
Which isn't bad. Entire game rather controls in this weighty kind of fashion where you have to account for cumbersome movements. Taken at face value this is a twin-stick shooter, but focus isn't on shooting at all as much as simply navigating levels and unlocking doors to advance. I actually found myself avoiding the peashooter you have altogether by running away from enemies, robotic or human, and instead hacking where I could. As you play capabilities of your AR lense only get better and reprogramming or assuming control of robot spiders becomes an option, for example. Amusingly enough game manages to avoid some kind of RPG talent system or such replacing it with merely locating upgrades you then integrate. Better ablated plating, faster gun recharge and capacity, all of those you could feasibly end up skipping. With almost no mandatory combat scenarios to speak of you might as well.
Within its element, when lighting and shadows intermingle as red alert bleeps in the background and squad of Vestige security is coming down a flight of stairs wearing their AR armor, Divide can look stunning for an indie game. I think the isometric perspective may be the deal maker for me because it just goes so hand-in-hand with the visuals Exploding Tuba guys chose. In rare few instances 2D backgrounds are involved it really doesn't stay together, though. Soundtrack takes a notch even higher. Looking at the music department during credits I realize why because they almost outnumber the developers. Let's just say moody ambient pieces work great, but it's not like composer was embarrassed to go all out for set piece moments. Delivered beyond expectations on both fronts.
I have learned two important lessons with this latest “saved by the bell” kind of intervention on behalf of Valve with Steam Game Festival (Summer Edition) bringing plenty of demos to try out – my wishlist needed some well-deserved pruning and there's an absolutely ridiculous number of RPGs out there, self-proclaimed or otherwise. Particularly in tactical domain. Making matters even worse I had more demos planned, but just gave up on writing summaries for quite a few of them. This is a nice way to raise awareness for all the indie projects out there, though. By the time this is getting posted there should still be few days left to try out your favorites.
In Multimedia related news I've knocked out another major anime show that has been on my mind since forever, but never had the time to sit down and watch properly. It did not disappoint. Now I'm just let wondering what to watch next.
Developers are honest about the fact that Magin: The Rat Project Stories Very much a vertical slice of what the game is supposed to be I didn't mind a simple story about a boy looking to recover his mother from a local pub. Think adventure game meets card-driven combat with some major narrative decisions to be made yet the real deal here is dealing with out young protagonist's mental balance. In both adventure and combat parts due to most skills being inherently tied to, let's just call them PURPLE and ORANGE ends of the emotional spectrum that keeps fluctuating as you play. Shifting deeper into either gives bonuses and penalties. If you choose to opt out of combat, something demo offers when you start, this makes for a brief offering mainly enchanting with this dark fantasy look. Less so with Tolen's VA who managed to get on my nerves in shockingly short amount of time.
The Way of Wrath's premise based on what is shown here is actually rather interesting as you assume control over a party of warriors in ancient world while they use primitive weapons and bone armor to get into crude encampment they lost earlier due to betrayal... and maybe something else. You engage with the game in group turn-based combat, but damn does jank permeate every facet of the game. From minor visual bugs to getting caught up on geometry, general performance level and infinite load screens. Excusable for a beta, though. Bigger worry is how seemingly worthwhile character creation never really comes through in rather basic combat system. Not to mention all the non-combat options that are just there for show because this is poorly chosen scenario to showcase those. I am not particularly sold on the art style either which looks much better in screenshots over actual play.
It would be extremely difficult not to draw comparisons between old Commandos games and Partisans 1941, although I definitely think there's some Men of War in its DNA as well. Escaping from a war prison on the Eastern Front our Russian commander is quickly joined by his army comrade and a local boy. After some aggressive negations guns are procured, but in traditional fashion stealth is your primary tool in getting around. Small unit tactics without reinforcements as you keep watchful eye on individual enemy's cone of vision, hide the bodies and hug to bushes as you move your squad around. Two points: characters are not as dead set in their roles due to some RPG system like choosing your skills on level up and once you issue targets combat is automatic. This is a problem when you have limited ammo and said skills can affect combat performance while player becomes a mere spectator.
Plain description of Pendragon would be to say it's a narrative board game and call it a day with that alone. Thing is, I find myself wishing there was more to gameplay included other than choosing methods of movement as you go about boards and claim tiles before reaching the exit. Avoiding dangers along the way primarily comes down to keeping in mind how opposition can move. You choose from multiple characters, each with their own reasons for getting involvement in Arthurian legend after the Round Circle gets broken up by Mordred. Strong evocative writing really brings the setting to life and provided ticking off those two boxes is a major seller for you then Pendragon just might be something to keep an eyes on. For my own taste I think the game itself may be too simple to carry the narrative burden writers took upon themselves. Unless there's some major hike in complexity not featured here.
Lamentum demo may have had bigger impact on me purely because I haven't been into survival horror since, well, PS1 days, but what is shown is true to those roots. Getting the big names out of the way it definitely has that “3x3 inventory management and ink saves” from Resident Evil yet I would say general approach to scarce combat and seemingly psychological story draws from Silent Hill just as much. 2D pixel presentation is something it has in common with some other indie horror takes I've seen over the years. Our love struck protagonist's wife gets sick and with medicine being to no avail he seeks out a controversial doctor's help. Needless to say one night in his mansion and everything's gone to dogs with all hell breaking loose. It would appear game avoids more involved type of puzzles that would require specific knowledge and is content with basic item usage.
As far as generated story-centric RPGs go I'd say The Magister is definitely a novelty. One that has to be tested beyond the bounds of a demo, though. Doubly so with a case such as this one where you're the eponymous Magister sent to resolve a murder case of another in this far away village. There is no full character creation included here, but choosing between three types is telling enough because personality and flaws play much more in a dialog-heavy game like this one. When you're not talking you're resolving situations and combat alike through card battles. Well, battles may not be accurate, because only in actual physical confrontation is there a tactical RPG aspect whereas in calming someone down you're building up Empathy to lower their Rage level. Flow takes some time to get used to and RNG factors in, but it's certainly simple enough. See whether this presentation grows on you.
Disjunction seems like something I already played X number of times. Pixel art that can look impressive when not used solely to portray gray corporate corridors, stealth or action where it makes the most sense to choose and commit to one style, and finally that ever present character progression in form of upgrade kits and character traits. It's a cyberpunk story so you're figuring out who framed who, how are corporations involved and all that jazz. I did like how the hyperlink system in dialog is used to divulge more information, but in turn it could have also been used to de-clutter the dialog window. Speaking of stealth over action, because of course, it's amusing the game gears you towards that path from the get-go by giving you a ranged stun ability, ranged AoE stun and guaranteed critical hit on cooldown. That sounds like a formula for non-lethal takedowns to me versus a loud revolver it also sets you up with.
I have to confess not spending that much time with The Last Spell demo after realizing it was a tower defense game, but I think it still warrants talking about. If only because this is a turn-based variant and due to how much stuff there is to do. Seeing as you are managing heroes themselves and the town they're supposed to protect you have some variety. At night monsters lay siege and it falls on you to control the champions, each statistically realized character, in full-on tactical combat. Come daybreak you tally the results, take stock of town's productivity as well as rebuild, train and equip. Some of these segments may appeal to you more or less, though. I found combat to be somewhat bogged down because you're fighting a swarm of enemies so AoE attacks are your friend while said enemies still must be dealt with individually, for example. I can see it getting old quite fast.
Fabled Lands has hints of story included in this package and impression I got was one of re-visiting locations to progress as you go very similar “take quest, kill enemy, bring the quest item back” cycle. You could say it's a CYOA expanded into a game beyond its origin, one where movement is executed on a map with designated hotspots for interaction. Character creation, where you do get to choose a class, carries its benefits well beyond two main forms of interaction – turn-based combat and skill checks via dice rolls, which resolve everything else. You decide when to stop rolling so RNG effect is kinda mitigated. We're also working with rather rudimentary combat system on a tiny hex grid that makes me wonder why even have it. I do admit being a sucker for fantasy aesthetics game delivers on with very strong King's Bounty vibes adapted for 2D look, though.
You look at Shores Unknown and see a shabby presentation, but goddamn if it didn't grip me despite all other shortcomings it may exhibit. Graphics are what they are, but they work. If anything they merely clash with the gravity of situations like fending off local bandits and seeing a tide of warships encroaching on a village our brother and sister find themselves holed up in. There's more to it as they advance the work they're on, but demo is quick to throw in couple of major hooks. Turn-based, yes, tactical combat may arguably be the weakest aspect in a sense how... lose it just feels. Characters are constantly fidgeting and maneuvering around so it takes a while to position. Or you lack fine control over attack execution in general. It's one of those cases where you have to give it time to adapt to how the game plays. Spice everything up with standard RPG progression and this may be the one to follow.
Hyouge Mono ( Historical, Comedy, Drama, 2011, 39 episodes ) + ORIGINAL OPENING
How do you even begin talking about Hyouge Mono?
I guess if you really broke it down to bare bone essentials it would be about this 16th century eccentric samurai who's obsessively into art, tea ceremony-related paraphernalia specifically, who keeps making funny exaggerated faces whenever he comes across rare pieces as his samurai duties take him across various war campaigns. Needless to say that would be grossly simplifying a show that isn't afraid to question "must I choose between being a warrior or aesthete?" question and even make it fundamental to its narrative. Talking about story would probably be rather drab because it essentially follows history from a certain point before Nobunaga Oda was betrayed and killed, outcome he kinda laid his own bed for, to later on as his shadow looms large across Japan. It certainly helps if you're familiar with feudal Japanese history to a degree from other sources, like Samurai Warriors in my case, or it could be somewhat messy as names, titles and events are thrown at you without constant reminders you'd get in something like Legend of the Galactic Heroes or such. Character designs thankfully look distinct enough to be memorable as everything from bushy eyebrows and mustaches are not steered away from. Add to that fashion playing a very real role and after a while you'll recognize who's who at a glance. Seeing as HM falls firmly under "characters talking to great lengths" rather than being an action show this is certainly helpful.
Interwoven into all these historical battles and politicking between famous figures lies the idea of imperfection or simplicity which permeates the artistic and merchant circles. Or maybe it's the other way around and martial stuff is just background to aesthetes debating the nature of art, comparing famous pieces and what they want for the future of Japan's culture identity. It is impossible to separate the two because HM treats them as equal in somewhat overblown fashion where people would trade a castle for a famous tea cup masterpiece, for example. Battle for unification of the land is fought both with armies and whether currently popular imperfect art can surpass the influences of perfection from China and alike. There's a funny scene when a Korean ambassador wonders why Chief Adviser is serving him tea in an uneven and broken cup, taking it as an insult and thinking Japan is so poor they don't even have adequate pottery. Needless to say tea ceremony itself plays a big role in the show, but it's not really obsessively dissected the way you might expect it to be. It's more of a medium to get myriad of characters' ideals across, and speaking of which...
Man, these characters. With 39 episodes to work with and tons of people you'd think they'd just get a mention only to end up forgotten, but shocking amount stick around through the years as story advances. Our protagonist Furuta Sasuke starts out as funny comedic relief due to his, well, otaku aestheticism, and I'm glad to say this aspect persists and is definitive pillar of his character, but at the same time he is a serious samurai as befitting the period. I have rarely if ever seen such duality realized to this degree because neither is really played down for the sake of other. He's not even alone at it because many other characters in the show exhibit developments and layers upon layers that would shame main characters in lesser shows. This is further helped by the fact there is no overt villain present and even the darkest of antagonists are only human beings trying to fit their beliefs into a rigid social systems. Hell, at some point Sasuke himself is pushed to distant tertiary role as we follow bigger fish in their own struggles that still relate to protagonist's own. Journey of unifying Japan ensures there's more conflicts and additions to character roster to keep things fresh. It generally airs on stoic wisdom. We learn why people will not actually follow a genuinely just man, but will one who cheats to get what he wants. There are characters arcs spanning from the very beginning to end with show relying on you to pay attention and getting invested.
Amusingly appropriate to how it treats such subjective works of art I would wholeheartedly say Hyouge Mono is a masterpiece in its own right, but one that will sadly remain unapproachable to most anime audience due to its very subject. There are introspections about self-worth and ambitions alike here accompanying what it means to be a samurai constantly aware of your own place in the world while serving as subject to your lord in his whims and demands. I had many laughs with just as many somber moments as people knowingly make wrong decisions or just end up victims of circumstances. Featuring one of the most outstanding endings packing a real emotional punch to the gut from someone you'd least expect it.
First of all – I hope you're all doing well with this craziness everywhere.
Much to my own embarrassment I'm digging out the ancient Ongoing category I thought would never see the time of day again... making me realize I haven't updated that layout specifically in two years. This is for games I've played enough to make an impression, that weren't demos or such, but I don't think I have enough material for a review. Sometimes this may also be for effectively endless games. So all in all, a light update for you and at least there are no reviews to post on Steam this time.
I also got around to collecting some Multimedia stuff.
There's a funny story to Exit the Gungeon and how I acquired it. You see, I bought the newly released title couple of days ago as a mistake. I saw “Gungeon” in the title and since Enter the Gungeon is on my wishlist I just assumed that was it. It never crossed my mind devs put out a spin-off title. Not being one to ask for refunds I decided to give it a go... and so began my Days of Troubles™.
Turns out I'm pretty damn terrible at the game. Probably not helped by the fact this is one of those “long term projects” kind of titles where dying, restarting with new characters and getting better is simply part of the equation with replay in-built replay value, but lack of manual dexterity can be laid entirety at my feet in every other respect. Weird part is I kinda knew it was gonna turn out this way the moment I realized there's a vertical platforming element to a bullet hell. Maybe I'd fare better with a gamepad although I can't see how analog stick could replace the mouse for targeting accuracy. Story? Eh, it seems to continue right after Enter ended and now you have to escape the collapsing Gungeon. Along the way goddess Kaliber bestows a blessing upon you so your weapon randomly changes every ten seconds or so. You can imagine the RNG fun to be had along the way.
Non-lift periods are cooldowns between intense action and where you're liable to get items.
Hello Games should definitely be commended for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, even more so when you consider many, many developers would have rather taken the money and ran away with it, but unless you're already into what No Man's Sky is peddling I don't think that's really going be as important as it may seem.
What do I mean by that? Well, I can only speak for myself when I say I'm not exactly sold on “collect stuff so you can upgrade your gear so you can collect even more stuff faster” gameplay cycle game employs. Which becomes an issue because that's the framework upon which No Man's Sky is built. A lot of stuff has been added since launch and even some narrative, but that's not the selling point. It seems to be a bonus you uncover as you engage in former and explore/terraform/fight your way across the galaxy. Literally. This is also a kind of game where you wonder what more can developers add as they have more or less realized that (in)famous multiplayer feature promised at launch. There is fun to be had in occasionally jumping into the game before you're slowly pulled out as meeting basic needs to keep going piles on.
If having that third-person camera was a deal breaker it's been in the game for a while.
Kinda hard to believe last time I talked about ESO was in 2018. Also in an Ongoing update. Yet, here we are. A lot has changed in those two years with most notable additions two expansions further fleshing out the world. As of writing this I'm missing recently released Greymoor one, but that won't stop me.
On my own end very little has changed in that period, though. I even lapsed in logging for daily rewards and have only recently made an effort to try again. I created a new Necromancer character with whom I have yet to even get out of the [then] new Elsweyr tutorial area so that's a bust. As far as my old Sorcerer goes I've been spending my days just stealing from chests and pick-pocketing people wherever I can for no reason. I even put leveling aside, not that it matters much due to level scaling introduced with One Tamriel update, and just focused on fencing stolen goods for the gold. Can't say much about the performance update seeing as there's been no obvious change here. I really need to start playing ESO at least semi-casually if only for the stories.
Old staple of mixing different categories of armor is still in even if it looks silly. No reason why a spellcaster can't wear heavy armor.
Space Force ( Science Fiction, Comedy, Drama, 2020, 10 episodes ) + TRAILER
At a certain point, almost midway through or so, it actually becomes a drama about the newly formed Space Force with levity and humor, but journey to get there had to contend with shoehorning in a fictional take on modern politics and society that end up more detracting to overall package than adding. Basically, it has to constantly remind the audience Trump is seen as a crazy man who goes on Twitter tirades and even his opposition on the Left gets couple of characterizations. Best part is you have Carell taking the reins as a great comedic lead who has to deal with leadership as well as familial issues and is otherwise counterbalanced by snarkier Malkovich as his scientific counterpart. Their dynamic is great throughout, not to mention other characters I somehow ended up caring for more than I anticipated with their earlier introductions. Asian guy driving with a black woman and having a heated discussion about Fullmetal Alchemist came out of nowhere, for example. For all of my complaining about earlier references to real life politics, political figures and progressive bullshit, I rather liked how modern day grounded show felt otherwise in relatability. US space program being constantly one upped by other nations and pushing forward with more projects with comedic overtones as they content with espionage, oversight pressure, etc ended up being quite entertaining once it got rolling. That's also coming from someone who considered dropping the show after first few episodes. I would also to extent a big MIDDLE FINGER to Netflix for their cliffhanger endings in what is obviously just the first part of the planned script.
Moyashimon ( Comedy, Drama, 2007, 11 episodes ) + OPENING
Here we have Moyashimon, story about a college freshmen Tadayasu Sawaki who can see microbes with his naked eye and even communicate with them... or rather they communicate with him via their cutesy anthropomorphic forms. To make matters interesting he decides to leave his hometown to attend Tokyo's Agricultural University with a childhood friend Kei to expand their horizons seeing as they're heirs to yeast and sake makes respectively. What follows is equal part comedy and lessons about microbes. Former mainly comes from show's support cast, mainly featuring a pair of bumbling seniors and leather-bound assistant with her brusque attitude, but I was surprised by how Moyashimon actually makes an effort to explain the way this unique power could be used in research environment as it gradually expands the cast along the way for additional dynamics. Let's just say that for all the college antics and trying to get girls I sure as hell learned out more about fermentation than I expected, particularly when it comes to sake. Final quarter or so dips a bit because they introduce drama, and a cross-dresser out of nowhere, but even with that comedic relief characters come off as rather grounded with real problems wondering what to do with their lives. Expect light slapstick comedy with some life lessons from the wise old professor when he's not busy brewing alcohol on college grounds. For research purposes, of course.
A Hunger Like Fire ( Horror, Drama, 2004, 284 pages ) + QUOTE
I could've sworn I read A Hunger Like Fire already, but considering it happens to be roleplaying game fiction there's a possibility I've read about it or characters were features in Vampire: the Requiem material proper. Being familiar with the source material this is one of those cases where I'm seeing the author translate game terminology or mechanics into fluff terms everywhere I look. What's it about? Well, it's about two newly made vampires coming from drastically different backgrounds as they go through their nights - one barely piecing together what's happening to him and other enjoying a position of privilege as she was made by Chicago's vampire Prince. Circumstances have them interact more and more towards the end of a brief story, but for the most part they each get their individual first person POV chapters so reader can see both sides of this vampire society. Real kicker is we also get a few chapters dealing with much better established elders engaging in plans within plans schemes that incidentally involve these new bloods seeing as everyone is looking for that leg up. Contrast between someone who has played the game for two centuries and really misses scented grease in his hair to keep the bugs away versus nightmare made manifest eating dogs in back alleys because he doesn't want to hurt anyone is rather compelling. Could have done without the cliffhanger just after having the antagonist's fate up in the air, though.
I'm back and it only too me two weeks this time. There was a different game in the pipeline for this update, but it being a JRPG put a stopper on that. Those tend to take a while. Devil's Hunt was my idea of taking it easy. A diversion, if you will. Not one to disappoint a review had to be written regardless of game quality. As if to freshen things up I also finally go through an overlooked anime series, though.
Enjoy the read and stay safe.
It has been a while since I last played a title troubled on so many levels, but I guess Devil's Hunt proves such projects can and do still exist in this modern day of ours. Strangest thing is this seems like it has decent production. Not to say that excuses what we got in the end, though.
Game is supposedly based on a novel, but if this was their adaptation I have to wonder how much was left out or simplified beyond recognition to work as video game adaptation. What's left still makes for a decent hook – we play as Desmond, an affluent youth employed in his father's company and perfectly happy with his girlfriend, who on the very night when he decides to propose has his entire world turned upside down after said girlfriend cheats on him. In mad rage he commits suicide by car crash and ends up in hell only to claw his way out, meet some unsavory types and end up signing a contract to become an Executor. These enforcers and assassins in Lucifer's own employ are unambiguously evil as they reap souls, realization sitting with Desmond just fine as he sets upon a path of vengeance... only to realize things aren't exactly as clear cut as they seem. And what is this “Savior and Destroy” nonsense people keep referring to him? Rabbit hole goes quite a bit deeper as angels, demons and renegades get involved, but that's the gist of it.
Problem? Game is really, really weak when it comes to telling this story. Issue further exacerbated by the fact writing and VA are equally weak which more often than not ends up detracting from the experience. Even putting that aside for a moment it's just a very unevenly paced story. It is content to merely prod you along the way, sometimes skipping scenes and omitting key motivations, presumably due to cut content, so you end up with characters switching sides and such almost on a dime. It's incredibly jarring. That's in addition to introducing important figures and forgetting about them immediately following their introduction. Chiefly, game fails to build any connection to events or characters that transpire because it indulges in dealing with cliches without even aspiring to novelty. Protagonist has daddy issues? Rival who hates your guts? Both of those are bastards to the protagonist simply because? Check, check and check. Especially the former who gets hints of backstory development only to be swept under the rug. Couple dynamic you'd expect from Desmond and Kristen largely boils down to absent love interest and working on protecting her as a bargaining chip when stakes involved are MUCH bigger. Entire story department is a jumbled mess that never clicks.
But hey, this is a brawler, you might say. Why does story matter? Put your seat belt on because it's not like game itself fares much better when you break it to individual systems.
Oh man, performance. I stopped counting how many times Devil's Hunt crashed on me after tenth occurrence and simply accepted it as part of the package I'll have to work around. This meant repeating five to ten minute sections which wasn't a big deal, but hard locking my PC requiring rebooting to solve was. Let's not even mention humorous visual bugs like Desmond striking the ever intimidating T-pose and less amusing ones like game bugging out interaction prompts. Less said about horrendous, dropping to single frames-per-second performance towards the end the better. Overall impression is one of a game held together by duct tape that falls apart the moment something more than small arenas with mere handful of enemies or corridors are thrown at the player. And yes, this has adverse results later on when Devil's Hunt uses bigger groups and keeps spawning enemies to work around obvious technical limitations. I don't usually mention hardware performance, but in this case it warrants a massive red flag and something to keep in mind if you're allergic to higher levels of jank.
Let it not be said this game can't throw visuals at you. Not pictured are dynamically cast shadows from the rotating ring thing.
Paired with voice acting this writing comes off as rather uninspired and possibly a victim of dubious translation.
And just to counter myself visual themes end up repeating themselves. You only go through so many variants of Hell.
For what it is I think gameplay might be the second most notable element present. Because it works. Before I get into combat itself, which is the real meat and potatoes of Devil's Hunt, I should go into how it's all structured. There's next to nothing to do other than running across enemy groups until they engage you in combat. Meaning game is a sequence of linear areas where you will often be prompted to press that action button so Desmond can jump over an obstacle, teleport across set points, pick up few lore pages, etc. Don't even dream about doing anything other than running around because everything else is relegated to these telegraphed hotspots you cannot miss. I bring up this seemingly irrelevant point because I think other games have framed this differently by giving you the ability to jump or sneak simply to increase the range of actions you can do outside of combat. In rare occasions you have a fork in your path game the route you opt against will become unavailable meaning you better pray you've chosen the wrong path or those secrets/souls are getting left behind.
I played with the gamepad because it seemed appropriate for a brawler of this type and that made it all the more puzzling because it's the SHOULDER buttons that are assigned to attacking and not the front buttons you may expect. Light and heavy attacks are present along with very few unlockable combos. To spice it all up there are three fighting styles in the game and you should have them completely mastered by the end of the game as you acquire souls from enemies/caches to upgrade skills; Executioner (mainstay you'll use most of the time against demons), Unholy (used against angels and limited ranged capabilities) and Void (specialized style you advance in by finding hidden scrolls). Each of these styles gives you three slots you can assign their respective abilities to, but they also have passives like decreasing cooldown on abilities, increased health, etc. You can switch between the three at any point during combat, but I believe their effects are limited only to while you're attuned to individual style. Naturally, being an Executor you have a demon form you can change into when your bar is full which is quite the trump card as you rip and tear.
That's the break down, but how does it all work? Surprisingly competently. You'll run into typical problems like enemies getting stuck in cycles, but much better developed games are not exempt from those. Real issue is later on when game starts throwing higher tier enemies at you when simple demonic grunts are not enough. Getting caught between three ranged demonesses, two chunky boys in melee and fire tossers as your framerate dips is a marvel to experience. Enemy synergy is either totally absent or overly tuned so you risk getting locked into stun cycle or camera decides it wants to end you at that very instant. When you account for flabby finishers, stifling arenas and limited enemy variety you'll quickly see everything Devil's Hunt can set against you. There is a point when you have all three styles and enough points spent that you finally have control and you can see that glimmer of enjoyment before it is snatched away by sub-par execution.
Being a deservedly negative overview you may be wondering if there's something I actually enjoyed and yes, there is. Visuals. Devil's Hunt is a kind of game that looks amazing in screenshots. Less so in motion and once you play it for extended period of time, which reveals how limited its assets are, but environmental artist really did their their best. Hell looks stunning with rich color saturation and enemies are suitably demonic looking to get the idea across. Even characters look decent when they're not trying to articulate actual human beings. Sawyer in particular with his mysterious cowled wizened appearance, for example. Lots of pre-rendered cutscenes as well and someone at the development team really liked those car bits. I expected a kind of Alone in the Dark driving segment. Almost wished there was one...
Mushishi ( Fantasy, Mystery, Drama, 2005, 26 episodes ) + TRAILER
I remember watching bits and pieces of it over the years, but I only recently saw Mushishi to completion.
Show's episodic anthology format lends itself well to watching random episodes yet seeing it as intended really made me realize what a gorgeous show it is. Not just from the visuals point of view, even though its picturesque landscapes with moody atmosphere absolutely deliver on that front, but more due to manner in which this entire package is presented. We follow Ginko, a Mushi-shi in semblance of the 18th-19th century Japan where backwards villages in the shadows of mountains are still aplenty while some technology has started to creep in, as he endlessly travels the countryside dealing with Mushi related problems. What are Mushi? This very question is raised about half dozen times in the show and definitive answer is never given, but they're a sort supernatural "basic life" on a different level from what we know. Mushi-shi are primarily scholars dealing with situations occurring when Mushi interact with the world; be it with humans, animals or just plain nature. It's given a folk beliefs and traditional Japanese legends outlook and how many seem to have come from unexplained Mushi that most people cannot see so strange things are just happening randomly as far as they know. For example, a young girl's voice causes rust to appear in her entire village or there's a secret price paid for a good harvest while everyone else is having a bad year. Lots of confused villagers making bad decisions out of superstition and refusal of good advice.
Major point Mushishi likes to lean on is that Mushi aren't really evil, they just do what they do because it's their incomprehensible nature which is the reason Mushi-shi have dedicated themselves to cataloging and understanding the unknown. Ginko himself is somewhat special in that he believes outright killing the cause is rarely a solution to problems and will endeavor toward amicable resolutions as he draws on his font of knowledge and huge box he carries around. While very few episodes are actually CENTERED on the protagonist I'd say he gets strong characterization over the course of the series - Ginko is someone who will always go out of his way to help if he can, almost in spite of his laid back personality. Show even sheds some light on backstory and some questions I wondered about. Like how someone traveling on foot keeps in touch and knows where to go urgently. Well, Mushi-shi found practical uses for all the varied Mushi out there. If there's a single defining characteristic of the show it's how, well, subdued and grounded it is. I assume this is the kind of thing that lead people to dismiss it as dull, but in my opinion it's simply not a spectacle meant to dazzle you but rather be a slow burn designed to entice you in with outlandish mysteries. Fact each episode is book ended by a brief summary of what happened after the fact, sometimes even months and years later, is that perfect cap I want on a story that anime almost never deliver on in this obsession to keep the status quo intact. Many are bittersweet, some tragic, but those just make the heartwarming endings stand out all the more for it.
As far as negatives go I'd say there's almost surreal level of sameface going on in a way I actually thought some were returning characters at first. You get used to it and based on what I've seen after the fact it's more or less staying true to manga, though. Trailer is also the very definition of misrepresentation and show is almost its exact tonal opposite. Definitely not a show for everyone, but I loved it.
Looking back on it I'm embarrassed to admit to myself just how long it took to cover Metro 2033 Redux with a proper review I wanted it to have. This is also where I'm unable to blame the virus craze, though. Here it is finally... and luckily for me I'm no completionist so one playthrough will suffice. Just to rub some salt into the wound I also had time to watch some anime and coincidentally they covered about 30 years of the industry.
Metro 2033 Redux
Having not played the original or read the novel game was based on I went almost blind into Metro 2033 Redux. Outcome of said stumbling? Well, it's definitely a game worth playing and doubly so commenting on.
Game is set 20 years after a seemingly nuclear exchange happened devastating the entire world in the process. For the relatively few people who managed to run for their lives and hide in metro stations what they knew was forever gone. One such, now called Exhibition, is where our protagonist Artyom comes from and is blissfully unaware of horrible things going down. What with encroaching mutants and general despair that's taken over the survivors. In a last bid to get help he is sent by his adoptive father to Polis, place acting as a sort-of capital for the metro stations people have turned into towns, and he is given a dog tag that will allow him to get in contact with the elite Spartan Order. Barely getting out of Exhibition alive Artyom embarks on a dangerous journey that could change everything and flush out dark secrets of the past, as well as future itself.
Putting my drab summary aside first thought that really hit me couple of hours in was “whoa, this isn't merely a throwaway story” and I was certainly glad to see that persisted throughout having finished the game. I imagine having roots in a novel helped in this particular case, but game pulls its own weight in ways only video games can thanks to interactive elements. Setting is a tremendous part of Metro 2033's story and that realization cannot be overlooked. Painfully bleak, one where humanity is barely eking existence amidst the mutants, bandits and revived factions of the past like Nazis and Communists, this story still somehow manages to be about headstrong defiance and spurring into action even when everything else fails. What really amazes is the manner in which this is generally presented – less boisterous and grand, more stoic and fatalistic. You could say this is a story only Eastern European developers could've told the way they did. This extends to a relatively small cast of characters and long lasting effect they have on Artyom even when they part ways, for example.
Probably the simplest description I could muster about gunplay would be how chunky it is. Earliest guns are makeshift creations firing bootleg ammunition because “real” pre-apocalypse ammo is used as currency in shops and guns control as such. I wouldn't say they're useless without updates or anything, but it certainly helps to spend when you reach metros if you like how a particular gun feels and you won't be replacing it. Which may be tempting because you can pick up whatever human enemies wield as long as you keep in mind there are three weapon slots total. There's additional equipment you can use, such as throwing knives for your stealth needs and multiple grenade types for when subtlety ends, and limited melee capabilities, but our protagonist's life will in the end depend on his boomsticks arsenal. And game doesn't really disappoint in that case by giving you access to trusty old type like revolver, machine gun and shotgun, but you will also delve into more exotic or variant builds. Now that I think about it I don't think I even came cross all the guns Metro 2033 has to offer.
Lots of soft orange lighting in the game putting the player at east. Usually when he should be at his most alert.
It would be impossible to describe Metro 2033's atmosphere as anything short of top-notch. Civilized areas paint a grim picture.
Nature of the game also lends itself to being careful with ammo and scrounging for stuff wherever you go by finding keys to unlock safes, loot corpses or whatever is lying around. This feeds into oddly enough present stealth system. I wouldn't say this is a STEALTH game you might imagine when you think Thief or something, but I've distinctly found use for being quiet and taking down enemies without being detected. Hell, there are levels where creeping about is a distinct possibility and there are even alternate routes on top of multiple weapons have the silencer upgrade. Preserving ammunition is a positive that just might make you try it out... and throwing knives are recoverable, instant kill for most human enemies. On the flipside mutants will not participate in your delusions of stealth and have to be dispatched violently unless it's a specific scenario where avoidance is viable.
While I'm on the topic of gameplay I think it's worth pointing out the general impression I got from the game because it plays like an extremely well-rounded product and not something designed by committee. If you're thinking this is a corridor shooter you're only half wrong because it's not like you really go on open world odyssey or anything, but the way progression and levels are laid out you never get the impression game is making you jump through hoops. There's a healthy offering aplenty when you look at individual ingredients – on top of usual FPS trappings you have inclusions like keeping check of your air filter and mask condition, lighter and map to navigate, avoiding traps and enemies, etc. I would've personally preferred one less cart ride when you get ambushed by creepy crawlies, but there is rarely a boring lull in Metro 2033 Redux and designers knew just when to give you a breather by making the plot take you to one of the metros or talk with enigmatic characters to advance the story. Or maybe just have a chat and expand on the world itself.
In terms of presentation I can hardly say anything that's not evident otherwise by one look at the screenshots. It's a gorgeous looking game and makes that orange/cyan color scheme work for maximum easy on the eyes effect. Lighting in particular steals the show. You'd think subway and sewer levels would get old fast, but game starts on a high note and smart decision was made to occasionally throw you out under the open sky for stark contrast. Fitting with the rest of the game, soundtrack is rather subdued and depressing with reliance on strings and busting out that acoustic guitar for maximum “camping at the end of the world” vibe. I wouldn't say underused, but it doesn't steal the spotlight until action scenes step on the stage and guns start singing.
You Are Under Arrest ( Comedy, Action, Drama, 1994, 4 episodes ) + OPENING
Saw You Are Under Arrest and I can definitely say they don't make anime like they used to anymore. Sure, it's a four-part OVA with more budget to go around which definitely shows in exquisite detail and animation, but I think it's more due to sheer effort that went into chase and vehicles scenes in general as well as entire team doing their research. That's not to say our two female police officer protagonists are slouches, though. Is it weird that I'm impressed by the fact anime could seamlessly merge and bounce between action, comedy and drama while integrating all three in equal measure? Maybe it goes back to how Natsumi and Miyuki aren't just color-coded archetypes and instead come off as genuine people in their own right with nuances to their personality. They take well mannered jabs at each other, but at the same time they're consummate professionals when it comes to their job. I can't help but imagine how in modern version they would be exaggerated comedic reliefs who somehow still held onto their jobs as it was pushed into the background to allow more hijinks. Not here. Second half of the OVA is somewhat weaker due to contrived drama otherwise light-hearted drama could have done without, though. Would recommend as relic of bygone days... and Yoriko is best girl.
Drifting Dragons ( Fantasy, Action, 2020, 12 episodes ) + TRAILER
Replace whales with dragons, whalers with drakers and Drifting Dragons is what you get as story soars high into airship territory. Story uses new recruit Takita as POV for the audience as she learns the ropes and play straight man to everyone's antics, but isn't limited to her alone because you really get to know what dozen or so crew members are about and some even get their own story bits for characterization's sake. Which is good because while draking makes for interesting premise it's the slice-of-life and what these people do between hunts which is really the main focus. Couple of story arcs are introduced and resolved to vary things up along the way as we see how and why they do what they do. I think characters themselves could have benefited from more background information, but you could argue they all left their old lives behind and that's the point. It would perhaps spice up their otherwise one-note nature, though. One more take I got from Drifting Dragons is I wish Japan would finally get over their notion that 20-ish frames-per-second looks good with 3D. CG used in the show ALMOST looks right, but it's this intentionally choppy animation that drags the entire affair down which is a shame because we have some pretty damn expressive characters, facially and body language-wise, compared to traditional approach where animators have to be content with only the barest of essentials. At the end of the day it feels like we got a look into regular lives of these drakers and there's no moral preaching about them being evil for what they do or anything.
Strait Jacket ( Science Fiction, Fantasy, Action, 2007, 3 episodes ) + TRAILER
Imagine if you will an alternate turn of the 20th century where magic was proven to be real and implement as a force alongside technology in every walk of life from medicine to engineering. This magic also brought forth a kind of curse where people who use it too much turn into body horror monsters dubbed Demons and lose their minds. Eventually so-called “Mold suits” were devised and using them guaranteed safe use of magic. That is, before your casting limit was reached or suit malfunctioned. Enter Sorcery Management Bureau and elite unit of Mold suit wielders who are called to action when Demons appear in kickass power armor knight suits and guns to channel their attack magic. They are called Strait Jackets and these are their stories. Sadly, I think setting and backstory, both of which OVA delivers in bare essentials, are the best part here while the actual “stoic outlaw doing the right thing regardless” is kinda worn out. Rayott Steinberg fits the role as unlicensed Tactical Sorceror at odds with SBA staff as we see three cases over the course of just as many episodes. There's personal drama involved and sort of predictable finale, but I still think Strait Jacket falls flat overall due to uninspired direction or possibly highly limited budget. Suits look great, but I think this may be a case where reading the LN in question may be a better choice due to a lot of elements simply left unexplored. Like the left-wing Ottoman terrorist group or how this variety of magic actually works, for example.
Isn't it great when you're on leave for two weeks and can't muster enough willpower to finish a single game despite essentially not being able to do all the normal things like going outside? Well, Steam to the rescue once again this time with LudoNarraCon event where indies get to showcase what they've been up to and we get play some demos on offer. Going by name alone I expected it would be more about story-driven narratives, but I biggly underestimated just how many developers shared singular fascination with detectives. So much so I played four demos about such adventures... in a row. Demos should be up until May 1st.
Beyond that I saw a few movies in my downtime and decided to chime in on those. I've finally included links to respective trailers because those will probably get you interested more than my scribbling could. Such linking could potentially be used in the future for other purposes as well. If I ever had to provide panel samples for comics or such.
Ring of Fire had me confounded for a while. It's a first-person investigation game where you take control of a rather bitchy detective and her partner as you're called to a murder scene. Setting is a futuristic one where people wear masks as part of their jobs, but that's not really the main draw of the game. When Ring of Fire says “this game is built with you taking notes in mind” it really means that. Decision to remove a clues notebook detective might carry around was an intentional one and may pose a problem because you are REQUIRED to query the police computer with every piece of info you find so you can piece it together. Heard someone's name? Looking up where they live so you can input the address and visit them is the most basic level of involved actions. I didn't really find it engaging and game lacks feedback on whether you're making progress. Good old “try everything” kicks in quickly.
Visual Novel at its core, Solace State plays the way you'd expect one to, but the devil lies in the details. Or should I say visually appealing merger of 2D and 3D assets... even if characters sometimes look like 2D cutouts when camera shifts abruptly. We assume control of a young hacker named Chloe in media res as she's in dangerous part of town with another hacker seemingly on this politically motivated mission of sorts. I wasn't exactly impressed by its hot take on the subject, but the underlying system of making informed decisions based on choices you glimpse from hacking is great. How do you deal with an aggressive grunt? Why, you hack him and find out he's local, has a sick mother and is indentured too his company. You then use this against him even if I'm not sure whether you're stuck in linear story or if consequences are real. Let's hope characters aren't overly preachy about social justice, though.
I'm certainly glad to see Chinatown Detective Agency is keen on keeping that '90s point & click adventure game spirit alive, albeit with a spin – you are actually expected to Google solutions on your end. At least if ancient literary authors and geography aren't your thing as far as demo is concerned. Oh, there's also pattern matching and ciphers to be cracked by our attractive detective turned PI lady. Pixel art is a make-or-break deal for many and while it could be more detailed, especially on characters, I think overall aesthetic works just fine. One amusing addition is keeping track of your funds and I'm interested in seeing how that aspect is balanced against globe trotting you'll embark on as you solve cases. Said cases kinda getting abruptly and serving as appetizers to whatever story arcs they may hold. Color me impressed and CDA definitely looks like something to be on a lookout for.
Part-time VN, part-time first-person adventure I have to say Paradise Killer definitely left a conflicting impression on me. If there was a single word to describe the game it would be “bizarre”. Sprung free from her exile Lady Love Dies is back as chief investigator trying to solve a murder mystery on Perfect Island and its denizens who may have dabbled in more than they should have trying to create its 25th version. I absolutely LOVE the presentation, combining the '80s aesthetics with appropriate soundtrack. Keep in mind when I say “presentation” I'm referring primarily to 2D assets. When our protagonist is not in fixed dialog you have to contend with cobbled together 3D environments while you compile testimonies and evidence. My distinct impression is project being pulled in too many directions and now looking to graft gameplay onto what should have been a pure Visual Novel for the sake of story integrity.
If you're looking for that mellow and light on gameplay experience Coffee Talk qualifies perfectly. I haven't played any of them for myself, but from what I understand there are other “barista gets to know his customers” games out there so this may not exactly be a novel idea in the grand scheme of things. That fact doesn't exactly diminish what we have at hand, though. Gameplay itself just boils down to listening what customers want and mixing three ingredients. Visual Novel presentation is really of the essence here, though. These people have lives you hear and look up on cheekily named social network, you get news about the world as each day passes, etc. Emotive sprite work and moody jazz soundtrack fits like a glove to a game of this type where you're not really racing against the clock or having your dexterity tested. Whether that alone can carry an experience throughout is up to you.
First impression Tangle Tower left was due to insanely high production values. You might find that strange for a P&C adventure game where lead characters aren't even on screen most of the time, but effort that must've gone into stunning artwork and full voice acting has to have been considerable. Pair of investigators reaches the eponymous tower(s) to solve a murder case and game is not content to leave you toiling with “combine X with Y to guess developer logic” so much as it expands on the puzzle system. From logical deduction sequences to dialog itself it seems they're treated akin to mini-games of sorts. Our two leads come off as snarky with great chemistry between themselves, yet never fell into that annoying territory for me that I've seen modern writing try to work with. This is one [modern] point & click adventure worth checking out if you're a genre enthusiast like yours truly.
More often than not nowadays I find myself in the mood for some well-rounded games. Garden Story is one of those where action adventure is the predominant ingredient, but there's more involved. I'm talking about how outright charming it is and ticks enough boxes so it's not just full-on action all the time. In this world of, well, living vegetables you play as Concord, a village guardian. Along with going dungeon delving to discover what's the deal with Rot you'll also take requests from villagers, restore said village and overall just take your time enjoying. I would say straightforward and comparatively simple graphics hide a game that's anything but when you look under the hood. I never felt like something was missing while I played the demo or that developer was trying to get away with a simplified game simply because it visually may appeal to children. If Legend of Zelda is your jam check out Garden Story.
One thing that annoyed me while playing Over the Alps was how you can definitely tell its user interface was made with smartphones in mind. Marveling stylized backgrounds on the big screen is great, but these same big screens also have a lot more real estate to work with text displaying. Game also does very little to explain its mechanics to you so it took me a while to figure out this agent we play as would be smart to lay traps and employ workarounds so his identity is not exposed as he goes about his business in Switzerland on the cusp of WW2. This poor telegraphing of what the player can interact with means you'll have to figure some things on your own, like alternate travel routes. At the end of the day writing was solid and visuals immersive. I think it also nailed the story of WW2 espionage where you don't trust anyone rather well which leaves me wondering where they're going with further stories.
It feels odd to say that Neo Cab gets cumbersome to play before I even finished the demo, but it does. I can also pinpoint when that happened – when game introduced the Feelgrid so you start choosing based on what affects your mood. That's on top of having to carefully pick answers so as not to piss off your customers lest they give you a poor score. Bolting such mechanics on-top of CYOA doesn't work in this case and that's unfortunate because stories your passengers have seem interesting and provide a glimpse into this technological city. Some things are comically weird, like an anti-car faction objecting usage of cars on the basis of being Fucking Death Machines and this groups plays it entirely seriously, yet at its core Neo Cab seems to be buried under busy work to get to the good bits. Maybe I'm just too old and can't get into the whole “urban youth and world running on their feelings” drivel.
She Never Died ( Drama, Action, 2019, 89 minutes ) + TRAILER
I don't know what's current status of the mini series that was supposed to be released after He Never Died, but I recently saw She Never Died which is more or less the same idea except roles are gender-bent. Considering who the main character is, and who the main character from the last movie is superposed to be, they might as well exist in the same universe. Not really a movie I'd recommend because it took hindsight to realize how much Henry Rollins added as the previous lead compared to this new STRONG WOMAN protagonist who rarely comes off as more than just loudly posturing and not as someone who would've blended into society well enough to last this long. Lack of budget and personal story investment also comes through. Antagonists were despicable enough with their ludicrous snuff premise and matter a fact behavior, though.
Color Out of Space ( Horror, 2019, 111 minutes ) + TRAILER
Sat through Color out of Space yesterday. Man, this must've been one hell of a trip to watch in movie theaters, but it only emphasized what a weirdly unfilmable story they chose to adapt out of Lovecraft's entire library. This is one of those cases where advancements in digital technology certainly help in getting surreal imagery across and movie really ramps it up along the way before it overloads the visuals in the finale. Even if it boils down to "color pink started causing trouble in my neighborhood" I think movie's faults come down to uninteresting human stories and how it seemingly HAS to explain what's going on to dumb audience or they won't get it. It's not a 1:1 adaptation and there's quite a bit of expanded content here, but I have to give them credit for appropriate ending even if surprise survivor stayed sane. What a ripoff! Cage definitely brought his unsettlingly manic performance, but I couldn't really tell how much of it was acting before shit hits the fan and how much was his low energy self. I think I expected more from Color out of Space because I'd probably rate Mandy higher.
Aniara ( Science Fiction, Drama, 2018, 106 minutes ) + TRAILER
I'm not sure how a Swedish movie even got on my to-watch radar, but I saw Aniara. In a way it's exactly what I'd expect from Sweden these days: Earth's climate got screwed up and humanity embarks on massive exodus to Mars where they're making a new life for themselves. Movie follows passengers aboard the eponymous Aniara and shenanigans that ensue after a freak stellar accident leaves them without the ability to control the ship. There's a plan how to turn around, but it's expected to take two years and that's a long time for things to go wrong. Things are made even worse because there's this VR reality sort of technology called Mima that lets people relive imagery from what Earth "was like before" and people begin relying on it more and more as form of escapism which puts stress on our protagonist as she's the sole operator of said technology. There's undoubtedly some social commentary going on here and not having a female protagonist be a lesbian would have shocked me. My biggest problem with Aniara is how it manages to be on the somewhat dull side despite an interesting premise and escalating stakes. I think it's just how stoic everyone is and subdued atmosphere that only occasionally gets interjected with tense scenes. In true Nordic fashion it's more utilitarian and minimalist than anything else.
With all the Corona craze going on around the world, Croatia included, I guess it figures I would get blindsided by something new on Steam. This time it's the Steam Game Festival aka dozens of demos that are currently available for limited time only... until they presumably release them again to stay. Necessitating such a crazy endeavor meant I had to forego my usual wall of text so I retooled something better suited for a paragraph worth of text seeing as I went for simpler summaries. Tell me what you think, and these demos should still be up for a day or so still if you want to check them out.
Stay safe and enjoy the read.
It should be noted the version of Carrion I played is presented as this sort of alpha sneak peek and perhaps not a fully-realized demo, but that doesn't really change it mostly lived up to what I expected to get. Hybrid of action and platforming where the table has been switched and you assume the role of the monster that has to crawl about and consume humans to grow in mass. I say “platforming” loosely seeing as being a biomass of fleshy tentacles sticking to objects you're not exactly limited by gravity. What are you limited by are bullets, though. Direct confrontation with firearms is not recommended and can melt your health away very easily. Inaccurate aiming and controls in general could use some tightening up and I am interested where they're going with the story in this particular instance seeing as there was none of it present here. Color me intrigued even if I might not be there in the first wave.
Elden: Path of the Forgotten largely comes off as something familiar provided you've played any Souls games before albeit veiled in pixelated presentation and somehow not lessened by it. It was refreshing to see in the opening that you are, in fact, just someone who sees a ritual go down and decide to discover what happened. No spoken dialog and garbled made-up text only enforces this notion of mystery. Gameplay-wise Elden is subscribed to methodical play unless you realize most enemies really aren't much of a threat seeing as they lack elaborate attack patterns and even the boss included just requires some dodge rolling. I did appreciate how you're immediately provided with three weapon types so you can rotate between speed-range-power. Explore the area, run into a locked door you need to kill a monster to get the key, activate checkpoints, etc. Solid atmosphere carried this through for me.
Describing Haven in just couple of lines may be difficult because it appears to have a bit of everything in its DNA – JRPG combat, VN story bits and extremely satisfying freeflow exploration where you hover about chasing energy trails. There's also a rarely seen situation in that you control a likeable romantic couple not ashamed of showing it as they find themselves stuck on an unknown world with only their Flow technology to help with a seemingly good reason why they went there as quietly as possible. Cooking also seems to be a big deal as you gather ingredients and everything is done with two confirmations systems aka game will be co-op ready once it launches, but is playable perfectly fine solo. Production values are also on formidable display here with appealing warm aesthetics and voice acting for both characters. I knew this was on my wishlist for a reason and seems bent on staying there.
If there's a single-most positive to list in favor of Liberated it would be impressive comic issue format it went with. By format I refer to how it presents story through animated comic book strips so you definitely feel immersed. Only problem is you eventually have to start playing the game and what we have is an action side scroller where you'll mostly resort to guns and only occasionally break it up with some lite stealth action and puzzles. Let me just say that putting block pushing in your demo won't win me over. On that matter, I found that Liberated isn't really difficult so much as I found myself dying just because combat is janky as hell due to aiming. Going for headshots makes life easier. Game's noir comic art style and dystopian future plot do their job, but actual game assets leave something to be desired once you have control because those models and animations are pretty simple looking.
Spirifarer just might be a game for you if you're in that cross-section of players who want their, well; base-building, cooking, side-sidescrolling and narrative driven package all-in-one. Driven under a simple imperative – mellow and wholesome. That was my impression taking control of Stella as she drives people around with her ship so they can “pass on”, essentially filling the role of Charon if he stretched legs here and there. What intrigued me is these passengers make their homes on your ship with their own requirements and have stories to tell. It's not clear from the demo how extensive this is, but I kinda got the impression other elements are secondary to this JOURNEY aspect. There are glimpses at farming, character ability progression, etc without overwhelming the player. Breathtaking presentation is no slouch either with obvious artistic effort present everywhere.
A two hour opening experience, Trials of Mana left me rather conflicted. It's a modern remake of a Mana title that never [officially] made it to western audiences with gameplay being your action RPG with light/heavy attacks on top of special abilities yet in the story department things are far more interesting for the JRPG arena because there's multiple protagonists from which you choose a team leader + two companions you eventually come across and join with. Each has backstory you play through and affects their motivation. Tangible problem for me was overall presentation. It has obviously been topped with 3D graphics, actual cutscenes and voice acting, but I would say none of those are exactly top tier. Graphics look a tiny bit too sterile, cutscenes are heavily utilitarian and English VAing detracted tremendously for me simply due to how miscast most of the talent appears. Tentatively remains on my wishlist... for now.
If you wanted a Souls games focused on boss rushes exclusively then Eldest Souls might be precisely what you're looking for. Moody sprite work does wonders and backs the whole “claymore wielding crusader cleans house” vibe going on after a very brief synopsis of why you're there. Game relies on not only you using your stamina-limited dodge to get out of danger but ALSO on charging your greatsword attack which propels you forward and enables a savage attack once your meter is full afterwards. Add to that some talents, like blocking with vengeance or increased damage, and you know everything you need to. There are no monsters to waste your time so it's from one boss to another, and you'll probably die couple of times seeing as phases are a thing. Boss rushes are not my thing so I'll pass, but this does seem to be outstanding effort.
Röki is certainly visually pleasing with the way it contrasts snowy landscapes with Tove's red hat and backpack that make her stand out, but I'm not sure if this demo does justice to how the game may ultimately turn out. Game isn't even remotely bad, instead a rather welcome light adventure game steeped in folklore from what I can tell, but offering at hand was simply too brief and in medias res to properly grab me. Lack of notable standout features past atmosphere itself is tricky in a game that appears to have very basic puzzles and just a brief tease of characters or story. Seeing as Röki was actually on my wishlist up to this point I think I'll remove it for now, at least until release to see if something changes in the meantime. Inviting visuals and potentially intriguing story may be worthwhile selling points, though.
Developing themselves referring to Tunche as a “beat 'em up with roguelike elements” is more apt than any other description I could come up with. There's some rumbling in the jungle with monsters causing ruckus and you, with your co-op partner if such exists, take control of one of the four girls sitting around the campfire with their abilities. Seeing Hat Kid from A Hat in Time among jungle natives did take me out of it, though. Everyone has melee/ranged combos as well as special ability once the bar is full, and so you go about clearing couple of screens of enemies until you reach the boss. It's short and sweet with game peppering you with just enough upgrades to not feel like a regular beat 'em up thanks to that dash of RPG. My favorite was getting healed after killing enemies because potions are a premium. Bring a friend to this party filled with smooth as hell animations and fun goes up exponentially.
I can safely say that after its prolonged period of Epic exclusivity Operencia: The Stolen Sun finally coming to Steam is nothing short of amazing. First-person dungeon crawlers have sadly become a rarity and seeing one realized so well, artistically and mechanically, warms my old heart. You create a character, have a crazy dream about a white deer god and end up exploring an underwater castle with an unlikely companion. Bonding ensues alongside slaying skeletons and frogmen aplenty. Add some intuitive puzzles, where even I realized I missed out on some secrets, alongside grid-based exploration and turn-based combat... well, I think this Operencia is worth waiting. Doubly so if you have little to no previous experience with so-called “blobbers” because in that case this may be that perfect easing into from more narrative-focused RPGs we take for granted today.
I did something crazy recently when I challenged myself to the following – play through a handful of short games, which I would then proceed to review, over the weekend encompassing 7th and 8th of March. Really shocking part is I actually pulled it off somehow and now come bearing six short reviews. One lagging behind in time posted, but the game itself was finished on Sunday. What's on offering isn't my usual wall of text so pieces should be easily digestible. Have fun and enjoy the read.
Something I decided to play on a whim, Western Press turned out to be a simple enough game to grasp, but like it tends to be the case with such games when there's some degree of manual dexterity involved it just means game pushes it to the extreme. What does that mean? To win these old Western style duels, narrative even frames them as simply being the method through which problems are resolved and everyone's always itching to draw iron for the most minute of matters, you input commands lined up in sequence on your side of the screen and pray your trigger finger is faster than the other dude's. That reaction time is all it boils down to. Seeing as online is pretty much dead I only played through the singleplayer which is brief and has you going up against nine bots with increasing difficulty levels. Worth noting is there's a memory mode which turns the tables by having you memorize commands and then input them. In case you needed a change pace.
VERDICT: Singleplayer offering is clearly there to wet the appetite more than anything, but based on it and it alone I can't really find fault with the game for what it is. Raw pixel graphics could be a major letdown for some if that's important to you, but this is a very distilled package you'll either love or hate. With 30 odd minutes of content without the online component it's not much of an investment.
Returning to first-person walking simulators for, what, a third crack at the thing I find myself yet again let down, but with enough visual presence to hold me engaged this time. Scanner Sombre absolutely nails the latter with its LIDAR scanner system, primary spice added to good old “hold W to move forward” seeing as you now have to hold the left mouse button as well, with which you essentially “paint” the levels in otherwise pitch black darkness based on object proximity. Game does eventually expand the scanner's functionality by introducing upgrades you come across like beam spread regulation and others, but you absolutely don't need any of these to finish the game. I would be remiss not to commend the level designer for making it all work despite player having only dotted shapes to work with and I found myself turned around only once when I had to find my way through a narrow maze-like area which proved to be somewhat cumbersome when you have overlapping colors changing hues based on proximity. Sadly, I also have to take back some of the praise because, yes, designers could not avoid indulging and having monsters you have to avoid if only for a very brief period. Which could also be entirely missable if you're not as bad as I am.
As far as story goes there is one and it involves someone going into ancient caves to explore some old forgotten cult, but this is one of those “open to interpretation” kind of setups where things were seemingly intentionally left vague. Most of it is delivered through protagonist's own thoughts as you venture through the unknown, but some clues are only discoverable on NG+ when you have access to fully upgraded scanner from the very get-go. Also, mandatory twist ending because I guess you can't do without one if you want to make a DEEP story demanding to be taken seriously. Spookiness abounds through.
VERDICT: Not exactly my kind of thing yet despite that I found myself rather taken in by what I experienced for almost two hours or so. Worthwhile noting is how Scanner Sombre actually takes advantage of things like level design and player's ability to navigate through said levels without holding his hand. Removing some low points and adding tighter narrative may have improved the game and made that rather impressive soundtrack have much more significant impact, though.
Boiling the title down to its very essence it's pretty clear what Tiny Echo is, that being a point & click adventure game. Strangely enough developers seem to have decided for a half-way measure when it came to how much modern day convenience they wanted – you can hold the right mouse button to display where the exit areas are and how many letters you've delivered, as well as key character you're supposed to deliver them TO when they're on-screen, but not much else. This just nudges you to click on things and use your eyes, though. Some you'll have to do like figuring out how to cry into pots to make flowers grow and some like clicking on side characters just shows off how much effort was put into the game on the artistic side of things.
Speaking of letters I should point out that's what the game is about. Player getting duped into becoming this world's postman. Well, extremely cute eyeball... being, who gets woken up to deliver thirteen letters and seems constantly on the verge of falling asleep. In fact, nodding off is part of the idle animation. To top it off this is a rather surreal fantasy setting in its own right which happened to become the primary draw for me. Just to give you an appetizer I'll add these letters have shadowy forms and are opened in dreams of the recipients. I'll leave the rest to you to find out.
VERDICT: I have a soft spot for adventure games and Tiny Echo has a lot more going on in the presentation department than it does with mechanics. This is a world I want to know more about, yet one that probably functions perfectly condensed into this concise message. Puzzles themselves are largely non-existent and we get pictograph communication instead of traditional dialog for a change. As long as you have tolerance for slower paced games and keeping short play time in mind, I'd feel pretty safe recommending this to genre fans and beyond.
Breaking away from my comfort zone I decided to try something way out there and Aaero brought rhythm action as you fly your ship around around following a light beam to the beat of various EDM music I know nothing about. Needless to say a concept like this, which doesn't let you import your own music the way Audiosurf does, because this time levels are actually unique with their own aesthetic and atmosphere, has inherent limitations and doubly so when you add licensed music. What I'm trying to say is Aaero is really quite short unless chasing high scores is your thing. To be perfectly honest I must confess to barely getting through Normal mode as some of those curves you're supposed to pull off with your analog stick definitely take a while to get used to. Gamepad is mandatory, by the way. Next to flying and matching up to light beams you'll also be doing some light shooting meant more to distract and rob you of your three hit points.
VERDICT: Not really my thing, which means no story to speak of, but I don't really see any fault with the game being what it is. Soundtrack included is obviously something that will depend on your personal taste, and buying more in the form of DLC is recommended if you like game's rather short basic offering, but I still enjoyed tubular shmup bits. This is one of those games you can return to after “finishing” it to try to beat your score or play on higher difficulties.
Proving you can tell a touching and relatable story without a single word Old Man's Journey sure makes the titular old man move about. After getting a letter of extreme importance our protagonist sets out on a journey to sort out his past life and maybe even his biggest mistake. Without any doubt this is a case of artwork, but even more so SOUNDTRACK, hogging all the attention for a breathtaking final result that kept me engrossed throughout. This is a very light game, though. Technically an adventure, but more on the “narrative experience” side of things. I did find it strange that main mechanic was shifting landscape around which lets you jump from background to foreground as you connect landscapes to progress. Simple enough system that varies it up a bit from simply walking between points you usually get in point & click adventures.
VERDICT: Concise and finalized nature of the story leads me to recommend Old Man's Journey in a heartbeat. Just keep in mind it's very short and you're there to bask in the emotions it eventually immerses you in as story unfolds through gorgeous flashbacks giving current events context. This is otherwise a very simple “move from screen to screen” affair if you were looking for devilishly difficult puzzles or volumes worth of backstory to delve into. I was moved more than I would admit to anyone beyond internet strangers.
Crawl crept up to me as quite the surprise. I went in expecting a simple roguelike or side scrolling action, but what I found instead was frenetic and brutal action game built on competitive play. What is it, though? I got some parts right – you start the game by choosing which god your character follows and each god provides a bonus as well three monsters to work with. Going into the dungeon with its many floors you're essentially racing level up your hero and get funds to procure better equipment from the shops until you reach level ten and can use the portal to fight the boss to win. There's a fine balance going on with the whole “do I rush to defeat the boss or do I take longer to upgrade my stuff as monsters get more powerful?”. Speaking of monsters...
There are four playable slots when creating a game. If the player occupies one, what about the remaining three? Well, those are actively trying to STOP you from winning and they all have their heroes. Only one hero is material and doing hero stuff. Others become immaterial ghosts who posses traps/throw objects around and use summoning circles to conjure monsters they then assume direct control of to stop the hero. Where hero collects gold and experience other players collect ectoplasm and Wrath as hero levels up. This is then used to upgrade monsters to provide escalating challenge. They also seize control of the boss fight which can make or break it depending on how many there are or bot difficulty you've chosen.
VERDICT: As shocking as its terrific opening narration Crawl had me by the neck even before tutorial had even ended. I imagine this is probably one of those games that ends friendships and I would hesitate to call it a “party game” yet that's kinda what it is. Just wrapped up in RPG elements, brutal combat and highly pixelated art style that still punches through with grim and gothic atmosphere. Highly recommended and something to put additional hours in.