My backlog extends beyond Steam... devonrv’s profile

In other words, you’ll occasionally see me post about…maybe not obscure, but perhaps unexpected games. I’ve already brought up such titles as Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean as well as Fluidity, and you can expect more in the future.

As for my BLAEO wheel: whenever I buy a game on Steam, I always play it a little bit right then so that nobody can say that I bought a bunch of Steam games I’ve never played. That said, I’m going to keep a game labeled as “never played” until I reach it in my backlog and plan on playing it actively.

Also, since there are some games I never plan on 100%ing, I’ll probably just use “beaten” for all the games that I’ve beaten, even if I’ve technically “completed” them as well. I’ll use “unfinished” for when I plan on going back to play all of a game’s content, even if I’ve technically beaten it already.

Have you ever seen an adaptation that only kept superficial elements from its source material, but was otherwise its own thing? That’s what this game did to the shooter genre.

This is technically a twin-stick shooter. You move with the left stick, aim with the right stick, fire missiles with the R button, and grapple things with the L button. Each level consists of multiple rooms, and each room is around 2x2 screens in size. The goal is to rescue all the workers by grappling them, which automatically brings them in your ship. Once all the workers have been dealt with, the door to the next room opens. Sometimes, you’ll come across a flag-bearer; you don’t have to rescue them to progress, but if you do, you’ll get a bit of world-building with them commenting on what’s going on. You’ll also find diamonds in the levels, either sticking out of the solid tiles or hidden behind destructible objects, and you need to collect enough of them to unlock the final level in each world.

While it is true that rooms have enemies and that you can shoot at the enemies to kill them (with the enemies likewise being able to do the same thing to you), said enemies are few and far between. It isn’t uncommon for there to be no enemies in a room, and if there are, they’re usually in a small group (usually 3 or less) and can be taken out in seconds with little resistance. So how does the game try to add challenge? Why, by having enemies appear out of thin air, of course! Yup, enemies will just suddenly show up, triggered by random things like rescuing a certain worker or reaching a certain point in the level; you can clear a hall of enemies only for there to be more when you go back the way you came, and sometimes, they even brazenly poof into existence right in front of you on screen! With that said, getting hit by enemies or their projectiles usually doesn’t kill you in one hit; instead, you have a temperature gauge, and getting hit fills it up to 3/4th capacity; wait enough without getting hit again and it starts to cool down, but if it fills up completely, your ship overheats and slowly floats down until it crashes.

Plus, the combat is barely half the game; it seems to be more focused on making you redirect various liquids and waiting for them to flow to their destinations (hence why this isn’t a good shooter for shooter fans). If two differing liquids collide, they turn into something else; for example, if water and lava touch each other, it turns into dirt, which can be destroyed by shooting at it. I think the game was trying to go for a puzzle vibe, but the only reason why it isn’t instantly obvious which liquids you need to free from their dirt prisons first is because you can’t see the whole room at once and need to fly around a bit to see where everything is. It’s more padding than anything.

Even before that became apparent, the game upset me right off the bat by having momentum-based movement (I really gotta be better at looking for that before I decide to buy a game). In other words, to move, you have to build up speed slowly before reaching your top speed, and if you want to change direction, you’ll still move in the initial direction, but at a slower and slower speed while you slowly increase in speed in the direction you’re now pointing the left stick toward. If you want to reverse direction, you have to slow down, stop, then slowly build up speed going the other way. All that may not sound so bad on paper, but what this means is that attacks that otherwise would be easy to dodge suddenly become deviously difficult because you need to react quick enough for your ship to slowly lumber out of the way. It doesn’t look that hard because everything moves so slow, but everything needs to move that slow in order to give the player enough time to react and get the ship out of the way. Yes, you can boost past your max speed by holding both sticks in the same direction, but not only does this make it harder to stop in time due to the extra momentum (e.g. an enemy suddenly spawns in front of you where there was nothing before), but it also sends your ship to the edge of the screen–in the direction you’re moving, no less–giving you no time to react to any hazards that may be there anyway.

However, it gets worse, because the game does eventually have enemies that move at a slightly-brisk speed, and these are impossible to dodge unless you’re already in motion. This is especially bad for the bosses, but the worst example of this is with the world 4 boss: not only does this world introduce poison water (if touched, the temperature gauge slowly increases until you collide with normal water) and not only does it introduce bubbles (doesn’t hurt you but completely removes control and sends you in the direction you were going until you get out of them), but both of these elements are used in the boss. To be fair, the poison water by itself isn’t that bad since it always sits at the bottom of the arena, but the boss’s pattern has it spit poison water up at you as well as jumping from the poison (both of which are as fast or faster than your max speed), on top of the boss spawning little enemies that also jump from the poison faster than you can move, so the only safe place to stay is right above the poison so you can see where the enemies move, but the boss can also make waves in the poison, so really the only way to get past the boss is trial and error so you already know what its pattern is and how to avoid it. It gets worse when the poison is drained and the entire arena (except for a small area in the center) gets filled with the bubbles that take away your control: now the boss chases you directly, and the only way to damage the boss is to get to it from behind, but the chasing AI is so precise that the only time you can get behind it is if you survive until it transitions into the “pause, then boost forward slightly” phase of its pattern, and even when that does happen, you might not be able to get there in time because your ship is bouncing around the arena out of your control. Yes, there are points you can grapple among the bubbles that has your ship rotate around said grapple points until you let go, but these points disappear for a minute after you use them, and you’re completely screwed if you run out or aim slightly wrong or if the boss happens to be in your way. Yes, shooting the bubbles destroys them, but if more than a few pop, there are generators that spawn more bubbles to replace them. The only thing that prevents this part of the fight from being completely impossible is the fact that getting hit just messes with your temperature gauge rather than killing you outright, but it’s still really common to get hit so frequently that you overheat and die before you can do anything.

Side note: both the poison and the bubbles are dropped completely after world 4. Other elements exclusive to world 4 include eggs (which are like dirt but slowly grow back, which is as annoying as it sounds) and a “muncher” ship that you need to use to get past certain rooms. On one hand, the muncher ship doesn’t have momentum-based movement, but on the other hand, you can’t stand still unless you’re right next to a wall and facing it, you can’t attack enemies directly (you might be able to push a rock on them), your movement is unit-based even though quite a bit of the border isn’t designed with clarity in mind (making it seem like you should be able to go into a space that acts as a wall), and worst of all, the game slows down even more since these rooms are built around digging through white tiles, which fill almost the entire room and require a slow munching animation to play out for every unit you dig through, essentially resulting in a worse version of Boulder Dash. Normally, I’d complain about the game being gimmicky since it introduces things without building on them much, but honestly, I’m glad none of this ended up in the rest of the game because they’re the worst part.

Speaking of not being able to go where you think you should, the game sometimes has secret areas if you travel through an open hall that leads to the border of the room, and these secret areas usually have some extra points and maybe a diamond or two. Other times, there will be what looks like a clear path toward a secret area only for you to be blocked by an invisible wall (sometimes before you even reach the border of the screen).

That certainly isn’t as bad as other parts of the game, but, like, everything in this game has something wrong with it. The game has an online multiplayer mode, but the game tries to connect online the moment you start the game (making it take longer to load), and if you put the Vita in sleep mode while the game is on and you go to play it again, it will sometimes throw up a list of nearby ISP routers while you’re in the middle of the offline single-player campaign (EDIT: though that may be a problem with how the Vita itself works rather than a problem with the game’s Vita port). Even the parts where you have to redirect liquids, despite being the most major part of the game, has issues: most of the liquid will drain if you shoot a hole in the dirt, but there can often be one stray droplet hiding on part of the dirt you didn’t shoot, and if that’s a droplet of lava, it can absolutely still kill you and force you to go though the motions of waiting for the liquids to drain all over again.

So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend this game. Not only does it focus on padding most of the time, but when it does have shooting combat, it’s really bad at it.

Well, this is it. After a couple years of not being satisfied with RPGs (from The Thousand-Year Door being too easy to Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean being too random (and too easy)), this is the game that finally convinced me that I’m simply not a fan of the genre–not necessarily because of what I didn’t like, but because of how close it came to being one I did like.

First, a message to those of you who play RPGs for the story: this game kinda doesn’t have one. There isn’t really anything urgent going on in the world; you’re just a group of adventurers exploring an uninhabited island (save for one town that has the shop and inn, as well as a few NPCs representing other explorers). There’s a point where the save mascot gets sucked into darkness and you might think “oh, things are starting to pick up in the story department,” but no, it’s just a random thing that happens. There’s no follow up to this event whatsoever; you never see the save mascot again or even learn who was responsible/why it was done/any potential history the save mascot has with the island. What about character development? Nope: everyone is a one-dimensional caricature that never evolves past their description on the character select screen (at least in Meurs’s campaign), with their backstories existing solely as an excuse to get them on the island (for crying out loud, the amnesiac doesn’t even get her memories back or have an arc where she comes to terms with it or anything). Okay, maybe there’s some world-building? Well, as you explore, you’ll come across poems that mention specific events in the island’s history (which basically boils down to everything was fine until the king invaded the queen’s land, then half of the island sank), but that’s about it; you don’t really learn anything about the island beyond that, and you certainly never find out anything about the rest of the world. So if it isn’t very strong on those fronts, what does it have left to stand on? Game-play?

Anyway, combat in this game is your standard turn-based fare. You start by choosing a formation, which can be made outside of battle and determine the characters’ stances (attack, defense, or support). Personally, I see this as an unnecessary extra step since you have to keep up with all the possible formations instead of just being able to use the move you want, but I digress. After that, you’re sent into the more familiar “select which move you want to use” menu; at first it just shows your weapon’s moves, but you can push left/right to switch to defensive moves, healing moves, or spells, assuming you have the necessary items equipped to use them (e.g. you can only use defensive moves if you have a shield equipped). Turn order is usually fairly consistent, though sometimes, some moves (notably the elemental contracts) can have characters move earlier or later than usual. On top of moves having innate attack power, they also have experience meters for each stance and get more powerful the more you use the move in that stance, even leveling up mid-battle in most cases (for example, attack moves start off with higher attack-stance experience, healing spells start with higher support-stance experience, etc.). Outside of battle, enemies are represented by shadowy creatures that go about their business and chase you if they notice you, with different shapes having slightly different ways of going after you. Every map besides the town spawns enemies and sparkles; examining a sparkle can sometimes get you an item, but other times, it results in an ambush, forcing you into a battle. The game also treats running away differently; doing so will send you back to the beginning of the map, which is great for if you need to go back to the inn and heal, or if you got the key item you need and just wanna exit the map. My only issue is that there are some battles you can’t run away from, and the game tends to make these battles the ones where you might not be high-enough level to win.

Sometimes, when you go to use one move, the character will “awaken” another move and use that instead. At first, this is a good thing since it’s a small chance that you’ll learn a more powerful move and use it without spending as much or even any SP. However, the game seems to have a lot of filler moves that aren’t as powerful, but you learn them later. Most of them don’t even have any additional effect, with their descriptions just being flavor text (which is common for most weapon-based moves), and since they have less innate attack and less experience, it usually isn’t worth switching until you learn a move that’s quite a bit more powerful that what you’ve got (same goes for switching weapon classes since you have to start over from the weaker moves, even if the weapon itself has more attack power). Defensive moves have a different issue: when you learn the move that blocks while also preventing damage, or the move that blocks and reflects damage back at the enemy, you might think “wow, those are worth the small SP cost,” but what the game doesn’t tell you is that those moves only have a percent-chance to work; sometimes they activate in the middle of the turn, and sometimes they won’t activate at all, and you just wasted that SP for nothing. On the flip-side, you do learn defense moves that claim to reduce attack damage by more than the standard defend move, and while these moves do work, by the time you unlock them, your normal defend will have enough experience to be just as effective as the new move, once again making it not worth the SP cost.

However, the worst is with spells. First, in order to use the spell, you need a contract with its corresponding element, which means you need to equip the item that lets you make the contract in one of your character’s accessory slots. Okay, fine. Next, since none of your party starts off knowing any spells, you need to equip the item that lets you use the spell in your only other accessory slot. Okay, fine. Make the contract on turn 1, use the spell on turn 2. If you use the spell enough, the character will “awaken” that spell, which lets you switch out the equipped spell for something else (like another spell) while still being able to use said spell. Okay, great. One problem: it doesn’t end there. Like with other moves, using spells enough can have you learn other spells, but unlike other moves, spells have a much larger variety of effects, and more often than not result in something detrimental. Let’s say you’re fighting a boss, and while it isn’t a cake-walk, you’ve got a good pattern going with healing your team and attacking the boss, and you go to use a healing spell (which does eventually get better than the medicine box item) when suddenly, your character “awakens” a debuff and uses that instead (though at least it changes its target to the boss), and since it’s a boss in an RPG, it’s immune to the debuff. In other words, your character doesn’t heal, but rather wastes the SP on a move that does nothing, and now it’s the boss’s turn to attack. Needless to say, it’s pretty annoying when it happens.

Another major part of the game is map making. as you explore the area, the map on the bottom screen will fill in, and if you explore any given room in the area enough, all the rest of the smoke in front of the map clears away and the room is marked as “complete.” Something annoying is that just going down every path isn’t enough since the smoke is grid-based, so you kinda have to zig-zag along the paths in order to get enough smoke out of the way for the room to be considered complete. The whole point of this (aside from finding where to go next) is that you can sell maps to get money; the more parts of an area are explored, the more money you’ll be given for selling the map, which the game stresses heavily. What the game doesn’t tell you is that, once you sell the map, you’ll see other friendly NPCs around said area, most of which simply comment on the scenery, but some will offer to let you rest and heal your party (meaning you don’t have to go all the way back to the inn), so there is a good reason to sell a map early.

When you start the game, you’re thrown right into the first enemy area for you to explore and fight monsters. After the battle tutorial, it seemed like every enemy encounter left my party with just a little bit of HP left, so I went to open the menu to see if I could maybe use the medicine box outside of battle, but none of the face buttons did anything. Okay, what about the Start button?
Top screen, bottom text
Nope, that button takes a screenshot. Neat, but I want the menu. Maybe the Select button?
Can you find all the differences?
Nope, that button ALSO TAKES A SCREENSHOT. Turns out that, until you beat the first boss, the game won’t let you pause! This might just be the most baffling decision I’ve seen in any game ever. What option in the pause menu would break the introduction? Why not just disable that option instead of the whole pause menu? And on another note, why do both Start and Select need to be used for taking screenshots? Why not just have one button be the screenshot button and have the other one be used for skipping cut-scenes or something?

As for why combat is so demanding, it turns out that your party heals to max HP after every battle (not that you’d know that at first, what with you not being able to pause the game, which would’ve saved me a lot of running back to the NPC that lets you rest). However, if a character dies, said character loses a percentage of max HP until you rest at the inn in town (said reduction is represented by a red number with normal damage represented in white). This means you can’t just breeze through everything like in Final Fantasy XIII-2; if you die too often, you won’t have enough max HP to continue and will have to go back to the inn (or speak to an NPC offering rest if you’re in an area whose map you’ve sold).

One of the first things an NPC tells you is to run away from as many battles as you can. At first, I was like “no wonder reviewers thought this game was grindy; that’s terrible advice!” but as I progressed, it seemed like certain moves only awaken if you fight a few battles in later areas rather than it being your standard RPG level-up fare. In fact, aside from potentially increasing experience for your moves, it’s pretty common for enemy encounters to leave you with nothing to show for them (especially near the beginning):
You get nothing! You win! Good day, sir!
With that said, I do recommend intentionally fighting the enemies you come across until you get good at defeating them, then start running away when they’re no longer a challenge. Of course, if battles are getting to be too much, you could always heal at the inn, then run away from battles until you get back to the part of the area you haven’t finished exploring in order to finish your map.

Okay, so I’ve brought up quite a few issues, but I did also mention something about liking parts of this game? Yeah, this game actually addresses a major complaint I have with a bunch of other turn-based RPGs by making the combat actually require some strategy, even from the beginning. There are quite a few places where you can be wiped out with relative ease, but with the possible exception of optional bosses, there’s always a way to overcome it and win. Is there a common enemy that has a multi-attack spell that can devastate your party? Focus all your attacks on that one enemy to kill it before it can use the move. What if there’s a bunch of enemies with powerful moves? Activate an elemental contract and use a shield spell. If an area or boss seems too hard to deal with at the moment, go explore another area and come back later. Even the semi-final boss, which actually had me stop playing for awhile, ended up being quite feasible when I realized “wait, why don’t I just do this?” and the final boss fell not too long afterward.

Unfortunately, even this has its issues, because part of the reason the game seems so difficult at first is that the game has a bad habit of not telling you stuff. Not only is there the fact that you can’t pause at the beginning (among some other things I mentioned earlier), but it also extends to the combat. That shadow enemy that’s slightly larger than all the other shadow enemies and doesn’t chase you? Turns out you can’t run away from that battle, and you won’t know that until after you enter the battle. That enemy I mentioned that has the powerful multi-attack spell? You’re not gonna know that it has that move (or even that the move exists) until after it kills your entire full-HP party in a single move, making you lose all progress you’ve made since your last save.
And it burns, burns, burns...
Note: this is only the third area; you have less than 200 max HP at this point. That’s how I learned you should quick-save often (at least once per room): you never know when the game will screw you over with something you didn’t expect.

This even extends to things like basic progression. As you explore, you’ll come across stone structures labeled with a “check” icon (to differentiate them from sparkles). Sometimes, examining them will make them glow (and sometimes activate something that either lets you progress or makes it easier to progress), while other times, examining them simply tells you that they stand motionless. After getting to a point where I couldn’t figure out how to get 100% of a room explored, I looked it up, and it turns out that some structures only activate if you have the corresponding elemental shard, rather than being a binary thing. It’s not even like the structures are color coded to their element before being examined.

But okay, even if that part doesn’t seem that obtuse, the game explains nothing about how the elements work. If you look at the description for the elemental shards, it just says “forms a contract with X element.” Um, okay, but what does that do?? The descriptions for spell shards are similarly copy/pasted (something that would be much easier to show if screenshots included the bottom screen); instead, you have to rely solely on the spell’s name for information. While it isn’t too hard to figure out that “recover” is a healing move and “water shield” is a defensive move, it’s far less obvious to distinguish attack moves from buffs and debuffs since they have similar names; the only way to know is to equip it and try it out in a battle. Furthermore, elemental contracts have effects outside of letting you use the corresponding elemental spells, and even though these effects become a crucial part of not dying later in the game, of course, the game never even hints to any of this. If you have a water contract, you heal a percent of your max HP each turn, and if you have a wind contract, you regain more SP each turn, with their effectiveness corresponding to said elements’ percentage in the atmosphere (shown on a dial on the bottom screen). Something else the game never points out is that using the item to form an elemental contract will slightly increase the percentage of said element in the atmosphere, and certain elements have bonus effects on top of increasing the effectiveness of their spells. For example, if wind has the majority, all physical attack damage (on both sides) is cut in half. If the shadow element has a majority, all spells (including your own healing spells) have their effectiveness increased. As for the fire element, that does…honestly, it could do nothing for all I know; I tried forming a contract and giving it the majority, but nothing seemed to change. If ever there was a game that made a good case for keeping instruction manuals around, it’s this one.

Speaking of the elements, even if you awaken a spell, you can’t use it if you don’t have anything from its corresponding element equipped, and since water is the first elemental shard you get, it’s best just to keep using water spells since the other elemental spells don’t seem to have any particular advantages.

However, the worst example of this has to do with the first area: after you beat the first boss, you’re sent into town (and can finally pause) and are given access to another area to explore. If you go back to the first area and finish exploring all three rooms, you’ll notice that the map still only has a three star rating when you go to sell it (a fully-explored map has 5 stars). This is despite the fact that there isn’t anything with a “check” icon or any arrows on the map indicating a new path. Well, it turns out that, for this one map only, if you go back to where the boss was and hug the wall, an “examine” prompt will appear in the corner, and examining it will spawn another path leading to two more rooms, one of which has a key item you need to progress. In every other instance, a path between rooms is indicated by an arrow the moment you explore that spot (including if the map is considered 100% complete even if you haven’t actually stepped foot on the path with the arrow), no examining required.

I would like to point out something else I like about the game: there are no revival-specific moves, so normal healing moves will work even if the target party member is dead. In other words, if you’re about to heal someone, and the target of your healing gets killed before the healer’s turn, the move will still heal (and, by extension, revive) said character, unlike other RPGs where the move fails and you end up wasting that resource.

Although, with all that said, I think the part I disliked the most about the game is how it handles status effects. Obviously, things like poison, stunning, and confusion aren’t exclusive to this game, and like with all status effects in all RPGs, they have a percent chance to fail and inevitably get used against you (though I don’t know how many of them you get to use against the enemy, if any). Confusion is especially bad because if your attacking party member gets confused and the attack is redirected at another party member, said member more than likely gets killed in a single hit, forcing you to run away from the battle and being sent back to the start of the area in the process. What makes this game worse than others in this regard is that you don’t really have a way to counter certain effects. There’s an equip-able item that prevents sleep, but aside from maybe being able to use the spell that cures all statuses on the next turn, there isn’t anything you can do. Maybe you could go to the only store in the game and see if an item that prevents confusion is sold, but even if such an item exists, the items in the store are randomized. Don’t forget that battles in this game are strict to the point where if anything goes wrong, you don’t have much chance to recover (even being stunned for one turn in the early-game can be enough to throw off your plans), so adding randomly-successful status effects that certain enemies can randomly use at any point in the battle just means you can randomly get screwed over with no way to prevent it, mainly regarding confusion.

Oh, speaking of randomness, there’s a small chance that one room in the area you’re in can be covered in darkness; not only does this prevent you from finishing your map if it’s still unfinished, but it also spawns a late game enemy that can chase you, and since you’ll likely be under-leveled for that particular fight due to the fact that this can happen at any point in the game, you just have to run away and rest at the inn so that the darkness goes away.

Overall, this is a hard game to recommend. If you’re like I was and you want an RPG that has challenging combat, this might be one of the closest games to reach that ideal; just know what you’re getting yourself into. If you can forgive game-play faults for a good story/atmosphere/whatever, I don’t think this would be a very good choice due to the aforementioned lack of story development (but then again, I’ve never been a very good judge in that regard).

P.S. To add insult to injury, not only do the different formation possibilities have to be set up before battle (even though there are only three and have no benefit being mismatched to other moves), but renaming the formations is also made more annoying than necessary. Not only are you unable to use the stylus for quick-typing due to the keyboard being on the top screen,
The joys of typing backwards. Yes, I know it's misspelled.
but common shortcuts like “back = delete” and “letter = forward” aren’t present, so if you want to use a different name, you have to navigate to the letter with the D-pad, input the letter, then manually move the cursor to the next space, then navigate to the next letter and input it, etc.

P.P.S. Bosses in this game, especially in the late game, have too much hp. Even though turns last less than a minute, it can take nearly an hour to chip away at their health with your most powerful moves and your strongest weapons equipped. Who knows, maybe there’s something else the game never explained to me.

  • Wuppdeefriggindoo

    8 hours playtime

    3 of 23 achievements

This is an adventure game. Sure, you have a gun that is fired with the right stick (which is why jumping is mapped to the left trigger (L2) of all buttons), and sure, there are enemies and boss fights, but most of your time will be spent doing fetch quests, solving riddle-based puzzles, or in dialogue trees (most of which amount either to “more text vs leave” or to a list of optional world-building text walls). Very rarely outside of a boss fight will there be any threat to your character’s health, and when there is, it isn’t really noteworthy.

One of the first things you’ll notice about the game is that speed is tied to the framerate: if the framerate drops, everything lags, yet the game still has vsync for some reason. In my experience, enabling vsync will have a 100% chance of making the game run at 30 fps, which is half speed, but if you have a high-refresh-rate monitor (e.g. 144hz), the game will sometimes run too fast when vsync is disabled.

As for the core gameplay, it really does revolve around wandering the completely-safe map talking to NPCs; explore enough and you’ll probably stumble upon what you need to progress. Sometimes, if that isn’t enough, you can check your map and there may be a flag icon on the screen you need to go (even if the only thing you need to do there is continue to another screen that you haven’t been to yet). Other times, the game can be unnecessarily obtuse, like what you need to do to get the diving suit (without grinding to buy the one from the store). Sure, the game does bring up fishing and how to do it, but it never even so much as hints toward any connection between it and getting a diving suit, and it also doesn’t explain that you need to use a medium-quality fishing hook to get an NPC’s hat, and then use the high-quality fishing hook you get as a reward from said NPC to get the diving suit.

Honestly, the boss fights kinda seem out of place in this game, even though there are quite a few of them. Not only are they basically the only action-y part of the game, but they also aren’t really designed well, with many attacks being fast and sudden (giving you little, if any, time to react). Combine this with the fact that the player character doesn’t often stand out from the backgrounds and the fact that everything obscures everything anyway, as well as how common healing items are and how large your health is, and it seems like the devs intended for these fights to be tanked (or played at 30 fps), even on normal difficulty. Even the effect that’s just supposed to show how much damage is dealt when an attack connects can be needlessly obtrusive:

I'm behind the giant "10"

This isn’t Paper Mario; I need to see what I’m doing! And that doesn’t even count how a couple of the early bosses can stomp the floor and send out a dust cloud that also deals damage.

Overall, I wasn’t a fan of this game. The action bits just felt kinda tacked-on, and the rest of the game focused on things I don’t really care about. If you can look past mediocre gameplay for a world so fully realized that you need to wait in real time for the train to arrive (and you can miss it, at which point you have to wait for it to come back), then you might like this game. However, if you see the “metroidvania” tag and you think “I’ll probably like this because I liked Super Metroid and Castlevania,” then this isn’t for you.

The more RTSs I play, the more I just don’t understand what their appeal is.

  • Brütal Legend

    8 hours playtime

    13 of 59 achievements

This is an RTS. Yes, it starts off as a hack ‘n’ slash, even going so far as to give you dodge-rolling and a lock-on that targets the closest enemy rather than the one the camera is facing, but it doesn’t take more than a few missions for the game to realize that it doesn’t know how to increase difficulty without spamming enemies or making certain attacks unavoidable, yet also realizes that being set up against enemy spam and unavoidable attacks isn’t much fun, so it gives you your own base to summon units from (and you can pull up the “build units” menu-wheel at any location on the battlefield rather than having to go back to your base, which is nice). I’ll give the game credit for actually clearly stating what the units are strong against in their descriptions, but like with other RTSs I’ve played, it kinda doesn’t matter (I never really noticed the descriptions until the last couple missions); just build one of everything and you’ll be fine.

Oh, and the game is also a sandbox because, uh…GTA and The Elder Scrolls were popular. Yeah, the open world doesn’t really do anything that a mission list couldn’t do better and more ergonomically. The only things you can really do are 1) go to the main mission, 2) go to one of the side missions, or 3) go to the upgrade shop, which I only did once since there’s no fast-travel and I’d have to go all the way there, then go all the way back when I’m done.

My biggest issue with the game is that it’s not just easy; it’s dull and repetitive. The game never displays your health because you have regenerating health and probably can’t even die outside of RTS missions and one driving mission, including the final boss fight (this also makes it feel sudden and unfair if you ever do die). Oh, and if you die during an RTS mission, you get revived at your base after a few seconds with no setbacks like this is the goth version of Tearaway; you don’t fail the mission unless your base is destroyed, but it takes, like, half the game before the enemies get bases of their own, so as long as you just keep building units and recklessly throwing yourself at the swarms of enemies, you’ll win. It isn’t until the final two missions of the game where you start to see that classic RTS-brand “enemy suddenly swarms you with units until you lose,” but this is where the game manages to stand out from other RTSs: rather than that happening over time, forcing you to do an early-rush to win, it happens as you clear mission objectives, meaning you have to take your time and build up your army as much as you can before you rush to clear all both your objectives in a row as quickly as possible (but again, all that strategy is only needed for the last two missions).

Speaking of those last two missions, that’s where the game decides that it’s a good time to introduce completely new things that can only be taken out in very specific ways that hasn’t at all been built-up-to at that point. In other words, riddle-based “puzzles,” except if you turn on in-game hints, the game will tell you what you have to do, but only if you wander around aimlessly for a few minutes at first.

I will say one thing: this game doesn’t have fog of war, but it does have nighttime and the final missions’ cave, which make it difficult to see anything. Seriously, this might just be the literal-darkest game I’ve ever played. There’s even one part where you go into a foggy area with characters talking about visibility, and it’s hilarious how much easier it is to see there than at nighttime in the outside levels. The worst of this is when you have to capture three wild animals to get a new unit in your army; not only do they only spawn one-at-a-time, meaning the next one can be in a spot you’ve already looked, but it’s so dark that you may not even realize where the other paths are unless you check the map (and since this is also an open world game, the other, easier-to-see paths lead outside the mission area and will cause you to forfeit if you go there). Oh, and at the end of this mission is another riddle-based puzzle, but at least this one had proper foreshadowing.

Oh, almost forgot: there are also a few driving missions where you have to kill waves of enemies attacking an escort (that also doesn’t have its health displayed); they’re okay, I guess, maybe even the best parts of the game, but there’s also only like four of them. Also, at least one has a checkpoint that may or may not refill the escort’s health completely.

So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend this one, either. If you’re a hack ‘n’ slash fan, it spams enemies and has unavoidable attacks, and if you’re an RTS fan, know that the enemy spam is more often than not triggered by cut-scenes rather than the player lacking the proper strategy, and then it’s just those enemies until the next wave. At least the soundtrack’s nice.

Welp, this game sure did happen.

  • Shu

    2 hours playtime

    19 of 42 achievements

This is a platformer. You have five lives to get from one checkpoint to the next, with your lives being restocked at each checkpoint. At certain points in each world, you’ll get two NPCs following you, each one giving you a different ability (e.g. double-jump, ground pound, etc.) until the NPCs go away at the end of the world. Also, for the last one or two levels of each world, you’re being chased by a wall of death; not only does it seemingly move at different speeds for different levels (and maybe even different speeds for the same level), and not only does the level not autoscroll so you don’t know how far behind it is or how fast you need to go, but the wall can defy its speed just to lean forward and open its mouth and be scary, even if you’re not that close to being caught by it. Oh, and if you do get killed by the wall, it starts at a predetermined distance from the last checkpoint even if it was much closer when you made it to said checkpoint, so there might be points where you have to die (at least if you get one of the collectibles).

Each level has six main collectibles, and while they aren’t exactly in your way, they aren’t too hard to miss, either. If you do miss one, chances are it’s because you went the “wrong” way on an obvious split path rather than any clever level design. The game also has achievements for collecting enough of the yellow butterflies in each level (think coins from Mario), though the game isn’t above putting butterflies on one path and a main collectible on the other path during a chase segment, adding artificial replayability since it’s impossible to get both on one run. There are also stone tablets hidden throughout the levels (usually one per level), and the path to these items are always obscured by foreground objects, sometimes without anything sticking out to indicate anything being there.

Beyond that, there really isn’t much to this game. The level design is extremely flat, empty, and basic (even going into the post-game), and if you do get killed, it’s usually because the game does something cheap, like the same-model statues falling when you’re at different distances from them, or the horizontally-moving thorn bush moving into the screen too quickly, or just general hazards not standing out from the scenery. At least horizontal movement is responsive, even in midair (push forward = move forward; let go of forward = stop moving forward), but holding the “float down” button sends you forward automatically (so you have to push left and right to fall relatively straight) and the power that lets you be pushed by updrafts also has momentum, meaning you can let go half-way up the room and still run into the spikes.

So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend it. Like, it’s better than Famicom-exclusive shovelware titles like Tadaima Shugyou Chuu, but even if you’re looking for an easy platformer, the cheap hits will dampen your experience.

Just in case being a Wii U fan wasn’t hard enough, another exclusive got a 3DS port with additional content. I’m glad I waited, now. (Devil’s Third for 3DS when?☺)

This is an action-puzzle game (which, if you remember my Sutte Hakkun post, is just a catch-all for action games that don’t fit into an already-established genre, regardless of how much emphasis they have on actual puzzle-solving). You can move and pull plants up like in Doki Doki Panic, but you can’t jump. You can still kill enemies by falling on top of them or throwing an uprooted vegetable at them (though if an owl stomps on the veggie you’re holding, that won’t hurt it and you’ll lose your veggie).

Due to the 3DS’s lack of a C-Stick, you have to drag the stylus across the bottom screen to rotate the camera, which can be awkward at times since your left hand will be carrying the majority (if not all) of the 3DS’s weight. You could also control the camera by using the L and R buttons, but those won’t snap to 45/90-degree angles yet move too quickly to be very precise (plus, they can’t tilt the camera up or down); combine this with the fact that some levels require touching platforms to move them, and it’s better just to ignore the shoulder buttons entirely.

The main objective of each stage is to reach the star, but each stage also has three diamonds in them, and you’ll need to get most of them to progress. Most of them aren’t hard to reach: you just need to rotate the camera until you see where one is, and at that point, figuring out how to reach it (and actually reaching it) usually isn’t difficult at all. If you ever miss a diamond, chances are it’s because you didn’t put the camera at the right angle to see a certain detail of the map rather than any kind of clever level design. Likewise, if you do see where a diamond is, but don’t see any way to reach it, chances are you either need to throw a veggie/enemy at it (which the game relies solely on brand-recognition for it to be intuitive) or you just need to keep going forward until you hit an obvious switch that makes the path to the item possible.

Each level also has an achievement associated with it, and these can range from “defeat all enemies” to “collect X amount of coins” to “find the hidden X” or even “don’t defeat any enemies.” However, the game never tells you what the level’s achievement is until after you beat the level, and what’s worse is that some achievements run counter to collecting all the diamonds (e.g. “beat the level with only one shot” when you need at least two shots to clear the way to the star and get one of the diamonds), so achievement hunters: I hope you like playing the whole game twice for no reason. You do get the achievement if you happen to meet the conditions on your first win, though it can be tricky to anticipate what the achievement might be.

However, the single worst part of the game are the fan platforms. At first, it seems like a harmless gimmick: blow into the mic to move the platforms, then stop blowing to let them move back. The problem comes in with the fact that the microphone works by vibrations: blowing into the mic hole vibrates the mic, which lets the system know the mic is being used, which the game interprets as a command to move the platforms to their forward positions. Unfortunately, blowing isn’t the only thing that triggers vibrations. For example, if you happen to be playing this portable game while riding in an automotive vehicle that is currently in motion, the whole automobile will be shaking, which will in turn shake you, then the 3DS, then the mic, which means the platforms will always be at their forward positions. In other words, you can’t play this game on road trips! You can try covering that mic hole all you want; it won’t stop them. I’ve never been more glad to be stopped by red lights (and even then, the engine’s vibration can sometimes trigger them without warning). Oh well; at least that’s how I found out that blowing into the mic gives you an audio-cue when a diamond is nearby (IIRC the game never tells you this).

Specifically, my model is an Old 3DS XL (the one that came with New Super Mario Bros. 2):

Besides the game’s standard action levels, there are some rail-shooter levels where you hop in a mine-cart and aim and shoot at things in first-person. These are the easiest levels since it’s impossible to lose; the only thing you need to worry about is trying not to miss where the diamonds are.

There are also some “boss” stages, though they’re really just another type of level since you have to scale a cylinder while dodging a dragon-snake-thing that spits waves of fire. Even though you can see the individual fireballs, you won’t be able to squeeze in between them without taking damage; you have to take cover behind other platforms. There will also sometimes be lava droplets that fall from above and block the path for a few seconds; not only are these more annoying than challenging, but it can sometimes be hard to tell where they’re going to land, even with the 3DS’s 3D.

The game’s actual boss is decently designed, but it gets recycled as the final boss with little change to its pattern, which makes the final boss rather easy. In fact, the game as a whole is really easy, with only a few challenging levels showing up around half-way through the last chapter (though I guess that’s to be expected from a title in the Mario franchise).

Lastly, if you look on the back of the box, you’ll see the game boast about having “more than 70 worlds,” but the main campaign has 64 levels, so the cynic in me thought there would only be, like, six new levels in the post-game. However, I was wrong: there are FOUR new levels in the post-game, with seven being recycled stages from earlier (ugh, it’s Super Mario 3D Land’s post-game all over again). The only difference for the recycled stages are either 1) you’re gathering your team-mates instead of diamonds (they’re either in easier to reach spots or the exact same spots as the diamonds, but you have to get them all to reach the star), or 2) you’re being chased by an evil clone that follows your every move, and two out of three of those levels already have time-pressure built in with collapsing platforms (great choices, you guys!). The only thing to watch out for is that the team-mates won’t follow your every move because that would cause minor graphical clipping; this can result in them not getting on the moving platform with you or even being left behind entirely with you having to go back and get them. Also, the game apparently counts the impossible-to-lose chapter prologues and high-score bonus levels as “worlds,” so I think it’s safe to say that’s some sketchy advertising.

Overall, this is an okay game. I think $30 may be a bit much for what it does (and $39.99 is really too much, so go for a physical copy since they’re discounted), but it doesn’t have any major problems aside from the fan platforms, so you can’t really go wrong by getting it; just remember to bring at least one backup game with you while traveling.

This game has been a long time coming. I beat the prequel a few years ago and even referenced said prequel a few times in previous posts, but I didn’t get around to beating this game until now.

This is a turn-based tactics game. Missions will start you off with either a pre-deployed army, a set of bases (to build more units), or both, and the objective is usually to capture the enemy HQ or defeat all opposing units (both options are present for most maps). Defeating all units will trigger victory even if the opponent still has bases to build more units. Sometimes, maps will have special objectives, like “capture a certain amount of cities,” “capture these specific cities,” “destroy these specific units,” or “win within a set turn limit.” Of course, different units have different advantages and disadvantages, but that’s better left for the game to explain. As an army destroys enemy units (or gets units destroyed), a special meter fills up, and the power that can be used when it’s filled is different depending on which Commanding Officer (CO) controls the army (sometimes, you get a choice, but other times, the game makes you use a specific CO for the mission). At the start of each army’s turn, they get 1000 funds for each property they own, and these funds are used to repair damaged units (only if they’re on a city or base) and build more units. Cities only give funds and repair ally units, by the way.

DIFFERENCES FROM THE PREQUEL: COs have a second “super” power that can be used when the meter is full; the normal power can be used when the meter reaches a designated point before being completely filled. Also, remember how Md Tanks are literally just stronger versions of normal Tanks? Now there’s a third tank that’s even more powerful, and in the campaign, you can only unlock it by beating a special map that’s only unlocked by capturing an unmarked enemy city in a specific map (the map’s description usually hint’s that it’s there, but you have no way to know which city will unlock the secret mission until after you capture it). You have to do that once per faction; if you miss your chance, that specific army won’t be able to build those tanks for the rest of the campaign. Those tanks are unlocked by default in multiplayer, though. Next, the enemy army in the campaign has specialty units that don’t move, but have a large range (usually triangle shaped). These units don’t have close-up animations, though; it just has an explosion effect happen right there on the map. There are also missile silos: put an infantry on it to launch, then select a space on the map to damage all units in that zone for 3 HP. Neither the specialty units nor missiles will kill a unit; if the math would leave it at 0 HP, it gets 1 HP back. There’s also a new terrain: pipes. There block ALL units (which makes importing AWBW maps like Sky Warriors significantly easier), and there can be breaks in the pipe that units can attack to break through (again, no new animations; just an explosion). Oh, and the way the game treats COs is the opposite of the first game; rather than have you pick from the same few COs and have you fight a bunch of different ones, you get to play as most COs in the game with the enemy having only a few of them.

Lastly, the tutorial is much shorter, and is mandatory. Rather than take time to go through all of the units with carefully-crafted tutorial maps like the first game, this one just has characters explain what certain units do at the beginning of the first few missions, even having the enemy CO explain how a couple units work. This even happens during a couple missions where you have a fairly strict turn limit (even though I beat the first game, I lost the Orange Star fog of war mission/tutorial by one turn on my first attempt). If you think that might not be enough for new players to learn the ropes, don’t worry; the game frequently reminds players that pushing the R button on a unit will display its properties. If you’re a veteran player, on the other hand, you’ll have quite a bit of dialogue to skip through since an explanation shows up each time you select a new unit.

This game also lets you pick from a few missions at designated points in the game (unlike the previous one which was more linear, merely having a single branch that immediately fuses back with the main campaign right afterward). It’s a neat idea, but it does result in the game having two tutorials for missile silos, neither of which gets disabled by viewing the other one first.

Anyway, on to why Advance Wars is the greatest tactics game franchise ever (disclaimer: I haven’t played any Daisenryaku game very much yet). First of all, there’s no chance of missing an attack; when you move a unit next to another unit and select the “Fire” command, the percentage the game displays on the confirmation screen IS the amount of damage you’ll deal to the target (if you confirm the attack, of course), with the only percent chance being a small increase in your attack power for that move (except for Sonja, who apparently does have a chance to deal slightly less damage than normal. What the heck, game?). There’s still plenty of risk with other things, but since there’s no negative-luck-based risk (except for Sonja), you never have to worry about things like missing with a 99%-chance-to-hit attack or other BS. Also, if you’re familiar with Fire Emblem (at least Shadow Dragon does this), you’ll know that reinforcements can sometimes show up on castle tiles without a clear warning; with this game, that uncertainty is also eliminated because, just like you, the opposing army can only get new units by building them on their own designated bases (or from a factory, which is another specialty unit that only shows up in the campaign)–and guess what: if you capture an enemy’s base, not only do you prevent more reinforcements from showing up there, YOU can build units there! You don’t even have to worry about being surprised by a new CO’s power because you can bring up the menu, select “COs,” and view their passive bonuses and power effects. Oh, and let’s not forget one crucial detail: no leveling system. This means that you never have to worry about grinding or being under-leveled (or worse: losing a high-level unit and being forced to use a low level unit) because, barring CO abilities, all units are exactly the same as all other units of that same type. The game is balanced, consistent, and completely fair; it’s beautiful.

Lastly, I’ll bring up a comparison with StarCraft; let’s ignore the fact that they’re different genres (RTS vs Turn-based Tactics) and focus on how a usual mission plays out. With StarCraft, you can build your own buildings anywhere you want, but you have to have units gather resources manually, and there are usually only two or three resource deposits on any map. This means it’s better if you build your HQ right by the nearest resource deposit so you get your resources quicker, and you’re encouraged to build other buildings (e.g. troop deployment) near your HQ so that it’s well defended. Meanwhile, the opponent is encouraged to do the same, and since the only terrain types are “land” and “not land” (with maybe some walls and inclines spread around), this effectively has all battles play out the same: build bases, build troops, send them on the long path to the enemy. Advance Wars, in contrast, gives you funds automatically based on how many properties you own at the start of your turn, but it won’t let you build buildings; they’re part of the level design and can only be captured. This opens the door for much more varied missions without devolving into gimmick territory: not only are there more options for terrain (even if they mostly amount to “slight defense boost at a slight movement cost”), but instead of land vs land, it could be navy vs air (with the game giving you ports while giving the enemy airports), and that isn’t even counting the pre-deployed missions where you have NO bases.

With all that said, I did notice a rather significant weakness to the game(s) while playing: although the base vs base missions are designed differently from each other, none of them really play out that differently. Sure, the different designs prevent them from being too samey, but it’s always “build infantry to capture bases, then build tanks/copters to fight the enemy,” with you only really needing to change your strategy slightly when the enemy builds something that’s strong against most of your units. What’s more disappointing is that the game really increases its focus on base vs base missions as you progress. For reference, I lost three pre-deployed missions on my first attempt (two of which were fog of war), but I only lost one base vs base mission on my first attempt, and it was the very last mission in the entire game (barring any bonus missions that need certain criteria to be met to be unlocked), and that was mainly because it’s a turn-limited mission. Every other base vs base mission, I cleared on my first try by using the exact same strategy. That’s how I found out that the difficulty rankings for missions don’t reflect how hard it is to win, but how hard it is to get an S rank when you do win (and even then, I find those rankings to be a bit dubious). For crying out loud, the second-to-last mission gives you bases, but doesn’t give the enemy any way to generate more units! That’s a pretty huge advantage you have for what’s supposed to be part of the climax. When I played StarCraft, it seemed like the campaign was less meant to be a standalone experience and more to ease you into how an average competitive multiplayer session would play out, and I kinda got the same vibe from this game. I guess that’s one thing Fire Emblem has over this franchise: it focuses exclusively on pre-deployed missions since your army is finite, so it doesn’t have the repetition of base vs base missions.

Despite all of that, I think that’s not really a criticism on the foundation of the franchise, as I think the campaign could have been improved with more varied level design, focusing more on short-but-challenging missions rather than large base vs base maps (though I wouldn’t be surprised if the future installments are designed similarly to this game).

Finally, I should bring up that final mission. Even if we ignore the really easy mission right before it, the final mission is a pretty huge difficulty spike compared to the rest of the game. This can partly be attributed to the design of the map and how many properties the opponent starts off with compared to how many you start with, but it’s mainly due to the fact that it’s limited to 30 turns, which makes it way harder than even the final mission in the first Advance Wars (again, barring any secret missions that game has). Like with all turn-limited missions, the game lets you know exactly how many turns you have left, even putting a counter at the top of the screen, but what the game doesn’t tell you is that if you don’t get a unit into the top-center area of the map before the last 10 turns, you lose outright anyway (oh great, it’s Frozen Synapse all over again). Even besides that unusual moment of obfuscation, the stated turn limit is still really tight and doesn’t allow for the slowly-overtake-them strategy that can be used to win literally every other base vs base mission in the game with ease. In fact, the enemy has enough properties that, if you aren’t careful, you end up being pushed back. I finally won because the AI builds its army from left-to-right, which means the left side of the map ends up with more of the more powerful units while the right side remains oddly undefended, and I exploited that. I did like that a base vs base mission managed to be really challenging, but 30 turns is a lot to redo upon failure. I just wish the game built up to this point better than it did (and maybe didn’t take as long).

Overall, this is still a solid title, and I’d recommend picking up at least one game in this franchise if you consider yourself a fan of tactics games. The game does have some minor things that could’ve been better communicated, like which cities trigger the secret missions, but none of the obfuscated things are required to beat the game. However, given the game’s approach to base vs base missions, I think I’ll wait another few years before checking out the next game in the series.

P.S. I’m still not a fan of fog of war because the lack of info really only serves to slow the game down; instead of “okay, this is what the enemy has and this is how I can counter it,” it’s “okay, there could be a unit that can just completely wreck my army literally anywhere outside of my view, so I have to move a distance less than my max to remain in the trees so I might stay hidden” or “just send a recon unit to its death.” What really gets me is the turn-limited fog of war mission; not only does it have the worst mix of “hurry up” and “don’t rush things,” but it’s also supposed to be the player’s introduction to fog of war?? Really? It’s the only turn-limited fog of war mission in the whole game, too. At least this franchise’s fog of war lets you see the entire terrain of the map at all times, only obfuscating enemy units.

Is this a sequel to Killer 7?  (ツ)_/¯

  • Killer is Dead

    5 hours playtime

    15 of 48 achievements

This is a hack ‘n’ slash. The X button attacks (successful hits fill your special meter), the B button is for blocking (hold while still) or dodging (push while holding a direction), the left trigger goes into “aim gun” mode, and the right trigger is for firing your gun (rapid fire but uses your special meter, slows down if meter is out). The Y button does…something? I think it’s for guard-breaking, but I don’t know; it doesn’t seem to work, and you never really need to use it since you can just “dodge” around the enemy and attack their back whenever they block. I don’t remember if the A button does anything or not. Lastly, if you dodge right when an attack is about to hit you (when it flashes red), you’ll enter into “attack-a-bunch-really-quickly” mode where enemies slow down for a couple seconds and you lock on to the enemy that just tried to attack you.

One of the first things you’ll notice is that the game is fairly slow to start. The entire “first mission” is just movement and camera tutorials, with the second (and even some of the third) mission being attack and dodging tutorials. In contrast, the boss of the fourth mission is easily the hardest in the game, as it can teleport right by you and explode even if you dodge (and you also haven’t had much of a chance to get many upgrades at this point). It took a while for me to realize the game expects players to be able to use dodging and blocking strategically, but the game doesn’t do a good job at communicating which attacks correspond to which maneuver; sometimes, you’ll dodge at the last instant only for the boss to adjust its trajectory and hit you anyway, and sometimes, you’ll hold the block button in time but be knocked down anyway. The best I could gather is that, for dodge-able attacks, the enemy will flash red right before attacking, but sometimes a dodge-able attack won’t have the flash (or maybe it does but it’s barely perceptible; the flash is fairly faint as it is, with the darker parts of enemies not changing color).

Despite that little quirk, the game is really easy (at least, on Normal mode). There’s only a few different enemy types and, as per usual for hack ‘n’ slash games, no real level design besides “hall” and “room”. The most common enemies don’t even block your attacks; you can just stun-lock them to death by tapping the attack button. The shield enemies might seem annoying at first, but then you’ll realize you can just walk around them and do the same thing (same goes for enemies that block your attacks after a bit). There are also large enemies, but aside from one type that could do a Sonic the Hedgehog spin-dash, they’re effectively just normal enemies with longer range and a bit more health. The real variety comes with ranged enemies: there are teleporting eyeballs that shoot lasers and normal enemies (that usually appear on out-of-reach platforms) holding laser-sight machine guns.The challenge comes in when the game mixes melee and ranged enemies together, and you have to deal with one while keeping an eye out for the others’ attacks, though there are usually places to take cover from the ranged enemies in those instances. The laser sight lets you know when the machine gun enemies are about to attack, but the eyes don’t have that warning, and can be rather annoying because of it (imagine fighting an enemy, then a laser comes in from off screen and hits you before you can react). It’s at those times I think the game could benefit from a proper lock-on system like in Metroid Prime, or at least an enemy radar like in…I dunno, maybe Metroid Prime.

Actually, there is a third ranged enemy: drones, and these are super annoying because they can spawn/fly in places that you won’t think to look (or are simply hard to aim your gun at), and they stun you when they shoot you (which means you gotta shake the control stick back and forth before you can move again). They also don’t have any warning before shooting, like the eyes. Luckily, they don’t show up that often.

But yeah, the individual stages themselves don’t have much variety between them (in fact, the dream lake stages are dips in difficulty, either having no enemies or just a few of the weak ones). Like Nier: Gestalt, the main variety is with the bosses. They have a decent variety with their attacks without making it obtuse as to what you have to do to win. The train boss (at least, it’s second phase) had a really good way to balance both your melee attacks and your ranged ones: if you get too close, it’ll do sweeping melee attacks, and if you back away, it’ll use a spread shot. I’d say it’s more fitting as the final boss than the actual final boss: not only is the final boss’s first phase just a rehash of the fourth mission’s boss, but all three of its phases basically boil down to “run at you and attack” with no ranged attack, and the attacks are fast enough that if you dodge successfully at all, it will trigger your “attack-a-bunch-really-quickly” mode, and the boss will teleport and try to attack again right at the end, giving you just enough time to dodge again, which repeats the process and ends the fight pretty quickly.

Overall, this game is okay. Like other hack ‘n’ slash games, there isn’t a lot of variety or challenge, but if you’re a fan of the genre, it may be worth picking up on sale; just don’t play it all at once.

I beat this game a few days ago, but put off finishing this post until now.

I think I prefer every *other* piece of promotional art for the game besides this one; for crying out loud, it makes the protagonist look like a candied apple! ...and evil.

  • Slime-san

    13 hours playtime

    28 of 85 achievements

This is a platformer. You have your standard left/right movement and jump ability, as well as a dash move (you can dash in any cardinal direction) and wall jumping, but you do NOT have a double-jump: if you jump from solid ground and dash once in mid-air, you can’t do either until you land again. That may not seem weird at first, but if you walk off a platform, that doesn’t count as a jump, meaning you can jump in mid-air afterward. Also, if you wall jump (or simply slide off of a wall), that doesn’t count as a jump, either, meaning you can once again jump in mid-air. Heck, you can even jump and dash down onto solid tiles, and even though that causes you to bounce, you’ll regain your jump and your dash, letting you do both right after bouncing! There’s even a specific X-shaped tile surrounded by a bubble in the free “Blackbird’s Kraken DLC” that causes you to stick to it, with the only way to get off being to push the jump button, but even though doing that causes you to go in an upward trajectory away from the tile, it doesn’t count as your jump, letting you jump again in mid-air. Oh, but a standard jump from a solid floor won’t let you jump again in mid-air. If you’re familiar with practically any other game that has double jumps, I don’t need to explain how this feels less like a deliberate decision and more like a bug they couldn’t fix and just decided to build the game around.

Oh, you can also hold down a button to become transparent, which slows everything but your clear-time and lets you pass through green NPCs and green fishnet tiles.

Speaking of the controls, the game has a weird relationship with physics. If you’re on the ground, pushing forward sends you forward at top speed and letting go of the forward button stops you immediately, which is responsive, but in the air, pushing forward has you start gaining forward momentum until you reach your top speed and letting go slows you down until you’re at a standstill. Normally, this is subtle enough that it doesn’t affect the game too much, but if you hit the top corner of a solid tile, you’ll bounce up, and all of this can make it surprisingly annoying to drop down a single-unit-wide hole: you’ll tap forward, move forward at top speed, then get over the hole at which point air physics kick in and you slow down, but then you’ll hit the top corner of the next tile before fully stopping and bounce onto it. It can also make it quite frustrating to drop down a single-unit-wide hole when there’s a hazard wall on the other side since all the same stuff happens except you die and have to retry that segment of the level over; luckily, this is only done for two of the optional collectibles. Ironically, all of this means it’s easier to jump and tap forward while in the air so that you’ll only move forward a little bit rather than have all that happen. Similarly, dashing horizontally while on the ground sends you forward at a fixed distance, but dashing horizontally in mid-air will send you further, especially while holding forward, and if you jump while dashing, you get so much momentum that you can only slow yourself down rather than change direction. All of this makes me appreciate the dashing in Mega Man X more: you hold the button to dash exactly the distance you want before letting go to stop immediately, and if you make a dash-jump, you still only move forward while holding forward, stopping whenever you let go of forward.

Most levels are composed of four rooms, each one screen large: reach the sign with the green arrow, and you’ll be sent to the next room (and get a checkpoint in the process); reach the sign with the face, and you beat the level. Each room has a meter right next to a red arrow: when the meter runs out, a hazardous wall will slide in from the direction the arrow points toward. Normally, this is used as a de facto time limit, but there are some levels that are built around platforms being pushed by the wall, with you having to ride them while avoiding enemies or other hazards.

Along with the standard levels, there are also specialty levels. Levels with a camera icon consist of one room, but it takes up multiple screens, with the camera scrolling either with you or automatically; aside from this, they’re not different from normal levels: they end with a face sign and have the standard hazard wall chasing you. Levels with a skull icon are boss stages; they’re all “avoid the waves of hazards until practically everything stops and you can aim for the weak point” type of bosses. They can sometimes scroll through a series of screens with level design, but when it’s time to counter”attack” the boss (or getting close to that time), the screen usually stops scrolling. Also, no camera stage and no boss stage (except one) has any checkpoints, so if you die, you can pause and manually select the “restart level” option to bring your timer back to zero, which almost guarantees you’ll get the trophy-clear-time when you first beat the level.

The last type of specialty level are water levels. These are effectively the same as normal levels, except the screens are flooded with water (as opposed to normal levels which usually only have pockets of floating water cubes, if any water at all). Being in water also alters the controls: you move slower, but have infinite dash and jump. That may not seem so bad on paper, but that’s all that changes with underwater controls. Compare this with something like Super Mario Bros. 3/Super Mario World where you also went up in water by jumping, but you could push jump a bunch in rapid succession to rise faster or hold down and push jump to rise only a little bit. In this game, pushing jump has you go up slowly, but you also won’t stop going up until you reach the top of your jump arc (this game won’t let you do partial jumps, even out of water). You can also dash, which is faster, but you also can’t to partial dashes, and dashing into solid tiles causes you to bounce (which is exaggerated due to the water physics, but can be cut-off with another dash). Even if you don’t hit anything, dashing still gives you some momentum afterward, like dashing in mid-air, except again it’s exaggerated.

I should also talk about the game’s graphical style: it only uses five colors for everything (white, green, red, blue, and dark blue). At first, this seems like a pretty good idea: everything in the background is blue, all hazards are red, everything green can be passed through by turning transparent (and green NPCs makes you bounce), and white denotes solid tiles; since everything is color-coded, players can easily tell what’s what from a glance. However, the game then tries to get complicated: each room in a level has an optional apple collectible (apples act as the game’s currency), but due to the limited palette, apples are also green; due to the limited palette and the lack of animation on the apples, this can sometimes make it hard to see where the apple is. There’s also one specific tile that won’t let you move across it (you have to jump to move forward), but this tile is mostly green with some white pixels even though you can’t go through it by turning transparent. There’s also one particular tile that’s entirely made of white and transparent pixels, but this one triggers ice physics while moving across it, even though it doesn’t look that different from nearly every other tile with white and transparent pixels (which are just normal solid tiles that are decorated differently). The game also likes to have background details that are white (and sometimes green, like how you cover solid tiles with green slime when you touch them), though these aren’t so bad since they’re not too tall and are attached to solid tiles. The game also has foreground tiles, which also isn’t so bad when it’s only one tile and is only used to hide secret rooms, but there’s at least one room where the foreground can obscure hazards:

and it's right where you land after dashing through the green fishnet tiles, too!

And that doesn’t even mention how the final world in the main campaign has red and green decorations within the solid tiles.

Something I feel I should bring up is that it doesn’t really have much of a difficulty curve. Sure, world 1 is easy, and world 2 is harder than world 1, but world 3 and 4 (and even the final world (world 5), to an extent) kinda blur together with world 2. It kinda reminded me of Celeste: both games have a stagnant difficulty curve (with most of the difficulty spikes being a result of trying to get one of the optional fruit collectibles) and choose instead to focus on continually introducing new things to try to keep players engaged. Heck, both games even introduce the auto-firing DKC barrels in a way that will likely get new players killed. The only thing that could’ve made this even more of a coincidence is if the protagonist of this game had a panic attack at some point, but luckily, all of the tedious mini-games in this game are completely optional to the main campaign (you only need to play them if you want to get all of the apples). With that said, I think this game is a bit better designed than Celeste since this game regularly tries to combine the new things with the old ones (changing them from gimmicks to proper features) as opposed to Celeste’s “slash and burn” approach. Even enemies that get introduced halfway through the final world will show up in the “DLC” campaigns being used in slightly different ways (though the DLC campaigns aren’t immune to introducing new things, either), and world 5 does manage to be a bit more challenging than the last three worlds at times. This game is also $5 cheaper at it’s base price, so there’s another point in its favor.

As for the individual features themselves, there are a couple cases where the introduction could’ve been done in a way that lets the player see how the enemies work before being put in danger (like with the ghosts and the DKC barrels), but they’re implemented fairly well for the most part. Others, like the laser beams, are often just used to make the player wait (since the lasers move slow when spawned but extend from one solid tile to the next and disappear instantly when their pattern is over and also have different timings from different lasers). However, the only one that really got on my nerves was the bomb enemies. If you get close enough, they chase you, which is okay, but if they get too close, they explode (expanding their hitbox by a sizable amount), and the only way to avoid this is to dash away the instant it happens, and this is an extremely small window of time (even if you’re using the time-slowing move, you still need to react quickly). Now, that’s one thing, but there are several times where you’re placed in a small hallway with bomb enemies blocking you, and the only way to get past is to trigger their explosions, with one level having nothing but bombs in narrow hallways; not only is triggering a bomb and living one of, if not the hardest thing to do in the game, but it’s also fairly repetitive since that’s pretty much the only thing the game makes you do when encountering a red bomb in the level. I feel like stating once again that even kaizo-hack designers look down on this kind of repetition (scroll to “C. Artificial difficulty vs. fun difficulty”).

I'm getting quite a bit of use out of this kaizo tutorial.

But then you get to the “DLC” campaigns, and this is where the introductions turn into gimmicks due to their limited use. The Kraken DLC has a bigger focus on water levels, but it should’ve stayed at that rather than introducing a submarine that only shows up for, like, four levels in total, which has a bit of momentum when you let go of the D-pad, and whose torpedos not only spawn at a standstill and increase speed slowly, but also spawn at the very bottom of the sub, usually resulting in hitting the block right below your sub rather than the one in front of you, making the parts where you need to destroy a series of walls made of destructible tiles take even longer than necessary. At least the boss that was built around the sub’s mechanics was kinda neat.

However, the Sheeple DLC is where the game really starts to scrape the bottom of the barrel in terms of introducing new gimmicks. Not only are there completely dark, foggy levels where you can only see what’s being spotlighted (and the spotlight moves on its own rather than follow you), not only are there tiles that look exactly the same as solid tiles but slide away when you get near them, but there are levels made entirely out of completely invisible tiles, and the only way you can tell what’s where most of the time is by blind jumps. That’s the whole reason I hid giveaways for Ink, and now this game is doing the same thing but worse! I’m glad none of those show up in the rest of the game. The one good thing this DLC does is reskin the apples as scarabs, which makes them much easier to see at a glance.

EDIT: the fog levels might be introduced in the Kraken DLC, not this one. They still suck, though.

With that said, those bad decisions only show up on one route of that DLC. There are two other paths, where you play as two other characters (but neither are ones you can buy from the character shop). The first is basically the same, but changes color between red and green when you dash: green is standard, but red means green kills you and red can be passed while transparent. Because of this, the game has to introduce a new color to act as a universal hazard: orange. Nevermind the fact that it’s just an orange square with a Droste effect of squares as its decoration; you can tell it’s a hazard because why else would the game introduce a new color right at the moment you get the ability to be immune to red? This character also has the ability to kill enemies by dashing into them, and while that might seem beneficial at first, the game still frequently requires you to bounce on enemies to reach the goal, so it’s really more of a hindrance since you’ll likely kill a necessary enemy by accident and be forced to kill yourself.

The other character is a ball: not only is standard movement heavily-momentum based, but instead of dashing, you have an acceleration button; hold it to speed up and climb walls. I already have a pet peeve for platformers that add momentum to jumps, let alone all movement, but this one’s worse because if you jump after accelerating, you can’t control your trajectory, or even adjust it a little bit. This is compounded by the fact that you’ll need to do accelerated jumps quite frequently when you play as this character.

The boss of this DLC is fairly unique in that it actually has checkpoints: the starting room has three paths, with each one leading to a different character’s boss, and you get a checkpoint after defeating each one. For the main character, you’re just collecting items as they fall while avoiding hazards that fall at the same speed; it’s actually one of the easier parts of the game. The color swapper finally gets to use the “dash to attack enemies” move in a beneficial way since that’s how you damage the boss; however, the boss has a shield active for most of the fight, so it’s still effectively another “avoid the waves of hazards until the boss lets you do the thing” fight. The ball once again manages to end up having a frustrating part, but mainly because the game introduces yet another gimmick, and it only shows up for this boss: a conveyor belt. It’s pushing you to the left while the boss comes at you slowly from the right, and it’s up to you to figure out that holding the acceleration button while on the conveyor pushes the boss back (and that there’s an invisible wall shortly after the button that triggers the projectiles you use to attack the boss).

The final campaign is the “Superslime” levels: a set of 10 levels where you play as a different character in each of them. This ends up having the hardest levels in the game, but this is partly due to the game not giving you much quarter to get used to the new physics if you haven’t already bought and experimented with them in the other campaigns; for example, there’s a character who can double-jump, but can’t dash, and the first thing you have to do as the double-jump character is jump through a one-unit-tall gap in a hazard-wall: a single jump won’t get you past it, but a double jump will also send you into the ceiling, meaning you have to time it just right to get through, then repeat the process about two more times to see the rest of the level. You also have another level as the ball, only this level also has you deal with a bomb (which are finicky enough to deal with as the main character). Speaking of bombs, one of the levels has you ride a block being pushed by the hazard-wall-time-limit, so there’s even less room than normal to trigger their explosions safely. The sub makes one final appearance here, though that level ends up being really easy. Beyond the constant character switching, this campaign is distinguished from the others due to the fact that there are no optional collectibles (apples/scarabs/etc.) and also no boss.

Overall, this game is okay. It certainly does a lot of things right, but it also has enough annoyances that I’m hesitant to give it my full recommendation. If you’re a fan of platformers, maybe get it on sale.

P.S. At the time of this writing, the Kraken DLC has two levels that have a coin silhouette. If you enter the secret room in those two levels, there’s no coin. I looked it up, and the bug is not that there’s no coin, but that the silhouette shows up in the first place (the secret rooms in the DLC campaigns are only for the extra NPCs and their dialogues).

All right, now that I got Spellforce 2 out of the way, I think I’m back to getting my Steam backlog down at a decent pace.

  • Furi

    4 hours playtime

    18 of 33 achievements

This is a fighting game with twin-stick shooter elements. The game is divided into two main parts: walking segments, where you slowly walk toward the next arena, and fighting segments, where you actually fight one of the bosses (or “jailers” as the game calls them). The walking segments have fixed camera positions, and they seemingly exist only to let your partner give you cryptic world-building between bosses. Some of the game’s camera positions are more “artsy” than the ones in Koudelka, which can sometimes make it a bit hard to tell where you’re supposed to go. Why can’t this game just have normal cut-scenes like most other games do? The crossover appeal of “fighting game” and “walking simulator” isn’t perfect, you know. Luckily, you can just push the A button to auto-walk to the next fight segment (not that the game tells you this or anything).

The fighting segments are where the game-play is really at, and these are also divided into two segments: free-roam and close-quarters. In the free-roaming segments, you have access to all of your abilities: left stick to run, right stick to aim/shoot, B to parry, A to dash/dodge, and X to attack with your sword. You can also use the left shoulder buttons to dodge, which is useful if you’re using the right-stick to attack. The only change with close-quarters segments is that your gun is disabled and the boss has a ring around it that you can’t get out of. The controls are all decently responsive with one crucial exception: dashing has to be charged before you can use it. Keep in mind that this is otherwise a very fast paced game, with enemies giving you only a split second to parry and counterattack (to the point where it can feel like not-enough-time unless you already know what the attack pattern is), so having a dodge move that literally will not work if you don’t hold the button down for long enough is…out of place, to say the least. What’s even more annoying is that the distance you dash increases the longer you hold the button down, so even if you do have enough time to consciously remind yourself of the unresponsiveness of the dodge move, you can’t hold it down too long or you’ll end up dashing into the attack right afterward and taking damage anyway. It honestly feels like the game was built around a more responsive and consistent dash mechanic, but it was changed at the last minute for no good reason, and the game as a whole suffers because of it. The game could have at least added a marker showing where you’d end up after letting go of the dash button, but it didn’t even do that, so you kinda have to guess each time.

If it weren’t for that, this wouldn’t be a bad little game. Each consecutive boss does a pretty good job of building on the core attacks, with each attack giving you enough time to see it coming (though not necessarily enough time to react, as stated previously), and there are even a few arenas that have level design. Each boss has a set number of phases, represented by the squares below their health bar; when you deplete a boss’s health bar, a square turns hollow, the health bar refills, and the boss goes into its next phase; get Game Over, and you have to start the fight from the first phase again. It’s a tried-and-true formula that many old-school games use, but the devs made a few changes to the formula seemingly without thinking through how it would affect the end-user experience. The main difference is that your character also has “phases”: if your health depletes to zero, one of the three squares below your health becomes hollow and your health fills back up. The issue I have is that, whenever either character loses a phase, both your health and the enemy’s health fill back up (and if you’re the one who depleted the enemy’s health, you regain a phase). Despite this, the game still makes you redo the phases you’ve beaten already if you get a Game Over. Normally, these old-school games have the excuse that getting better at fighting an earlier phase of a boss would leave you with more health to fight the next phase, but since your health refills after beating an enemy’s phase anyway, being forced to redo the earlier phases is nothing but an exercise in tedium since it doesn’t matter how well you do on that specific phase; as long as you win, you’ll be in top shape for the next phase. It’s not as big a deal as the dash mechanic, but it’s still pretty annoying.

Anyway, as I was saying, each boss does a pretty good job of differentiating itself from the previous bosses. The first boss only has the core set of attacks and sets the tone for how quickly you need to react to said attacks. The second boss introduces laser attacks while also having destructible, regenerating walls and a hole in the center of the arena; you can’t walk into it, but it damages you if you dash into it. The third boss goes back to having a flat, circular arena, but begins the fight being surrounded by shields that can only be damaged by your gun (but which also reflect your shots); this phase takes a bit too long to get past IMO (especially since the shields spin around and can regenerate), but at least this is only for that one phase, with other phases having things like defense towers that you have to destroy before you can reach the boss. The fourth boss introduces more complex bullet patterns, but can disappear and drag you into a quick time event where you have to move the control sticks left and right to avoid taking damage (this normally only happens when you mistime a counterattack and lock swords with the boss). The fifth boss carries a shield that can’t be damaged, so it isn’t uncommon for you to end up just waiting for the boss to do something so you have an opening. Also, the last phase of this boss starts with a series of melee attacks while the boss is invincible, so you just have to stand there parrying until it’s over. It goes on long enough that you think you might have to do something to stop it, like a perfect parry to stun the boss or something, but no, that’ll just get you killed; you just have to wait it out with normal parries. The sixth boss is rather unique since it has entire phases that are free-form only, meaning you’ll fight almost exclusively with the gun while dodging projectiles. It also brings back having a unique arena, this time with no walls, so you can fall off the edge and take damage just like if you fell into the hole in the second boss’s arena. Around halfway through the fight, more platforms appear that surround the initial arena, and the game even puts some more defense towers on said platforms, with the boss’s projectile waves becoming more complex as you destroy more towers, which is neat.

The seventh boss is easily the worst one. It starts with you getting attacked by some drones, which is kinda neat since the game has normally just been a boss rush, but then the boss targets you with a sniper laser, so you have to take cover behind some barriers. At first, this doesn’t seem so bad; follow the laser while avoiding the attacks so you can find the boss and deal damage, but when you dash onto the platform the boss is on, it runs away. If you try shooting the boss, it’ll just run through your bullets, invincible. No matter what I did, I couldn’t damage the boss, so I looked up a walkthrough, and basically just said “go up and shoot her,” but as stated earlier, that didn’t work, so I watched the accompanying video, and it turns out you have to be targeted by the laser, then dash onto the boss’s platform and take cover behind one of the little walls on said platform, then wait for the boss to shoot at the wall, which will destroy it (unlike the larger walls in the main arena), and then you shoot the boss, and that’s how you trigger the main part of the phase. Not only is that series of steps pretty arbitrary for an action game like this, but any deviation from those steps results in the boss turning invincible and running away. Even if it weren’t for how the game handles the dash mechanic, this alone would be enough for me to say the game isn’t worth full price (I’ve played $15 games that are better designed). Honestly, that kind of arbitrary logic is better suited in a riddle-based “puzzle” game like Antichamber, not a fighting game.

Back to the bosses: the eighth boss is more centered around close-quarters attacks, in contrast to the sixth boss. To be honest, the game does some arbitrary things with this boss as well, but it isn’t nearly as bad as the previous boss. For example, the boss can attack you with a series of melee attacks that can be parried, just like all bosses with close-quarters phases, and just like those other bosses, you can counterattack between the enemy’s attacks during the first phase. The second phase has the boss clearly dash away after the first attack, clearly showing that trying to counterattack after the first attack will result in a miss and an opening for the boss, so it’s still fine, but the third and fourth phases send you to a thin, linear arena. At this part, if the boss uses melee attacks and you try to counter after the first or second attack, the boss will immediately dash away, but if you counter after the third attack, you’ll deal damage, despite there being no clear visual (or even audio) indication that this third attack is any different from the other two. During these phases, the boss can also send out fast-moving projectile waves, and this is where the dash mechanic’s failings are put into clear focus: once you dash past the first one, you’ll end up right in front of the second one, so there isn’t enough time to dash past it; what you have to do is dash backward with what little space you have left so you can make it past the next wave. Honestly, all of this ends up making the ninth boss super easy in comparison. However, I will say that the ninth boss was the closest the game got to having proper levels: between each phase, there’s a series of platforms you have to dash across while simultaneously avoiding projectiles and lasers, and it’s the one point in the game where the charged dash is actually useful and not a detriment. I kinda wish the game had more segments like this so it isn’t just a glorified boss rush. Also, right before the ninth boss, your companion hypes up a thing that’s supposed to stop you “for good,” but it ends up being a cut-scene, and not even one with quick time events, which is disappointing.

Once you beat the ninth boss, the credits roll. After the credits, you can access a post-game boss, but not before another walking segment, except this time there’s no way to auto-walk to your destination! At least you get to run and have free movement of the camera, so you can better see where to go. Once you make it to the post-game boss, you’ll see that it exclusively focuses on the free-form part of the boss fights (even more so than the sixth boss), so you won’t be using the sword at all. Aside from the aforementioned problems with the dash mechanic, it’s not too bad, though the final phase brings back the “I’m invincible and you just have to wait past my attacks for a while” that the fifth boss had. At least it’s a more climactic battle and more proper conclusion than the ninth boss was.

Overall, this game is hard to recommend. Most of the game works, and it’s fun when that happens, but the unresponsive dash mechanic really brings the whole game down, and the arbitrary set of moves to trigger the sniper boss’s proper attack phase just adds salt to the wound.

P.S. Whenever you turn the game off and turn it back on, the title screen repeats a line of narration from the previous walking segment, but you can’t skip it, so you have to sit there listening to what the game already told you last time before the game lets you start playing again. It might’ve been kinda neat if the game would’ve let you skip it.