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.

Lastly, here’s my review of my favorite game, as well as an explanation of differences between all of puzzle’s sub-genres (something not many people seem to know): https://www.backlog-assassins.net/posts/db8kgjb


  • ENYO ARCADE

    55 minutes playtime

    1 of 14 achievements

This is a platformer. A jumps and X does a kick that has way too short of a range given how quickly the first enemies beeline towards you and how delayed the kick is. After a few rooms, the game introduces guns, but doesn’t tell you how to use them; turns out it’s a twin-stick shooter now: right stick to aim, R2 to shoot (you can also jump with L2 instead of A). You have your choice between different guns, but they’re either too weak (taking 3-4 hits to kill even the weakest enemies), too slow (making you wait a solid second or two before you can fire another shot), or have a random chance to veer just enough from where you’re aiming to miss the enemy.

Half of the enemies blend into the scenery. Tiny snails can hide behind rocks or dark-grey metal birds can be placed next to dark-purple weeds on the ceiling in front of a dark background. Sometimes, killing one of those snails will cause tiny green mushrooms-or-something to spawn where it died, and these also kill you on contact. The way the game introduces explosive barrels (at the beginning of the second level, or as the game calls it, “level 1” because the first stage is “level 0”) is to put one at the bottom of a jump with enemies on each side, so when you go to shoot the enemies, you shoot the barrel and blow yourself up. It seems like whenever I stopped being overly paranoid and shooting all the background objects, I’d get killed with no way to figure out how it happened.

There’s also rocket launchers and enemy spawners. The rockets fire much faster than you can move and the launcher always points at you, so it’s less about reacting to it and more about anticipating when it will fire (there’s no telegraphing for it, either). The spawners generate three tiny enemies that beeline your last known position (updated every second or two), which wouldn’t be that big of a deal if any of the guns were decent. Plus, these enemies activate several units off-screen, so you could drop down an empty vertical shaft that turns into a seemingly empty hall, then suddenly a rocket flies in from off-screen and kills you. The final level puts them in especially devious places: rockets are placed in little nooks beside the top of vertical shafts where you can’t hit them with a straight-shooting weapon from below and you can’t jump in/out of their sight because their rockets are too fast, so you need to just rush through and anticipate when it’ll fire its rockets, jumping accordingly. It’s even worse with the enemy spawners: it starts as just a room with lasers, so you need to wait for them to turn off, but they’re so low that you need to be in morph ball (defenseless) mode to avoid them. Problem is, the last laser ends at a point where the hall opens up above you, and there are two enemy spawners off-screen, so if the laser catches you right at the end, you’ll suddenly get attacked by the spawned enemies with no way to defend yourself. Oh, and even if you make it through, it’ll still be enough time for one of them to start spawning the enemies, and you’ll be close enough that you’ll need to get rid of them quickly before they kill you (you can’t just run away because this room ends with another laser that requires you to wait in morph ball mode, giving the spawned enemies plenty of time to catch up to you).

In contrast, the bosses are super easy. The first one is just a mouth that doesn’t move and only spawns human enemies directly below it (not only are humans visually-distinct from the background, but they don’t beeline towards you until you’re in their line of sight, or in this case, about a second after they spawn). The second and final boss swaps the genre for a bland horizontal shmup: tiny bullets infrequently spawn and slowly move to the left while the boss moves up and down. Ah, but it wouldn’t be complete without one more unfair cheap shot, so if you get too close to a bullet vertically, it’ll suddenly bolt vertically towards you and kill you.

Not recommended.

I think my biggest pet peeve in video games are games that ape the aesthetics of platformers without understanding why people like the genre in the first place. I’d be willing to play through a hundred more Madcap Castles if it meant the end of these. Sure, that game had just about every imaginable flaw associated with platformers, but at least it is a platformer! This, on the other hand…

  • Dexit

    11 hours playtime

    12 of 32 achievements

This is a beat ‘em up (well, hybrid beat ‘em up/twin-stick shooter, but I’ll get to that). The X button does your standard 2-hit combo, the A button jumps, and holding RT while standing still will block melee attacks entirely. There are ranged weapons (hold LT to enter firing mode, right stick to aim, RT to shoot), but given the fact that you don’t start with one and ammo is limited, you’re gonna have to deal with the melee combat. Thing is, enemies don’t telegraph their attacks, so you won’t be able to react to them. On top of this, enemies can also block, which nullifies any damage from your own attacks. This means that each fight is just you sitting there, holding the block button, waiting for them to drop their guard and attack, then countering. If you’re fighting an enemy with a chain, they have an attack where they spin it around for 3+ seconds, dragging the fight out even longer (oh, but you never get to equip a melee weapon yourself). If you come up against an enemy with a gun, they can’t block, but their bullets can’t be blocked, either, and since they always aim directly at you…well, there is one way to avoid them: you can do a dodge-roll, but it’s mapped to the right stick. Not the button; you have to move your thumb from the face buttons and push the stick left or right, and given that bullets instantly hit you when fired and attacks aren’t choreographed, you won’t be able to react to all of them.

Oh, and if you knock an enemy down, you won’t be able to attack it until it gets back up, making fights take even longer.

And that’s just when you only have one enemy to face. Sure, it’s possible to lead some enemies away from a group or approach an unaware one from behind to assassinate it instantly, but the ONE thing the game uses level design to accomplish is to prevent certain enemies from making it past certain points, forcing you to take on multiple ones at a time, resulting in yet another game that has unavoidable damage, if only by proxy.

Throughout the game, you can hack computers and other electronics, and this is where the twin-stick shooter elements come into play. Left stick moves you in any direction, right stick aims, RT fires your normal shots (unlimited), LT does your special attack (regenerates after a few seconds). Half the time, you’ll be doing this to disable cameras or turrets (if a camera spots you, the turrets will shoot at you with those same instant, unblockable bullets, and they can’t be taken out any other way), but there’s zero level design here: you move the cursor over the icon and push the A button to start the hacking, at which point enemies spawn around you and start closing in. You have to stay in the hacking circle to keep the meter from going down, but between the sheer number of red enemies that constantly spawn and beeline for you and that one bullet-sponge enemy that always shows up when you do this (with another always spawning shortly after the previous is killed), you’re not gonna be able to stay in that circle without taking damage (unless you buy upgrades, but even then, it’s debatable). Also, this is exactly the same for every single object you hack; they’ll come at you from different angles, but the number and type of enemies are always the same, so it’s a little repetitive.

The only exception is when you hack computers, but you don’t do that by entering twin-stick mode and moving to an icon; you do it by going up to the computer and pushing the examine button (Y on an Xbox controller). This takes you into–dare I say–an actual level as opposed to the usual brawler set-pieces. The two enemies mentioned previously still make appearances and still act the same, but there are new enemies: there’s turrets that will shoot bullets that can actually be avoided if you’re far enough away and move constantly; there’s purple enemies that move faster than you can but don’t chase you, instead just reflecting off the walls; and there’s electricity and black holes that just stay still and act as static hazards that you simply need to move around. Unfortunately, the game ruins what little goodwill it had with these levels with its over-reliance on enemy spawners: they generate those red enemies from the icon hacking segments at such a rate that you literally will not be able to kill them all before the spawner generates more of them (unless you buy and equip the right special attack; without it, you just gotta focus fire on the spawner and take the hits from the generated enemies).

By the way, this game has Teleglitch-style vision, where you can’t see past a wall even though the game is 2D. It isn’t that bad most of the time, but the hacking levels seem to place turrets right around corners where you won’t have much time to react to them.

Also, both of the game’s bosses are in the hacking levels, but they’re both just larger versions of normal enemies; you don’t even need any upgrades to take them out unscathed. It’s kinda laughable considering the rest of the game.

Not recommended.

  • Relic Hunters Zero

    2 hours playtime

    5 of 44 achievements

This is a twin-stick shooter. Left stick moves, right stick aims, holding L2 toggles a laser sight that reduces bullet spread at the cost of slower movement, R2 fires, L1 uses your special item (different for each character), the X button reloads your gun (which takes a solid 1-2 seconds, double if you’re using a mid or heavy gun), Y swaps between the two guns you have equipped, A dashes, and B does a melee attack (which you’ll need if you run out of ammo). You have to kill all the enemies in a level to progress to the next one (except the final level, where you just have to kill the final boss). Also, there’s a small chance that a random relic will be detected once you beat a level; collect three in the same set and you can activate their effect on your next run.

As is typical for shooters, enemy projectiles spawn with no warning, so you need to react in the time it takes for them to reach you. Thing is, some enemy weapons (like the spread gun) fire so quickly that you won’t have time to move out of the way unless you dash, but since dashing is mapped to a face button in this twin-stick shooter, you won’t be able to push it in time, effectively making it useless. You could theoretically have more time to react by walking backwards while shooting at them, but the only way you could maintain that is if you weren’t holding the laser sight button; however, at that point, your shots would be given so much random variation that you’d miss most of your shots, meaning you’d run out of ammo and be forced to use melee attacks sooner. Problem is, melee attacks in this game are awful: there’s a half second delay between when you hit the button and when the attack actually happens, and no enemy has any such delay in their attacks. In other words, no matter how you approach the game, you’ll have to deal with unavoidable damage. I can only assume this was done since the player has a regenerating shield, so sustaining lots of damage at once is the only way the game could be challenging, but now the game is less about skill than endurance.

Level design is super bland (only consisting of walls and destructible covers, with enemy placement always just being clusters spread throughout the level), so the game has to rely on enemy variety. Problem is that there isn’t much of that, either. First world just has the standard soldiers, with the only difference being what gun they have equipped (and there isn’t a whole lot of variation on that front, either: normal shots, spread shots, rapid fire…I think that’s it). Second world introduces dogs, which are basically the same except they have a charging melee attack instead of a ranged one (and there’s no delay, unlike your own melee attack). There are also shield enemies, which are the same as normal soldiers except you need to keep the pressure on them or else their shield will regenerate (something that’s kinda hard when your clip runs out every 5 seconds no matter what gun you have, forcing you to reload each time). The third world introduces insects, which are the most annoying enemy since half the time, they’re in the air where you can’t hit them and they can’t hurt you; when they land, they fire a series of quick, guided shots which have all the problems mentioned in the previous paragraph (even if you sidestep out of the way, they can make a sharp turn and still hit you). Fourth world gives some of the soldiers laser-sights and rocket launchers, but if you die here, chances are it’ll be because the previous worlds ate all your ammo and you’re forced to use those awful melee attacks against enemies who don’t convey their own attacks.

After this is the final boss, who attacks by firing rapid bullets in random trajectories and throwing a few rockets, so the only way to avoid damage is to hide behind cover. Then it just stands there, waiting for you to counterattack. At certain points in its health bar, a shield tower will activate and spawn some regular soldiers around it, and once all the shield towers are destroyed, the boss will start to walk around, but it still has the same pattern of “attack, wait, repeat,” still making you hide behind cover until the attacks are done.

By the way, even though the level design is identical each time you play, the game still tries to be like a roguelike. Dying once sends you back to the beginning unless you have enough money to buy the option to start at a later world. Groups of enemies will have their placements swapped, but there will always only be one enemy type per group. There’s a shop between each world, but the three items on offer are randomized each time (and given the frequency of weapon/item drops in-level, only relics are worth buying…and maybe ammo if it ever shows up). I gave hard mode a shot, but it didn’t seem any different from normal mode (maybe the enemies are a bit more aggressive? Maybe enemy clusters are slightly larger?). I even gave endless mode a shot, and it still seems like the same levels as in the campaign; the only difference I noticed is that 1) you’re stuck with the character’s default weapon (enemies don’t drop guns), and 2) instead of relics, you can find a teleporter that sends you to a purple level with new skeleton enemies that explode into smaller enemies when they die.

Overall, I don’t think I’d recommend this one, either. Sure, it’s free, but even by that standard, there are better free games, like Dere Evil or Khimera.

  • Madcap Castle

    6 hours playtime

    no achievements

This is a platformer. Besides your standard left/right movement and jump, you can cast a spell with the X button. However, you start off with no spell, and can only have one at a time (usually getting a new one each tower). Each tower has 15 levels (if you count the bosses as levels), and each level is one screen. However, in order to beat most levels, you have to touch little buttons scattered around the screen, and the next one only appears after you hit the previous one. This can be a little annoying since it isn’t uncommon for the game to make you backtrack, or even redo the same exact platforming because the next button appeared near where a previous one was or because the level is symmetrical and the button appeared in literally the same spot on the other side.

The game actually makes a good first impression. The controls are fairly responsive, and first tower does a good job of building up the difficulty without going overboard…but then the game introduces its dark levels: everything is blacked out except a few units around you and a couple units around any candles that may be in the level. Not only do switches not have their own light, but some levels make you light candles, but you still have to do it in a specific order or the flame will go out after a second. Since you can’t see where the objectives are, you need to use the light around you to look for them, but the light’s range is so short and your jumping speed is so quick that you won’t have much time to react if there happen to be spikes on the ceiling (unless, of course, you do short hops and slowly raise your jump height). That was my first death in the game.

But okay, maybe that by itself isn’t a big issue, but the game has a ton of little issues that all compound on each other. There’s a type of enemy that moves diagonally and reflects off of walls, but it sometimes alters its angle when it hits certain surfaces (so instead of going at a 45 degree angle, it’s a 10 degree angle), making it unpredictable. There are several levels where an enemy or other hazard is placed right in front of you at the beginning, giving you less than half a second to react to it after the level transition goes away before you die. The shield spell, despite having several fluid frames of animation, only works as a shield for the first couple of those frames; the rest of the time, you’ll see the enemies’ shots go straight through it and kill you (and don’t forget that all spells except gravity flipping have a full second delay before you can use them again). In contrast, explosions remain harmful for far longer than they should; there could only be a couple tiny wisps of smoke left, but they remain just as deadly as the initial burst. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that bombs aren’t the only things that explode; the goat boss will shoot thin fireballs at a random frequency, so sometimes you’ll only just barely be able to squeeze in between two, but then suddenly they hit the floor and increase their hit box with an explosion, killing you anyway. This leads into another issue I had with the game: even though bosses are all the “dodge until vulnerable” type, they don’t get harder with each phase, instead just having parts of their attack pattern be randomized (not to mention that quite a few of them have cheap shots that you have to know in advance to dodge, like the final boss’s flame floor). The game doesn’t even do introductions well; level 40 would have been perfect to introduce ice blocks, but the actual first level to have ice blocks puts a spike right at the end, likely having you slide into it on your first try. The room that first grants you the teleport spell has a cannon shooting right at where the spell is, and on top of this, the spell sends you nearly halfway across the room, meaning you won’t be able to intuit where you’ll end up after using it. To make matters worse, the spell produces a huge cloud of fog by your destination, so if there’s a hazard nearby, you won’t be able to react to it well after teleporting. The card spell lets you shoot a projectile forward, but you’re two units tall and it only fires from the top, so not only does this mean it will go over all the one-unit-tall enemies, but if you have to break through blocks and the bottom one manages to be the only one left, you’re stuck and have to pause and quit to retry the level. That isn’t even the only level where you can get stuck like that, either: one level has all the platforms destructible, but puts one of the buttons in a spot you can only reach if you manage to avoid destroying certain ones, and another level has the exit door in a pit that you can’t jump out of, so if you fall in before hitting all the buttons necessary to unlock the door, you’re once again stuck. I’d say it’s old-school literally to a fault, but that isn’t an issue associated with retro classics; it’s a flaw associated with retro bootlegs. I think the worst power is the gravity flipping. It’s fine if you just need to go from the floor to the ceiling and vice versa, but there are a couple levels where you have to swap gravity rapidly in midair to get through a spike tunnel, and this is where you discover that it keeps whatever your vertical momentum was when you hit the button. Combine this with your jumping speed and you’ll realize that if you hit it too early, you’ll continue flying up and hit the spikes, but if you push it a split second later, you’ll have already fallen on the other set of spikes (and if you rapidly hit it, you’ll still slowly move either up or down and still won’t be able to make it across). One of the reasons I play retro platformers is to avoid physics-based mechanics like this! The dashing spell has a similar level where you have to be on practically the exact right pixel when you push the jump button or you won’t be able to make it over the spike arch.

However, despite all my problems with everything mentioned above, the worst problem with the game is its spears. They have two frames: out (harmful) and in (safe), so there’s no warning for when they’ll switch positions. On top of this, they can be in one position for 5+ seconds, and what’s worse, different spears within the same level will be set to different, asynchronous patterns. It isn’t uncommon for a few spears in a row to be just slightly off of each other, forcing you to sit there and wait for a solid minute or two before they sync back up again and it’s safe to progress. Oh, and don’t forget that this game is an unforgiving precision platformer where you die in one hit. Thing is, I don’t mind the challenge, but when I’m forced to wait for an absurd amount of time just to try again, that kills any potential fun the game once had. I swear, this was only done to inflate playtime artificially. A level that would have taken only one or two minutes suddenly takes more than 20 minutes before you win. Sure, its not as bad as Cross Code’s or Victor Vran’s asynchronous hazards, but this was the closest I came to giving up on the game.

Overall, I don’t think I’d recommend this one. There’s some fun parts, but just when you get past one problematic part and you think it’s starting to get better, another problem shows up (or an old one reappears).

  • DERE EVIL .EXE

    75 minutes playtime

    no achievements

This is a platformer. The arrow keys move you left and right, and the spacebar lets you double jump (no controller support, and JoyToKey stopped working for me–not just with this game, either, and the “run as administrator + XP compatibility” fix doesn’t work).

Something I should point out is that the game is kinda buggy. It starts off by asking if you want to play in windowed or full-screen, but whenever I selected full-screen, it would jump back to windowed mode. The closest I could get to full-screen was clicking the square in between the X and the line in the upper-right of the window (the buttons that all Windows applications have). Oh, and when I beat level one, I clicked it again to bring it back to windowed mode, and level 2 was re-locked, so I had to beat the last part of level 1 again to continue. There’s also a part where it wants you to enter a password, but the number keys at the top of the keyboard won’t work, and if you try to use the ones on the right side, it’ll auto-check after pushing only one key, and since it’s a four-digit code, it’ll always be wrong. What you need to do is use the mouse to click on the numbers on-screen in order to progress. Yup, it’s a slap-dash mobile port, and to add insult to injury, the mobile version is FREE!!!

If you look past that rocky start, the game is okay. Level 1 introduces the controls and major obstacles; some of the obstacles are physics-based, which can be a little annoying sometimes, but your own controls are responsive (push forward=move forward, let go=stop immediately). The cut-scene afterward made me think I needed a computer mic, but luckily, you don’t (you can bypass that part if you just keep advancing the dialogue). The second level ends with a couple mini games, but if you’re not a fan of Arkanoid/Breakout clones, you can just lose intentionally and progress with the game as normal.

Level 3 starts off just fine, but eventually, you’ll reach a gap that’s too wide to double-jump across, and your only hint is that you’ll “be surprised.” Will a platform come up from off-screen if you take a leap of faith? Nope. Is the text itself a platform? Nope. Turns out, you have to pause the game, and the pause menu becomes a platform. I know the description said the game has “puzzles,” but I was hoping I wouldn’t have to deal with adventure-game-style riddles like that.

Level 4 is where the difficulty picks up. There have always been platforms that rotate when you jump, but now there are spikes on each side, so you need to plan your jumps in advance. There were physics-based platforms before, but now there are thin platforms that border and rotate with the wheel in the center…and the game promptly abandons this gimmick after the third one. There’s one physics wheel that fires a projectile when you jump, but this also only shows up twice (with the second time being in the proceeding level). All that is okay (even if I wish it built on its mechanics a bit more), but the game also introduces a fake checkpoint that’ll kill you. While you get a warning for the first one, the second doesn’t have any such warning, and there’s no visual distinction between the two, either. That isn’t challenging; that’s just frustrating. Luckily, this also gets abandoned after the second one.

Level 5 drops the difficulty in regards to level design, but this is counterbalanced by one of the worst, most drunken cameras I’ve seen in a while. This is the only level where the level goes up (meaning the camera needs to move up with your jumps), and turning left/right also adjusts the camera to be ahead of where you’re looking, but the vertical scrolling is extremely awkward and a little unpredictable; I really don’t know how to describe it. You also have a boss fight in this level, with that awful camera.

Level 6 alters the mechanics to an ice-sliding puzzle; move in one direction, and you can’t stop ‘til you hit a wall. Thing is, this is controlled not by the push of a key, but by holding the left mouse button and dragging in the direction you want to go. This might just be the slap-dashiest thing I’ve ever borne witness to. The rotating blocks make a return, but now they rotate for each move you make instead of each jump. Fine in theory, but you’ll eventually reach a part that seems impossible. Turns out, you can move into the wall to stay in the same location while also triggering the rotation of the blocks. That just doesn’t seem like a fair solution to me, but it’s the only way past that part. Another way you can tell that’s the intended solution is the fact that the game abandons those rotating blocks for the rest of the level: it switches to moving hazards, and near the end, one that moves opposite to you horizontally, but with you vertically. There’s also a boss fight at the end of this level (it’s the final boss); it’s okay, but it can be a little annoying since its projectiles are drawn behind the blocks, making them harder to see coming (and the boss’s own movement pattern clips one of the empty corners where you think you’d be safe).

Overall, the game is pretty mediocre. It’s only $1, but I think I’d recommend checking out the free mobile version instead if you’re interested.


Almost missed that the game has free DLC:
Jeez, the scaling on the background is all sorts of whacked out, like it was resized in MS Paint, then the result was resized again, also in MS Paint.
Also a platformer, technically the prequel to the above game. The first couple levels task you with collecting a set number of diamonds (sometimes referred to as “coins” because shut up). Level 3 is a more standard “make it to the end” stage, but it prevents you from walking to the left for some reason. Level 4 goes full auto-runner and makes you collect 40 diamonds (an absurd amount considering how short and repetitive the level is). If you miss some, don’t worry; the level loops and refreshes the diamonds, so you can win with some patience by collecting the same ones until you meet the quota.

Level 5 is much closer to the levels in the sequel, and you can even see some of the stuff that got reused, like the checkpoints, the slow-mo “breaking through glass” scene, and a thin hallway with repetitive spear placements that really shouldn’t have been reused in the sequel (let alone twice). There’s even another “too wide” jump, but this time the text is a platform, and you have to touch it to knock it down. Unfortunately, the game decides to make the controls less responsive in this level: letting go of forward no longer stops you in place, so you have to hit back and forth constantly in order to land your jumps. Also, one part near the beginning reverses your controls right before you reach a checkpoint, meaning you’ll likely overshoot the jump, die, and have to redo the entire previous segment. There are also a couple points where hazards will suddenly bolt at you from behind the ground, the very definition of a cheap shot.

Overall, this one is definitely lower quality than the sequel. I think free is an appropriate price for it (you don’t even need it as DLC; it’s free on mobile and itch.io).


One more:

Yet another platformer, but you’ll need an emulator that supports iNES mapper 30, like FCEUX 2.2.3 (FCEUX 2.2.2 isn’t compatible). Also, instead of baking the text into the levels like the previous games, you have to walk in front of a sign and push the B button to see the text. Text also appears if you push the B button in front of the anime face, which I didn’t realize at first.

This one manages to be even more dull and repetitive than the prequel. I lost count of how many times certain rooms were recycled entirely (and it isn’t a Lost Woods thing where you keep looping until you find the right way through; it literally just copy/pastes earlier rooms). There are a couple tricky jumps in the game, like when the fire is moving back and forth in midair and there’s only a 1x1 platform near the end that you need to land on, but you’ll breeze through most of the game no problem. There also isn’t a proper ending; you’re trapped in a black room and can push the B button to bring up the last text box, but there’s no staff roll or anything.

Again, I think free is an appropriate price for it.

  • Pocket Kingdom

    4 hours playtime

    9 of 16 achievements

This is a puzzle game. Each room loops horizontally and vertically, with the goal being to reach the next door or ladder, which takes you to the next room. Puzzles usually consist of lasers, boxes that can be pushed, crates that can be destroyed, and/or switches that push blue blocks in/out of walls, but there are also some adventure-game-style fetch quests or riddles. Personally, I would’ve preferred a linear game that didn’t have the adventure game elements, but I do think it handled being a nonlinear puzzle game better than Toki Tori 2 did.

Most of the puzzles for the first hour or so are pretty dull. The game does try to spice it up a bit by introducing some upgrades, like the “climb twice as high” boots (you can’t jump, at least not in the traditional sense), but this is well after establishing the original jump height and continuing to design later levels around said jump height, so part of me being stumped was simply forgetting I could do this. The game also introduces a grappling hook (bring blocks to yourself or yourself to a wall), and later on, a rocket launcher (pushes blocks and destroys crates), but you can’t hold onto both at once; you have to find another spawn point for them (and since one disappears when you touch the other, you can’t just swap between them at the same spot). This was an interesting dynamic and it resulted in the game’s better, trickier puzzles, but it did leave a bit of a sour taste in my mouth since the solution for some of the late-game puzzles involved using the “teleport to any room you visited” power to go back to where you can swap weapons, then teleporting back with the other one (instead of, you know, giving you the tools you need in that same room, like most of the other puzzles do).

There’s also some post-game content, but it relies too heavily on adventure-game-style riddles for my taste. I did try wandering around a bit to see if I could figure out what I missed, but gave up. You’d think that since bringing the red skull key to the red demon is what lets you progress the main story, then bringing the blue skull key to the blue demon is something you’d need to do for the post-game, but that didn’t trigger anything. Maybe I bought the wrong items from the shops? Maybe I’m supposed to decode Yumo’s language on my own at this point? Who knows…

Overall, the game’s okay. It has some dull puzzles, some good puzzles, and some adventure game obstacles that really have nothing to do with its core mechanics (but luckily, a lot of them are optional). I say wait for a sale.

I haven’t been this thoroughly offended by a game this quickly since The Red Solstice.

More like Xeno-NOTs, am I right? Up top!

This is a hybrid management/tactics game. The management part takes place in real-time, but you can toggle how fast it goes, and the game automatically stops it when something comes up (e.g. UFO spotted, research complete, equipment manufactured, etc.). This is also where alien ships spawn; if it shows up on your radar, you can intercept it; if it doesn’t, you can’t, and if you don’t intercept it, the region it targeted reduces your funding. On the turn-based tactics side, every map is random and has fog of war (with night missions reducing your vision further), and every attack relies on a % chance (never going higher than 95%, so you’re never guaranteed a hit). As for controls, you can left-click a unit to select it, left-click a spot on the map to see how many movement points it’ll cost to move there, left-click that same spot again to confirm the move, left-click an enemy to attack it (attacking also costs movement points), left-click the grenade icon to go into “grenade aim mode” (to see its range and movement point cost), left click again to confirm throwing the grenade to that spot…yeah, that one button really shoulders a lot of the burden. I kinda wish it was spread more evenly between the two mouse buttons, like “left click to preview movement cost, right click to confirm” or something.

One of the first things you’ll notice is that the game doesn’t tell you a bunch of stuff. You can hire more staff during the management part, but there’s no way to see how long it’ll be before they arrive at your base. You can build a new base, but you won’t be allowed to build necessary extensions (living quarters, hangar, etc.) until after it’s done, and then, the game won’t let you build those extensions unless they’re directly adjacent to an already built segment (instead of letting you put it anywhere on the 6x6 grid). It’s even worse for the tactics part: you can mouse over weapons to see their names, but no indication on their range or any other potentially useful information. What are the benefits and drawbacks of flashbangs compared to smoke bombs? No way to know without trial and error (or quitting the game and looking it up online, of course). Uh oh, one of your soldiers is bleeding! How do you use the medkit? Left clicking on it does nothing, but if you right click on it, that also does nothing. You might think you could check the manual to find at least some of this stuff out, but nope; none of that stuff is explained in the manual, either.

However, my biggest issue is that way, way, WAY too much of the game is reliant on percent chances. The most obvious is with attacking: each soldier has a base hit chance that decreases the further away you are from an enemy. It is possible to increase your hit chance temporarily by spending more movement points on the attack, but even your lowest hit chance costs 1/3rd of your total move points, and if you want to have any decent hit chance, you’ll need to spend upwards of 2/3rds to 5/6ths (and that doesn’t count what you’ll need to spend in order to get in range in the first place), and that still only increases your chance; it doesn’t guarantee a hit. Oh, but enemies have more accurate and weapons than you do, and chances are, not only will they land the hit, they’ll kill your soldier in one shot (and whether or not the soldier revives after the battle is based on–you guessed it–a percent chance). Between all of that, the fog of war, and the randomized maps, battles are not strategy-based; they’re luck-based, and the game’s lack of explanation for many of its mechanics just makes it even worse. No matter how much time you spend learning the mechanics and trying to get good, the game can always have an enemy come from off-screen and kill you with a low hit chance, then have you miss when you try to fight back.

This randomness even extends to the management part of the game, too. When a UFO appears on your radar, it always starts as airborne, and the only way to take out airborne ships is with fighter planes, but after you launch your planes, the alien ship could land (become invulnerable to the planes) or it could run away and escape your radar, and then another UFO could appear, but your planes won’t have enough fuel to engage it so you’ll have to return to base and wait for them to refuel. There isn’t even a set timer for when extraterrestrial events occur; there could be nothing for a couple days, or there could be several all at once (with the only guarantee being that they’re out of your radar’s range, meaning you couldn’t do anything about it).

Oh, and that’s all within the first three encounters, by the way. Yes, I gave up. It’s almost impressive how much the game manages to get wrong. Honestly, I’m starting to think Advance Wars was a fluke and I’m actually not a fan of tactics games.

Okay, so it turns out Whispering Willows is an adventure game. Whoops. I guess I just saw that there were enemies in the trailer and thought “free game!”, but those enemies are really nothing more than glorified waiting segments (and that “knight puzzle” is a great example of why I don’t like adventure game “puzzles”; even meeting the game halfway, the first knight should’ve had a picture of someone holding an item to better convey the mechanics, then slowly progressed to the lone telescope picture for the final knight instead of vice versa). But hey, I also beat something else:

  • Grimm

    50 minutes playtime

    no achievements

This is a painting game, kinda like the multiplayer mode in Splatoon. The area around you automatically gets painted as you walk around, and the goal is to cover enough of the arena to fill up a meter at the top of the screen; when the meter reaches certain points, you can ground-pound near certain objects to unlock other parts of the map.

I don’t know if this applies to the rest of the game, but the first episode (which is available for free) is way too easy. There are no NPCs that can hurt or even kill you; the most they can do is clean up after you, but I swear, not only does this not result in your meter going down, you NEED them so that you can repaint areas to get your meter up to where it needs to be. The closest you get to any resistance is when you have to paint target NPCs; all you can do is run at them, and all they do is run away (slower than you can run), so it’s basically just a time-delayed version of what you’ve already been doing (and having to paint the birds is even more annoying since you can’t arc the camera up to see where they are; you have to backtrack to higher ground to see where they are). The only thing that can kill you is lava, and it only shows up in the game’s sparse, incredibly simplistic and bare-bones platforming segments. Falling in just sends you back to the beginning of the platforming segment, so at least the game is decent with checkpoints.

And that’s really all there is to it. EDIT: Well, there are also “secret” coins and a level rating, but they don’t do anything. I know this was basically just a demo, but it didn’t sell me on the rest of the game. It feels more like a game for really young kids than anyone who has played a game before.

  • Stories: The Path of Destinies

    3 hours playtime

    25 of 37 achievements

This is a hack ‘n’ slash. Tap X to attack, push A to dash, push Y to use your grappling hook (can be upgraded to remove enemy shields), and you can parry an incoming attack if you hold the left stick toward the enemy and push X. Parrying happens as soon as you do it, but regular attacking has a very noticeable delay, and I always had trouble dashing out of a combo (for example, if there was about to be a nearby explosion that couldn’t be avoided with a parry). While most of the game-play is based on fighting enemies in flat, empty arenas, I was impressed to see a little bit of level design here: some levels have cannons that constantly shoot fireballs you need to avoid, and later on, there are pillars that spit flames at regular intervals (but these aren’t as noteworthy since you can just dash through the flames unharmed).

After you beat the opening level, you’re given two choices on where to go next, and that leads to the game’s main selling point: the branching paths. Your choices affect which levels you go to and how the story plays out, but all paths converge on the same final level; after beating it, you’re taken back to the first branch. Sounds okay in theory, but even though each path only consists of 5 levels (including the always-fixed final level), you’ll often find yourself playing through the exact same levels as previous paths, even if you made different choices. Even the aforementioned level design is unchanged, adding to the repetition. At least the original Super Mario Brothers had the decency to lop a tile off the moving platforms!

You could argue that the core of the game is the combat and not the level design since most levels are just empty paths between mechanically-identical arenas anyway, and sure, the game does slowly introduce more enemy types, with some not being introduced until your second or third run. However, the moment-to-moment combat can also be repetitive in and of itself: the second type of enemy isn’t introduced until the first time you make it to the final level, and the game doesn’t get much faster at introducing enemy types from there. Plus, the game never mixes combat with level design, so combat becomes samey and repetitive until the next enemy type comes along, then it goes back to being samey and repetitive until the next enemy type comes along, and the cycle repeats.

However, what finally made me give up was its approach to the branching paths. Most endings are bad endings, so you’re expected to replay the game until you get a good ending, but on top of the already repetitive combat and recycled levels, you can’t even skip to choices you haven’t made–heck, you can’t even skip cutscenes! At first, I didn’t think much of it since I unlocked a third path when I beat the final level the first time, but after I beat the final level using all three available choices, a fourth never materialized. Between that and the fact that purifying the Iblis stone with the skyripper core and attaining inner peace so it doesn’t overload STILL resulted in a bad ending, I decided I was done.

EDIT: Speaking of the repetition, I never encountered a boss fight in all three of my runs; it was just the samey enemy waves.

Overall, if you already have the game in your inventory, it might be worth playing through a couple paths, but I wouldn’t recommend spending money on it.

This is a bit of a milestone for me because it’s the last game on my Steam account…that I paid for. Sure, it’s not as grand as clearing the backlog completely, but now nobody can say I bought a bunch of Steam games I never played. Now all that’s left are the ones from free promotions (or raffle wins like Steamgifts), so you can look forward to me making posts about the games y’all played two years ago! ☺

  • Crazy Maɔhines 3

    15 hours playtime

    20 of 41 achievements

This is a physics puzzle game. Most levels feature a Rube Goldberg machine that has certain pieces removed, with the goal being to figure out where each piece goes to make the thing function; once you’re ready, you push the play button at the bottom to see if your setup works. There are a few that deviate from this formula, though, like one that’s exclusively about reflecting laser beams or a few that are about setting up paths so marbles will collide with all the stars. Sometimes, you can hold the mouse over an inventory item to read about what it does, but other times, you only get told its name.

Objects in your inventory snap to a little grid when you place them on the board, but despite this, the game runs into the same problem as other physics puzzle games I’ve played: you can know what the solution is, but still fail because the physics didn’t line up perfectly with your placements. The game makes this obvious early on in level 6: there are three differently colored spheres, and you have to place paths to ensure they fall in the right canisters. After a bit of trial and error, you’ll figure out that the colors correspond to their sizes, and the smaller spheres will fall through paths in your inventory that are colored after the larger spheres. At that point, it doesn’t take long to figure out what setup you need, but then you’ll notice that two of the same size ball can clog a path of their same color, and if the game really doesn’t like your setup, it will sometimes toss the balls into the foreground or background, where they have no hope of making it into the canisters. At that point, it just becomes trial and error to figure out what specific setup makes the game happy.

By the way, not only is that the first time those paths appear, it’s also the last, which brings me to another issue I had: the game often relies on introducing new gimmicks rather than trying to build on what it has. Sure, I’ll admit that adding new gimmicks is often the last recourse that mediocre action games have to add variety due to their obstinate refusal to use level design at all, but for a puzzle game, it’s a death sentence, plain and simple. You’re no longer solving the puzzle because you don’t have enough information to solve it, and often, once you figure out what the new thing does and how it works, the “solution” becomes rather obvious. To use terms I’ve seen other people use about puzzle games, it’s less an “a-ha!” moment and more an “oh, I guess it worked that time” moment. The worst offender in this regard is level 57: it introduces automatically-moving buggies and horizontal steel girders, and you need to push a cart from one side of the screen to the other, over an unstable bridge. This was the only one I had to look up the solution for, and it turn out that if you put the girder over the side of the buggy so that the buggy pushes it while it leans on the buggy, then have two of the buggies push the two girders into each other with the aforementioned setup, the girders will stick to the ground and rotate vertically to hold the bridge up instead of just sliding back over the buggies upon collision. Plus, not only does it require prior knowledge of how game physics (not real physics) work, but as you might have guessed, this mechanic and those buggies never show up in the game again.

For the record, not only does this type of design result in an unfun individual level, it also ruins the experience for the few good levels that are also in the game, like level 67: this one is exclusively about reflecting lasers using weighted blocks, but due to the precedents set by the game, you can never be sure if you can win with what you have or if you need to set at least one of the blocks so that it falls down and rotates into a piece you didn’t have before (you don’t, at least not for that level).

To add insult to injury, the graphics don’t always make everything clear. Sometimes, you’ll need to start the sequence before placing any items down just so you can better see whether that horizontal piece will float or fall, or just so you can see how many moving objects are already on the board. Plus, background and foreground objects can be hard to distinguish from each other; chances are you won’t notice until after you place a piece down and see it flashing yellow, disabling the play button in the process. Sometimes, like with the gears in stage 4 of the Lost Levels, you know what you need to do, but there’s no way to know which particular setup the game expects, so you just have to keep rearranging them until they reach the end without flashing yellow.

Lastly, I should point out that level 6 isn’t the only one with physics idiosyncrasies: it isn’t uncommon for slightly changing the position one thing to have a reproducible effect on the results of a completely unrelated physics object. I think the worst physics bug would be in the fourth marble rail stage: you have three seemingly-equal 90-degree pieces, but if you put the wrong one in the wrong spot, the marble will be launched out of bounds in an unrelated part of the level.

So yeah, I don’t think I’d recommend this one. Sure, there are a few good puzzles here, but it isn’t worth going through all the nonsense the rest of the game has.

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