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


Did you like Baba is You? Do you want more Baba is You? Or maybe you haven’t played it and aren’t sure if it’s for you? Well, you’re in luck, because there’s a free rip-off of the game on Android!

I prefer this artstyle to Baba's wannabe-neo-ZX-Spectrum monochrome.

This is a puzzle game. For controls, you can only move in the cardinal directions by swiping the screen (one swipe = one tile’s length moved), push objects (that can be pushed, like text) by swiping into them, and reset the level by tapping the looping arrow button; there’s no single-move undo. The core gameplay revolves around rearranging the text to change objects’ properties: each “sentence” starts with an object-text, followed by an IS, then ended with a property-text; if an object doesn’t have any corresponding sentences, it’s a background object.

By itself, that’s a decent premise for a puzzle game, but the dev (not you) wasn’t very good at making the puzzles stand on their own, so there are a few additions in the form of the all-too-common three-star rating. The first star is simple enough: form “STAR IS GET” if it isn’t already formed, then move onto the star tile to collect it, then beat the level. You can only have one tile in your inventory at a time, and while it is possible to overwrite the star after you get it, you don’t have to worry about that outside of maybe one or two levels tops. The second star is obtained by beating the level in a set number of moves, and while that’s not a very creative way of adding challenge, it’s an easy way to do it right since players have to re-examine their approach instead of figure out some new gimmick through trial-and-error; it’s easily the one thing (combined with keeping the star tile) that makes some of the levels actually be tricky to solve (otherwise, the whole game would be kinda boring). The third star is earned by beating the level under a set time limit, and this is always a stupid and counterproductive way to pad out the length of a non-action game because it adds no challenge; once you figure out the solution, all you have to do is replay the level and regurgitate the appropriate input. If anything about this game indicates that the dev (not you) is a hack, it’d be this third star, even more so than the fact that the game used to use all the same graphics as Baba. Seriously, the closest that third star gets to having a good decision is that the timer doesn’t start until after your first move.

But okay, how’s the level design? Well, level 1 is a 1:1 copy of the first level from Baba, just rotated 90 degrees to fit in portrait mode. Level 2 introduces having to move the text together to form the sentences, and while the level itself is really easy, it took me some thought to get the turn limit star. Levels 3-6 manage to be both easy to solve and easy to get the star and win under the turn limit; they introduce stuff like in level 4, YOU become stuff other than the protagonist, but maybe it builds a bit too slowly? Level 5 is a bit too similar to 4, and 6 introduces FALL which is just KILL with a different animation. Level 7 introduces MOVE, and the main difference between this game’s MOVE and Baba’s is that, here, NPCs need to take an extra turn just turning around after moving into a wall (in Baba, they turn and move away in just one turn).

Level 8 impressed me because it’s a clear-cut example of this game doing something better than Baba: properly introducing [object] IS [object] sentences. It has a vertical “FLAG IS” and puts you in front of the WIN tile, so you could just push it forward to make FLAG IS WIN…except there’s a LOVE tile in front of WIN, so right before you make your intended sentence, you make “FLAG IS LOVE” and turn the flag into a heart. Yes, it’s a beginner’s trap, but at least it’s something! In Baba is You, the first level that required [object] IS [object] sentences makes absolutely no indication that the mechanic even exists in the game, so you just have to figure it out through trial-and-error; honestly, that was the first red flag that Baba wasn’t going to be my type of game.

At that point, I was prepared to go all hipster and proclaim the rip-off to be better than the original…but then I made it to level 10. It introduces SLIP (keep moving in the direction you moved onto them until you’re off), but that’s not as important as it being the first level where you have access to the EMPTY text. At first, I thought I had to make “WALL IS EMPTY” to unblock the star and flag, but try as I might, I was never able to win in the move limit. It wasn’t until after a day or two of mulling it over in my head that I suddenly remembered the solution to 6-2 in Baba, and sure enough, that’s what I had to do. Sure, Baba didn’t have a proper introduction for that mechanic until 6-3, but if you fumbled your way to the solution in 6-5, you could unlock 6-3 before beating 6-2. Worse, outside a trapped spot in the final level, that’s the last time EMPTY shows up in this game! I was so disappointed that the game not only had an unintuitive introduction to a mechanic, but simultaneously a one-time gimmick! The two worst parts of Baba, distilled into a single level.

In fact, now that I think about it, a bunch of the levels have stuff that rarely or never shows up again: PUSH doesn’t show up outside level 1, SINK doesn’t show up outside level 9, HOT and MELT only show up in level 19, SLIP only shows up in two levels and affects neither of them, and the last two levels have a unique GATE IS ON mechanic: stepping on the purple gate sends you to the red gate, but not vice versa (and the purple gate kills you if it’s on but the red gate isn’t), and this, too, is severely underutilized. Really, besides YOU, KILL, GET, and WIN, the most common property to show up is keys and LOCKed doors (spanning a whole three levels), though the game has a unique spin on this mechanic since you have to make “KEY IS GET” and collide with the door yourself with the key in your inventory.

By the way, level 10 isn’t the only time the game is unintuitive, because level 20 has NPCs with MOVE and KILL patrolling single-tile-wide halls, and I’m pretty sure the only way to win with the star under the move limit is to move through them since you only get killed if you stand on the same tile as them (and the game doesn’t introduce this mechanic, either).

Oh, and your reward for beating all 23 levels with 3 stars is...

Click to expand

I just noticed they misspelled "coming."


…nothing. Yup, another early access game. The game’s almost two years old, so the chances it’ll actually get more levels are pretty slim.

Overall, while the game has some advantages, differences, and unique ideas over Baba, it manages to be equally as disappointing. I can still recommend it since it’s free (and better at introducing some of the mechanics), but if you’ve already played Baba, you’re not gonna get much out of this game.

Did anyone else here know that Stinkoman 20X6 level 10 finally got published after 15 years?

Scratch that: does anyone else here even know about Homestar Runner?

Lance will forever be trapped in that statue.

This fan-game was cancelled, but the assets were released as consolation, and four stages were in a more-or-less completed state. You can play as Mega Man, Proto Man, or Bass, and while they have different play-styles, the pause menu and powers weren’t fully implemented. This means there’s no Rush Coil, Rush Jet, etc., despite split paths already having been worked into the levels (meaning you can’t actually go down those routes without altering them with the included level editor). Mega Man plays the same as he does in 5-8, so to make Proto Man more distinct, he can only have two shots on screen but can store 4 charged shots at once (though I think they’re weaker than Mega Man’s charged shot). Proto Man also has his shield, but it doesn’t work. Bass plays the same as he does in Megaman & Bass and 10 (and Mirai Kara no Chousensha): no charged shot and can’t shoot through walls, but can rapid-fire in 7 directions (not down) with 4 shots on screen at once.

Also, being a prototype, most levels just dead-end instead of allowing for progression. Plus, it’s possible for knockback to send you into solid tiles and get stuck, so remember that pushing F5 resets the game.

The intro stage (accessed by selecting New Game) does a good job of introducing the Metalls and Sniper Joes, but there’s a third enemy: a spider(?) bot. As soon as it comes on screen, it leaps half-way across the screen before it starts walking, and since it’s introduced in a flat room, you’ll likely get hit when you first encounter it. It also jumps when it reaches a wall or cliff, so I think it would’ve been better to remove their initial jump and introduce them in front of a pit so it’ll jump clear over new players when they stop to shoot it. This is one of those issues that I could see easily making it to the final product unaddressed, which is why it bothers me so much.

The stage select and other three stages can be accessed by selecting Load Game. There are more “levels” on the map, but most of them dead-end after 2-3 empty rooms.

Cleanse Woman’s stage appears to be the most complete out of the four: not only does it have exclusive enemies like underwater Metalls, Tellys, and an alternate Sniper Joe that shoots pink water at you (on top of damage, it turns you pink and induces ice physics for a few seconds before it wears off), but there’s even pre-boss dialogue, à la X4-X8 (and Megaman Zero 1-4). It’s also the only other stage those spider bots show up in, though their placement here is better at introducing them than the intro stage did. The level does a decent job of introducing the new Sniper Joe and have increasingly trickier setups with them, though the other enemies aren’t utilized as often. There is one room near the end where you can see the drop that’ll lead forward, but the screen scrolls a few units further than you can see from the last platform, so it made me think there’d be something past, and when I saw there wasn’t, I ended up on a collision course with a recently-spawned Telly (it was either that or fall into the spikes), so that was annoying.

Grime Man’s stage is built around waterfalls that’ll lower your jump height. Said waterfalls also flow off platforms, but unlike Mega Man IV, they won’t act like conveyor belts and push you (could be intentional, could’ve been something that would’ve been added in later). The stage gimmick is introduced pretty good by having single-tile-wide waterfalls fall into single-tile-wide gaps so that you’ll jump and see your jump height reduced, but won’t fall into the pit and die (though the Sniper Joe right after said pits might take away from that a bit). Beyond that, the stage just has Metalls, regular Sniper Joes, and platforming. Also, unlike the other levels that dead-end at the boss’s room, opening the boss gate sends you back to the beginning of the level.

Tome Woman’s stage could’ve rivaled Cleanse Woman’s stage for completeness; it has an exclusive enemy (the book bats), but they only show up in one room and the rest of the stage has no enemies at all. However, it does have Yoku Blocks and an original stage gimmick: wheel ladders. The grey wheel ladders will move while you’re climbing on them (stopping when you reach the top or jump off), and the orange ones keep moving as soon as you climb on them. My only issue with them is the first orange one is introduced right before a spike pit, so I ended up falling off and dying because I thought it’d stop when I reached the top like the grey ones did. The stage builds on them a bit with having you climb up/down to avoid spikes, though there’s also a few times where you’re just waiting for the ladder to reach its destination. The stage also introduces jump-through Yoku platforms, which I haven’t seen in another Mega Man game before (official or otherwise). There’s even a prototype boss at the end, though it just kinda stands still and shoots at you, and it dies just like a normal enemy after a few shots.

Overall, this game showed a lot of promise, and it’s too bad it ended up being cancelled. If you’re a fan of Mega Man games, I don’t see much reason not to check it out; it’s better than half the games I’ve posted about on this site. Then again, I still haven’t familiarized myself with the Mega Man Maker community, so everything here could’ve already been done better elsewhere.

  • Shooting Stars!

    2 hours playtime

    achievements are broken

This is a SHMUP. You move with the left stick, shoot straight up with X (but you have to hold it for half a second before you start firing), and use your special item with A. As for gameplay, each level assigns you a random boss, at which point you fight a few enemy waves (I’m not sure if each boss has its own set of waves, but I think so), then fight the boss and move on to the next level. Enemies can also randomly drop powerups, like more bullets, homing missiles, or drones that’ll shoot and take bullets for you. On the 6th level, you fight the final wave, then the final boss (who has a cheap laser attack that’s only conveyed by a brief animation), then the game loops with another set of random bosses. It only takes around 20 minutes or so to beat one loop, and it’s easy enough that you’ll be able to do it on your first try. Enemies and projectiles are fine at first, but each loop, enemies get more health and speed, and I’m pretty sure certain projectile patterns become impossible to dodge around the 5th or 6th loop (not helped by your bright projectiles making it hard to see enemies’ projectiles). I only made it that far because an enemy randomly dropped a temporary-defense special item, but I ended up losing it because another powerup was obscured by the HUD (and if you get another special item, the previous one disappears; it isn’t like other games where it’ll pop out of you and become collectible again in case you change your mind). Plus, even though I only made it to the end of the 2nd loop on my first run, I still got repeat bosses on my second run (and honestly, the only reason I did a second run in the first place was because I still had more card drops).

Overall, it’s okay. There may not be much substance here, but it’s fine for what it is and short enough that you can always refund it after you beat the game. Still, wait for a sale.

I was gonna play this one three months ago, but it wouldn’t work. Turns out, you have to start the game with the controller disconnected, even though that’s the opposite of what all other games require.

  • Crashbots

    6 hours playtime

    achievements are broken

This is a runner: forward speed is fixed, so you can only move left/right. You can also shoot by holding RB. Moving forward drains your health, and since you can’t stop on your own, your health drains constantly each level. You can hover or slide to get around certain hazards, but doing so also costs health, even though that’s often the only way you can progress.

The game’s biggest problem is that it thinks its a SHMUP, so the hazards won’t be synced to your movement speed. There will be coins or other items in rows, but it isn’t uncommon for the hazards to overlap the items when you reach them. The only control you have over your forward movement is a burst of speed (but it has a 10 second cooldown) and the aforementioned sliding, which also gives you a small speed boost (but not only does it cost health as mentioned previously, it also prevents you from jumping or shooting during the animation). There’s no way to slow down or stop on your own, so if your current speed has you on a collision course with a fully-closed laser gate, you’re as good as dead. There are occasionally pause tiles that’ll let you stand still when you touch them so you can actually time your movement with what’s ahead, but even if you time it correctly past the first couple obstacles, you can still get screwed over by a later obstacle that ended up moving in a way where you can’t dodge it (worse when it’s an instant-kill hazard, like boulders or cars). The game wants to have precision obstacles, but that only works if the player has precision control, which is absolutely not the case for this game.

Despite being deceptively cheap with how its mechanics work in relation to its hazards, the game also manages to have standard unfair design as well. There are boxes you can shoot a few times to destroy, but they spawn smoke when destroyed, so you won’t be able to see if there’s an item or hazard there at first, often before you collide with it and take damage since you can’t stop moving forward. Sometimes there will be tiny skull icons that spawn with the smoke when it’s a hazard, but I swear that doesn’t always happen (and even if it does, they’re not very noticeable). Also, normally, shooting enemies will be on the ground so you can see them coming (or even shoot back), but the semifinal world hides them in other obstacles and the last world has spaceships fly in from above to shoot at you before flying up and away, giving you little time to react (assuming you can get out of the way in the first place and there aren’t other hazards beside you).

Oh, and it’s also possible to upgrade the stats of your character (less energy consumption, more defense, etc.) but I swear, most levels were designed around having higher stats, meaning they’re impossible if you haven’t bought enough upgrades (and even if you did, you still have to deal with all the unfairness mentioned before). This means you can avoid every hazard and collect every health pickup, yet still die before reaching the end of the level. Luckily, you unlock the next world before you finish the previous one, and the difficulty goes down somewhat for the first three worlds, so you won’t be completely stuck.

There’s also the bosses. The third boss was the first one I came across due to the aforementioned “some levels require higher stats” element, but when I switched to the new robot I unlocked, some of its attacks lost collision. The first boss was the second I reached, and either it’s woefully unbalanced compared to its preceding levels or I encountered a bug because I killed it very quickly (<10 seconds). Then I reached the second boss, and this is where I noticed that the game tried to have a more reasonable difficulty curve: the first three bosses are similar, but the second adds some attacks and the third adds a shield that’ll reflect your bullets back at you. Thing is, the bosses will also spawn boxes that contain energy so you can regain health since your health constantly drains, but with the second boss, it’s random whether it’ll be energy or a coin, meaning you can lose because of bad luck. The second and third boss also have attacks that are only indicated by a small yellow exclamation point triangle that you’ll probably not see even though you have to be looking at the boss to see where its weak spot appears. Ironically, this means the last two bosses are easier: the fourth has its weak spot spawn at the same place (the boss itself moves left/right instead) and its projectiles are slow enough you can see them coming, while the last boss drops energy each time you hit its weak point and is more content spawning various stage hazards on the path.

Not recommended. It’s a SHMUP without freedom of movement; it’s a runner without synced hazards; it’s a platformer where jumping hurts you; everything good it does is ruined by something else it does.

This game was SO CLOSE to being good, it’s tragic.

MOON IS LOGIC

This is a puzzle game. For controls, you can only move in the cardinal directions with the D-pad, push objects (that can be pushed, like text) by walking into them, and undo your moves by pushing the X button. The core gameplay revolves around rearranging the text to change objects’ properties: each “sentence” starts with an object-text, followed by an IS, then ended with a property-text; if an object doesn’t have any corresponding sentences, it’s a background object.

By itself, that’s a decent premise for a puzzle game, and to the game’s credit, it has quite a few genuinely challenging stages. However, it doesn’t take long for the game to start running counter to its established mechanics. It starts subtle: in the 7th world map level, the goal is blocked by HOT objects and you MELT if you touch them; also, you’re unable to change either of these properties due to their proximity to the level’s edge (or other objects that will STOP you). The only thing you can do is give the HOT objects the PUSH property as well, but you’ll still MELT, right? Nope; turns out PUSH overwrites HOT in this case, letting you push the HOT objects out of the way and reach the goal. That may not seem like much, but this is far from the only time where certain properties overwrite other properties, and the game makes no effort to show their hierarchy (I don’t know what order they are in the pause menu, but it isn’t this). Heck, the game actively makes you create and use new combinations in already-tricky levels, but since it makes no effort to guide you on what’s different, you’re just left to figure it out yourself through trial and error.

Worse still is when the game introduces brand new mechanics or properties (again, in already tricky levels with no guidance on how they work). 1-8 seems like an ordinary level, except you’re surrounded by DEFEAT tiles and the respective sentence is not only outside your cage, but next to the level’s edge and thus can’t be undone. Turns out, fifteen levels into the game, you’re supposed to create an “[object] IS [object]” sentence, something the game has never shown you or even hinted is possible. Then, in 1-9, the game shows you that you can create “[object] IS [object]” sentences by having the flag turn into a rock on your first move! So infuriating; why wasn’t that level first? Then you’ve got the FLOAT property, introduced World 2, but it’s almost exclusively used to prevent text from interacting with anything by surrounding a “TEXT IS FLOAT” sentence by STOP tiles, and it’s done so often that it can be hard to notice when text isn’t float; worse, many of the times you do get to interact with the FLOAT text, it’s because you have to do something new with it, even though the game has barely given you experience with how it normally works (looking at you, Queue).

At this point (World 2 complete, minus Evaporating River), I had my grievances, but still had faith that the game would get better; if I couldn’t solve a level, I just skipped it for the time being (I even managed to solve Prison and Tiny Isle on my own). Problem is, the game isn’t done introducing arbitrary stuff, and it continues introducing arbitrary stuff throughout the game (and even into postgame!). A good puzzle game makes sure you know all the game’s mechanics and possible interactions before getting challenging; that way, you have an implicit promise that all the puzzles can be solved using what you know, and if you’re stuck, you just need to think about it a bit more. With this game, not only does it keep introducing new stuff, it never explains them in any way, nor does it even so much as design the levels so that you’d encounter and understand the new mechanics naturally. This means that when you reach a level like Priority Lane or The Return of Scenic Pond, you can never be sure if you actually have the knowledge to solve it or if the game is pulling something out of its ass again. I’m sure people would try to justify them as requiring “out of the box” thinking, but that’s just an excuse to have puzzle mechanics that aren’t consistent. A truly great puzzle game will tell you the exact dimensions of the box and make sure all puzzles can be solved by thinking within said box, yet still be challenging. Sutte Hakkun did it, Toki Tori 1 did it, Wargroove did it–heck, even Prince Yeh Rude (a bootleg game) managed to pull it off somewhat, so what’s with people’s insistence that “regularly introducing new stuff=good game design?” It isn’t, and this game is why! Sure, you could theoretically solve Ghost Friend on your own, but it won’t be an “a-ha!” moment as much as a “maybe this random thing will work–wait, it did?!” Stumbling across that solution on my own was what finally convinced me to look up a walkthrough for the levels I’d skipped (and any others I felt were taking me too long to solve).

Sure, there were several levels I looked up that ended up having regular solutions (leading me to check Baba Is Hint first once I stumbled across it), but there’s still many solutions that border on Adventure Game moon logic, where no mere hint will help you. For example, World 5 introduces SHIFT: it causes objects to act like a conveyor belt, pushing any overlapping tile in the direction it’s facing. It has a few less-than-obvious effects, but the one I think we can all agree makes no sense is the one required for Lock the Door: when you unlock the goal, its path is blocked by a DEFEAT tile, so you need to have the goal unlock after you’re past it. Thing is, you don’t have access to a MOVE text, meaning you can’t let an NPC unlock the goal for you. In fact, you only have access to two different objects, their respective text blocks, PUSH, SHIFT, and two ISs. How do you clear this level? Turns out, you need to apply SHIFT to yourself since you can’t PUSH one of the objects out of its corner normally, then push both objects onto each other facing the WIN text, then give both of them SHIFT which causes them to push each other forward perpetually. That’s two suddenly-required nonsensical mechanics that the player hasn’t even so much as had the opportunity to experiment with them in earlier levels.

But it keeps getting worse, because World 6 introduces EMPTY, an object that doesn’t act like any other object. See, normally, when you push an object, it moves. When you push EMPTY, nothing changes visually; what happens is that the EMPTY that gets pushed onto the background object disappears and a new EMPTY spawns behind you. If you make an “EMPTY IS [object] IS YOU” sentence, moving the new you off of the tile means it’s empty again, and a new you spawns (required in 6-2, not shown off until 6-3). If EMPTY is you, a similar effect as “EMPTY IS PUSH” happens: you push every pushable object that’s adjacent to an empty tile in the opposite direction (meaning if a background object is below an object, you can’t push it upward). Then you’ve got Power Generator, where being “near” empty will kill you, but being on an empty tile that’s also near an empty tile won’t kill you. I swear, the game’s mechanics were designed around the solutions rather than the solutions designed around the mechanics. Keep in mind you’d normally have to figure all this out yourself through trial and error.

There’s a ton of stuff like this, but detailing everything will take too long, so I’ll just highlight some other stuff that got on my nerves. World 4 has three levels where the solution requires using NOT text (never before seen) in a different way for each level, then you never see NOT text again until postgame (and maybe one level in World 8). World 5 has a similar situation for SWAP text, but while the first four levels aren’t too bad, the fifth requires you to use the effect to clip into STOP tiles, even though the entire rest of the game up to that point has shown you that STOP tiles will STOP you from moving onto them. Heck, there are several levels that require you to overlap objects that you can’t push onto each other, and many of them require you to do it in a new way. By the time I got to the latter half of World 8, I was better able to solve the puzzles on my own because I actually knew about the mechanics the game wanted me to use, but 8-3 decided to add a way for you to move upward when you have the FALL property applied to you and make you guess that’s what you have to do in the first place (and then the entire rest of the game never uses this, yet another problem with adding too many gimmicks into a game). Also, rather than introduce Fragile Existence as the first level in a world like Depths so you know what’s up (and have said world be accessible from the main island), you instead have to figure out how to reach the postgame in a similar manner as how you figure out half the rest of the game: taking a wild guess.

So yeah, I don’t think I can recommend this game. If it had just gotten rid of the more arbitrary and gimmicky mechanics (namely ALL, EMPTY, NOT, and maybe SWAP and FLOAT as well) and had a better difficulty curve, this game could’ve been something special, maybe even surpassed Sutte Hakkun as my favorite game. Instead, it’s barely a few steps above The Witness. I really wanted to like this game, too…

Disappointment of the year 2019.

P.S. In the past, I said that games should “build on their mechanics.” After playing this game, I now realize that wasn’t the correct way to phrase what I meant, and I’ll make an effort to be clearer in the future.

My brother came to visit because his house lost power in a storm, and it sounds like it’ll be a couple days before it gets fixed. YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS….

This Sailor Moon reboot looks weird.

This is a rhythm game. You have free left/right movement (and some parts let you move up and down, too), but collectibles are almost always arranged in straight lines on their tracks, which can make it annoying when you just barely overshoot/undershoot them. It’s as if most of the game was designed around Game & Watch style “tap to shift lanes” but was changed at the last minute. There are even times where there’s blue circles on the ground you need to run over to make turns, but there’s one level where a row of collectibles is placed on the lane beside the blue circle (and the camera is angled in a low-hanging isometric view, meaning you’ll have trouble seeing that it’s on a different lane until after you miss it and crash into the electric barrier). With Game & Watch controls, you could theoretically be able to notice this at the last second and just tap the button to shift lanes.

Honestly, the controls thing may just be me, but it can be hard to see where something in the distance will show up when it gets closer. Pretty much everything in the distance either spawns too close to the Vanishing Point to tell where it’ll be or is so small you won’t really see it ‘til it’s close. Thumper had a pretty clever way around this by having the path curve upward, extending past the top of the screen; that way, not only does the distance give stuff more time on-screen, but the height gives you more time to see which lane something is on (and it has Game & Watch controls, so you just tap a direction to switch lanes). With this game, the only time I felt it got this right was with the final level/boss; you can see it spawn the walls and slide them over to the track before they land and start coming towards you. The rest of the time, it’ll be hard to tell if the tree will go beside you or straight towards you until right before you crash.

Oh, but it’s totally okay because the game gives you the option to skip a segment if you die more than a few times. Seriously, though, I don’t get the recent trend of games trying to appeal to people who don’t want to play them; if you made a game and people kept complaining about a certain part, wouldn’t you want to try improving that part instead of just going “screw it” and making it optional?

Another regular occurrence is that the game will have a hexagon appear above your character along with a shrinking hexagonal outline, and you have to push a button when the outline matches the icon. Weirdly enough, this is the part of the game that goes out of its way to be lenient; you can push the button super-early, and it’ll still count (you’ll just get less points), and if you’re late, the game will heavily slow down and dim the background until your input. I wouldn’t be surprised if not pushing a button just caused the game to pause and sit there, but I didn’t try it.

One thing that separates this game from others in the rhythm genre is its gimmicks. A few levels have you shooting forward automatically, but it’s not really a SHMUP; all the enemies are still on their own lanes, and any that have retaliatory shots still affix them to the lanes as straight shots, giving them little distinction from the trees and walls from before. …Actually, I take that back; I don’t think the trees were affixed to the lanes. Sometimes, the game will suddenly shift to tube controls (inside and outside) and expect you to adapt within a second before you crash. There’s also a couple very-late-game segments where a crosshair suddenly appears on screen, and now you’re controlling that instead of your character. You still don’t get to shoot anything, though; that’s done automatically when you move the crosshair over an enemy.

The only time I felt the game justified its free-movement controls was with the second vector level: it’s a top down perspective, and all the hazards come in from the edges of the screen. Plus, they do so in varied patterns, which you’d want free movement to avoid. That was my favorite level, and it’s one that had little to do with the rest of the game (I guess the first vector level wasn’t that bad, either).

Overall, I’m not sure about this one. I can see its appeal, but to me, it’s just a gimmickier, not-as-good version of Thumper. Wait for a sale if you’re interested.

Remember when IGN gave away a 14 day free trial of Xbox Game Pass, and you could get an additional month free by turning on recurring billing? I missed that giveaway; instead, I got my 14 day Game Pass code by buying a box of snacks.

and I still don't know who the pirate is.

Gotta be honest: as someone who likes Pop-tarts, those bites are kinda not that great. Not only are you getting less pastry and more bread, but the bread itself is softer and more fragile than what regular Pop-tarts use (and twice as thick). The Rice Krispy Treats are fine, just being smaller versions of regular ones, but the chocolate for the chocolate covered ones is pretty cheap (cheaper than Hershey’s). Honestly, if it weren’t for the Game Pass code, I’d say just get a regular box of Rice Krispy Treats instead.

Oh, I also beat some games, too. My Windows Store app also managed to fix itself in these past few months, so I was even able to play them on my actual gaming desktop, which was nice.

Wargroove DLC: Double Trouble

My favorite tactics game, and they waited until my last Game Pass trial ran out to release the DLC.

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This is still a turn-based tactics game. You can read my post on the main game here.

The DLC introduces two new COs: the guy can launch a unit across the map, damaging it and units adjacent to where it lands, while the twins let you choose between an offensive area attack or an area healing move. What the cutscenes don't tell you is that both of the twins' powers last through multiple turns, with the offensive move growing and instantly killing any unit within its area (you'd only know this beforehand if you check the Codex, which I had forgotten about). I just assumed it worked like Mercia's power and ended up killing myself on the first mission.

There are also two new units: riflemen have an attack range of 9 units, but can only attack standing still. They also have 3 ammo slots and have to spend a turn reloading to continue attacking. There's also thieves: they can't attack, but they can steal a town's gold and allegiance at the cost of slower movement, letting your other units capture the town without taking counterattack damage. You don't get to use the extra gold unless the thief makes it all the way back to camp (a unique property that can only build the two new units) and spends a turn depositing the gold.

The last notable addition is the new "2 player" campaign, where you play as the two new COs for every mission and can sometimes use the new units as well. Whenever it's your turn, the game makes you hold a button down for a second just so you can confirm it is, in fact, your turn. This is by far the most frustrating part of the DLC because you have to do this for both COs, every turn, for every level. The game actually made me happy that one of my controller's buttons was sticking since it meant I didn't have to deal with that annoying, unnecessary extra step for a while. Advance Wars did this right by not doing it at all; you just ended your turn like normal and handed the GBA off to the next person, who could immediately start playing.

As for the campaign itself, it starts with an easy tutorial level that almost tells you everything you need to know about the new units and COs, then it branches into 4 different paths (unlike the main campaign, which was much more linear), with each path containing two levels. Also, rather than the usual "kill enemy CO/destroy enemy HQ," each mission is a "reach this point on the map with your CO" mission, with reinforcements appearing on the other side of the map when you get close (so they're really more for show). I played the levels in the order of their listed in-game date (south, west, north, then east), but they're all around the same difficulty: a little tricky, but you'll win on your first try for the most part. That said, missions get a bit more gimmicky the later date they are: the south levels are pretty straightforward; the first west level lets you rescue prisoners who become more units; the second west level has a brief strip of sea you need to get past; the first north level has fog of war, which still sucks, except now there's an ambush where the enemy can see you in a certain 3x3 spot on the map regardless of where they are; the second north level has you destroy two different HQs (one for each CO) before you can access the spot you need to reach (luckily no fog of war this time); the first east level introduces a new wall type that can only be destroyed with sparrow bombs and never shows up anywhere else in the game;

but it's the second east level where things go overboard. The first CO is fighting a losing battle, so you need to have the second CO (completely separated once again) get to the designated point in time. Thing is, their segment is all about puzzle solving, and 2/3 of those are those awful Adventure Game "puzzles" I hate. The first one has four torches and four switches, but rather than go for the traditional "each button also toggles adjacent torches" rule, the buttons do whatever the hell they want, so you have to do trial and error and take screenshots before you can actually do the solving part of this puzzle (which takes, like, 10-15 seconds tops). You also can't trigger a button if the unit is already on said button; you have to move the first unit off and put another one on it. The second puzzle is a miniature version of the main game's Puzzle mode, which automatically makes it the best one since it's one you can actually solve by thinking about it. Too bad it's really easy; it made me wish the DLC came with some actual new Puzzle mode stages, which it doesn't (at least there's user-made levels to fill that gap, though I still don't like their tendency to include red-herring units). The third goes back to being bad by having 4 buttons and a riddle, and I think this can help me explain why I hate riddles: the first line talks about the sun setting, so you might think "oh, the sun sets in the west, so the left button should be hit first," but in reality, you have to hit the lower button first because the sun went down. Again, you're not solving anything; you're just trying to guess at the what riddle-author's mindset was.

After all that, you unlock the last level, but it only connects to the northern branch, so if you did any others last, you have to walk back around. It's similar to the final level of the main game in that you have all the COs on your side, only now they're split between both players. Unlike the main campaign's final level, you don't have to deal with any nasty surprises (aside from the Codex being completely wrong about the enemy CO's power), but the enemy has access to barracks and can build more units, whereas you can't build any even if you capture one of them and get income from towns. It's not bad, but it's more long than it is difficult.

Overall, this DLC is okay. Maybe not worth reinstalling the game if you've already beaten and deleted it, but if you've still got it in your backlog or you need more stars to unlock the main campaign's epilogue, it's better than Arcade mode.


Ori and the Will of the Wisps

If you didn't make a magic user, you'll have to restart Oblivion.

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This is a metroidvania. Like the first game, you start just with moving and jumping, but gain more powers as you go along, like a double jump, a ground pound, and the ability to grab and launch yourself from projectiles. Unlike the first game, your main method of attack is a blade instead of short-range homing bullets, so you can no longer move and attack at the same time. Attacking enemies still generates a white foreground flash, which can make it hard to see an enemy's foreshadow animation. Another difference is that you can't make your own save points anymore, but checkpoints are frequent enough that you don't have to worry about being sent back a long way after dying, which is nice since it helps allow the game to have a similar challenge with its platforming as the first game.

The game also introduces equipable powers which can be assigned to the three face buttons that aren't jump. These include the aforementioned blade, a hammer (stronger but slower), and a bow, which you'll use to hit distant switches in the game's first real dungeon. The camera can be rather slow to pan, though, so at first you'll just see the pool of poison and think you can jump over it. The game also has the first one's issue of not distinguishing blocks from scenery, hazards from non-hazards; the second time you come across the pounding blocks, everything besides the bottom is in shadow so it looks like just a normal ceiling:

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Another notable change is that the game has boss fights: the first dungeon has one, and it's okay. Like many other enemies in the game, you kinda have to know what the boss is going to do before you can reliably avoid it, like when it charges at you: you can't jump over it, so you have to stay back and wait for an opening, but you wont know when it'll jump or how close to the edge of the arena it'll land until after it happens. That said, some levels don't have bosses and instead have the traditional chase sequences (the second dungeon does this), and once again, absolutely zero issues were fixed from the first game: you still won't have much time to react to what's coming, and you still can't get more time by doing better in earlier segments due to the Dynamic Difficulty. There are even a couple times where a boss fight is interrupted with a chase sequence or vice versa, like when the spider boss reaches half HP, it suddenly turns into a brief chase segment before going right back to the boss fight after the chase segment is over (and you get a checkpoint at both transitions).

Speaking of the spider boss, its level has pitch black sections where you have to stay in the light or you die. Due to said segments being pitch black, it can be hard to tell how to reach the next light spot (or even where it is), and you don't get the ability to light up yourself until late in the area (and the power is pretty much only useful in this area).

It's still not communicated well that enemy projectiles can destroy certain blocks, but I think it's a bit better since the blocks are purple sometimes?

After the first dungeon, you reach a town where you can buy upgrades, but I think this is a step down from the previous game allowing you to buy upgrades directly from the pause menu; sure, you can unlock a fast-travel ability, but you still gotta go back to town each time.

After the second dungeon, the game opens up a bit and gives you four different objectives, four different areas you can go to. Seems nice, but I swear the difficulty curve is maintained through them, so if you do them out of order, you'll have a rough time. I intended on doing the first one (snow mountain) first but ended up doing the third one (the water level) instead since they're both shown as being vaguely on the left side of the map without directly telling you which way to go to reach them, and the boss of the water level is brutal. All the problems I have of attacks not being properly telegraphed are dialed up to 11: yeah, there's an animation beforehand, but there's no way to know if that'll lead to a ground pound or a projectile you can throw back or a super-quick tongue lash or a ground pound that replaces part of the ground with spikes or if the attack will even come from the boss at all and isn't solely indicated by some dust/smoke being kicked up around where you're standing (which you won't notice because your eyes will be on the boss and because the dust/smoke is a similar color as the background), indicating a hazard about to come from the ground. I definitely recommend saving this one 'til after you've gotten some more health upgrades.

Of course, it wouldn't be an Ori game without being unintuitive with something major. One of the four goals is blocked by a sleeping bear, and you're told it'll only wake if you find the Memory of the Forest, so I wandered all around the map, doing all three other objectives, scouring the optional segments like the music notation riddle, and even getting to the end of the area I was supposed to do afterward and being told I had to go back (luckily I could fast-travel back to the end once I got everything I needed), but I never found it. Clueless, I tried going back to the bear only to see an NPC--who I swear was not there before--mention that I could wake the bear by tickling its nose with a feather, and sure enough, that got me past. Plus, to add insult to injury, the Memory of the Forest is what you get for completing the level the bear was blocking, so I was deliberately mislead. It's also the easiest of the four levels, ending with only a brief chase segment and no boss.

Once you complete all four objectives, you're tasked with going to the desert level, but before you reach it, you have to go through a stealth segment, not unlike the one from the first game. Only this time, it's way more difficult to see where you can go (again, partly due to the graphics not being distinct). For example, early in the segment, you have to grapple into a little spot to get out of sight and reset the timer that determines when you get killed, but once you're there, this is your view:

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You have to get over the wall on the right, but you can't wall jump around the spikes and you can only grapple onto blue walls and ceilings. You don't have enough time to charge a projectile to grab it and launch yourself past the spikes, and you don't get the ability to dig through sand until after this part. Below the screen is just ordinary ground; nothing that'll give you a jump boost. So, how do you get past this part? Honestly, while I did figure it out after a couple tries, I don't remember; I think something just gets moved after you let go and you have to react in time.

After that stealth segment, the rest of the desert level is fine. It can be a little unintuitive that you can also use the sand-digging power to dig through the yellow-orange rocks, but I did like the segment near the end where you have to abuse the fact that coming up after digging gets you more height than actually double-jumping from ground. It doesn't end in a boss, though; just another chase sequence.

Once you've made it past that, you can go to the final level and get the ability to dash in mid-air in any direction. The final level is similar to the final level in the first game with you having to grab and launch yourself from projectiles to avoid falling into the insta-kill floor. There's even a recolored version of the projectile launching enemy from the first game's final level. The problem is that this recolor only shoots projectiles half the time; the other half, it shoots a laser right at you, and you can't grab lasers, so you'll just end up floating to your death. This is also the only area (besides a brief optional one) that has the teleporting logs from the first game's first dungeon, and no, they didn't fix how you can't really see where you are in them; my guess is the devs were like "peopel are having trouble with these? We'll just move them to the end where the gaem's supposzd to be hard!" (even though the problem is that you can't tell where the log's floor ends and the spike wall begins).

Last up is the final boss. It has similar issues as the water level's boss, but it's actually designed a bit better since the white smoke/dust only shows up after the boss leaves the screen, meaning you're much more likely to notice it and react in time on your first try. It also interrupts itself with a chase segment before going back into the fight later on, similar to the spider boss. However, once you reach the end of that second fight, the boss starts raining projectiles and stomping away the arena until there's nothing left. At first, I thought the arena was just getting smaller and I got killed when the last part of the platform was destroyed. Then, I thought it was turning into another chase segment, but there's nothing off to the right except a weird foreground object. Turns out, you have to grapple the projectiles to keep yourself from falling, which is kinda neat, but those projectiles look nothing like the earlier ones, so I didn't realize it was possible at first. Once I did, it didn't take long for me to beat the boss and see the ending.

Oh, and when those projectiles hit the ground, they have an explosion radius bigger than themselves, which has become one of my biggest pet peeves with games since it tricks you into thinking you have more room to dodge than you really do.

Overall, this game is pretty much just more of the same. If you liked the first game, you'll probably like this one, too; just wait for a sale. I hesitate to say it's worse than the first game (as the first game also had its fair share of problems), but if you haven't played either, I would recommend playing the first one first, if only because you can get a better discount due to it being an older game.


Levelhead

If the main selling point is the level editor, what does that say about the campaign?

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This is a platformer. Along with your standard left/right movement and jump, you can push the shoulder button to grab or throw an object (this is important because you can't beat a level unless you reach the goal while holding your target box), and different levels give you different abilities which you use with the X button. You can also run, but there's no button for this and the game doesn't show you how to do it that well; it only activates if you walk forward uninterrupted for long enough, like the speed boost in the GBA Metroid games. The transition is instant, automatic, and awkward; I kinda wish they just didn't have it and designed the levels around the walking speed. This is also one of those platformers where you have a bit of momentum with your jumps, so if you simply let go of forward, you won't stop until a unit or two later, making the game harder than it looks since you'll have to tap back and forth to make any remotely precise jumps.

But okay, I can look past all that if the level design and enemy patterns are good, so is it? Well, even among the first world, you'll come across branching paths with no clear indication which way is forward and which way will make you turn around and go the other way to hit a switch to open the next path. There's even one single level based around bouncing on the Koopa shell reskins that requires you to throw them down at an angle (something else the game never explicitly mentions is possible) or else they'll move forward too fast and be out of reach, and then this gimmick is promptly abandoned for the rest of the campaign. I think that could've worked if it was introduced better and later levels made clever use out of it, but instead, it comes across more like the level designer going "hey, check out this neat trick I found! Okay, back to the real game." I know one of the game's main selling points is the level editor, but the campaign really does just feel like a free fan-made level pack instead of a proper game you'd pay for.

And then you start to notice the levels slowly becoming cheaper. It starts off little, with foreground tiles that look exactly like ordinary blocks (but they will act like ordinary blocks if you approach from the wrong side):

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Then, in the second world, you come across sawblades that are hidden behind blocks and remain stationary and completely hidden until you get close:

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And the cheap shots just keep getting more and more commonplace:

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until you reach the final two levels, at which point the game goes full kaizo-hack difficulty. That empty hall that's the only way forward? Saws will suddenly come down and kill you if you go that way. That random selection of solid tiles that looks no different than all the other solid tiles next to it? Those are foreground objects hiding jump-down platforms on top to simulate solid tiles, and they wont reveal themselves like in the first gif until after you jump down the jump-down platforms that look like solid tiles because of the foreground objects.

Even the enemy AI sucks. Like the level design, it starts off okay by having simple left/right enemies with the game letting you know you jump on enemies to damage them, but it progressively moves away from "could work with the level design" to "ignores the level design and does its own thing," like the flying drills that'll point at you when you get close, then transition into an invulnerable charge before going back to a left/right patrol for a second. Honestly, they're not too bad (though it can be unintuitive that you can still jump on them before their invulnerable state, even if their drill is pointing upward); it's the baseball-bat-tongue enemies I have the biggest issue with. Their initial attack is a sudden 2 frames where it jabs its baseball tongue straight ahead, then it holds that frame for around half a second before immediately transitioning to it facing the opposite direction with a motion blur going a full 180-degrees above it, which--of course--damages you if you touch it. I've complained about games having foreshadow animations that don't properly convey the attack's area before, but at least those games have foreshadow animations; this is instant!

So yeah, I wouldn't recommend this game. If you want to pay money for a level editor that has some levels attached to it, I recommend getting Slime-San instead.


Touhou Luna Nights

I can't wait to see what a solar night is.

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This is an igavania. Level design is your typical igavania fare: relatively flat halls and mediocre vertical shafts with more focus on the enemy AI than the level design. You've also got your standard left/right movement, jump, and you can throw a few projectiles forward by pushing the X button, but rather than all of them spawning from the same position on your character, there's a few different spots on your character they'll come from (enemy sprites are large enough that this is never a problem, though). If you hold up and attack, you'll shoot straight up (can't attack up at an angle), but if you're in mid-air and hold down and push attack, you'll attack down and forward at an angle (can't attack straight down, at least not normally), which takes a bit to get used to. Still, this isn't a bad foundation, but the problem comes in when you realize that almost all of your available attacks--including the basic one that you start with (that's also your only attack at the time)--consume MP, so if you run out, you simply can't attack. The only attacks that don't consume MP are the double jump (throws a couple projectiles straight down) and the slide, both of which are naturally weaker than your standard attack. So, how do you restore MP? This game co-opts the graze mechanic found in a few bullet hells: get close enough to an enemy without getting hit, and you'll get MP. The mechanic itself actually works quite well, but I'm not a fan of locking out basic attacks just to encourage the player to do it more often.

If you charge your attack, you won't attack but instead slow down time for a few seconds; however, you'll rarely use this because not long after, you get the ability to stop time entirely by pushing the Y button (though this power is also timed). Stopping time also vastly expands the graze mechanic's range, but you won't get as much MP (and besides, you'd want to save your time stop powers for attacks that require it). A large chunk of the game is designed around this power, too, as enemies, platforms, and stage hazards can have an outline that causes them to treat time-stop differently: purple means they still move during time stop, green means they only move when time's stopped, and yellow means they move in reverse while time is stopped. It's not a bad concept, but it's used sporadically until the last level, where it's used annoyingly. Seriously, a green-outlined platform and yellow-outlined rotating blades over a spike pit? That's not a fun challenge; that's just the player tapping the time stop button over and over, slowly gaining ground until it's finally over (and the game does it twice!).

Beyond that, the game still has some issues. In the second area, there will sometimes be chandeliers on the ceiling, but while some of them are just decoration, others will suddenly fall down quickly when you get close (giving you very little time even to hit the time stop button), and there's absolutely no way to tell them apart. When your attack hits an enemy, the particle effects are drawn in front of them and their attacks, notably making it impossible to see the brief foreshadow animations of the fairies in the second area. Also in the second area, there are carrots in the ground that you can't hit; they only become vulnerable when they pop out, but as soon as they do, they instantly perform an area attack around them that'll very likely hit you since they pop out when you get close (and when the attack is over, they go right back into the ground). There's also red mist that'll prevent you from using time stop if you touch it, and while it's not a bad concept on paper, it's only ever used during switch-hunts where you have to use time stop to get past the gate in time, meaning you just have to sit there and wait for your power to recharge if you hit them. The third area introduces enemies that run faster than you, but they also stop randomly for random amounts of time, and they'll also randomly jump up a ledge instead of turning around, making them hard to predict. The third area also introduces Frankenstein's Monster lookalikes that are effectively huge damage sponges. Most of my other issues can be mitigated with the time-stop power, effectively making this game a more hardcore Timespinner (except in this game, enemies don't lose contact damage while time's stopped), but once again, it feels like the time stop mechanic is used as an excuse to have cheaper enemies and level design; maybe I should just stop playing games with time manipulation mechanics?

However, the bosses are where the game really starts to fall apart. The first boss isn't too bad, but it'll suddenly pull out a shield every now and then, dragging the fight out and causing some of your MP to be wasted. It also has a couple attacks that could maybe be telegraphed a bit better, but it pales in comparison to the second boss, who not only has an attack where it bolts across the screen with no hint on where the boss's elevation will be, but also has an attack where it goes to the top of the screen, shoots a sustained laser downward, and chases you to the edge of the arena, effectively being unavoidable. Maybe if you stop time, the laser won't hurt you? Well, I tried stopping time and walking past the laser, but I still took damage. I managed to avoid damage by stopping time and sliding past the laser, but since the bottom of the laser has no graphical differences from the rest of it, I don't know if that's all of the intended solution or if I missed something else and just got lucky.

The third boss is actually a step down in difficulty because of that one attack: instead of doing any nonsense like that laser, it just gets a couple more Gradius Options for its mid-fight upgrade (it even incorporates green-outlined projectiles into its fight), but if you were starting to think the game was getting too fair, don't worry; the fourth boss has you covered. Again, it doesn't start off too bad, comparatively speaking (it even has an attack where regular projectiles are combined with yellow-outlined ones, which I thought was neat), but one of its attacks has multiple lasers spawn scattered around the arena (stretching from the top to bottom of the screen) at different angles, and they rotate in different directions, too. Also, unlike the second boss's laser, I never discovered a way to get around them without taking damage (there's no dodge in this game). This means you just have to pick a spot and hope they disappear before you get pinched between two or fall back down on one after jumping.

Once again, the final boss (despite having two phases you have to fight in a row) is a step down in difficulty because even though it has landmines that'll damage you no matter how high above them you jump and can turn a background object into a solid wall (without changing its sprite) by shooting at it and can summon bouncing wheel enemies on its second phase that can shoot their own projectiles…despite all that, all of those moves are something you can deal with once you know they happen and how they work. And yeah, I'd still prefer attacks that you can feasibly react to and avoid on your first try (while still being challenging), at least it isn't like the fourth boss's scattered laser attack where success is seemingly based on luck.

Now, while I did technically beat the game, you unlock a post-game area after the credits, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Thing is, all the game's worst qualities are present here, perhaps along with a few extra (except the red mist; I think that's exclusive to the second area). One of the first enemies you'll encounter are blue flames with a purple outline. What makes the blue flames especially annoying is that as soon as you shoot a projectile anywhere near their horizontal axis, they'll Mega-Man-teleport a few tiles vertically, becoming invulnerable during the transition and out-of-range afterward. These enemies have shown up before, and I did have issues with them, but then I realized I could stop time, shoot right on top of them, then unfreeze time to kill them. Of course, these blue flames are purple-outlined, meaning the only way to kill them is to get dangerously close and hope some of your projectiles spawn in the right spot before they teleport away (as they're small enough that your projectiles could easily spawn around them). You'll also come across enemies that look identical to ones in the first area, but rather than shoot a normal projectile, they shoot fireworks which explode when they hit a solid tile (and of course, the explosion's hitbox is bigger than the projectile's sprite).

There's also a few new enemies introduced in this area: white dogs will disguise themselves as other things (including healing stations and save points) with the only giveaway being a small white tail resting on top of the white tile-set in front of the grey-white background. When you get right next to it, it'll reveal itself by instantly lunging forward, going well past the point you need to be for it to reveal itself (and once again, going much quicker than you'll have time to hit the time-stop button). You also can't damage the enemy while it's disguised, so the only way to avoid damage is to be near the height of your jump when you approach.

However, the dogs only show up a few times. What'll give you the most trouble are the snake dragons: they move in a forward-long-jump pattern, they're huge damage sponges, and they're one of the few examples where the game's level design was worked around an enemy's pattern instead of vice versa: unfortunately, the extent of that is just that the hall has ascending and descending slopes, making it nearly impossible to go under the enemy since it'll practically hug the slopes on its jump (you already can't jump over it because of how high it jumps). If it gets to the edge of the hall, it'll go offscreen a bit before turning around, so you're not even safe in the corners of the room. Since you can't really dodge past them, the only way to avoid damage is to try killing it, but as mentioned earlier, they're damage sponges, so you'll likely be pushed back to the edge of the hall, and if you get hit there, you'll be knocked back into the previous room and have to start over.

The area's final hall before the boss is the culmination of all the game's problems: rather than use level design to make unique challenges with its old enemies, it's once again just a hall with some of those small hills, and the difficulty comes from the game spamming those snake dragons, firework enemies, and a third enemy that floats near the top of the hall, is also a damage sponge, and has a move that sucks you towards it. Oh, this area also has a camera enemy which doesn't move and won't hurt you, but will instead paralyze you for a few seconds, and it shows up in this bland, spammy hall as well. Rather than actually try to engage with the game's awful setup, it's way easier just to stop time and run as far through the hall as you can, tanking hits once you get near the end and your time stop runs out. The only thing that makes this hall even feasible is that there's a teleport room right beforehand, so you can effectively save the game and heal yourself to full HP/MP right before and right after the hall.

And then there's the bosses. Honestly, the area's mid-boss and the first phase of the post-game boss aren't that bad. Sure, the post-game boss can punch the ground and instantly spawn a hazard where you're standing, but aside from that, it's actually feasible to dodge all their attacks, even without the time stop! Even when the post-game boss shoots out multiple fireballs, it's possible to weave your way between them while still getting a few hits in (and if that's still too much, you can just jump behind the boss and it won't turn around).

But then the second phase happens. It starts off okay, spawning some stationary airborne enemies that shoot at you, but not long into the fight, two giant paper trails will suddenly clamp down from off-screen, effectively making the only safe areas the bottom corners (and only if you're ducking), and if you get hit, you lose at least half your health. The main final boss's second phase also has a clamp attack, but you can see its wings the whole time, and its foreshadow animation is the boss pulling its wings back, so it makes sense. Here, the boss just sparkles a bit and then WHAM, you die (and when you die, you have to fight the first phase again, which soon becomes a chore). When I finally made it past that attack, I was greeted with smaller paper trails spawning across the screen, similar to the fourth boss's laser attack but with even less warning since they can start spawning from the floor (where you'd be standing) and hurt you before you even know they'd be coming. They don't spin around, but rather than dissipate like the lasers do, each paper turns into a card, which will paralyze you if you touch them, and due to the sheer number of them, you'll have trouble destroying enough to avoid them and the boss's other attacks. When that killed me, I decided it wasn't worth spending more of my Game Pass time trying again.

Overall, I don't think I'd recommend this one. Parts are okay, but it seems like just another game that uses time stop as an excuse to have cheaper game design, even cheaper than what the time stop mechanic would help you with (4th boss's lasers).


CARRION

Yes, the developers know about the Kansas reference you're thinking of.

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This is a stealth game. You can move in any direction, but you'll slowly sink to the ground while still. There are only two enemy types: one will shoot realistically-fast moving bullets straight at you, and the other will shoot a flamethrower directly at you. To attack an enemy, you have to hold the right stick towards an enemy, hold the right trigger to grab said enemy, then let go of the right stick to drag it towards you, at which point your character will automatically kill the enemy. Needless to say, it takes a bit to get used to, and it gets even more difficult to aim when you have more health since your character sprite gets longer, making it more difficult to tell where your grabby tentacle will spawn from. The enemies normally walk on the ground, but the first enemy type has three subcategories: one is basically the same except it has a shield in front (you can't grab the shield so you have to go around), another is a drone that can fly and can't be killed normally (you can only kill it by grabbing it and slamming it on the ground), and the last are little mechs that have machine-gun rapid fire and take three hits to kill (that's three times you grab it with the right trigger and let go of the right stick). Between the few enemy types, your character's health bar (which gets upgraded as you progress), and the bland level design, enemy encounters are rather samey and repetitive. Even if there is a spot giving you trouble, it's possible just to run past the enemies most of the time.

Plus, beyond the enemy encounters, the game is really just a series of switch-hunts. No bosses (IIRC the final "boss" is just two or three of those mechs I mentioned earlier) , no puzzles, and the power-ups you get are little more than keys to get past their specific roadblocks. Sure, you can only use certain powers in certain forms, but that just means you have to wander around until you find pink water or a save point in range of the roadblock in question, effectively making it play no different than the rest of the game does.

Not recommended.


Guacamelee! 2

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This is a beat 'em up/metroidvania hybrid, just like the first game. Most (if not all) of the upgrades from the first game make a return in this one (along with a few new ones), but there's more of a focus on using them for platforming/traversal rather than just breaking enemies' shields (I only remember one time in the first game where you had to do an uppercut and a forward-punch during the same jump). That said, this game (again, just like the first one) regularly goes into lockdown and makes you defeat a few waves of enemies before you can progress, and I'm still not really a fan of it. Most of the lockdown arenas are just your basic rectangles with maybe a platform or two in the air; very few even try to take advantage of level design because if there's a pit or lava, you can just knock enemies into it to kill them quicker than you would by punching them.

That said, the level design outside of lockdown arenas is not bad. Sure, the beginning will have your igavania "basically just a hall" halls, but the game also expands on what it has. Sometimes you'll have to jump across platforms over lava, but there'll be a projectile-shooting enemy trapped in blocks (where it can hit you but you can't hit it), so you've got something else to watch out for. Also, unlike the first game, some pits will kill you if you fall in, which will reset the enemies in the room, meaning you actually have to watch your jumps while you fight those guys. Even the dimension transition gimmick was expanded upon since the first game. It's no longer just "some stuff is in this dimension and other stuff is in the other dimension" because some rooms have moving dimension stripes. This means that something in the other dimension pops into the one you're in when the stripe goes over it and returns when the stripe leaves (and vice versa for stuff already in your current dimension). You can even buy upgrades straight from the pause menu instead of only being able to do it at save points. Also, during late game when you have to explore earlier segments, it alters the level design to make the platforming more tricky, which is something I don't see often in metroidvanias.

On the flip side, one change I'm not fond of are purple attacks: these will hurt you even during your dodge move and have to be avoided completely. See, this being a beat 'em up, your attacks are based on combos, and you won't be able to move while attacking. You'll also be fighting multiple enemies at once during the lockdown segments, each attacking you based only on itself with no consideration for who else is attacking. Among all the clustered attacks and restricted movement, the one thing you can do to interrupt your combo and move out of the way is to dodge, so by taking that away, the game makes its attacks much less avoidable.

The bosses aren't too bad, though. The first boss (not counting the intro where you "fight" the last boss from the first game) throws projectiles that you might actually have a chance of dodging on your first try, though the boss will also spawn regular enemies, and some of the boss's attacks require you to push a switch to trigger a spike wall to block the attack (honestly, the spike wall itself can surprise and damage you if you're not careful), and it might take a bit to realize that's what you have to do. The second boss is mostly just fighting more waves of enemies, effectively just making it an extended lockdown segment where you sometimes get to hit the boss. The third one can be rather unintuitive with what you have to do to make it vulnerable at first, but once you figure that out, it's pretty good.

The fourth and final boss is a disappointment, though. The first phase gives you two giant targets in both upper corners of the screen, and they both attack you at once. While I think their patterns are synced, they can still end up doing very different attacks, and since most (if not all) of their attacks are purple, this phase may very well have unavoidable damage until you take out one of the targets. The second phase is laughably easy, even compared to previous bosses: it's effectively just a regular enemy with a larger health bar (you can even stun-lock it for most of the fight!). The only difference is that it gets a random shield every now and then, so instead of just tapping the attack button, you use the required special move to break the shield, then go back to tapping the attack button.

Once again, this sequel is basically just more of the same. If you liked the first game, you'll probably like this one, too.


And that was all my high-priority games (besides Journey to the Savage Planet, which ended up being console only), ironically all beaten within the initial 14 days, so I had a whole month left over to try out random games and see if they had anything I’d find interesting.

Felix The Reaper

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This is a puzzle game. You click on a square to move there (even if you're using a controller, you have to slide a glorified cursor that doesn't snap to each tile), you click on an object to pick it up or put it down, and you can push the right shoulder button to rotate the direction of the light (always between two directions 90-degrees apart). That last one is the game's main gimmick since you can only walk on shadowed tiles, and different objects cast different lengths of shadow. Each level tasks you with taking a key object and placing it in a designated spot on the map (usually indicated with a red circle, sometimes not indicated at all).

It's not a bad concept for a puzzle game, but it rarely builds on its mechanics or offers much of a challenge; instead, the biggest challenges you'll have for the most part involve the game not being upfront. For example, the first time I was stumped, it turned out the solution involved placing an object on a track so that when I pushed the switch, the cart on the track was blocked by the object and couldn't move all the way to the other end (something I didn't even realize was possible at first). Later on, in the level "Bad Cross," you're shown that you have to stack the barrel and the box on top of each other, but you're not shown where you have to put them down, so it took a couple guesses for me to beat the level. Similarly, in the level where you need to put the bird seed next to the window, putting the bird seed on the tile in front of the window doesn't count; you have to put it directly on the windowsill, which isn't clearly indicated as an interactable tile at all (it just acts like another wall until then). Also, sometimes clicking on a carryable object while you're carrying something else will swap them instead of stack them; there's no way to choose one or the other, and one of the puzzles requires swapping to win, so you might get stumped thinking that move would just stack them. Beyond stuff like that, the biggest challenge you'll face is not knowing how many shadow tiles something will cast or not knowing where the shadows will end up once you rotate the light (or forgetting you can do that in the first place). The game doesn't start having really tricky puzzles until the last world (but even then, the semi-final level managed to go back to being easy).

One mechanic I liked was that you get checkpoints as you solve parts of the puzzle. For the most part, it didn't matter due to the game's low difficulty, but it helped during the trickier puzzles since you know you're on the right track.

Overall, this one was kinda disappointing. Not a bad concept, but it's mostly just kinda dull; it takes until world 5 to be where the game should've been at world 2, with the game being a little bit obtuse with a few things to boot. If you're interested, wait until it's at 1/5th the price.


Clustertruck

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This is a first-person platformer. You can move in any direction, but you'll move faster going towards the direction you're pointing. Holding the right trigger makes you run and the right stick changes where you're looking, but jump is mapped to the A button, so you'll have to point yourself properly before making a jump (it's something that can be gotten used to, though).

The core of the gameplay is jumping across trucks, which will be in clusters. Each truck in a cluster moves in the same direction, but there can be multiple clusters in the same level, meaning the next group of trucks may not be moving in the same direction. Levels are fairly linear, with the goal being a ribbon that says "GOAL" that you have to jump at or under to beat the level. Touch literally anything besides a truck or the goal ribbon, and you lose, meaning you have to start the level over. Luckily, levels are pretty short, usually lasting under a minute on a successful run.

This isn't a bad concept; platformers have moving platforms all the time, after all. It even starts off fine for the first couple worlds or so. The problem is that the game is physics-based, so a lot of the levels wont' play out the same way each time (especially later on). For example, many clusters have their trucks in trios, with the outer ones sliding towards the center one to make a slightly-wider platform. However, not all collisions are seamless and not all trios are placed together neatly; combine this with the fact that you don't stick on a truck's surface, and you'll realize it isn't uncommon for you to be standing perfectly still on a truck only to get knocked off because it was hit by another truck that wasn't an issue before. One of the later levels sends your trucks into a tumbler, which not only causes them to see-saw-bounce in random directions and move forward slower, but the tumbler also has walls come down that'll destroy the trucks upon collision, meaning most (if any) of them won't get far enough for you to be able to reach the goal. Even with the "spawn an extra truck" power-up, that level was still very luck-based.

Plus, the game has some cheap levels even without taking the physics into account. Around halfway through the game, it introduces springboards, but it does so on the road your first truck cluster is on, so it's very likely that you won't realize they're there until you're about to land on the next truck and the springboard suddenly springs up, moving the truck out of your way and colliding with you, causing you to lose. Similarly, some levels have lasers, but there's no indication which ones remain on and which ones toggle on/off until you see the switch happen (or the timing for said toggle, which isn't the same across all on/off lasers), so there's some more trial and error for you. One level appears to put the goal ribbon right in front of you, but as you get closer, you'll notice it actually says "COAL" and then an avalanche of rocks falls towards you. The actual goal is directly behind you at the start (something you'd never think to check at first since all other levels, past and future, have you facing the direction you needed to go to reach the goal).

Another thing to keep in mind is that each cluster of trucks starts moving at a designated time after the level begins, so if you're too slow, the next set of trucks will have moved out of your jumping range and you'll have no choice but to restart the level. This means not only that you'll usually need to be moving as fast as possible (even jumping across trucks that are moving with you), but that you'll need to keep an eye out for which direction the path changes to so you can orient the camera appropriately. Thing is, the game is usually pretty good about providing clues in front of you for where the next trucks are, but then there's this one level in the ancient world where you reach the end of the road, but there's no new road no matter which direction you turn the camera. Turns out, the next road and truck cluster are directly below the end of the previous road, and you'd only see them if you point the camera straight down right when you get to said edge (otherwise, you'd go past it). A later level has you riding a truck cluster from the start of the level down some steep drops, but the trucks always make it out just fine…except after a few steps, the physics cause the trucks to point down at a steep enough angle that their front gets crushed between the ground and their cargo box, destroying the front and immobilizing them. This happens well before the goal, too, so you'd be stuck there. Turns out, this one drop over halfway in the level has a second truck cluster, but if you just wait on the earlier trucks like the rest of the level forces you to do, the second cluster will have driven out of view by the time you reach that particular platform. Later on, the game introduces jets, and touching them will blow you to another area of the level. One of these has a pretty lengthy jump where you're told to "wait for it," and when it's over, you have to jump across trucks that are not only moving towards you, but falling down. If you move too far forward, you hit another jet and get launched out of bounds and have to restart the level. Turns out, for this level only, the goal ribbon moves, and it moves along with the last truck in the cluster (and the only hint you're given is the "wait for it" message which could very easily simply have referred to the jet launching you toward the trucks).

However, despite all the game's problems, I didn't give up until the final level. It starts with a standard truck cluster, but now there's a "boss" that'll slam a limb onto the road. I've stayed perfectly still and managed to avoid getting myself or my truck hit, while other times me staying still got me hit directly, so I think it's safe to say this attack is inconsistent. Once you get near the end of the road, the "boss" will slam its limb down for good, meaning you have to jump off of the truck you're on before it crashes into the boss and land on the part of the boss that's safe to stand on. At this point, you have to climb up, but even though all the trucks are stationary, it's still difficult because the lava suddenly starts rising at this point, and it does so quickly. In other words, not only do you have to be fast, you have no feedback with how well you're doing since you'll need to point the camera slightly up to see where to go. Plus, each time you die, you restart from the truck cluster on the road, and since the easiest way to avoid dying on that first part is to wait, you'll have to wait a while each time you want to retry the next part.

Not recommended.


My Friend Pedro

I originally planned on playing the flash game first, but my Game Pass time was limited.

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This is a run and gun. Sure, you can jump, but you won't be doing much actual platforming, and the level design is pretty bland. For starters, throughout the majority of the game, you'll only be facing one enemy type: enemies that practically stand still and shoot realistically-fast bullets directly at you (they may move back or forward a bit or duck behind cover, but that's it). The levels will sometimes have switches that move walls or platforms, or maybe there will be ropes/chains you can jump on and grab automatically, but there are only so many ways you can alter the level design to make those enemies have variety, and none of those are it. Honestly, the game seems more focused on giving you gimmicky ways to kill them while you're out of their reach than actually trying to make challenging set ups, like with the signposts and frying pans; shooting them will ricochet your bullets directly onto nearby enemies.

As for avoiding their bullets when you have to encounter them normally, you don't have too many options. You can do a dodge spin, but that restricts you to shooting horizontally only. You can do a "split kill" where one of your guns locks on to one enemy and you can manually aim at another, but that's only useful if you're going against just two enemies.

Honestly, it feels like the game expects you to take damage. I played on normal mode, and although you have three hit points, each of those "points" is its own regenerating health bar. Even if one runs out (and thus stops regenerating), health pickups aren't that uncommon. And even if you're low on health and about to get shot, the game slows down and gives you a prompt to dodge, and even if you do die (usually from falling in a pit instead of taking damage), checkpoints are very frequent, to the point you'll often restart with more health than you had when you originally got there. This is on normal, by the way.

The closest the game gets to variety for the first two worlds are the bosses: the first is in a motorcycle level (making it arguably easier than earlier levels since you can just gun down enemies as they come in from the edges of the screen), and the second chases you through the level in a plane you can't damage. Once you reach the end, you have to fight the plane, but it's still immune to your shots. Turns out, if you move far enough to the right, you'll see more of those signs behind the boss, so you just shoot them and your bullets will ricochet onto its weak spot.

The first level to introduce something that actually affects the game is the first level of the third world: it has no enemies at all, but it has tiles that'll disappear as soon as you touch them, so there's a bit of platforming to be had here. The next level brings back the one enemy type, but even the disappearing platforms aren't enough to make them fun to fight. The game also gives you a propeller hat for exactly one level, then promptly abandons the gimmick for the rest of the game. World 4 introduces melee enemies, but they're even more dull than the initial ranged enemies since you can kill them before they reach you. Luckily, the game also introduces mines: they have four trip-lasers, and when you collide with a laser or shoot it once, they'll…just beeline towards you. Not as fast as the projectiles from the other enemies, though, and they die in another single shot, but there is some variety here since they can be suspended in the air or clustered by each other without feeling unfair. Too bad the mech boss at the end of this world just has a machine-gun attack and that's it; no unique pattern, nothing you can avoid without using the dodge spin or already being out of the way, just…more of the same.

World 5 is where the game really starts getting some variety: it introduces a little robot that crawls around the ground and even have a unique attack where they shoot a laser straight up and curve the angle downward. Too bad they only show up, like, twice if you don't hit any of the trip-wires. But still, the trip wires are evidence of actual level design, and they're pretty frequent! There's even lasers; some you have to shoot to disable (the blue ones), while others you just have to avoid (the yellow ones). Once again, we have a game that decides to wait until near the end to introduce all the fun stuff. Even the snipers, despite the fact that they still aim right at you, have a bit of variety from the previous enemies since instead of just shooting, they'll train a laser sight on you for a couple seconds, then fire. Heck, the game even finally manages to do something to add variety to the basic shooting enemies: there are spotlights that'll shield a specific enemy, and you have to destroy them in order to make said enemy vulnerable, but spotlights can point at other spotlights, and there's even one point where a sniper can shoot you, but its spotlight is out of reach so you just have to go through that segment while avoiding the bullets. This is the kind of stuff the game needed way earlier.

Then there's the final boss. Its first phase is a letdown after what the levels had to offer: its basically just a clone of your own moveset and guns, making it essentially a slightly more difficult normal enemy. The second phase picks things up and--again--actually manages to be kinda fun. It starts off with a shield that'll block your shots, so you have to shoot its bombs back at it, and while the third phase lets you attack the boss directly, it can shoot spikey balls that'll split and become two projectiles if you shoot them. It can also shoot at you with an ordinary machine gun…sigh, I guess they can't all be winners.

Overall, I don't think I'd recommend this game. There's some variety near the end, making it better than Carrion, but much of the game is still just basic enemies in bland levels.


HyperDot

Wait, I *just* noticed this game is $20. Why is this game $20?!

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This is an avoid 'em up. You're a circle in a circular arena, you can move in any 2D direction, and lines will show up outside the level boundaries to shoot projectiles at you. Projectiles are differentiated by color and shape: Squares (red) move straight, pentagons (orange) move toward where you were when they spawned, triangles (pink) try to home in on you but have a fixed turn speed, stars (also pink) that'll move toward your last known location, but stop to update said location every second, and pluses (also orange) will go forward a bit, spin in place, then shoot four projectiles in the directions they're pointing. The first three enemy types work fine, but homing enemies give up and go straight after a while, which makes the stars rather unpredictable since you'd try moving away from where they'd home in on you, but instead they continue straight and you end up colliding with them anyway. The pluses may seem more consistent at first, but the directions they point are randomized, so there's never any consistency when they're around (even less so than the homing projectiles). Plus, they give you very little time to see which direction they're pointing after they stop spinning before they shoot. To make matters worse, projectile spawners won't always show up in the same place, so even if they aren't shooting a projectile that acts randomly, they can still be inconsistent.

Each level has different properties: some can have a larger or smaller arena, some can make the player character smaller or larger, slower or faster (slower than the projectiles, unfortunately), and some change the objective entirely. Usually, you just have to survive for a certain amount of time (usually less than 30 seconds, but no survival level goes longer than a minute), but other levels can have you collecting enough McGuffins, which spawn randomly around the arena.

However, the randomness and inconsistencies aren't teh game's only problems. Sometimes, the arena can be in shadow, meaning you can't see projectiles until they're close to you, and if a dark level spawns McGuffins or powerups, they're drawn on top of the projectiles, making them even harder to see! There are also levels that have ice physics, which means you'll keep moving forward when you let go of forward, and given how precise many levels want you to be (on top of any potential inconsistencies), this makes the game even more frustrating.

The worst level was one called "STAMINA" (level 64). It's an ice level where the only consistent thing about it is the timing of the red projectiles (they effectively make a wall that rotates clockwise around the arena); the rest of it is just a bunch of randomly-placed pentagons followed by randomly placed pluses (which, keep in mind, point and shoot in random directions already), capped off with randomly placed triangles, any one of which can result in a cheap hit due to how few ways you can dodge them given the squares. This was when I got the achievement for dying 10 times on the same level, and it took the batteries in my controller running out for me to realize something the game never quite makes clear: it's safe to touch the border of the arena (it'll just prevent you from moving out of bounds). While that did help, the level is still strongly luck-based.

Ironically, after you beat the main 100 levels, you unlock 5 "impossible" levels, but in reality, these 5 levels aren't any harder than the main game's luck-based levels, and I was able to clear them in a few tries each. There are also some bonus levels, which are okay, but there are some more shadow levels here that I'd argue are worse than the so-called "impossible" levels, so I skipped them.

Overall, I don't think I'd recommend this one. When it works, it's fun, but when a game only does one thing, you'd expect it to do that thing well, and all the inconsistencies and luck-based levels make me think you'd be better off looking for a free Flash game that does the same thing.


Death's Gambit

Dark Souls III made me think I don't like soulslikes. Turns out Dark Souls III just sucks.

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This is a hybrid soulslike/igavania. You pick a character class at the beginning that determines what weapon you have, but I don't know why you'd pick anyone besides the one with infinite ranged attacks as the default. You also get to pick a starting item, but what the game doesn't tell you at first is that some of the items require certain stats to use, and since you have to spend an ever-increasing amount of souls just to level up a single stat by one point, some of those starting items won't be viable for the class you pick. Speaking of the stats, most of them are just your attack strength with different weapon classes, so if you stick with the same weapon class, you can effectively ignore 2/3rds+ of the stats. You also have a stamina bar, and basically everything you do will drain it, including dodge-rolling, attacking, and jumping; luckily, it recharges relatively quickly, but it isn't uncommon for you to end up with too little stamina.

While the infinite-ranged-weapon class and the 2D perspective make it more manageable than its 3D soulslike predecessors, the game managed to work in some cheap hits every now and then. For example, early on, you'll encounter wood platforms with spikes on the bottom, and while you can reasonably assume that these platforms will fall on top of you when you get under them, they fall when you're at a point you can neither walk past them or backtrack to safety; you have to dodge roll. If that wasn't enough, the second time you encounter one, it's in front of wooden houses and above a couple enemies, causing it to blend in to the background where you won't notice it until after it drops on you.

And then you've got these tiny, barely visible buttons that'll shoot spikes up as soon as they collide with something (usually you):

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That same snow area has a hammer enemy, and one of its moves is to slam the hammer in the ground, but as soon as it does, a bunch of crystal spikes immediately spawn by the hammer, giving the attack much more range than it lets on at first.

There are a bunch of issues scattered throughout the game like that, like another enemy that'll shoot a red electric beam towards you instantly (only conveyed by a brief energy-charging animation) or a boss whose downward-arching sword swing suddenly gains the ability to spawn an electric bolt to slide across the ground once the boss gets about halfway down in HP.

However, the gun boss takes things a bit further. Rather than give the boss SHMUP patterns for its gun attack, it's a laser sight that trains on your character for about one second, and then instantly flashes and deals damage (it doesn't even have realistically-fast projectiles like My Friend Pedro). The arena is a long hallway with the only variation in level design being long, one-unit-high slopes, so there isn't even cover for this attack; you just have to memorize the timing so you know when to dodge. Also, at a couple points in the fight, the boss will jump to the background (where you can't hit it) and do the laser-sight attack some more, only now it takes way longer for each attack to happen and you can take cover in front of background objects, so you're basically just standing there, waiting for the fight to start up again. And if you die, rather than get sent back to a save point, you're sent into a cage, but since I had a ranged attack, I was able to attack the destructible object in the cage and reveal its item beforehand but couldn't reach it. This meant that when I got locked in the cage, both the destructible object and its related item (which very well might have been the key out) were gone, and I had to use a limited consumable item to teleport to my last save point.

Given all the cheap parts of the game, it's almost like the game was intentionally designed to kill you. This is further evidenced by flashback scenes that happen every few deaths, including one where you're in a supposed-to-lose battle. On one death, I even got sent to an entirely unique stage that I had to beat before I could continue the game like normal. This one is probably the worst level in the game; there are walls that look like all the other walls that you have to attack to reveal the path forward, but it won't work if you attack too close. There's a mini-boss that recycles your character's sprites, but if you attack it, you lose health. Instead, you just have to stand there as the boss attacks you, which causes its health to go down. The boss isn't too bad for the most part once you figure out what you need to do (though it can drag on for a while); you just avoid its attacks and pick up enough of the items that slowly spawn over the course of the battle, but around the halfway point, it'll drop more of your copies of you, except now they're bombs that explode after a second. That's especially unintuitive because none of the clones have acted that way until this point.

Then you make it to Amulvaro's tower. It doesn't start so bad at first, but once you climb the first ladder, your character will flash every now and again; you may not even notice it happening until you look at your health bar and see that you've lost 2/3rds of your hp despite never getting hit. Is it like the Metroid games where you need an item to prevent environmental damage? Maybe there's something else in the level you missed? Nope; turns out, if you pause the game and check your inventory as soon as you make it up that ladder, you'll see the game--without any indication--added a "parasite" to the end of your items, so you have to go down the list of your items, select it, and "drop" the parasite to avoid losing any more health. Later on, you have to get four sparklies to open the boss door, each guarded by a couple enemies, but what you won't realize until after you get one is that they'll add negative side effects to you as long as you have them, and you can't use any on the door until you have all four. The main reason I bring this up isn't so much that you won't be able to plan which one to get first until after you've tried them and know what they do, but because one of the sparklies' effects is something along the lines of "reduce health when over 40 soul energy" (gained by attacking enemies, used to perform slower but stronger attacks), but rather than slowly drain your HP like the parasites, it just instantly kills you after several seconds, so it took me a few tries to realize what was going on.

And then there's the boss itself. On paper, it isn't too bad, but one of its attacks is four slashes in succession. Problem is you only have enough stamina to dodge three times, and leveling up your stamina only increases it by two percent (2%), so if you dodge the third attack but do so too late, you won't be able to dodge the fourth attack at all, and it's that kind of sneaky, cheap difficulty that makes me give up on a game. Sure, the boss has other attacks, like a plus-shaped laser that points right at you on the ground when it's horizontal, but that's just precision; you only need one dodge to get past it. In contrast, stuff like the four-hit combo are only designed to seem fair, to seem like you have a decent window of time to avoid the attack, but when combined with the game's other mechanics (like the stamina bar), end up resulting in nearly--if not actually--unavoidable damage. That's why I gave up.

Not recommended; too many cheap hits.


The Turing Test

This is THE Turing Test. All those other Turing tests are copycat wannabes, especially the ones that predate this one.

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This is a first-person puzzle game. There are free light orbs that you can absorb and shoot with your gun from a distance, and there are boxed light orbs that you have to pick up manually when you're close by. The objective is to get the required number of orbs to the goal door's light slots so you can unlock it and move on to the next room. Square slots can accept both boxed orbs and free orbs, but circular ones will only accept free orbs.

As you progress, the game introduces some more mechanics. You start off with just blue lights, which are "on" all the time, but then you encounter green and purple lights: these toggle themselves on/off, but always opposite of each other, so when green is on, purple is off and vice versa. These become especially important when the game introduces pressure connections (needs to be "on" for a certain amount of time to send power), split connections (needs to have both slots on to send power), and duplicate slots (an object can receive power from multiple slots). There's also red lights; they're only on for two-or-three seconds after being slotted, then they turn off until you take them back and slot them again. There are also lasers that'll point towards their own exclusive slots to power stuff, and if you need to depower them, you need to block the laser with yourself or a box or something.

As for what the lights can power, there are ceiling magnets that'll drag boxed lights towards them, light bridges that'll disappear when depowered, platforms that'll move to a new location when on and move back when off…honestly, some of the rooms can be a little gimmicky, and half the time, when you think you're stumped, it turns out you just didn't point the camera in the right direction to see a free light you didn't notice before, at which point the rest of the puzzle becomes really easy. The most annoying example of this is the one where you have a rotating wall and need to knock two boxes onto switches to open the way to the exit. At first, I just thought I had to hit the boxes by rotating the wall, but the physics usually caused them to miss their target. Turns out, pointing the camera up reveals a free light connected to the wall, and if you absorb it into your gun, the wall retracts, letting you aim it by rotating, then push them straight out by shooting the light back in the slot, making it much easier to land the boxes on the switches.

There are also optional levels, indicated by a perpendicular branch in the hall between levels. Most of the time, these are even worse than the main
game's puzzles since they introduce a new gimmick that never shows up again, and they usually rely on Adventure Game logic or trial-and-error to complete (like the one with never-before-seen-in-game symbols by the light slots). However, there is one that strictly uses mechanics from the main game, and it manages to create a genuinely challenging puzzle using them: you start off with 3 green lights, 2 purple lights, and a door with a split connection. You need to use two same-colored lights to open it (you can slip through even though it's only open for a second) and get to the next door, which is locked by a normal slot and a pressure connector with duplicate slots. This means you need to use opposite colors on the pressure connector to keep it sustained, then use the remaining orb on the normal slot to open the door. Honestly, that isn't much to figure out, but here's where it gets tricky: once you get past the second door, you encounter two more locked doors, each with three light slots, but you're only given a single blue light and a staircase to jump back to the start of the room. It really makes you think about how the lights and connections work together because even though you used all your lights to get here, you need to find out how to bring three of them to the last room with only that one additional blue light. The main game needed more puzzles like this one; instead, the next main puzzle introduces a new gimmick where you can look through cameras and swap control to a robot, and the hardest part is remembering you can even do that in the first place (especially after the optional puzzle never did it at all).

Overall, I don't think I'd recommend this one. That one optional level was proof it could've been really good, but the only reason the main puzzles will take you a while is because you'll have to figure out which light slot powers what object before you can start thinking about how to get what where.


Thumper

Insert Bambi reference here.

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This is a rhythm game. You can push the A button when your character is over a light to stomp it and get more points, and holding the A button shields you from orange and blue bars that'll block your path. If the path turns and the turn has a wall, you need to hold A and the direction it turns on the left stick to avoid crashing into the wall and taking damage. You die in two hits, but can get health back by stomping on a glowing light (found right at each checkpoint).

The game consists of 9 "levels," each with their own amount of "checkpoints," but there can be quite a bit of content between each checkpoint, so this game's levels are comparable to other games' worlds (or maybe I'm just used to games like Super Meat Boy where the levels are really short). Each level can also have mini-bosses, simply referred to as bosses, and the last boss of each level is always called the "final boss." Boss segments are unique because, even though the boss never attacks you, you have to stomp all the lights in a segment in a row to damage the boss and continue to the next segment.

The second level introduces a hover mechanic (hold A and push forward), which is how you get over spikes, but when you make it to the boss, it introduces a unique model-swap for the spikes (orange bubbles), and since every other obstacle has a unique method for avoiding it, I was caught off guard and got my first death to them. Then, the third level tries to introduce a mid-air stomp by flashing "3, 2, 1," then an outline of the stick pointing down, but the actual control is up very briefly, so it took a few repeats for me to see what it wanted me to do. The mid-air stomp can change the next light into a glowing light if it's in range, but it's also how you break a boss's shield(s) so that you damage it when you stomp the last light in the segment.

I think my biggest issue with the game are its sharp turns, which become a regular occurrence by the second level. Normally, you can see the obstacles coming at you from the distance, but when there's a turn, you won't see the next obstacle until it's much closer and you have far less time to react.

Level 4 introduces multi-track segments, letting you move left and right, but they always end with those turn-walls to force you back to a single track. Sometimes, eels will slide onto one of the tracks, meaning you have to hop over to another one to avoid damage, but rather than have the eel come towards you like everything else, they snake towards the tracks from the top of the screen, making it harder to tell which track the eel will land on until right before you get hit.

Level 5 introduces laser rings that'll damage you if you don't stomp all the lights in a segment, and that's the last new thing that gets introduced. The rest of the game relies on level design to increase the difficulty (one of the things the game gets right is having a good difficulty curve). That said, the sharp turns really start becoming an issue around level 6, where new lanes or even spikes can be placed right afterward where you won't see them until it's too late. The difficulty curve also suffers a bit since the final boss of level 6 uses the laser rings and sharp turns (making it the most difficult since you have to start the entire boss over when you die instead of just restart that segment), but the final boss of level 7 only has a few shields and has the lights on alternating rows. There isn't much more noteworthy about the game until the end of level 9: after you beat the "final" boss, there's another checkpoint followed by a bunch of turn-walls, but the game also speeds up so you barely have enough time to swap directions (even after you learn the pattern), and the next checkpoint leads to the actual final boss, where the only reason you won't stomp each light on your first try is because the game speeds up and slows down every second, so rather than be able to react to anything, you have to memorize when the speed shifts happen.

Overall, this one's hard to recommend. The difficulty curve is okay and I like that (almost) everything has its own way of getting past it so you know what buttons to push just by what's coming up, but the frequent sharp turns and ambiguous eels give you almost no time to avoid damage. If you're interested, wait for a good sale.


BATTLETECH

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This is a hybrid turn-based tactics/management game. Each mission only allows you to bring four mechs (each of which need a mechwarrior to pilot), and turn order is based on the mechs' tonnage. Although lighter mechs move earlier and can move a bit further, all mechs still get to move and attack once per turn, so between that and the arbitrary four-mech-limit, there's effectively no strategic advantage to deploying a lighter mech since they have vastly less armor, less HP, and fewer weapon slots compared to heavier mechs. Weapons are divided into categories based on how much heat they generate; if your mech overheats, you take damage, and if it super-overheats, that mech loses a turn. If you're gonna attack an enemy and see that you're about to overheat, you can toggle a weapon off before attacking so it won't generate heat (though, in some cases, you may want that extra damage despite the cost). There are even different terrain types: forests reduce the damage you take by 20%, water helps your mechs dissipate more heat, etc.

Good foundation so far, but the game has mechanics that take away from the strategy rather than add to it. For one, weapons can have different ranges (short, medium, long), but rather than balance this by having them deal less damage or not letting you use them outright (which only happens sometimes), the game balances them by lowering their chance to hit. This is also a game where you never have a 100% chance to hit anyway, but the simple act of a mech moving will give it chevrons, which increases its "evasiveness," effectively lowering your chance to hit said mech even more (to the point where even if you're in the right range for your weapons, the best you'll get is, like, 55%). It is possible to lower a mech's evasiveness simply by attacking it at all, regardless of how many weapons hit or how many you use for that attack, but even if you've got an 80-95% chance to hit, that is further split between your chance to hit the center, the left arm, the right leg, etc. In theory, this could've been part of the strategy; maybe you just want to kill the mech so you aim for the center, or maybe you don't have enough firepower for that or you're on the mech's side and can't really get there yet so you aim for the left torso. Instead, you don't even get to choose where to aim unless you have enough SP to do a "called shot," and even then, the best you've got is 33% to hit your target part (that's 33% of whatever your current chance-to-hit-at-all is). It is possible to increase this percent chance by putting enough upgrade points into a mechwarrior's "tactics" branch, but the game only tells you this as a randomly-chosen loading screen hint (not even on the upgrade menu itself, at least not until after you've already spent the points to unlock it). The worst part of the randomness is that all mechs have a "head" piece: it has very little armor and will kill the mech if destroyed, but it's only balanced by having a 1% chance to hit (2% if you do a called shot); this means that at any moment, the game can screw you over by having a mech shoot you in the head when you were otherwise winning.

And then there's the management side of the game. After each mission, you get money and can "salvage" parts of the mechs you've fought (get more weapons or even chassis parts to build more mechs). If one of your pilots got injured, you have to wait a certain number of "days" for them to recover; If one of your mechs took internal damage (whether due to losing armor or overheating), you have to pay money and wait if you want that damage repaired (armor is restored automatically and for free, though). If a pilot dies, you have to buy another one. If part of a mech gets destroyed, any equipment (including weapons) on that part also get destroyed, and you'll need to have extra of those equipment in your storage if you want to replace them. Plus, you also have to pay operating costs every 30 in-game days, and if you don't have enough, you lose. At first, this isn't that big a deal; I had plenty of money to fix my mechs and regularly had profit left over, but once I got past Weldry (the first place you can buy a chassis part for an 80-ton mech, one of the heaviest tonnages you can get) and started doing 2-skull missions, the difficulty seemingly spiked out of nowhere and I started losing money on missions. At first, I thought the game's intent was that I was supposed to grind on low level missions so I had enough money to survive doing the more difficult missions, but the game won't let you do missions that have much of a lower difficulty rating than your current story mission (even to the point where you can encounter the "tank with way too many missiles equipped" unit before you get the warned about them in the relevant story mission). Plus, not long after I made it to the second place that sells one chassis for that 80T mech, I was tasked with going back to Weldry for a cutscene, and when I checked their store, they had the chassis part back in stock (and you only need three chassis parts to get a full mech). Yup, turns out when you leave and come back to a planet, their store restocks, so the whole time, I could've just went back and forth between that planet and gotten the mech even earlier. Also, once I did buy the last chassis part and add the mech to my arsenal, the difficulty spike stopped and I never had financial trouble (in-game) again.

Then again, that leads into my next issue with the game: combat is repetitive, especially when you're not doing story missions (and just like in Explorers of Sky, you'll sometimes have to do a certain number of side missions before the game will let you progress the main story). Story missions at least have level design and relatively unique objectives, but side missions are procedurally generated (to the point where a faction can team up with itself, or you get told a lengthy war was fought "many years ago" on a planet even though you were a part of their first battle that happened a few minutes ago). Yeah, there's still the different terrain types, but their placements never alter your strategy: focus on one mech at a time, maximize your chance to hit, and hope you hit what you want. The difficulty rating doesn't mean the mission will be more difficult; it just means you'll be fighting higher-tonnage mechs, but after that initial difficulty spike, the game is pretty good about giving you the right parts so you slowly build up your team's tonnage. Even if you get parts of your mech destroyed, you'll still be able to complete your objectives on your first try and have enough money to recover before the next mission. The closest it gets to using level design to create challenge is this one story mission where you have to protect three dropships as they come in, but they're on the other side of these little walls, and as soon as they show up, enemy mechs show up on the other side of them. This could've lead to a mission where moving first and moving fast actually mattered (since you need to get around the wall and draw fire away from the ships), but instead, the enemies go first regardless and don't have enough strength to kill the ships before one of your lumbering, high-tonnage mechs gets around the wall and destroys them.

So yeah, I'm not recommending this game. Given the combat's reliance on hit chance and the management side's constant operating costs, the game can't ever really provide much challenge due to how much it could screw the player over, so what you're left with is a repetitive slog with some occasional neat ideas.


Indivisible

The Pledge of Allegiance ruined me.

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This is a hybrid ATB-RPG/platformer. The overworld segments have your standard left/right movement and jump, as well as a momentum-wall-jump (meaning you can't scale a single wall by itself since you're launched away from it after wall-jumping), but as you progress, you'll unlock new abilities, like being able to jump up a wall one time by pushing X. Despite this and the game's insistence on making you backtrack to other areas, it isn't really a metroidvania (or even an igavania) because interconnectivity both between and within levels is minimal, and what few shortcuts do exist either don't skip much or are one-way (and it's worse than it sounds; I'll try to explain later).

Touching an enemy sends you into battle, where each team members' attack is mapped to one of the four face buttons (meaning you can only have four party members in battle at once), and once your attacks are spent, you wait for them to fill back up. When you're not attacking, it's possible for enemies to initiate an attack, at which point the four face buttons correspond to their block. Normally, attacks are indicated with red arrows, and if you block right when an attack hits, it's considered a perfect block and you actually gain a bit of health; however, there are also blue attacks and grabs (yellow), and these can only be perfect-blocked, or else you take full damage. Blocking while an enemy isn't attacking you drains SP, but getting attacked while blocking or simply attacking an enemy regenerates SP, and when it's full, you can hold lb and rb to heal the party and revive fallen allies. It's also possible to spend SP on a more powerful attack, but I never used it because on top of it being the only way to heal your party at times (like the beginning before you get your fourth party member), enemy attacks give very little indication of when the right time to push the block button is. Almost all enemy attacks will have them run up to you and do an animation, but there's no clear way to know what to watch for to know when you'll get hit or even if there's something to watch for in the first place. There are two examples fighting for being the worst example: first are the gun knights who will just point their guns at you for a half second and then bam, you're hit; the other are the giants in the desert who will grab you, meaning the only way to avoid taking full damage is to hit the button at the right time, but the right time is after your character is shown having been grabbed, helplessly reeling from the pain of being squeezed by an unbreakable grip. Some bosses will even break out of combat mode and attack you in platformer mode, (often without warning like with the desert level's boss). There are even large attacks; sure, some of them highlight all the characters that'll get hit, but other times (like the tank boss in the harbor town), only one party member is highlighted as being in danger, but multiple party members get hit. If I tried to explain all of the combat's cheap hits, my text on this game would be at least 1.5-times longer, so long story short, enemy attack animations are practically designed so you'll never get the timing down, meaning you'll want to save your SP bar for healing. Also, you can't see enemy ATB gauges, so it isn't uncommon for you to push a button expecting you to attack, only for an enemy to beat you to it by a frame and you end up losing SP for guarding without being attacked.

Oh, and if you were wondering how the game combines the platformer/rpg genres together…it really doesn't. Sure, the game introduces spikes after a couple levels, but your health fully regenerates both at the end and the beginning of battles, so they really are like two separate games (not even stitched together since that'd imply some effort at trying to combine the two). Did you take a bunch of damage trying to climb a shaft in the mountain level that you actually need a late-game power to reach since the spike-wall's hitbox actually slightly extends past the solid wall's hitbox? Don't worry, just touch the next enemy and you'll be fully recovered! Are you fighting an enemy that deals counter-damage when you use a melee attack? No problem; just completely ignore that effect and fight like normal, and you'll be just fine when you win. The only actual connection between the two is that you can attack an enemy to start the battle having dealt a bit of damage without spending your attacks, but I've had enemies attack me, and it didn't transition into a battle; I just took overworld damage that healed when I initiated the battle myself. Combine the combat's disconnect to the platforming with the fact that there are story moments that increase your HP and attack by an incomparable amount to getting experience and leveling up, and it's like the game is actively discouraging players from getting into combat.

Now, I'll walk you through the level design problems.

The first level (forest/ruins) doesn't even try to have platforming; you're either wall-jumping up a shaft or walking through a hall (though you occasionally have to slide under something, too); all the challenge is from the ATB combat. When you get the ax, all it changes is you can destroy certain walls and use the single-use-per-jump wall-climb move. The second level (palace) is similar, but it introduces sentries that'll shoot a laser at you if they notice you, knocking you back. Also in this level, you get a bow that you can use to shoot enemies, but it won't damage the ones you can get into ATB combat with; it's just for taking out those sentries, but even then, it isn't an action challenge where you have to avoid the laser or shoot them before they shoot you. Instead, you just find another spot in the level where you can shoot them without them noticing you, and that's it.

Then you reach the third level (mountain), and things start picking up: not only are there spikes, but there are switches you can hit with the bow that cause platforms to appear for a few seconds. The platforming actually starts to have some challenge! Maybe this game will pick up and become decent after all…then you make it to the boss and you have to hit it ten times in a row before you deal damage (for the record, each ally having three attacks combined with four allies means you only have 12 hits and two direct hits before the boss recovers its shield). Also, when you jump right after landing, your momentum is lowered to the point your jump distance is less than if you did a walking jump, which makes those timed platforming segments more frustrating than they appear.

The fourth level (desert) gives you the ability to run at the start (this can also break certain walls), which is then followed by a bunch of long, empty, flat rooms to test it out on. After all that, the game recycles the ax-destructible walls without telling you that the bow and arrows can also destroy them, so I was stumped for a while. Beyond that, we won't be getting any platforming like the mountain level for a while; it's mostly just shooting targets with your arrows (and you don't have to worry about aiming since you can move a cursor anywhere on the screen to shoot right there); if you're being blocked from your current location, you just need to move around a bit to find a better vantage point, just like with the sentries.

Next is the harbor town, but this isn't really a level. You just walk from the right edge to the left edge, then back to the right edge, then back again to the left edge and kill that tank boss, and you unlock the spring-jump, get access to the ship, and can progress, at which point the game decides to give you a stage select screen…several hours into the game. There are three locations you can go besides back to the harbor town, and I chose the rightmost stage first. I went to the right, got the pogo power (lets you cross electrified lamps and powerlines safely), and hit a dead end. [[[Side note: normal platforming adds momentum to your jumps, but while using the pogo power, letting go of forward stops you immediately; if they knew how good, responsive platforming controls work (stop moving when not pushing forward), why didn't they apply it across the board?? Now you just have two sets of physics you have to switch between and adapt to on the fly.]]] Anyway, after the dead end, I backtracked across the linear, flat hall and came across an area I could reach using the pogo power, but shortly after, I came across a hazard wall with the next platform too high to spring-jump up to, meaning I couldn't scale the vertical shaft any more, so I had to backtrack back to the ship and pick a different level.

Next, I chose the center level, but the outcome was similar: I went forward, got an ability (jump slide, lets you go through thin openings in a wall slightly above ground), then reached yet another point where I couldn't progress; just a dead end with a small blimp-saw enemy. The only differences were that I got a cutscene outright telling me that I didn't have what I needed to progress, and that I had a lot more linear level I needed to backtrack through. Well, there's only one level left, now: the leftmost level. After going through this one a bit, you'll get flower arrows, which add solid tiles in front of hazardous terrain like spike walls, but only one at a time (and if shot at an enemy, it turns them into a platform for a decent amount of time, and multiple enemies can be turned in a row). A bit further in the level, you'll encounter a wall with a thin opening, but it's slightly raised from the ground so you can't slide into it normally. This made me even more furious because it meant the backtracking was all intentional instead of just a dumb mistake: the rightmost level requires a power from the leftmost level, the leftmost level requires a power from the center level, and the center level requires a power from the leftmost level again! No matter what, the game forces you to backtrack through its VERY LINEAR LEVELS just for basic progression!! (and you have to backtrack twice if you choose the rightmost level too early!) This is the single worst attempt at making a metroidvania/igavania I've ever experienced; maybe I'll go play that bootleg GBC Castlevania-styled igavania to wash my mouth of this game; I can't see it being much worse.

Whatever, at least we can actually continue with a level this time. The rest of the leftmost level has these water cubes that'll let you jump infinitely while you're in them, and spikes also make a return appearance (they've only shown up once or twice between the mountain and here, including the backtracking from other stages). It's okay, but then you get to the boss. After a brief bit of combat, it'll force you back into platformer mode in this flat, empty arena, then it'll fly up and start shooting instantly-spawning lasers down on you while slowly collecting bubbles that come from the bottom of the screen. Waiting does nothing, and shooting an ordinary arrow at the boss is also ineffective. Is it like Oracle of Ages, where you have to use the power you got in this stage in some way to defeat the boss? No. I had to look up a walkthrough, and it turns out not only is that not the case, but doing so will actively prevent you from doing what you actually need to do to progress the fight. Basically, every so often, the boss will stop shooting lasers and greatly increase the rate the bubbles spawn (and the rate it collects them); at this point, you need to hold the B button to go into trance mode (something previously only needed to save your game at designated save points by holding B and pushing down), at which point the bubbles will gravitate to you instead of the boss, causing the boss's shield to go down and letting you shoot a normal arrow at it. If you shoot a flower arrow at it, the boss will stop, sure, but so will the bubbles, meaning trance mode does nothing, the boss's shield stays up that whole time, and you just have to wait for the boss to regain movement.

Back to the rightmost level, we can progress past that hazardous wall from earlier, but after going through a quite a bit of the stage, you'll come across a large gap with a sparkling ceiling; another area requiring a power you don't have. So I went to backtrack, but then I got to a point where I couldn't reach the area I had come from. Turns out, the green door on the left side of the room is an axe-able wall and leads to another area of the level. It'll curve down and go back to the right, and all the way to the right is a bouncer who tells you that you can't enter, and the protagonist says they'll find another way in. That's literally all that happens. That may sound like a huge waste of time, but it turns out, you need to trigger that cutscene, because not only does it activate the "we need X power to progress" (in the wrong spot to boot; it happens by the green door room instead of the initial hazard wall), it'll also trigger a cutscene to occur when you make it by the aforementioned sparkling ceiling, giving you the power you need to progress. Like, did someone on the team try to make the game awful or something? Surely they would've caught this stuff in beta testing at worst.

Once you make it in the place the bouncer wouldn't let you in, it's just more basic halls with enemies, but not long afterward, you'll reach a split path: you can go up, or you can go in a door. If you check the map, the door is marked with the story icon, and the story icon has always lead you to the next story point, so surely that's the way to go? Nope, it just leads to an optional party member. However, that's not why I bring this up; to get back to where you need to go, you need to ax jump on the wall, but the wall itself is too high up to spring-jump up to because of a downward slope leading to a dead end. I tried doing a running-spring-jump, but when I pushed the button to swing the ax, it wouldn't trigger the wall-climb move. After a few attempts of this with nothing to show for it, I looked up a walkthrough and found out I was doing what I was supposed to be doing; it's just that even though I hit the ax button and the protagonist swung the ax, it just never connected with the wall and didn't trigger the wall-climb move despite the fact that I was so far up against the wall that it had stopped my forward momentum. I recommend skipping this team member and just going upward instead (at least I assume it's an optional party member; maybe skipping it results in another "required cutscene won't happen until you do this unrelated thing" event again).

After this is the level's boss, and for the most part, it isn't too bad. The only issue I have is that when it leaves the screen in platformer mode and the wind animation appears, the location of the wind is always the same, regardless if the boss charges across the floor or the ceiling.

And with that, the center level is all that's left. We can use a flower arrow to turn that saw blimp into a platform and progress further, then we get to fall into a lava pit that was put just after the camera decided to stop, and not long afterward, we get the ground pound move. Afterward, we get to wait on lava falls to disappear, and we also encounter conveyor belts along with switches that'll reverse their direction, and that's it until the boss. Thing is, you can run on the conveyor belts regardless of which direction they're pointing, so the switches are effectively pointless. You know, maybe the game was just heavily rushed and cobbled together, and that's why it has so many problems; it's the only reason I can think of why a level's main gimmick can be skipped like this. As for the boss itself, it's just a straight combat segment; no switching back to platformer mode like the other two bosses.

After beating all three levels, you unlock a new town, and after some cutscenes, you have to go through the mountain level. You know, the same mountain level you did back at the beginning? The third level in the game? Yeah, you have to go through that exact same level a second time; no changes. This is the one thing worse than backtracking because with backtracking, there's at least a chance the level can be designed asymmetrically so that going the other way is a somewhat-new challenge, but this is literally just recycled content. There is one single alternate path to the end (with occasional connections back to the main path), but you can't go through the entirety of that part until the third time the game forces you to replay the mountain level!

Once you finish replaying the mountain level and get past where the mountain boss was, you actually do get a new level to play, and like the first time you encountered the first mountain level, it picks up the pace for the platforming segments, to the point where there's no combat at all; it's just tricky platforming. That said, a good part of the challenge is just remembering what powers you have and what they're all meant to do. For example, you'll come across large, spike floors, but the ceiling is too high up to grab it and progress that way. Maybe you could use a flower arrow on it like you did with all the spikes on the leftmost level? Nope; turns out the flower arrow only works on hazard walls and hazard ceilings, not hazard floors (sometimes, if a hazard wall curves into a hazard floor, there'll be a little bit of hazard floor made safe, but apparently that's a bug). Turns out, you have to use the pogo power to get across, even though the game has only ever had you pogo across electrified lamps and power lines, and certain spike pits can't be pogo'd on at all.

And then there's the boss of this level. You're forced to start with 0 SP, and because your attacks don't damage the boss, you have to attack solely to build up your SP meter, and when it reaches max, you'll automatically do a power move against the boss that'll damage it and drain your SP (and you gotta do that three times). This means you can't use SP to heal yourself, and it's at the worst time, too: not only is the boss's giant laser attack very sudden, but it doesn't even have the red/blue/yellow arrows that let you know an attack is coming. You're just attacking the boss and then suddenly blam, your entire party gets blasted. You just have to do trial and error until you finally get the timing for blocking the laser down.

After you beat this boss, you're taken to a new area--I'm just kidding; you have to replay the first level again. Just like the mountain level, no differences; you don't even have the required powers to go into all the dead-end split paths. There's a brief new area after the part where you get the cutscene that took you to the second level, and the new area leads back into the rightmost level. You also get an upgraded run, which can break a new type of wall and lets you keep running while wall jumping. Thing is, if you push a direction while wall-jumping, your run is cancelled. I know that the tutorial message for wall jumping (that displays way back at the beginning of the game) tells you that you don't "have" to hold a direction to wall jump, but I never thought it'd be actively detrimental (and counterintuitive since you have to hold a direction to run on the ground).

After you're done with the new area, you're dropped off at the bottom of the room where the optional party member was, and you have to scale the tower again. Not only are there no level changes, you even have to fight the same boss with the same charge attack that isn't foreshadowed properly. Then, you gotta replay the other two stage select levels again as well. Both have, like, one new area that'll make you think you'll mostly be going through new content, but then they drop you off back on the main path. You know, when good RPGs asks you to go back to a place you've already been, they usually give you fast-travel options so you get to the point of interest very quickly and/or make the location not that long to begin with, like the dragon's lair in Lunar: The Silver Star. In contrast, this game is just recycling way too much content that it already made you go back AND forth between, and the closest you get to fast-travel is being able to start at the end of a level instead of the beginning. At least the other two stages have unique bosses, unlike the rightmost level. They even have you use the new power you got replaying their respective stage to win, which is impressive by this game's standard.

After this, you have to replay the mountain level again, then you have to replay the level that followed it as well (and shortcuts are minimal, so you'll have to go through most of the same stuff again). The only difference is that the second mountain level now has the occasional miniboss that dies quickly. Sometimes you'll fight two or three minibosses at once, but they always share one health bar, so you can just attack the same one and win.

And with that level complete, you're finally done with the game forcing you to backtrack and replay levels. It has similar platforming as the preceeding level, but the difficulty increase isn't as big since you'll have mostly gotten used to the game's arbitrary restrictions for which power can be used where (and the minibosses still aren't a challenge). It also drags on for too long and gets kinda monotonous. By the way, this is where a miniboss attacked me in platformer mode, but I wasn't sent into battle (just in case I was wrong before and that'd normally happen when attacked by other enemies). At the end, you've got three more easy bosses (two of which are reused from before, one of which is the original mountain boss with the same ten-hit shield), then you get yet another new power right before the final boss (gimmicky, much?): infinite mid-air dashes, though you have to charge the dash by holding the button for a bit.

After a brief vertical segment, it's finally time for the final boss, and oh boy does the game NOT prepare you for it. Most of the battle is in platformer mode, and the boss has fists come from the background to hit you. Thing is, these fists take up the entirety of the arena (the parts they don't show up are actually invisible walls/ceilings). Outside of dashing at just the right time in just the right spot (which I didn't think was possible until I looked up a walkthrough), the only way to avoid damage is to do a guard during platformer mode, something the game has never required you to do before (but not just any guard; a perfect guard. Anything else and you'll take full damage). The boss doesn't have any combat mode attacks; you only go into combat mode when it's stunned and you're thrown back into platformer mode once it can move again. Once you beat the first phase, it'll do a screen-clearing move that resets the battle back to the beginning of the first phase, and you're not told how to avoid it until after you get hit, effectively making you fight the first phase twice. The second phase is a lengthy series of attacks that you also need to perfect guard past since you can't avoid most of them even in platformer mode. Almost each succeeding attack is different, so you'll die a couple times before you get the timing down (at least you get a checkpoint between phases). It's almost like, at the very end, the developers suddenly realized they didn't like their own combat system and just went full action for the final boss. After all the boss's attacks are spent, combat mode lets you attack once, and then you've beaten the game.

ABSOLUTELY NOT RECOMMENDED. Bad by metroidvania standards, bad by RPG standards, there are some brief parts that are good, but everything salvagable was done better by other games.

P.S. NPC dialogue also sucks because most of it is just Kickstarter backers' self-insert fanfictions, and any actual worldbuilding outside of the main cast (like the existence of a radio star) could be rationalized as two backers working together.


Overcooked! 2

I haven't played the first one because I normally play my games in the order I get them, but again, Game Pass time is limited.

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This is…I guess it's a real-time strategy. You have two chefs on the field at once and switch between them with the shoulder button; the one you're controlling is indicated by a blue circle on the ground, which can be obscured by anything on top the ground, like boxes or stoves. Orders will come in, displayed on the upper left along with their recipe, which often requires the food to be chopped and/or cooked a certain way, often along with other ingredients at the same time. Chopping and cooking is done automatically but takes time, just like any RTS command, and the challenge comes in using one chef to multitask while the other is doing a task, as each level has a time limit, and you'll usually need to complete as many orders as possible to get three stars on a level (though you only need one star to spawn the next level on the map, not counting star requirements for unlocking the next level once it spawns).

Not only will the recipes increase in complexity as the game progresses, but the level design changes, too. You get raw ingredients from boxes, but these boxes and how to reach them will often be different each level. Problem is that some levels have moving objects that'll prevent you from doing what you need to finish cooking. Maybe a platform will move out of the way and you get trapped (you can throw raw ingredients across gaps, but nothing else), or maybe the ingredient boxes themselves will move around and block you from reaching the oven (you get foreshadowed that they'll move, but not to where). Also, don't forget that individual orders and the levels themselves are timed, but you'll have to waste a significant amount of that time waiting for the game to release you from your prison. It's actually surprisingly uncommon for a level to give another way of accessing places when one is blocked off, and the few levels that do give you consistent access to required objects are my favorite ones.

By the way, even if a level doesn't trap you, many stages have their own gimmick that you won't be able to plan around until after you try the level once and get blindsided by it (this becomes more commonplace in late game).

Ironically, the final level is much less hectic and IMO should've been how the rest of the game was made: rather than continually getting new orders until time runs out, you have a set number of orders you have to complete before going onto the next area, and you beat the level once all the orders are filled. The level's time limit is pretty lenient, but the orders still have their own time limit, so there's still some tension. There's also no cheap crap in the level design that'll waste your time.

Overall, this one's hard to recommend. The concept has potential, but the execution is rather scattershot, with quite a few levels making you wait beyond the RTS-command timers. I think it could've been improved by having more consistent level objectives instead of getting a high score within a time limit.


Ikenfell

TFW in-game sprites and mugshots look better than the banner artwork.

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This is a quicktime RPG with tactics elements. Like in Super Mario RPG, pushing the button at the right time will increase your damage dealt or reduce your damage taken. However, this takes the mechanic a step further: if you push the button at the end of your window of opportunity, you'll further increase the effectiveness of your attack/defense. Another thing I like is that most attacks are either projectile-based or have some other accompanying animation, which greatly helps with getting the timing right on your first try (unlike Indivisible, where you were almost guaranteed not to get the timing right on your first few tries). That said, you will take damage from all attacks even if you do a perfect guard (though that isn't really an issue). The game also has a tendency for making the end of your window of opportunity be slightly after the attack hits your character (meaning you don't get the full defense if you hit the button "on time"), but there are also plenty of attacks where your last chance is immediately as soon as the attack hits (including ones with similar animations, like your party member(s) being dropped from the top of the screen), so the game isn't as consistent as it appears at first. As for the tactics elements, all battles take place on a 12x3 grid, and the closest you'll get to level design is if you or an enemy lays a trap on a tile. Different attacks will have different ranges, but it's actually surprisingly uncommon for attacks to let you hit an enemy right in front of you, and some characters aren't able to do that at all. This does add a bit of strategy regarding giving all of your party members enough space to get their attacks in, but it also means you won't know what range an enemy's attack will have until after it happens (particularly for area attacks that can hit more than one teammate at once). Also, some of your moves need a turn or two to recharge (there's no MP, so that's how different moves are balanced); thing is, if a move hasn't finished recharging once you kill all the enemies, you'll still need to wait for it to finish recharging at the start of your next battle, which is kinda annoying (you also aren't told which moves have this cooldown until after you use them).

As for the overworld…it's just your typical RPG switch-hunts and Adventure Game "puzzles." For example, one of the first things the game makes you do is navigate a maze where you can't see the walls until you're on the unit right beside them, and shortly after, it introduces springs (that IIRC never show up after this first area) and hides the one leading to a chest behind foreground objects. I don't understand why people like these or consider them to be puzzles because you're not solving anything; it's either trial-and-error or you accidentally stumble across the one thing you were missing that causes everything to make sense.

I could go on about how practically everything in the overworld that isn't just a path to the next area is like this, but I'll highlight one in particular: when you reach the astronomy tower, it's locked with a bar that requires several key items to unlock, and you're told to explore the surrounding area to try to find them. Thing is, when I got this cutscene, I already had explored the surrounding area, opened up all the chests there, and examined all the sparkling tiles, but didn't even have one key (and killing the enemies doesn't get you any of the keys, either). Turns out, sometimes, when the fireflies enter a lamppost, one of them will wander off to a random tile (normally, all of them enter the lamppost), and searching this otherwise ordinary tile gets you the key. There's no puzzle here; you're not solving anything; you're not having to think about how the mechanics work or how the pieces fit together; you're just wandering around the area until you just so happen to notice the one thing that's different, the one piece of the "puzzle" you didn't even know about before, the thing that never showed up before and will never come up again for the rest of the game, and that one chance revelation is what makes the "solution" to the "puzzle" obvious…and then you repeat the exact same process six more times in a row without any variation. Can someone explain how these are supposed to be fun? Because my only reasoning for why they're so prevalent is because of how low-effort they are to create (and because their prevalence implies people actually like them).

The closest the overworld segments get to having actual puzzle mechanics are the ice tiles, where you keep going in a direction until you hit a wall or a normal tile. Thing is, they're all pretty easy, and then the mechanic gets thrown away like all the other gimmicks the overworld had. The only two times I got stumped were because the game hid the correct path behind a foreground object, making it look like a wall when it was really a regular tile. Similarly, the ball-sliding mechanic in the roost tower could've lead to some actual puzzles (since it keeps moving until it hits something), but the only thing you'll need to figure out is that pushing it against the outer wall causes it to disappear, but pushing it against a candle on the outer wall lets you continue pushing it.

Really, the combat is what saves the game, but even that has some issues. I already mentioned how the timing can be slightly altered for similar attacks, but there are also moves that'll give the enemy an extra turn (ironic how the game points out the turn order bar so that you can avoid "any nasty surprises," then proceeds to circumvent it with its own nasty surprises). It starts off subtle: the lightning boss sometimes gets two turns in a row normally, but it can also gain an extra turn by laying a trap (oh, and most enemy traps are invisible, so you just have to remember where they all hit throughout the entire boss fight because getting hit by one ends your turn). Then you encounter the star enemies by the astronomy tower, and it becomes undeniable: they can move forward, use the "swap" move to switch places with another enemy, then move again and attack you despite the turn order saying they only have one move. Ah, but don't take my word for it, take the game's, when you finally get one of these moves yourself around 2/3rds through the game:

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Speaking of nasty surprises, some enemies will explode on death, damaging all units on adjacent tiles, but recolors of the enemy won't; you'll never be able to tell which ones do it until after you kill them. Also, sometimes the timing isn't based on when a projectile hits your character because it'll instead move past you and hit the ground, and that's when you're supposed to hit the button. There's even this one time where you fight a boss that's displayed as having "9999" HP, and each of your attacks deal 1 damage to it, so it obviously means you need to do something else besides attack it directly, right? Nope; you have to attack it several times so that a cutscene happens with your characters commenting about how you can't deal much damage to the boss, at which point an NPC will make the boss more vulnerable and the real boss fight begins. Oh, and the first unit to move when a battle starts is completely random, even if turn order afterward is based on the characters' speed stats.

But the worst are attacks that have no foreshadowing at all; instead of being able to see a projectile coming towards you or being able to see a circle shrink towards you (or expand towards another circle), you just get the text telling you the attack happens, and then bam, you're hit by lighting or ice spikes shoot up from the ground and oops, you didn't hit the button in time so you take full damage. These attacks aren't that common, but between them and the altered timing for near-duplicate attacks, it starts to erode the goodwill the game had by properly visualizing the timing of attacks (why I played the game in the first place).

And then you've got the Agony boss. It isn't the first boss to spawn two allies every time you kill both of its allies and also spawn two additional allies as its health goes down past certain points; however, its allies' attack animation is one of the cheaper ones (they'll turn into a drop shadow, slide under your party member, and then flash a single frame and that's when you need to hit the button), and when they die, they spawn traps in a + shape rather than explode (and they're the only enemy to do so; at least the traps are visible). Also, both the boss and its allies regularly get 2-3 moves before your next party member's turn, so even if you guard at just the right time every time, you'll still have taken quite a bit of damage. Of course, killing one could block your path to the boss because of the traps, and killing both will just cause the boss to spawn two more, so you kinda have to let at least one stay around. This boss was the only time I got game over, and I lost twice before finally winning, and I only won because if you do a perfect guard on the attack that drains your health to zero, that party member will survive with 1 HP (both of my other party members were dead).

On top of this, you can't buy items that will heal the entire party at once until after this boss fight; at this point in the game you can only get them from chests (you might be able to use the "steal item" move to get more from a certain enemy type, but I may be misremembering, and even then, it'd mean you have to grind instead of improve your strategy). That, combined with the "spawns traps on death" enemies that never show up again, makes Agony harder than all the bosses that come after it (including the final boss and optional boss).

Overall, this one's hard to recommend. The combat system is admirable, but it still has a few nasty surprises, and the overworld is just your typical Adventure Game non-puzzles and quickly-abandoned gimmicks. If you're interested, wait for a good sale.

MINOR LORE CRITICISM: Safina spends basically the whole game LARPing as a supervillain, and it takes a literal deus ex machina to explain that she's actually in the right. Like, there couldn't have been ONE flashback showing her trying to reason with the headmistress, explaining her point and maybe getting blown off or something? Honestly, I'm kinda disappointed she didn't end up becoming the one-dimensional final boss trying to conquer/destroy the world for no reason, with the main cast having to reconcile with the fact that they once considered this person a close friend. They even could've kept the part where Bax (almost) dies and Ibn becomes the REAL final boss. As is, Saf only acts that way to trick the player for the sake of the plot twist, and then the writers realized they wrote themselves into a corner as far as how to reveal that plot twist in a way that made sense.

P.S. Each party member has a theme song (complete with lyrics), but you'll only hear two of them unless you choose the others to do the Trial of Magic or whatever it was called. You'd think the end credits would be a perfect place to play these otherwise unused songs, but nope; it just reuses the two you've already heard again (one of which is a rap that hilariously says "let's make the future real bright" in flat monotone).


Katana ZERO

This would've been higher on the list if it didn't show up so late during my Game Pass trial.

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This is a stealth game with platformer elements. You can move left/right and jump, but you can also do a short-ranged slash attack with the X button and pick up/throw objects with B for a ranged attack. Attacking is responsive and won't interrupt your movement, and you can even slash bullets to reflect them back at enemies. You can also wall-jump, but this doesn't come into play that often. More relevant are your dodge roll and time slow abilities, as ranged enemies all shoot realistically-fast bullets at you. Man, I gotta watch trailers better so I know which games do this and which try to have a reasonable challenge you can do without time manipulation powers. In contrast, melee enemies just run right up to you and do a quick attack; they're not nearly as troublesome, but you die in one hit, so you still gotta watch out for them a bit. The closest you get to a recurring third enemy type are ranged enemies that shoot realistically-fast bullets at you and have a shield Oh, rooms also have time limits, but you'll never run out even on a causal playthrough, so again, it's another mechanic that kinda doesn't matter.

So, how's the game? Well, the first level does a decent job of tutoring the controls, and the bland level design is forgivable because this is early game were stuff is supposed to be easy. The second level has you wait for an elevator, but as soon as it opens, enemies pop out and shoot you (remember, realistically fast bullets and one-hit death); after this level, elevators never do that again.

By the third level, you might expect the game to start doing something different besides placing the same two enemy types in flat rooms, separated only by doors you need to open to announce your presence…and it kinda does, for one room: you're not allowed to be caught in enemy view-cones at all or you lose, but the level design is still perfectly flat and view-cones are quite long. Turns out, you'll blend into a crowd if you stand perfectly still in front of them, something the game never tells you is possible (and just like the elevator enemies, is never relevant again). After that one room, it goes right back to the same stuff, only now there is exactly one new enemy type: turrets that'll shoot you as soon as you open the door, so you need to start holding the dodge roll button during your door-opening animation; beyond that, more of the same.

The fourth level tries to be a little different and focus more on the stealth aspect, giving you the optional objective of avoiding enemies entirely and finishing the level without killing anyone. Problem is, to do this, you have to enter doors in the background that won't let you move beyond said door, then wait for the enemies to walk slowly back and forth past the door so you can progress. To make matters worse, they can hear your footsteps if you yourself also aren't moving painfully slow, so after several deaths on the first room with enemies, I gave up and just beat the level normally. Stage 3 also had an optional objective I ignored, and based on later events, actually bothering to complete these optional objectives likely doesn't change anything anyway.

Stage 5 has the path split in 3 directions, but you gotta go through all of them to get all the keycards you need to progress. The lower path has a minecart gimmick that never shows up again: the cart moves automatically and can run over enemies, but you gotta get out every now and then to hit a switch to open a gate to let the cart through since only the cart can cross tracks (you'll fall through them). This is also where you'll fight your first boss, and it might be the hardest in the game: it'll block your attacks most of the time, and you just have to figure out through trial and error which of the boss's animations results in it letting its guard down. Also, while the boss takes multiple hits to die, you still die in just one hit (one hit deaths aren't a bad thing, but they make any of a game's communication problems blatantly obvious). Thing is, if you die more than a few times to the boss, the game will auto-complete the boss battle without your consent, so maybe it's a supposed-to-lose battle? Or maybe the devs noticed the difficulty spike and simply didn't feel like changing the AI to be a more appropriate challenge given its place in the game.

There's this one level where your character gets captured, and you just gotta do trial and error to figure out what you have to do to escape and kill the enemy holding your sword (and avoid the gunman standing right behind said enemy, who won't shoot until as soon as the other enemy is dead). After this is a motorcycle level, and this might be the best level in the game: not only is there a tiny bit of level design with you avoiding incoming traffic (even if it's just two cars), but enemy bullets also move slower, giving you actual time to react to them. There's even a machine-gun enemy exclusive to this level, and while it doesn't have any special SHMUP patterns (just shoots a bunch straight forward while moving up and down), it's better than the rest of the game only having melee enemies and realistically-fast-bullets enemies. The boss is also probably the best one in the game, but while the missile columns are fine enough to avoid, the difficulty for that attack is increased by having several desynced missiles fall on random parts of the arena, making their foreshadowing crosshairs more difficult to react to.

A later level has you play as a different character, but the only difference is that--rather than pick up and throw items--you can hold B to do a charging slash and kill multiple enemies in a row, but then you can't attack at all until it recharges. Beyond that, it's just more of the same: identical enemies in flat corridors. The only reason the difficulty increases in this game at all is because the rooms in later levels simply have more enemies in them (more enemies shooting realistically-fast bullets that you'll need time-slowing powers to dodge/reflect reliably) or by having the next floor be so far down that you can't see the turret that'll shoot you until after you jump down and get shot.

One of the only other times the game tries to do anything else is when you're put in a room with a bunch of presses, and random ones come down to crush you. Even if you die and restart, it'll be different ones in a different order each time. After several deaths, I turned the game off for the day, but when I went back the next day, I suddenly noticed that some of them shone a green light instead of a red one, and these are the ones that won't try to crush you on that round. Maybe I was just being really inattentive on all my previous attempts, but given what I know for a fact happened with the stage 5 boss, I'll continue to believe those lights simply never displayed until after all those deaths (and even if it was on me after all, it doesn't fix the rest of the game's problems).

The final level starts you off going down elevators, but the next room is blacked out until the doors open, and since you'll very often have guns trained on you when the door opens, you could kinda argue that the gimmick from stage 2 makes a return appearance, just in reverse. Beyond that? More of the same, the exact freaking same.

Then there's the final boss. It'll have a laser sight flash around half a second before it shoots horizontally, but when the boss does a somersault to the top of the screen, its laser shot has no foreshadow animation at all and spins quickly from one end of the arena to the other. Every time you hit the boss, it'll retreat and a few waves of normal enemies pop out of the doors in the background to shoot at you. No warning, less level design, barely any different than it always was. At the end of the first phase, the ground explodes from left to right, so if you landed the last hit on the left side of the room, then congratulations, you get to die and replay the first phase again! Successfully jumping over the explosions has you fall down to the second phase, where you get a checkpoint. The boss has some new moves, like a dash attack without any conveyance or summoning two turrets after you first land a hit, but it's nothing special compared to the rest of the game's cheap hits.

Not recommended; too monotonous, too many cheap hits.


The Outer Worlds

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This is a first-person shooter with role-playing elements. You've got your standard move with left stick, aim with right stick, shoot with RT, reload with RT (or X) and patience, but you can also slow down time briefly by pushing RB. It isn't necessarily a fixed amount of time because, at full, it always runs out after you fire two shots. Also, LB uses a healing item, and I lost count of how many times I accidentally healed when I wanted to use my time-slow power. There are light guns, heavy guns, and energy guns, and each type has their own ammo; you may think they'll have their own uses, but as you progress, enemies get stronger armor, effectively making light guns (and even heavy guns later on) useless as they deal minimal damage. I found out too late that the best guns aren't the ones with the highest damage number or even highest DPS, but the ones that say they deal "[number]x8" damage since those fire multiple shots at once.

Similar to a surprising amount of other games I played during Game Pass, the enemies all have the same AI of shooting either realistically-fast bullets or instantly-hitting bullets at you. The closest you get to another enemy type are Mantiqueens, who can spawn more enemies and that's their only distinguishing feature. You can dodge by double-tapping the A button, but since there's no lock-on mechanic, you'll need your thumb on the right stick to aim at the enemies, effectively resulting in unavoidable damage each fight (but it's totally okay because you have regenerating health!). You can block with LT, but only if you have a melee weapon equipped (with a gun, you just aim down its sight with LT). And of course, rather than have levels designed around enhancing the AI to provide new challenges with old enemies, the levels are also designed to be "realistic," meaning the difficulty only increases because the number of enemies you face at once increases, along with their attack and defense stats. By the time I made it to the final level, the only way to get through is to attack one enemy before you get noticed, kill said enemy, and run away while healing a bunch so the rest eventually give up chasing you. The only reason the final boss and its reinforcements at specific HP values was even tenable is because the boss itself is slow moving and the pillars are large enough to give you time to heal without being targeted. I know that these types of games try to give the player multiple ways of completing objectives (stealth, dialogue, etc.), but it's almost like the FPS segments are punishments for not playing another way instead of made to be fun challenges in their own right. That's something I've never liked about these types of games: they try to cram multiple genres together in the same levels to please different types of players, but they don't do a good job of expanding on the mechanics for each possible path.

One of the first things you have to do is get power for your ship, but to do this, you have to steal power from a nearby community by redirecting power in the power plant. The plant itself is full of robots that'll shoot projectiles that still move briskly, but could actually be dodged if I were allowed to keep my thumb over the dodge button. If you make it far enough in the plant, you can find a terminal that'll supposedly have them shoot at each other instead of you, but even after I did that, all the robots I didn't kill still shot at me instead of each other.

Anyway, I bring that up because it's the game letting you know early on that you won't be able to help everyone, unlike Undertale. However, right after this mission, you're tasked with buying a key that costs way more than what you have, so you basically have to do a side-quest where you recover research data for some scientists. Thing is, you're once again given a choice: do you return the data to the scientists, or sell it to the black market? My issue with this is that the choice makes no sense; I should be able to copy the data and play both sides! You're telling me that this fictional culture based around corporate greed that also takes place in the future (a future with faster-than-light travel and freaking e-mail)…doesn't have personal printers? I don't buy it.

Oh, there is exactly one example of level design I encountered in the whole game: there's a side-quest where you have to find evidence of a company secretly operating in illegal territory, so you find out where their meetup point is, but when you get there, you discover that they were attacked by outlaws and a survivor is hiding in a nearby cave. This cave has electric beams you have to jump over and landmines you can either shoot or run away from after triggering them to avoid taking damage. That's it, unfortunately.

Not recommended.


Minecraft Dungeons

Oh shoot, this one's not on Steam. Uh...where's a good banner image?

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This is an action dungeon crawler. You have a top-down view and a quick, responsive sword swing by pushing the A button (though you can't move and attack at once). You can fire an arrow with RT, but you have limited arrows and only get more by finding them in chests or from enemy drops. Plus, along with regularly getting higher-level equipment, you can find additional powers that you can equip to the other three face buttons. You can also heal by pushing LB (even though the healing icon is on the right side of the screen), and unlike arrows, these powers are infinite but have cooldown timers.

Decent foundation, but then you start playing and realize the levels are mostly just flat rooms with mobs of melee enemies that run straight towards you. Yup, never thought I'd find a Riverbond clone, but here we are (only major difference is that this game gives you 3 lives per level instead of infinite lives). The most annoying part is that you can't move fast enough to run past them while also avoiding getting attacked by them, so you HAVE to face the repetitive mobs over and over again (unless a speed potion gets dropped randomly, but potions' effects are only temporary). There aren't even pitfalls because any significant decrease in elevation is just an invisible wall in disguise. To be fair, there are a few other enemy types: ranged enemies shoot projectiles that can actually be avoided, but it's always just one projectile aimed directly at you, so not only are they just as repetitive and unsusceptible to level design, but when there's a crowd of them, you'll likely be unable to avoid damage. There are also mages that raise the defense of nearby enemies, but that's all they do. There's also ghosts who can summon 3x3 flames from the ground, but the bland level design combined with how much time you have to move out of the way make them not much of a threat.

Although every level is bland, there are a few that make attempts at having some genuine level design. The cave level will have minecarts come from the parts of tracks going into the wall, but it happens infrequently. The desert temple has buttons that'll cause nearby walls to crush every few seconds or blades to spin out of the ground, but the timing is such that you can usually keep holding forward and avoid damage, so maybe it's just meant to be cheap hits in multiplayer? The lava temple has lava you can fall in, but outside of one 3x3 plus-shaped pool, they're relegated to two-tile-wide strips on the edge of halls. Lastly, the final level has springs that'll send you over pits to the next room, and this level is the only time it's possible to fall into a pit, so I'm guessing it's more to do with an oversight with the springboards than an intentional challenge.

The only other shred of variety the game has are its bosses. The cauldron is the worst one, and I'm not saying that just because I decided to try playing a level with raised difficulty only to find it just increases the number and stats of enemies, and it happened to be the cauldron's level. See, not only will the boss regularly spawn a mob of regular enemies, but it also has a move where it scatters projectile-throwing enemies around the arena; it's nothing but enemy spam, dare I say even more so than the levels themselves. The desert temple's boss also spawns enemies, but it's much rarer; instead, it just stays still and shoots a single slow moving shot directly at you every second, and that's all it does. The semi-final level doesn't have a boss at all; it's just more waves of enemies.

And the final boss…is honestly the best part of the game. The first phase still spawns a huge row of melee/ranged enemies, which is a lazy way to add challenge, but the boss itself doesn't just shoot a single shot towards you, but two additional shots angled away slightly from the first shot! And then we have the second phase, which is, like, an actual, proper challenge: it shoots lasers in a + shape and spins around a bit, then it summons clones to shoot a single laser in a single direction. It also has an attack where it scatters a bunch of projectiles in an arc away from it at a random angle, but this attack isn't as good since it's hard to tell where they'll land. Also, while the spinning laser attack is good in theory, it turns out your dodge roll doesn't have any invincibility frames, so you have to walk with the lasers to avoid taking damage, except the lasers spin briskly enough that you need to get close to the boss to keep up with the spin, but you also don't have any invincibility frames when taking damage, so if you get too close, all your health drains before you realize what's going on.

I actually got game over on the second phase (partly because of that) and had to replay the entire boring final level again, and that's when I realized that levels are actually (at least partially) procedurally generated. I guess that explains the bland level design.

Not recommended.


Drake Hollow

I can't wait to see what Josh Hollow is.

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This is a management game with hack 'n' slash elements. Your primary goal is to build structures at your camp to satisfy the drakes' three needs, but you can also go to other islands to look for building materials, upgrade gems, or even find more drakes to add to your camp. Thing is, if you're in the ocean for more than approximately five seconds, you die, so you need to craft bubbles and waypoints to maintain your exploration efforts. Bubbles prevent the ocean from killing you but only last around 13 seconds, regardless of whether you're in the ocean or not. In contrast, waypoints are permanent structures that can be placed anywhere (even in the ocean itself) and linked with any waypoint in range. You travel between connected waypoints by pushing the jump button in the air, at which point you'll start rail-grinding across the connections (so they aren't traditional fast-travel points).

As you explore, you'll occasionally come across enemies, and this is where the hack 'n' slash elements come into play. You'll find weapons as you explore (often melee, but there are some ranged weapons, each with their own ammo type), and all weapons have durability and can break, so you'll want to keep a couple extra with you at all times. You can hold LT to block, but if you're hit too much while blocking, your guard will break and blocked attacks will knock you back so you can't counterattack as easily. The first enemy type are grunts, and while they can hop backwards away from you as a sort-of dodge maneuver, they'll often just shamble towards you and do a forward jumping attack towards you. Even if you don't get the first hit in, you can usually just guard, then retaliate after they bounce off you.

Not long afterward, you'll encounter wolves, and these enemies are quite the difficulty spike. They can spawn landmines around themselves, run quite a bit faster than you, throw projectile attacks at you (and you won't know you can bat them back at the wolves unless you do it by accident, and they can always run away before getting hit), launch a very quick three-hit combo that'll stun-lock you if you're hit, and it can summon two grunts whenever it feels like it. Honestly, that last one is one of the more preferable moves it has since it's the only one that gives you time to catch up and attack them. They're even worse than the third enemy type (the giant ones, I forget their name), which doesn't run away from you or summon more enemies or shoot projectiles; it merely doesn't recoil when you attack it, letting it counterattack you quicker.

Honestly, the main reason you'll be able to continue playing is because death has little consequence. When you die, you reappear as a ghost back at camp, and you can either revive right there at the cost of weapon durability (only useful if something urgent comes up at camp), or you can just walk/rail-grind back to where your dead body is and revive manually by holding the A button twice. The enemies you were fighting will still be there and still have any damage you dealt to them. You'll have to get used to fighting this way, too, because even though there are only really those three enemy types in the whole game, the game never really gives you the means to avoid damage completely. Sure, you could make killing them easier by using a ranged weapon, but ammo is nearly survival-horror levels of scarce (I swear I found more ranged weapons themselves than their corresponding ammo), and you can't craft any ammo until you level up your camp enough (and even then, you still need the ingredients).

This leads into my main problem with the game: rather than restrict what you can build by making certain ingredients harder to come by, the game restricts what you can build based on your camp's level. At the start of the game, you're not even allowed to build permanent structures, so you gotta keep rail-grinding back to camp to build more beds and stuff. You also aren't allowed to build wells (permanent water source) at first, but juice boxes (the only item that'll give you drinkable water) are really rare, so you'll be on the verge of running out until then. It isn't uncommon for you to have more than enough ingredients to build something when you finally unlock it (even to the point where you'll have over 100 of certain items when you'd need less than 10 of them for what you'd want to build). [[[Side note: your camp can get raided by enemies (happens every couple in-game days or so) and they can attack the stuff you've built (though you won't be able to see the structures' health as this happens), so you'll want to go back to camp and kill them before they do much damage; of course, you'll usually have plenty of materials to rebuild whatever was destroyed.]]] As for how you level up camp, you need camp xp, and the only way to increase that value is by adding more drakes to your camp or giving your drakes enough upgrade gems to level them up (which also increases how much food/water/etc. they need to stay alive). Oh, and let's not forget that different drakes need different types of upgrade gems to level up, and each level of drake needs its own tier of upgrade gem as well (you aren't even given the option to craft higher tier gems, not even by spending a bunch of lower tier ones; they're just useless unless you have the exact right type of drake at the exact right level), so even when you know that upgrade gems can only drop from enemies and red thorns, it's very common to end up with the right type but wrong tier, wrong type entirely, etc. The whole game is just a constant battle of trying to keep your drakes alive while the game won't let you for arbitrary reasons.

The game also has objectives outside of trying to keep your drakes from dying. After the basic tutorial, your objective is usually to get your camp to a certain level. Once you reach the first target level for your camp, the boss appears (yeah, THE boss; there's only one boss in the game, meaning only four different enemy types in total). It can summon a ring around itself on the ground, and after a half second or so, the ring shoots up…red light or something that'll hurt you if it hits you and you don't block it. Landing a hit on the boss will have it do this weird sidestep/backslide combo, and at certain points in its health bar, it'll float up, shield itself, and summon a couple grunts and a giant that you have to kill before you can resume the fight. I think the boss also has a projectile attack like the wolves do.

Once you kill the boss the first time, you're given the option to travel to the next archipelago (where your next objective is), but the game makes sure to tell you that you won't be able to return after leaving. Thing is--and this may surprise you if you've read my thoughts on the previous games in this post--the level design of the islands is kinda bland, so the only things you'd find on unexplored islands are more ingredients that you already have plenty of, or notes left by a couple other characters that are just extra worldbuilding. You don't even have to worry about rebuilding your camp since all the stuff you've built gets taken with you (including distant waypoints), so you won't be missing much by just going ahead to the next archipelago. And what awaits you in this new area of the game? More of the same. Islands are still just flat planes and slopes, so fighting the enemies is no different than before (enemies get higher stats, but this is based on how long you've played, not where you are). The only major difference I noticed is that berries (a source of food) and mushrooms (what I'm pretty sure is also a food source) are less common, so now instead of your drakes being thirsty, they'll be hungry. You can build a farm and plant food seeds, but you'll never be able to build a perpetual food source like with water or other necessities. Oh, and once again, your objective is to level up the camp.

Beyond that, the second map plays out the same until you reach the required camp level to progress. Now, instead of the boss appearing next to your camp, you have to travel to a distant island and fight the boss there! And there's really no variation with the fight since last time, either, so you kill him, read one of only two story-centric notes in the game, and you get to go to the third archipelago. One change I thought was kinda neat was that the boss shows up at the end of raids…at least it would've been neat if the game had more than one boss. A not-so-neat change is that food seeds become scarce; berries are slightly more common, but not enough to compensate (especially considering you have more drakes with higher levels than before). I had to go to the game's shop and buy seeds there (can't buy berries), but the shop's stock is limited, meaning you can't even buy enough food for everyone, and if a drake can't get all its necessities, its HP starts decreasing. The only reason this part of the game was tenable is because if you examine a drake, you can heal it to full HP at no cost (besides having to stop what you're doing and rail-grind all the way back to camp, but you had to do that anyway to plant seeds). Also, this is where hunting for upgrade gems becomes especially tedious because you'll have level 3 drakes, meaning the upgrade gems you find have a 2/3 chance of being the wrong tier (and that's not taking into account the different types of upgrade gems needed for different types of drakes). Did I mention that you can't use a higher-tier upgrade gem on a lower level drake, or even break the gem down into a lower tier?

Because of the famine, I actually had my first drake death here, and as soon as I noticed that this also lowered my camp xp by the appropriate amount (meaning I'd have to find another drake and grind that much more just to get back to where I was), I went "screw it" and loaded my last save. This is where I discovered an exploit: save games don't keep up with how much HP a drake has, which means you can effectively ignore the management parts and just save, quit, and reload whenever you get notified that a drake is about to die.

Anyway, after reaching the designated camp level, you go on a brief fetch quest to get the item you read about last time, but before you can move on to the fourth archipelago, you get a story-centric raid on your camp instead of just another boss fight (but this raid won't interrupt the game's regularly-scheduled raids; you can even see the countdown continue ticking if you start the raid a few minutes before a normal raid will take place). It also ends with another fight against the boss, which could've been neat if the game didn't already do that with normal raids.

Then there's the fourth archipelago. Your camp starts off frozen, and the game throws up a tutorial for how to thaw stuff (build consumable flares or heaters). Thing is, the only thing you can unfreeze with the consumable flares are your drakes; if you try to unfreeze your wells or the pot you put berries and mushrooms in, it just won't work. My best guess is that you need to build those heaters the game mentioned, but you don't unlock them until one camp level after the level that lets you move to this area in the first place. How am I supposed to keep my drakes fed and watered during the time it takes me to find enough other drakes and upgrade gems (now available in tier 4!) to get my camp to the level I need in order to thaw the wells so I can water my drakes?

Anyway, that's when I went "screw it" and started regularly abusing the save and quit exploit. Your objective is once again to increase your camp level, so yet more of the same. Once you finally finish the last camp upgrade objective (which is literally just leveling up your drakes and nothing else, don't forget), you're given the location of the final boss. So, you go over there, get this ominous cutscene and then--yeah, it's literally the exact same boss as the first one and all the others. I wouldn't mind this so much if it were like Explodemon and actually changed the arena up somewhat to make the fight play out differently, but there really is no level design in this game.

Actually, there is one crucial difference between this fight and the others: if you die, the boss disappears, and you have to reload a save to try again. You can rail-grind back to the arena, but the boss simply won't be there. On my second attempt, I used the single healing item I was given at the start of the game, but I still died before finishing the boss off; only this time, when I made it back to the arena to confirm that the boss definitely still wasn't there, the game suddenly considered the boss to be dead, and after a brief dialogue, I was tasked with returning to camp for the second phase: literally the same boss again (only now it's easier since you can build offensive structures at camp that'll attack enemies for you). And with that, the game is beaten.

So yeah, I'm not gonna recommend this one. The management side is surprisingly brutal for arbitrary reasons, and the hack 'n' slash elements aren't very well developed and end up being rather monotonous.


Battletoads (2020)

Still haven't beaten the NES game. Damn you, limited continues!

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This starts off as a beat 'em up, but it has levels built around other genres, like platformer or twin-stick SHMUP. I admit I'm not a fan of beat 'em ups, but I stuck with it because I knew the NES game also changed up its mechanics every stage or so (and because I still had a day or two on Game Pass).

The first stage is just your typical, repetitive beat 'em up fare. Enemies show up, you tap the attack button to fight them off, you can end your combo with a special move by pushing a different button, and other enemies can attack you while you're in the middle of doing a combo. Luckily, you can also dash out of the way, though battles are still rather repetitive and wear out their welcome quickly. Also, when you die, you just switch to another character and the previous has a cooldown before you can switch back (you won't get game over unless all three are dead at once). Stage 2 is just quick-time events. Stage 3 is an auto-scroller: the camera is facing forward and you have to move left/right and jump to avoid the walls coming towards you. Movement is kinda slippery and it can be hard to see the edges because walls slightly more center can block your view due to the camera angle, but other than that, it's okay. Stage 4 and 5 go back to beat 'em up territory; bleh. The closest these segments get to level design are here, where the electric enemies can turn the water tiles from solid ground into hazards, but that's it. Stage 5 also sometimes breaks up the monotony by having a "hacking" minigame where you move an icon across the screen while avoiding hazards, but the rest is just repetitive drudgery. This includes the mechanic introduced in level 4 (and unfortunately recurs on other levels) that pretends to be a puzzle since it recycles mechanics from games like Tane O Maku Tori (I don't know what the subgenre is called; pipe puzzle, maybe?), but when you push the available buttons, it just cycles between a few pre-set patterns (resulting in trial and error) rather than giving you freedom of placement and designing the board so that you actually have to think a bit to solve it. After this is a boss; it's okay, but it can be hard to remember which face button combined with LT is the "grab enemy" command (what you need to do to beat the boss).

The second part of the game is probably the weakest: a rock/paper/scissors-style mini-game you don't have to win, another repetitive beat 'em up stage, a boss, and another quick-time event stage followed by side-scrolling auto-scroller. The boss is one of the best parts of this Act: crosshairs will show up on the floor to indicate where a missile is going to hit, but when it drops logs, they always fall on the north end of the arena and roll south, giving you no time to react if you're near the top when they hit. The other good part is the autoscroller, though half the challenge is remembering which face button you have to hold to stay on which platforms. There will also be enemies you have to jump over, but there's at least one spot where a tall enemy is placed right after another jump you have to do, so if you don't do a short-hop, you won't be able to get over the next enemy.

The next Act is mostly just platforming and twin-stick SHMUP levels. The SHMUP levels have a decent variety of bullet waves and enemy patterns besides just "shoot right at you," and the bullets themselves don't move so fast that you can't avoid them by themselves, which other games on this list could learn from. That said, it does start to wear down around the third (and last) SHMUP level, as even having bullet pattern combinations that you have to dodge through to avoid damage starts to overstay its welcome. The platformer segments fare a bit worse: when it's just straight platforming, it's fine, but the game also thinks it's a puzzler so you'll have to push and pull boxes across rooms to keep switches pressed, even though getting the box there requires very little thought. Also, while normal jumping even has no momentum, doing a rolling jump (moves faster and jumps further) does. The Act ends with some brief Game-&-Watch-style mini-games.

The last part of the game starts with a vertical platformer segment: you have to go down the shaft being chased by a wall of instant death that'll kill you if you're too slow. It's kinda awkward because the dash move you get in this level doesn't work the same as the rolling in the previous platformer segments: you can't dash-jump, and you can't even really do it twice in a row (there's a bit of a delay before you can do it again). After another beat 'em up segment where the only unique thing is that there are objects on the stage that'll hurt the enemies, you're taken to another forward-facing auto-scroller that isn't any more difficult than the one near the beginning of the game.

And then you face the final boss. There are two, but for the first half you only fight one at a time as they tag out with each other, and they always share the same health bar. The green one's attacks can also be hard to react to on your first go (since you won't know what range an attack will have before it happens, as it once again relies on foreshadow animations). After you drain its HP completely, you get another quick-time event level, and the game is over.

Overall, I'm not sure about this one. If you're not a fan of one of the genres it incorporates, I don't think it'll be worth it, but even if you do like all the genres, it's okay at best.


The Gardens Between

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This is a puzzle game with Adventure Game puzzle elements. I figured I wouldn't be a fan when I saw the time-control mechanics in the trailer, but the game actually starts off promising: you move left and right (right advances time, left rewinds) and push the examine button to use nearby switches, with the goal being to reach the end with your lamp lit. There are yellow flowers that light your lamp, purple flowers that snuff your lamp out, and clouds that act as walls/platforms but disappear if you get near them with the lamp lit. There are even blocks you can set your lamp down, and as you move left/right, they'll jump along a set path, which is how to get your lamp past certain points you couldn't otherwise bring it (like across a cloud bridge). This is a decent foundation for a puzzle game.

Problem is that most, if not every, level has some unique gimmick that you need to understand before you can beat the level. Sometimes it's as simple as "using a switch lets you move a platform up/down," other times it's annoying, like "which of these blocks will jump towards the yellow flower when you rewind time?" But the worst are the ones that rely on arbitrary Adventure Game logic, notably the (semi?)-final level: lightning strikes certain stuff, but not the wall you need to get around to progress, so what you have to do is stand still when lighting is striking near the wall, at which point you can watch the bolt slowly gravitate to the wall and destroy it. There's nothing in the game that'd hint to this being right, nor does the player have any prior experience with this mechanic at all; the only way to discover what you have to do in-game is to stumble across it by luck or trial and error.

Not recommended.


GAMES THAT DON’T DESERVE THEIR OWN SPOILER (EVEN MORESO THAN CARRION AND THE GARDENS BETWEEN):
Xeno Crisis: Top-down shooter, but it ended up being procedurally generated. It also has limited continues, so I never made it past stage 3 with the sandworms.

Double Kick Heroes: Rhythm game where you have one track, but you switch between pushing LB/RB depending on where the enemies are coming at you from. There’s also a second track where you push A to throw a grenade, but it’s placed above the shoulder-buttons track instead of below like the face button is. Problem is they’re just a crowded mess and you’ll need to be looking at the rhythm track; it should’ve been like Game & Watch where each gun has its own track (maybe with a center track that both guns could hit). Also, it has a huge difficulty spike; I gave up on 3-1.

Gris: Platformer in-name-only; more of an Adventure Game/walking sim. Mostly just wandering across empty landscapes with the occasional “push this button to progress” roadblocks. The platforms that alternated between ordinary block and slope were kinda neat (as opposed to being a regular disappearing block); I haven’t seen that done before. The only actiony part (where you’re chased by the eel) is actually just a glorified cutscene; you don’t have to push any buttons, so you can get the same experience watching a no commentary playthrough. I gave up when I spent my stars to get the red singing power, only to be blocked by another incomplete constellation 20 seconds later, meaning I’d have to backtrack through the two split paths I just slogged through.

ScourgeBringer: Roguelike plaformer, but jumping has no momentum, so it got right what so many other games here got wrong. Main difference I noticed between my first runs and the “finished” version: a couple new enemies, level 1 mini-boss is now immune to your ranged attacks, and I think the proper stage 1 boss has less defense, maybe? There’s permadeath, so I never made it past level 2.

Wizard of Legend: Top-down roguelike. The only level design I noticed is that there are holes you have to dash over; otherwise, it’s an invisible wall. I only did one run, so maybe the other areas have different stuff.

Ape Out: More procedural generation, but you can continue from the level you died, so I actually beat this one. It’s pretty monotonous since it’s just stealth avoiding enemies with realistic guns, but there’s the occasional stage gimmick, like the power going out or bombs being dropped from above. If a bomb enemy throws a bomb at you, it’ll end up under your player character where you can’t see it.

Bridge Constructor Portal: Decent on paper (three types of material you can use, variety level design changes instead of gimmicks), but the problem is that it’s physics-based. It won’t take long to figure out what you need to do at all, but it’ll take a while making small changes to your setup so the physics agree with you. The best level was the “impossible” one because I had to spend more time figuring out how everything could work together for me to solve the puzzle as opposed to making small tweaks because a change early on resulted in the later part getting screwed up somehow.

Bad North: Jotunn Edition: RTS. Most of the early challenge is just figuring out which of the three unit types are effective when. Regular giants take a bit to die, so you want to hide in a corner with your spearmen in front. In contrast, bow giants are gonna hurt you no matter what you do. The level labeled as your “last stand” just spams all the enemy types at you; the rest of the game really doesn’t prepare you for it. Loading screen hint said I could retreat if things got too hard, but all that did was save and make me replay the level without any houses, meaning I couldn’t heal my units. Gave up then.

Undermine: I was so excited when I first saw the trailer for this game because I thought top down level design was coming back, and then I saw it was a roguelike. sad Mechanics are fine, movement, short range attack, and boomerang attack are responsive, but you still start at the beginning each time you die. When you reach the last floor of an area, you can choose whether to fight its boss or go to another area; I tried fighting a boss once, and it’s definitely something that could be improved with checkpoints. Furthest I made it was the third area where the cloak enemy kept summoning skeletons and teleporting away so I couldn’t hit it.

West of Dead: Another permadeath roguelike. You can shoot enemies, but you have to wait for your guns to reload. Also, ranged enemies have more realistically fast bullets. I quit when I made it to the area with exploding dogs (I think it was the third one) and I ended up clipping below the floor because the explosion happened as I was climbing down a ladder.

Munchkin: Quacked Quest: Thought this was a top down action dungeon crawler, but it’s actually a multiplayer party game. I only did one run, but still experienced a lot of repeated rooms and repeated objectives; the game keeps making you do random ones until time is up, at which point you’re sent to the randomly selected boss. When the boss dies, players get rewards for random stuff like at the end of Mario Party, and the one with the highest level wins. The only progression is unlocking more effects that could be randomly applied to a run.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice: I knew it had hidden object elements going in, but I was hoping its hack ‘n’ slash elements would at least be as developed as Drake Hollow. Instead, it’s about as developed as Assassin’s Creed II’s combat: keep tapping that attack button until you win. If you’re about to get hit, push the dodge button and go back to attacking. If the enemy has a shield, hit the B button to do a “melee attack” (really a shield break), then go back to attacking. Even after you get the tree sword and make it to the dead body river, combat is the same for every enemy. The only notable exception is the illusion boss who has a two hit combo: you dodge the first one and immediately get hit by the second one when your dodge finishes. You don’t even die from combat since you just get knocked down for a few seconds; instead, you die from random stuff like wood falling on you out of nowhere during the second fire segment.

Heave Ho: Physics game. I thought I might like it because of its platformer elements, but your height is based on weird physics rules. I gave up on the jungle level that makes you jump from a vine between spikes and over a small hump with its own spike; I just couldn’t get the physics to agree with me. Oh, and the dark levels suck, too.

Gonner 2: Another roguelike. I wish these were properly labeled on the Microsoft Store and Xbox app (what you need for Game Pass on PC). Also, you can run out of ammo in this game, and the only way to replenish is to find a flower, so I was out of ammo for a while in the underwater levels. I beat the octopus and the bird (on separate runs), but you have to beat three bosses in a row to access the next area. Also, the floor and walls pop in as you get close, like that one part in Super Mario Galaxy, but the propeller level has pitfalls, so it can be hard to tell if jumping towards the abyss results in a wall you can climb or your death (and doing a fake-out jump will just have you land on and damage that nearby exploding can).

P.S. Normally I double-check my posts, but given my absence, I figured I should go ahead and submit this first draft before I’m kicked due to inactivity. If you have a question, go ahead and ask.

I know I don’t like roguelikes given my past experience with them, but I figured I’d give Enter the Gungeon a shot since I tend to like SHMUPs (and because it was free on Epic). It starts off fine for the first couple levels (maybe a bit too easy), but when you get to level 3 and the challenge picks up, that’s when the problems start getting more apparent. While it won’t have enemies spawn right by you that jump into you quickly like Binding of Isaac does, it has rooms take up more than just one screen, and when you aim with the right stick, the camera pans to put you on the opposite end of the screen. On top of this, rooms usually have multiple waves of enemies, with the next wave spawning before the first wave is completely dealt with; between this and the camera, it’s very easy for an enemy (or multiple enemies) to end up behind you and hit you before you can react. The level 4 boss (or one of the possibilities for level 4’s boss) is a wall that slowly moves towards you and shoots 4 walls of bullets that you can only just barely dodge past, but it also shoots bullets in a shockwave pattern desynced from the wall, so sometimes the bullet wave comes right before the wall of bullets, making it just far enough that you can’t dodge past without getting hit. Then level 5 manages to get worse by having a dark tileset and also dark enemies that charge at you so you won’t even see them at first. This level was where I first died, and when I chose another character and realized I was sent back to the beginning, I realized I wouldn’t like this game either, so I gave up and decided to beat all the A Hat In Time user levels that were featured except Onsted Parc Island (requires multiplayer), and Snow City (no objective).

A Hat in Time (featured user levels)

28.7 hours total, 17.1 hours just on custom levels, 17 of 46 achievements

Click to expand


This one's already at a disadvantage because Delphino Airstrip was the least substantial part of Super Mario Sunshine, acting as little more than a tutorial. There are two goals: the first is to collect 100 pons, except it turns out there are only 99 in the level, and one of them can't be collected (it's in midair next to others that you'd get launched through, but it's misplaced so you launch past it). Luckily, if you activate the 8-red-pons objective, you can collect two of them and the goal will appear as normal (but the red pon timer will still count down). As for the red pon mission itself, it's not *too* bad, but the game puts dotted lines connecting one to the next one (not one to all the others), and if you try to get them all "in order," you'll end up wasting time and going in a circle; after I ran out of time and died, I realized I had to break off the path after the third one, collect the eighth and seventh ones, then jump back to the fourth one to get them all in time.

VERDICT: Not if you already have Sunshine (and even if you don't, eh).



This one has a bunch of different tasks you need to complete before the goal appears. Most of them are just fetch-quests (find missing owl, hit button on windmill, bring 5 pumpkins to the pumpkin patch), but there are a couple noteworthy parts. One task has you get a ball from a yard while avoiding the view-cones (and if you don't approach the yard from the right side, you'd miss the NPC who tells you that those owls have view-cones when all the other owls are harmless). However, this has one major difference from the stealth segments in the base game: the mud puddles from 1-3 are reused (falling in one stalls you, giving the enemies more time to spot you)! This is a great example of how clever re-use of gimmicks can create new challenges, and it's something the base game could've used more of, even though that whole segment only lasts a few seconds. Unfortunately, the custom boss is a negative point. I appreciate that it is an actual custom boss instead of just a rehash of one of the base game's bosses, but the meteors fall WAAY to fast for you to dodge them, and the shockwaves come out of the boss seemingly without warning, so if you're standing next to the boss to attack it, you'll likely get hit before you can see it coming. I had to equip the laser badge and stand back, but I still got hit by a meteor before finally killing it.

VERDICT: eh



This one's split between two missions. The first is mostly a stealth mission, but it stops around halfway through to make you throw apples at ice. I don't think that segment is supposed to be that difficult, but the Dweller bell begins retracting well before the timer starts to run out, meaning you barely have enough time to make it there and back. The cut-scene at the end of the first mission also takes too long IMO; it could easily be cut in half and still convey the same info. The second mission begins with you needing to shoot a laser at a chain, and it's the only time in the whole mod you need to use the laser badge. The next room has a viewcone pointed at the switch you need to hit, and after wandering around a bit trying to figure out what to do, I equipped and used the main hat, which pointed at a platform I didn't even see before due to the low lighting. Afterward is a larger room with more switches on the walls and viewcone enemies below, and it's not too bad except when the camera suddenly zooms forward and you can't see anything and get caught because of it (though that's a base game issue). The level gets better after this, having you jump past lasers (though it's way trickier if you don't know you can kill your momentum during a dash by pushing back on the control stick), and even forcing a 2D perspective later on so you can see the jumps better (though sometimes it needs to rotate the camera and it's possible to jump past the trigger, which I did the first time I made it there). However, there are a couple parts where you need to jump through vents, and the first one forces a 2D perspective, making it look like you just need to go up and right even though you need to up and *forward*, then right (and I swear I tried going forward a couple times before it finally went). I even got stuck for a bit in my wall-sliding animation since I couldn't land on the upper floor nor fall back down:


After all that, you need to talk to the NPC by the door three times in a row to get through, and not long after is a chase segment. Just like the level in the base game, the enemies follow your exact movements, only touching them results in an instant death instead of simply taking damage. Honestly, the segment isn't too hard except for one part around 2/3rds through where you have to jump on top of an air duct because the camera almost always messes up right there. Every time I died on that segment (or almost every time), it was right there, and when I finally got past that one part, I made it past the rest of it just fine. Given the atmosphere change, you'd think the level is almost over, but there's actually another 15 minutes or so of platforming before the end, even including some more apple-to-ice segments; it's not too bad except the level reuses the platforms on metal frames, resulting in more sudden camera zooms when you're just trying to reorient yourself.

VERDICT: sure



It's funny how The Cunductor's Village tried to maintain the scarcity of Rift Coins by making them cost 1000 pons, then this level goes and puts four of them right at the beginning of at least two of its missions. At one point, I used the default hat, and it pointed to a door that was always locked in every mission, so I guess it falls to the modder to make sure that works. Honestly, despite containing six missions, most of it isn't that memorable; there's some basic platforming for the first mission, a timed objective followed by a switch hunt for the second, then the third has dark lighting which can make it hard to see grapple points. The fourth is a lava level and has some tricky jumps, but at one point it summons chasing hazards suddenly; you're supposed to avoid them for 20 seconds, but if you fall off you get sent back to an earlier part (where the previous checkpoint was) and can run the timer out there where it's easier to avoid running into them. The fifth mission is a stealth one, but it starts with some platforms over a normal looking floor, except falling on the floor triggers a fail-state and sends you back to the last checkpoint. Mission 6 also has stealth segments with some floors that are safe and other floors that are actually the same floor just on the other side of the gate be fail-state floor. However, the standout part of this level is the boss. It starts off like the final boss in the main game where you have to attack it to start the battle, but when I did a homing attack on my first try, it triggered around 5 different hits, so the message box appeared 5 times in a row. To make things worse, a vertical attack beam summons as soon as the message box goes away, and you have little time to react even when your movement isn't interrupted by more text boxes. The actual battle then begins: it's a large arena filled with a bunch of cubes you need to jump on to make your way to where the boss teleported (it teleports to a new location after each hit). Thing is, you're constantly being shot at by homing missiles, and you won't always have the camera pointed at them since the boss or next-higher platform is in a different direction, so it isn't uncommon to get hit by a missile that snuck up behind you. To make matters worse, sometimes the boss will have one platform you need to stand on to attack it, but as soon as you land on this platform, another vertical laser gets summoned that covers the entire platform, so you have to jump away quickly to avoid it, giving you no time to attack the boss unless you come from above and use the homing attack. Also, just like the base game's bosses, this one takes way too many hits to die.

Oh, and when I finally did beat the boss, I got stuck in the ground after getting the goal, so I didn't get to see the epilogue (at least it still counted as me beating the level).

VERDICT: no



After the last mod, I decided to stop trying to be picky and just play all the mods in the order they were listed. As advertised, this one copies the first part of the Super Mario Galaxy galaxy of the same name, though it has a unique Dweller apple segment, which has its own goal. The path to the boss is more reminiscent of something that'd be in Super Mario Galaxy, and as such, can be sequence broken with the double-jump-dash combo that the base game makes you do in 1-1. The boss itself is a bit finicky since you need to use the base game's finicky homing attack; sometimes it'd work, sometimes I'd hit the boss and bounce off. There's a third goal for collecting five vault tickets, and if you get some while doing the other two objectives, they stay collected, which is nice. The final mission is to collect 100 blue pons; while it is timed, there's quite a bit more than 100, so if you miss a couple, you don't need to worry about going back and getting them (though I did and still beat the mission without running out of time).

VERDICT: sure



Either this mod malfunctioned or it doesn't have any music. The rest of the mod worked fine. It has some unique ideas to separate it from its inspiration, but this also results in some trial and error, like when one NPC's throw arc actually goes *over* the wall instead of towards it, so you need to jump to the island manually, hit the button to raise the wall (which only lasts a few seconds), *then* trigger the NPC's throw. EDIT: Also, this level can take a while to load for some reason.

VERDICT: not really



This level is a meme. The first goal is literally just to walk in the restaurant, talk to the cashier, and order some food (which doesn't even cost pons). The second goal (the one you're actually told about) is to collect 100 pons, but unlike in the Delfino Airstrip mod, there's actually enough this time (maybe even one or two extra). No enemies, though; not even risk of fall damage. When I got the collectible for the second mission, the game crashed, and every time I started the game, it told me that a crash happened "recently." I had to go into the source files and delete the crash dump to stop the message from appearing.

VERDICT: why do so many of these mods lack any kind of challenge?



The description warns that the level takes a while to load, but it neglects to mention that most of that time has the loading bar stuck at, like, 20% (though that's probably not the mod's fault). Most of the microgames are really easy (easier than the original WarioWare, on par with WarioWare Touched), but the ones that co-opt Time Rift segments force a 2D perspective when one isn't warranted, making it unnecessarily difficult to judge depth or see a small gap between two platforms near the edge of the screen. Plus, the description for the "appreciate fine art" microgame goes by too fast to read it (for me, at least), and when I inevitably took damage, the camera ended up zoomed in too far during the transition segment, then it displayed the same objective, but moved on to the next microgame anyway. I'm a little disappointed that the "boss" segment was just a heavily dumbed-down, turn-based retelling of the world 3 boss; it isn't even timed like Dungeon Dilemma.

VERDICT: eh



This one has a neat concept, and the tutorial does a great job of teaching you how to perform the exploit. However, the level never really does anything with it beyond what you see in said tutorial. There's, like, one slope that has some buzz-saws you need to weave around, but that's it.

VERDICT: disappointed



This is a tower defense with six waves and no way to see the HP of the tower you're defending. The first wave is just you and the enemies, then you unlock destructible barricades; you can only put one up between each wave. After the second wave, you unlock cannons you can activate for a set period of time, and then the level just continues with each wave spawning more higher-HP-enemies. If any do reach what you're supposed to be defending, you can attack them, at which point they'll turn around and try attacking you, so the level really isn't that hard; just kinda repetitive. After all six waves, you see the ending, but the goal doesn't show up. The only thing you can interact with is one of the cannons (which is pointless since there are no more enemy waves), so I had to pause and exit the level manually.

VERDICT: nah



This is one where you have to collect enough yellow pons to open the gate to the next segment of the level. The later segments take place in outer space, where you jump higher and slower (but forward movement is unaffected). This one can actually get a little tricky, especially near the end where it can be hard to see where you can jump up to when you're on the lower platform, though it doesn't matter all that much since falling off just takes one point off your health and puts you back at the start of the segment.

VERDICT: sure



This one has a pretty ambitious opening, featuring an en medias res cut-scene and a theme song to go along with the opening credits, but then you start playing and it's just a basic stealth level. The path splits, and you need to go down both paths to get two keys. The right path has very narrow halls, so you need to wait in small nooks for the guards to go by. The left path doesn't make you wait; it just has you find an examinable object to cause a distraction so the guard isn't looking at the key anymore. Once you get both keys, you have to answer some trivia (the answers of which you can find scattered in the previous rooms), but even if you get one wrong, you can just try again and brute-force it since you only have two-to-three choices per question and aren't penalized for getting one wrong. After this, the level has another split path, one of which is another switch-hunt distraction except easier because there are less guards. The other path is a small maze where the guards don't move, so you just need to work your way around them (it also has a bit of verticality, which naturally means the camera buckles under the sheer complexity of basic 3D). Once you hit each switch at the end of both paths, you open the gate to the next segment: a platforming segment with the same stylization as the opening. Unfortunately, the stilyzation results in both the top and sides of platforms having the exact same white texture, and with most platforms being as close as they are, it can literally be impossible to tell where one platform ends and another begins unless you're either *very* close to the edge or you move the camera around. Worse, the spinning platforms rotate much faster than normal, making it difficult to time your jumps onto them (especially when you *also* have to time your jump from a hookshot swing). After another cut-scene and a slow-mo segment that lasts too long, you reach the boss, except it's literally just a reskin of one of the base-game's bosses. If there's any difference at all, the boss *might* be faster since I found its homing-ground-pound attacks impossible to avoid (though the game spawns enough heart pons that you'll still win on your first try).

VERDICT: not really



This is another "collect yellow pons to open the gate" level, but this one has present boxes for platforms. It also tries to use the exact same model for decorative purposes, but puts them too close to the real platforms.

Let me know if this gif does not load
Beyond that intro segment, each segment of the level is based on a world from the base game: the first one after the intro is based on world 1: there's a mafia that'll throw stuff at you and you use umbrellas to bounce up to higher platforms. The next is based on world 2, but the lighting makes it next to impossible to see the viewcones (which is doubly annoying since the game combines guard owls with regular NPC owls). Another segment has the aesthetics of world 3 and requires using the Dweller Mask, though with all the branching paths, it can be hard to know which leads to a yellow pon and which leads to the gate. There's also a segment based on the city parts of world 2, though I don't remember that part too well.

VERDICT: eh



This one impressed me because unlike all the other mods that reused bosses from the base game wholesale, this one added a gimmick to keep things interesting: you can't hurt the boss normally. Instead, you have to throw an apple to create a Dweller force-field, and you can hurt the boss as long as it is in the force field. The apples also produce a harmful shockwave when thrown, so there's another little thing to watch out for. Unfortunately, the boss is a bit buggy as sometimes it'll be invulnerable while still being inside a force field, and just like its base game counterpart, it takes too many hits to die.

VERDICT: eh



Another yellow pon level. The first two segments just have you avoiding viewcones like normal, but on the third one, you have to deal with the world 2 boss again. At first, I thought I just had to avoid its attacks and collect the pons like normal (which was a neat idea), but on top of its homing-ground-pound attack being nearly impossible to avoid if you don't have the camera facing towards the boss, there aren't even enough pons in the level to open the gate; you *have* to fight the boss to get enough pons, and that made the idea considerably less neat (at least the boss goes away after only a few hits). The next segment is the same deal: fight off the boss, *then* explore the area for the rest of the yellow pons. The fifth segment actually changes things up a bit by combining the world 2 boss with an invulnerable world 3 boss, and it's done in a way that actually works and is fun. Unfortunately, the next segment is ONLY the world 2 boss; the only difference is that the arena is on a train roof, so the platforms are thin. The pattern doesn't get to its more complex stuff, so it's still just kinda repetitive. The final segment recycles the final boss's pattern, only now you have to use balloons to get enough height to use the homing attack. Like the other bosses in this level, its health is far reduced from normal, though its still mostly just a recycled boss.

VERDICT: eh



This one automatically reduces the resolution, and there's an optional "hard" mode togglable at the beginning that causes the game to phase into a massively lower resolution for a second or two before going back to the default lower resolution. I did not play with that mode enabled. That aside, I wanted to like this level because it tries to have challenge while most other mods don't, but of course it has some issues. Notably, some platforms wouldn't display the player's drop shadow, and it seemed random which ones would and which wouldn't. Also, near the beginning, there are some spinning platforms, and the next place you need to jump is much higher than a double-jump from the wall would get you. Turns out, there's a specific maneuver (possibly another exploit) you need to do here: jump on the cylinder like normal, run up the wall like normal, then double jump to get as much height as you can, then dash. Normally, a dash would have you bonk against the other wall, fall, and die, but if you push the jump button, you'll flip out of your dash without killing your momentum while also triggering another run-up-the-wall move. You're never told how to do this move (I had to look up a video) and you only have to do it twice in the whole level (the second is a jump from a hookshot swing, making it much harder to be precise). The level *does* tell you how to do the painting-double-jump and how to jump further on platforms connected to a rotating gear, so it easily could've had one for the earlier maneuver. It's also possible to clip into said rotating gears and get stuck. The final segment is just some basic platforming, but the closer you get to the end, the lower the resolution becomes; I had to rotate the camera so I could see where one platform ended and the next began.

VERDICT: eh



Unlike the Mario-Galaxy-based mod, this one has exactly 50 blue pons, and you have to collect them all. There's no time limit, though, and not much in the way of tricky platforming, even though the trains will mess with your momentum. If you make it to the end and find out you missed some, you can look back and jump down without worrying about redoing your steps since there's a manhole at the beginning that teleports you to the end.

VERDICT: eh



Unlike the previous level, this one puts harmful signposts in front of the train, so you need to jump around them while riding to your destination. Thing is, they're so close to each other that there's no way to jump between them without taking damage. After quite a few deaths, it finally occured to me that I had to use the Time Stop hat, even though neither the description nor the level itself told me it'd be required (and I only had enough to stitch the hat because previous mod levels had yarn as collectibles). Thing is, even with the Time Stop hat (which just slows time down for a couple seconds, not stop time), some sings are too tall or wide to jump past, and I only discovered by accident that you have to go *under* some signs, even though--once again--the game doesn't render their drop shadows. Something the modder definitely had control over were the harmful flower beds; they don't look harmful, and you'd only know beforehand if you spoke to an NPC off to the right side of the area (I had the camera facing left because that's how you approach that part of the level).

VERDICT: no



This level is way better about keeping the harmful signposts flush with the train and also using different colors to indicate height better (or maybe I just did better because, in the last level, I eventually realized I had to zoom the camera in so I could better see the height differences). It's still tough to see if it's a sign you need to duck under, though. After the signs, rocks will fall from the ceiling indicated by red cylinders, but the roof of the train is also red, so it can be hard to see where exactly they'll land. Then the falling rocks will be indicated by yellow columns, and this is your only warning that these rocks will create a harmful shockwave upon landing. The level has a boss, but it has to have been copied wholesale from the DLC because if it wasn't, the modder would've fixed the fact that you can avoid the boss's homing missiles just by standing still. You can also avoid the waves of regular missiles by standing between them. After that is a room with springs that bounce you to the next platform, a weirdly empty room with conveyor belts that don't push you, and finally ending with a room containing only two regular enemies; beat them and hit the switch in the next room, and the goal will spawn.

VERDICT: eh



Maybe it's just because the last two levels weren't designed that great, but this level blew me away with how well implemented the trains and harmful signposts were. Not only are they all flush with the train (so you never have to duck under one except the very first one which is above regular ground and *not* a train), but it mixes it up by having lava-falls, regular enemies, and even a Dweller apple segment at the end. I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is the kind of level design the base game was sorely lacking, only unlike The Conductor's Village, this has the benefit of maintaining that level of quality throughout the level. Only two things I can complain about are 1) the enemies falling on the train can be a bit hard to tell where exactly they'll land, and 2) that same train segment ends in a hookshot grapple point that I didn't see because I had the camera zoomed in to look for any elevation discrepancies like the previous two levels had.

VERDICT: Yes; this is the best one.



After the opening, the level forces you on the scooter and disables hat-switching. The objective is to outpace a train so your NPC companion can kill all the mafia on top of it (who are throwing cans at you). It's a little unintuitive since the train outpaces you by default (yes, even on the scooter), so you need to hit certain springboards to launch you forward, but one springboard launches you into a nook beside a building, killing your momentum. Late into the level, it has a thin road with three NPCs shooting rockets, but it also has harmful flowers falling between the rockets (where the only safe spaces are), and when they fall isn't synced to when you get there, so it can be hard to react to them.

VERDICT: eh



This level claims to be inspired by Celeste, but in execution, it's closer to The King's Bird. One of the first thing's you'll notice is that your drop shadow won't appear over the jellyfish (springboard model-swaps), but after a checkpoint or two, the level starts making you do maneuvers to keep your momentum while doing jumps. Plus, *because* you need to maintain momentum, you can't stop yourself to make more accurate jumps; you just have to go forward and hope the game's lack of accurate depth perception doesn't fail you. For example, you'll reach the top of a slope with a jellyfish at the bottom, and you have to dash and fall on the slope to gain speed so when you hit the jellyfish, you have enough momentum to make it across the large gap to the next platform. Thing is, right before the checkpoint, you have to do a momentum jump that's *so* precise, I ended up hitting the platform with the lower-half of my player model nearly every time, but the platform has ledge-grabbing disabled, so I'd always fall down and die. After several attempts, I was willing to give up; I just needed proof that the jump was impossible, so I started recording...


...and I made it. Awesome, I can play the rest of the level, now!

And no, I don't know what I did differently.

Not long after that, you reach the 1/3rd point in the level which has a little house you can enter. In fact, you *have* to enter it so you can read how to do the exploit the rest of the level is built around: sprint-double-jumps. Its such a frame-perfect exploit, the game goes out of its way to tell you to go to the options and decrease the frame-rate to its lowest point (30 fps) just so you can do the exploit semi-reliably. Just make sure you examine the computer on the wall and not the TV in the corner, or else the level will waste your time with an unskippable, irrelevant poop non-joke. Honestly, I could look past the exploit being a little unreliable if the level were better designed, but even the second-third of the level has you make sprint-double-jumps towards a wall, then run-up and jump to a platform higher than what the camera would let you jump to accurately. The worst part is the last checkpoint in the final third: not only do you have to do a sprint-double-jump followed by a momentum-maintaining jump from a jellyfish (all while dealing with the game's bad depth perception), but you have to make the jump from a rotating gear on its side (which, again, you can clip into and get stuck), and the platform at the end will fall down after a second. It doesn't help that just holding the dash button triggers a second dash when you land, one that the platform isn't large enough to keep you on. Luckily, this level has an exploit it doesn't tell you about: after the first third, you stop taking damage. This was likely done so falling wouldn't stall you, but if you have to make a jump over a floor covered in urchins, you can just jump on the urchins without taking damage and use that time to catch your breath and reorient the camera. At least the jump right before the goal is a normal one (I still did a sprint-double-jump just to be safe, luckily pulling it off, though when I dashed, I ended up on top of the platform). I swear I spent at least an hour on this level alone.

Making a level that's supposed to be hard is one thing, but when half the difficulty comes from flaws with the game itself, even people who like challenge won't find it fun.

VERDICT: No



As much as I dislike the previous level, this one might be worse. The gimmick isn't hard to wrap your head around, but absolutely *nothing* you can stand on will display your drop shadow. Plus, they're very thin, their hit-box doesn't match the model (you could be standing on air slightly above it or standing inside it), and when you combine all of this with the fact that some of them *rotate,* you can see why a 30-second segment will take several minutes to make it past. I almost gave up before the first checkpoint. The second segment turns the level's own gimmick on its head by having Dweller platforms' effects reversed with each other, whereas hazards only have their effects swapped with ordinary platforms. The third segment manages to be even worse than the first one: not only do you have to ride across a gap and jump through safe spots quickly lest you be left behind and fall, but if you *do* fall, you have to stand there and wait for your ride to come back (a ride which not only won't display your drop shadow, but also instantly reverses movement without stopping and does so quite a distance from the checkpoint, so you need to jump across a gap towards it, a jump you'll have trouble making due to the game's bad depth perception). The final segment manages to be better by comparison: while some of what you can stand on have razor-thin hit-boxes, you can see your drop-shadow on the harmful block below it.

VERDICT: no



This level starts by forcing a 2D perspective *and* forces movement to be 2D as well. Plus, since the camera moves with you (rather than being locked into place like in ConductorWare), you can still make jumps just fine. Not long into the level, you get some unique powers: a badge that lets you climb a wall by holding X (no stamina, unlike Celeste) and a hat that gives you an extra, aim-able dash. There are also 20 optional collectibles you can find by going down subtle split paths, though I wish the level were better about communicating which paths lead to the optional collectibles because I ended up climbing over the level thinking there'd be one there for sure, but that ended up being the way I was supposed to go and I couldn't go back. Plus, the game went back to a 3D camera without indicating it, so when I tried jumping forward, I ended up going in front of the diamond (balloon model swap that restores your aimable dash) and falling. Beyond that, there aren't too many problems. There's even a positive detail since the level has a custom death animation where hazards ignores your HP and send you back to the checkpoint faster than the default one.

VERDICT: sure



This one has you go through four segments that are hand-crafted, but are in a random order and pulled from a set of way more than just four segments. The ones I played were okay, but 1-2 deserves special mention since it managed to have walls that *don't* cause the camera to zoom in when bumped into! They still obscure your vision, but the base game sorely needed some of these (especially since the camera will zoom in if it gets behind one of the horns on the houses in world 4). Unfortunately, 7-1 has a cheap shot: you have to use a spring to bounce to a distant platform, but it doesn't send you far enough to land on it, so you have to jump at the side so you automatically run up and grab the ledge. That's fine, but the level has one of those invisible cat enemies on the platform, and it happened to be placed right were I was running up, so I immediately got knocked down and sent back to the checkpoint. There's a "hard" mode where you have to play through all of the segments in a time limit, but after experiencing that one cheap hit, I decided not to do that.

VERDICT: eh



This just has you running around world 1 collecting candy-corn (blue pon model swaps). There are a few new areas, like a nightclub and a crow hideout with some basic stealth segments, but I didn't see much that was that interesting.

VERDICT: nah



This one's based around using the laser badge and brewing hat. It starts simple enough, but slowly gets more complex. There's one part where guards are walking back and forth, and you have to time your laser to hit a switch, except hitting the switch seemingly did nothing; I had to go to the other side of the platform and shoot the Dweller bell. There's one part where you have to shoot a laser at a switch I didn't see the first time to get a platform to stop spinning way too fast, but what the game doesn't tell you is that the switch toggles *two* spinning platforms, so when you jump forward, you need to turn around and use the brewing hat to hit the switch again. There's also a part with platforms that disappear quickly, and at the end is a switch on a small platform, but it triggers a platform to come down, so if you do a regular attack, you'll get knocked into the abyss (though the switch will stay triggered). Still, it mostly has good ideas.

VERDICT: sure



This level automatically saves your progress after each room, but sometimes it'll hang on a black screen between rooms. If this happens, you can pause and unpause the game and it'll load the next room just fine. The first room is a tutorial of sorts; there'll be ice spikes blocking you, so you hit a switch that drops a red cube down; throw the cube at the ice and they'll both disappear. Then you'll encounter some flames; hit the switch to drop a blue cube, throw it at a flame and they'll both disappear.

The second room picks things up a bit by having you throw a blue cube onto moving platforms with flames on them. You don't need to hit the last one since you can just jump to the ground at the end from the third platform, then hit the switch that opens the path forward, but since the third platform won't display your drop shadow, it can be hard to jump back on it accurately (though if you fall, you'll be sent back to the beginning with one less health and the path forward still open, so it's not that big a deal).

The third room practically drops the fire/ice gimmick entirely and just becomes a switch riddle; wander around the room until you see markings on the wall that indicate which switches you have to hold down with the black cubes since that's all they're good for. At one point, the switches will open a door, but it's a door inside the bottomless pit! Needless to say, finding out that's what happened took me a while, though the whole room is very subtle about where things show up.

The fourth room introduces robo-mafia; they act the same as regular mafia except sometimes instead of their main punch attack, they'll do a second attack where they glow and summon three vertical lasers. Whenever I attacked them, I took damage, so I assumed they were invincible and moved on. I reached a switch in their room by doing the Shiny Slushie Falls maneuver, but that opened the way forward. Did I sequence-break the room? Is there really a way to kill those enemies? Eh, I don't care to find out.

The fifth room is just a long drop into water, but you have to do trial and error to find out where its safe to fall without falling onto lava cubes (center of the wall opposite to the start point). Once you make it to the bottom, the lighting becomes so bad you can barely see anything, but you still need to find where the exit path is before you drown.

The sixth room has platforms that won't move unless you hold their switch down with a cube. The way forward is blocked by ice, so you need to hookshot to where the red-cube-switch is, then bring the cube up a staircase where more robo-mafia are. Okay, there has to be a way to kill them. After a bit of experimenting, I found that if you get just out of their range and use the brewing hat to throw bombs at them, they'll take damage without you also taking damage. Then you can bring the red cube up the staircase safely and not be able to see down unless you go into the options and disable Top-Down Camera. Then you can jump on the platform and still take fall damage, so there's effectively no difference between landing on the platform and falling into the pit since you keep your cube and take damage regardless. Then, you can finally switch the red cube out for the blue one and open the path forward. Also, I think the moving platforms are slightly desynced, so I don't know if the jump between them while carrying a cube can be done reliably.

The seventh room starts with a hall that has stalactites falling down, so you need to watch the ground to see their shadows. Then, it proceeds to make you fight a group of robo-mafia, except now, using the brewing hat sometimes still causes you to take counter-damage. It was here I finally figured out what's up with them: when they glow, they can't be attacked without you also taking counter-damage, but you need to be close to attack them, and when you get close, they'll trigger their attack animation, and one of those animations causes them to glow, thus causing you counter-damage. The only way I got past that part was by immediately running back into the stalactite hall when they spawned so that most would get stuck on the wall and I could pick them off one by one. After that, you can bring a red cube to the ice wall blocking your path and reach the exit.

The eighth room is nothing except the entrance and the goal, so if you want to replay the level, you won't be able to. The description says there are only six rooms, so I guess this one and the tutorial don't count.

VERDICT: no



This one has that gimmick where certain blocks toggle between transparent and solid to the beat of the music. It also combines this with the viewcones, resulting in some tough but fair challenges (though I did find myself doing the Shiny Slushie Falls maneuver to avoid falling into a couple pits). I did think it was unintuitive that the pink shockwave acts as a springboard, but the level is designed so that you'll almost certainly hit it and figure it out yourself. Not so well-designed is when the level puts viewcones above where pink shockwaves spawn (above where the camera will see them), so you bounce up and suddenly get caught. Some of the rooms are also a bit cramped, which results in more camera zoom issues. There are also some switches you need to hit to disable certain viewcones, and they can be easily missed given the action-oriented nature of the rest of the level.

VERDICT: sure



I initially skipped this one because it went out of its way to say it requires the DLC, but as I was writing this post, I realized there were a bunch of levels that were tagged as requiring the DLC, but I played them just fine, so I decided to go for it. This one probably would have been better for introducing the train/signpost hazard since it starts off pretty easy, just having regular blocks you need to jump around while keeping up with the trains (and if you're too slow, you can just wait on the platforms for a few seconds and the next pair of trains will show up). It even has parts where the signposts clip into the trains so you know you can't go under them. You also never have to duck under a sign (though you do need to jump around one or two). That said, it does use the same color for a sign you have to go under as a sign you need to jump over, though I was able to react since I already knew to keep the camera zoomed in. The trains also weave around, so part of the challenge is just keeping the camera centered. Weirdly, the level uses the same enemies as in Operation: Re-rail, but you can't damage them here; they just make the squeaky bounce like you attacked a harmless NPC, but they can still hurt you. I guess you just need to avoid their attacks while waiting on the next train (which, again, doesn't take long at all). The last stretch is similar to the beginning, except now you have to use the Dweller mask to get through Dweller platforms while also keeping up with the trains (though again, if you miss them, you can just wait), followed by one more straightforward stretch of dodging signpost hazards. By the way, even though you *can* wait, it's still entirely possible to keep up with the trains for each segment.

VERDICT: sure


Overall, my opinion on the base game hasn’t changed (wait for a sale way better than 50% off). While there are a few good levels here, most of them focus more on writing/atmosphere than game-play, and many of the ones that do try to have some challenge tend to fall victim to the base game’s issues (bad camera, no-or-nearly-invisible drop shadow/bad depth perception, clipping into gears, etc.).

P.S. if you own https://kubikill.github.io/blaeogenerators and you’re reading this, mouse-over text for images in spoilers isn’t working.

  • Kao the Kangaroo: Round 2

    5 hours playtime

    4 of 9 achievements

This is a platformer. Left stick moves, A double-jumps, X does a three-hit combo. On the ground, B does a roll move which I rarely found useful, but pushing it in the air does a ground-pound which is necessary to push certain switches. The Y button will use your limited ranged attack on levels that give you ammo (its reduced to zero after each level).

One of the first things you’ll notice is that the controls are unresponsive. When you land, you can’t jump again until after your landing animation is finished. If you attack on the ground, you can’t move until after your attack animation is finished. Even moving sucks; I lost count of how many times I’d be holding forward, and suddenly see my character’s speed and walking animation slow to a crawl. Turns out, the left stick’s deadzone is too large, and there’s no option to change it (can’t even remap movement to the D-pad on an Xbox 360 controller); this means that if you aren’t holding the stick all the way forward (and sometimes even when you are), you won’t move at top speed, which not only makes basic enemy encounters a chore, but is especially frustrating during timed segments where lava is rising or a bomb is about to destroy the platform you’re on. If you want to turn around, don’t snap the stick straight backward because that’ll take half-a-second to register and another half-second to happen; instead, rotate the stick 180-degrees to get the desired responsiveness. The game has stars you can collect, and every 50 is supposed to give you a new ability (50=float down after double jump, 100=”more efficient” jump attack); when I got 200, it said I could “run as much as you want” and at first I thought “the movement bug was intentional?” but no, it kept happening! I knew games could be unpolished, but this is some next-level neglect.

However, not all of the game’s challenge comes from bad controls; there are some enemy and level design issues as well. One of the earliest levels is a chase scene, but the camera is facing away from where you’re going; combine that with how fast you’re moving, how close you are to the bottom of the screen, and the game’s own graphics having the greenery continue down the wall a bit, and there’s hardly any time to react to incoming jumps. There are spiders which hang from the ceiling and shoot homing shots at you, shots that’d be difficult to dodge even without control issues (and if you’re in a barrel-riding segment with thin halls, there’s literally no room to dodge at all). The only way you have a real chance at avoiding damage is if you lock on and shoot them as soon as they drop down. Yeah, turns out the game had a lock-on button the whole time (R1) except it’s not really a lock-on button; it’s a strafe button, and if your character isn’t facing the enemy in question (or is too far away), you won’t lock-on and will just go into strafe mode. World 2 introduces ice physics: you’re constantly moving forward and can only turn, but the camera doesn’t turn with you to help show where you’re going. You can also only single-jump instead of double-jump, and when you land, you spin out for a second (still moving forward) and can’t do anything until your character gets back up. Late in the first ice level, the ground starts cracking and falling into water (instant death), but the cracks spawn instantly and some are big enough that you can fall into the water even before the platforms start sinking, and if you happen to be walking right where a gap opens up, you just fall and die and can’t do anything about it. You can also get stuck between two sinking platforms, unable to move or jump and just have to wait for them to kill you. There’s also a snowboarding level; the camera faces forward this time, but you have to hit grind-rails to get over some gaps. They widen near the ground, making you think the game is being a bit more generous, but no; you still need to be centered or you’ll just clip through. The game has stalactites that will fall on you, but their shadows can barely be seen in the lava level (if at all), and the shadows won’t spawn in the first place if they’re too close to the edge of a platform. There’s a racing level where you’re in a motorboat; you hold forward to move (none of the face-buttons do anything here), but this isn’t fast enough to get you first place (which you need to beat the level), so you just have to hit every button until you figure out that R1 does a boost move that gives the AI opponents no chance of catching up with you. The underwater levels have controls similar to Super Mario 64’s underwater controls (left stick aims, A moves you forward), but there aren’t any enemies until the manta ray at the end which shoots at you so much that you don’t have much time to reorient yourself to see where the shots are coming from to begin dodging them in time. There’s a level where you’re on a torpedo; if you run into the walls or through poisonous gas, you take damage, but there’s no feedback animation on your character; you’d only notice if you look at the upper-left corner of the screen (where your health is) instead of where you’re going. There’s a level where you ride a bird and are told you can “flap its wings” five times before you have to land. You’d think that means 5 jumps, but after the second, your speed drops dramatically (this is standard and has nothing to do with the aforementioned deadzone); the only way to keep your speed is if you make all five jumps at the beginning, in a row. When you make it in the pirate ship, you’ll encounter boarded-up doors, and punching them does nothing. Turns out, the only way past them is if you use that rolling move which isn’t used anywhere else in the game.

Bosses also have their issues. The first one has certain platforms glow, and you’re supposed to ground pound them, but ground-pounding is used so rarely that I had forgotten about it at this point. The second boss is just a series of enemies that you use your ranged weapon to defeat. The third boss, despite being underwater, has yet another control scheme where you’re auto-moving forward and just aim up/down, and once you shoot all your targets, a turtle comes up from behind you and suddenly jump-cuts you to controlling a torpedo in a winding tunnel. The final boss is the worst since it has a move where it throws a bomb onto the arena that breaks a hole into lava and creates a flame that you need to jump over as it moves across the arena, except the location of the hole doesn’t correlate to the location the bomb lands and the final boss flies low enough that you can hit it and take damage while trying to jump over the flame. Plus, some flames get left behind and they have a larger hit-box than they should. The second phase of the boss has you running past platforms before bombs blow them up, and this is the most difficult due to the aforementioned unresponsive controls suddenly slowing you down for no reason. The third phase has the boss running away from you and taking cover behind destructible objects; not as bad as what the game has done up to now, but the boss will escape if you aren’t fast enough and the game never tells you this (and you start back at phase one if this happens).

Not recommended. Even if it were polished, it focuses too much on stage gimmicks and ends up being kinda bland most of the time, getting most of its challenge from the unresponsive controls. Ironically, I think it could’ve been okay if instead of adding all the gimmicks, they just focused on perfecting the platforming aspect.

Statistics
223 games (+1 not categorized yet)
40% never played
0% unfinished
52% beaten
0% completed
7% won't play