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 Now edited to include a link to my review of its GB version and its postgame!


  • PAC-MAN™ CHAMPIONSHIP EDITION 2

    8 hours playtime

    14 of 18 achievements

This is like the original Pac-Man, but with a few notable changes: 1) the dots only go in a winding line around the maze rather than the maze being completely full of dots (follow it to the left and you’re “less likely” to run into the ghosts), 2) eating all the dots is optional; you just have to eat enough until the now-mandatory fruit appears, 3) Power Pellets can show up instead of the fruit, and likewise, they’re now mandatory as well (along with eating the ghosts afterward). To compensate, the fruit never disappears and the power pellets’ time is greatly extended. Another difference is the addition of green mini-ghosts that won’t hurt you, but will chain to the main ghosts when you get near them, effectively increasing the ghosts’ hitboxes. To compensate, touching the ghosts doesn’t kill you outright; you just bounce off them until they jump out of the maze (letting you get past where they were blocking you) before they fall back down and become harmful for a few seconds (without the mini-ghosts) before reverting back to normal.

The game has an adventure mode, but you have to play the score attack mode enough to unlock it. There are different level sets you can pick from, but they don’t play much different from each other. The main differences are between the difficulties: easy just has one normal ghost; the others are outlines that will never jump out of the maze to become harmful (you can only bounce off of them repeatedly, which can be especially annoying if they happen to be blocking the bounce pad you wanted to use). Regular mode has all four ghosts in their regular forms instead of the outline, which you’d think would let you beat levels faster, but now you have to chase four ghosts during power pellet mode instead of just one, and since their movements are random, you’ll actually end up spending more time trying to corner them (they can even break off from the “ghosts lines” which the game tells you are the only routes they’ll travel). Expert mode has the ghosts jump out of the maze after just one hit, which–again–sounds like it’d just improve the game’s flow instead of make things harder, but not only do extra lives not drop, but all fruits and power pellets appear in a bubble, which runs away from you when you approach it; in other words, you have to try to catch the goal while the ghosts are constantly, unpredictably getting in your way, so there’s actually a good chance you’ll get game over before your time runs out and your score is tallied.

And when you finally unlock adventure mode, you’ll realize it just copies the levels and objectives from score attack, often having the same mazes and objectives across multiple “levels.” There are some minor quality-of-life changes (like how in the “eat X amount of fruit” levels, the dots disappear as soon as the fruit appears so you don’t get distracted by the uneaten dots and run out of time), but it’s clear this mode was an afterthought. Even the difficulty system has problems: as far as I can tell, the only difference between them is the number of lives you have and the amount of time you have, but rather than make it adaptive like so many other games I’ve played (e.g. die too much, lose a star), you have to select it at the beginning. This means that if you pick a lower difficulty but beat it within the higher difficulty’s time limit and life restriction, you still only get the lower difficulty’s star(s). What makes this especially frustrating is that you can never be sure which would be best to pick; the regular levels can be beaten on Pro difficulty just fine, but the ones where you have to eat the four ghosts have such a low time limit on Pro difficulty (combined with the ghosts’ erratic movements on any difficulty) that it’s effectively luck whether or not you win in time.

However, the worst part is that you need to get a certain amount of stars to unlock later levels. At first, this isn’t too bad since the star requirement is equal to just one per level (meaning you could beat all previous levels on Normal difficulty or skip some if you beat others on Hard or Pro), but the final level requires ALL the stars to unlock. This means you have to beat all the levels (that already recycle content from score attack and each other) under a time limit that effectively makes many of them luck-based, just to unlock one more level which almost certainly also reuses mazes from score attack. That’s where I draw the line. Even if I really enjoyed the rest of the game, nothing ruins the experience like being forced to redo levels you’ve beaten and do them “better” just for basic progression, whether it’s something like this or whether it’s like those old late-80s/early-90s games that don’t have unlimited continues.

Overall, I don’t think I can recommend this one. The score attack mode is okay, I guess, but it’s not really my kinda thing, and adventure mode is just chock full of recycled content and unfair time limits, not to mention the sudden spike in required stars at the end. If you already have it or can get it for free, maybe give it a try, but don’t buy it.

Welp, Planet of the Eyes just ended up being another LIMBO clone (adventure game masquerading as a platformer), so I skipped it and went to the next game:

  • Super Time Force Ultra

    5 hours playtime

    19 of 33 achievements

This is a run ‘n’ gun platformer. Left/right move, A jumps, left-stick/D-pad aims your gun, X shoots, hold X to charge your weapon. What sets this game apart is that whenever you die or push the B button, you use a rewind token and can rewind to any point in your playthrough of the level; when you respawn, an AI will redo your previous actions up to the point you died/hit B, and it stacks for each rewind.

Sounds cool, but the game doesn’t really do anything with it. Stages are your typical run ‘n’ gun platformer fare, complete with an arcade-style time limit and +10sec items scattered throughout the level. The only time the rewind mechanic isn’t used as a glorified checkpoint system are during boss fights (and likely certain achievements), where you literally do not have enough time to beat all the bosses’ phases in time without rewinding, but that’s more annoying than anything. It honestly takes away from whatever work went into making the bosses’ patterns since the mandatory rewinding makes all bosses feel like more of the same, even the final boss.

In fact, the game can be a bit cheap at times. Most things could be transplanted into an average run ‘n’ gun just fine, but every now and then, yellow explosions will obscure yellow enemy projectiles. The worst example of cheap design in the game is the second phase of the 199X boss: it starts as just a background object, but when you beat the first phase, it suddenly turns into an enemy and runs back and forth, before suddenly stopping and jumping to do a ground-pound attack that also sends a shockwave across the entire floor almost immediately.

Granted, you’ll never run out of rewind tokens since the game gives you more than enough to brute-force your way through all the levels and bosses, but that’s still no excuse for bad design.

Outside of the game’s traditional levels are a series of short stages called the Hellodeck, where you’re limited to 1-4 different characters and the goal is to collect all the yellow crystals in the level before they break. At first, this seems like it’d be a surefire way to avoid the problems of the main game since you only have a limited number of rewinds and often need to use all of them just right to win, but this mode has its own problems. It starts off simple, but gradually starts requiring more and more obscure mechanics without telling or showing what those mechanics are or how to pull them off. For example, level 16 starts you in a pit you can’t jump out of, and if you somehow make it up, not long afterward, you encounter a pit you can’t jump across. Turns out, the character this level makes you play as (and ONLY this character) can safely jump on enemies and missiles. Even without moments like that, there are clear signs of the devs running out of ideas, most clearly exemplified by the symmetrical levels that make you do the same thing (at least) twice.

Wait for a good sale. It has its fun moments, but it can also be cheap and repetitive every so often.

  • FRAMED Collection

    2 hours playtime

    8 of 18 achievements

These had potential to be good puzzle games, but it can be a bit too ambiguous how scenes will play out until after you test them. This goes both for how your character will interact with a scene and which order the panels will play out. For example, not long into the first game, rotating panels are introduced, and some of them are twice as tall/long as ordinary panels; if aligned horizontally, the panels will play out horizontally until the row is done, but if one is aligned vertically, all the panels to the left of it will play out first, then the vertical one, then back to the top row.

Halfway through the first game, timed panels are introduced. Until now, you just arranged the panels and watched them play out; now, you have to start the sequence, then reorder panels when the protagonist reaches certain points (luckily, this pauses the scene until you place a panel back down). Ultimately, it bogs the game down since you’re having to replay the same panels just to get your character to the right spots.

Also, the last 1/3rd-ish of the first game is basically just recycled content (minor changes, but not changed enough).

The second game is worse because it goes even further into Adventure game style “how was I supposed to know that” logic. For example, early on, your character is being chased by a dog. One panel has a wall, and one panel has a bike. Obviously, the wall will block you and let the dog catch up, while the bike lets you escape faster, right? Nope; not only does the wall only block the dog while your character jumps over, but your character also knocks some wood panels down, creating a bridge that wasn’t there before and that you need to use to complete the level. There are quite a few moments like that in the second game.

Heck, the game even throws its core mechanic out the window for a couple parts and just goes full-on into riddle territory. One part has you guess the keypad code while some numbers flash on the other side of the screen. Order them from left-to-right? Nope. Top to bottom? Nope. Turns out, it’s the order they flash. Later, there’s a spinning lock, but this is literally nothing but trial-and-error since you’re just rotating the panels and testing the scene until all the lights turn green; there aren’t even any hints on the screen.

Even parts of the game that look like they’d be ordinary puzzles can have unintuitive design choices. One scene has your character jumping around a clock tower, and one panel has the clock’s face. This panel doesn’t have defined edges, which in every other level, means it can’t be selected; but here, it’s a rotatable panel, and yeah, you have to rotate it to get past this part. Another scene has you arranging the path so that your character doesn’t fall, except even with the correct solution, your character still falls; it’s just the game goes to the cut-scene of your character falling instead of making you redo the scene.

Not recommended.

  • EarthNight

    2 hours playtime

    16 of 45 achievements

I admit I’m not a big fan of auto-runners, but this is bad even by auto-runner standards. Besides jumping, controls are delayed; want to increase speed? Hold forward for a second, and it only works on ground. Want to stomp? Hold down, but wait a second while your character’s forward momentum slows down.

You can choose between two characters, but no matter who you pick, the other one will also be in the level, AI controlled. You might try to bounce on an enemy only for the other character to kill it first; then, you fall down and get damaged by an enemy below.

Even without that, the game is filled with cheap hits, and the game only gets cheaper the further you get. In world 2, there are yellow bird heads that hover in front of you before homing in on you. In world 3, there’s a giant bird head that’ll just suddenly slide in from off-screen. In world 4, not only are there swarms of bullet-shooting enemies that’ll hover just in front of you, but there’s also a giant enemy on a cloud that can move so blindingly fast that you have to get lucky and already be on the right trajectory to have any hope of avoiding it (no way you can react to it). Worse still, the final (?) level has a lava floor and is so full of exploding balloons and sudden unavoidable cheap shots by the final boss that even with the extra life at the beginning and even when I switched to the character who can double-jump natively, I still never made it to the end.

Not recommended.

A WITCH!

I guess this is a 3D platformer, but the platforming is so bland, there’s barely ever any challenge. Honestly, it’s just as much a hidden object game since one of your objectives in the levels is to touch every grey object to color it in, but it’s so easy to overlook a tree or flower that there’ll be a couple times you reach the end of a level with only 99% (thankfully, you don’t need 100% to beat the level). There’s a drum powerup where you hold left-click (no controller support) to charge and release it to color in objects as well as freeze water for one second, and sometimes the game has a row of water where you’ll need to do that in rhythm so you don’t fall in, but that’s the extent of the gimmick; there’s nothing else in the game for it to build off of. There are crystals that prevent you from coloring objects around them until you touch the crystal first, but again, that’s the extent of the gimmick; they ultimately don’t add anything except a bit of backtracking in already boring levels that sometimes also already have backtracking of their own. Levels are also quite long on top of being dull, further de-incentivizing going back to look for that 1% you missed (especially if you can’t see it from the goal’s platform), let alone replaying any levels.

You’ll still fall off platforms, but only because controls and physics are awkward. Letting go of WASD while on the ground will stop your character, which is good, but if you change your trajectory while still holding a movement key (e.g. forward to forward-left), your character will steer towards the new trajectory instead of snap, which can cause you to slide off of non-ice platforms. If you hold the jump key at all when you land on a platform, you’ll jump again, but you still need to hold the jump key to use the wings powerup to float down, and there are quite a few times the game has platforms just long enough where you’ll land on one edge after gliding but need to jump from the other edge to reach the next platform. There are also slopes that’ll constantly push you down, even if they don’t look that steep. Plus, you have to color in owls so they can fly somewhere and act as platforms, but it’s quite difficult to see your drop-shadow on the owls since it only displays on their very top instead of the spot where two owls are beside each other (made worese when combined with the auto-jump/floating-power issue).

The only level I felt had any real challenge was the postgame level I unlocked after collecting all the birds (there may be other postgame levels, but I’m not replaying those boring levels again to find out). This is what world 2’s or world 3’s difficulty should’ve been. Unfortunately, this level has its own problems. One of the first jumps has a forward draft (literally the only time one of these shows up in the game besides slides in the ice world) right on top of the platform you need to jump onto and immediately jump off of in order to reach the next one, making it extra annoying to time the jump (and said platform is a lone owl). Then, when you get the wings powerup, you have to backtrack throughout the whole level, doing everything a second time, since there were areas you can’t reach without it, and said areas have owls you need to activate to use as platforms to reach the goal. Then, when I finally made it to the end…99% cleared.

Not recommended. That one level isn’t worth the rest of the game.

EVERY TIME! Every time I get hyped for a game, I always end up not just disappointed, but with a super-negative experience. EVERY. SINGLE TIME.

I'm cross

This game takes bullet patterns from the SHMUP genre, but it doesn’t quite fit that mold due to your unique way of attacking enemies. First of all, you control two characters at once; one with the left stick and the other with the right stick. However, neither can attack on their own. Instead, a grey star constantly bounces back and forth between the two characters, and this object is what deals damage to the enemies. On paper, it sounds like it could work, but the first of many issues you’ll notice is that the star takes its sweet time traveling from one character to the other, and if an enemy just so happens to attack right before the star will hit them, you have to choose between taking the hit to damage the enemy or waiting even longer (because moving out of the way means the star’s trajectory changes to your new position). The only way to make it go faster is to push the corresponding shoulder button when the star gets near one of your characters, but you gotta keep it up or it’ll slow down again (and it’s tough to keep up with that when you’re avoiding bullet waves).

Speaking of controls, the game doesn’t make it clear that the D-pad acts as the face buttons for the first character while the actual face buttons are for the second character. This made it especially frustrating to change the resolution in the options menu (it was wrong when I first booted the game, and didn’t fix itself on a second boot), but it also affects the main game since it tells you to push up on the D-pad to use your special, but never tells you that you can push Y to use the other character’s special.

As for the gameplay, there’s no auto-scroll like traditional SHMUPs; instead, it’s wave-based, with enemy portals showing up around the screen for a second before spawning the enemies (like Towerfall Ascension, but without the different arena designs). Already, the game design has conflicts with the core mechanics since your characters could be anywhere on screen when the next wave comes, and you can absolutely get screwed over if one of you happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The bullet patterns on their own are fine, but Klaptraps will bolt towards you faster than you can move if you end up too close to them (even immediately after they spawn); birds fly towards you, but then keep going until they reach the screen boundary, where you can only kill them by putting both characters against and parallel to the screen border; there are even laser-shooters that’ll just keep moving in one direction, and if you end up in the small area they cross…

Keep in mind, the star ONLY goes between the characters, and that star is the ONLY way to damage enemies.

…you get the idea.

Still, the worst one is the miniboss in level 2. With all the others, there’s at least the pretense of a warning (even if that split second foreshadow animation will certainly go unnoticed among the chaos caused by the rest of the enemy wave). With the level 2 miniboss, however, it can teleport to a random spot on the screen, including on top of one of your characters, dealing contact damge in the process. This isn’t even a fluke or an “I was going in a direction and suddenly the boss teleported in front of me”–no, I mean it literally shows up dead center on top of your character, with no way to escape or anticipate, and it can happen multiple times in one life. I almost gave up right there.

And all of that is to say nothing of the fact that even the well-designed enemies tend to spawn near the screen border during average enemy waves (or even in corners where it’s nearly impossible to hit them), or that ALL bosses spawn regular enemies to cause more chaos on top of their usual patterns. Plus, if your characters end up too far apart, you won’t be able to keep an eye on them both.

Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, the devs made the game very forgiving. Each character can take three hits before dying (though only one needs to die for you to get game over), and you get invisible checkpoints every three-or-so waves. You’ll absolutely still get game over a bunch of times, but your hp always gets restored to full each retry, even if it wasn’t full when you reached the checkpoint. You can basically just tank your way through most of the game, and even if you have trouble, you can just grind up your special meter (which only ever goes up each time you game over) and use it to make short work of minibosses and even normal bosses (you definitely don’t want to waste the special on regular enemies because of how long and tedious fights against bosses and minibosses can be). It wasn’t until the last level where the enemy waves themselves started to kill me regularly, but that resulted in me noticing something I hadn’t before: I wouldn’t always encounter the same waves as earlier attempts, even when I clearly hadn’t made it to the next checkpoint.

Yup. Turns out this game…

…has PROCEDURAL GENERATION (one of my biggest pet peeves). And no, the game doesn’t have the Procedural Generation tag on Steam; I double-checked just now.

And to top off the game’s list of issues, there’s the final boss. It can summon vertical red lasers, but they’re in front of a red background, making it hard to see them if you aren’t looking right at them. It can summon orbs that effectively shrink the arena boundary until they’re killed, then summon enemies or teleport and dash at you from the now-blocked-off areas. It can shoot three rings of bullets that are a tight enough squeeze with just one character, yet you’re somehow expected to get through with two in quick succession. And that’s just the first phase (no checkpoint between phases, by the way). The second phase has more red lasers show up for the red laser attack, and the dash attack is faster. One of the new attacks is where it teleports and throws a slow projectile that leaves a smoke trail that not only blends in with the background, but is also harmful and stays up quite a while, then it can follow it up with another screen-boundary-shrinkage, causing you to take damage if you happen to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time (but you can’t really prepare because it’s random which attack the boss uses next, in both phases). I swear I only beat this boss by using my special to get past the first phase quickly, then getting lucky with the boss only using easier-to-avoid attacks (because of course its attacks are selected randomly and not synced to be possible-to-avoid in all scenarios).

And to add insult to injury, when you beat the final boss, the background turns blue (a color that contrasts with red more than red with red).

So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend this game. Even if you have someone else to play with, that only mitigates a small few of the game’s many issues; there’s still the numerous cheap hits and tedious bosses. That said, Steam only registered 115 minutes playtime when I beat the game, so you might be able to refund it if you have a similar experience as I did; just wait for a really good sale anyway (and ONLY if you can play with someone else who’s interested in the game), just in case.

I beat Will Glow the Wisp, but on top of not being that good, there’s not much to say about it. Not only are controls momentum-based, but your character is constantly being dragged downward (it’s so bad, I thought my controller was malfunctioning, but no; there’s even an achievement for staying still). Then the level design starts getting cheap: the boss of world 2 has hazard walls by its weak points that’ll chase you when you kill the weak point, and you can barely outrun them. Plus, I lost count of how often homing shots are placed near the end of a seemingly-empty corridor, some of them even requiring not only foreknowledge, but also precision movements to get around them. The final boss also teleports to random spots in the arena (offscreen), so on top of everything else, there’s a lot of just wandering around looking for it.

So yeah, I just decided to wait until I beat the next game in my backlog to make a post:

  • Tower 57

    5 hours playtime

    8 of 29 achievements

This is a twin-stick shooter. Left stick moves, right stick aims, RT shoots, LT uses your subweapon, A is your typical examine button, X uses your special power, RB swaps your equipped weapon, Y displays the map, B lets you swap the character you’re playing as, and LB dashes.

Note: unlike other games, you can’t dash through enemies or projectiles (and there’s a 1-second cooldown); you might think the devs would’ve worked around this, but no, the game regularly spawns enemy swarms around you, causing you to get trapped when they close in. You might think you’re supposed to shoot an opening before that happens, but all guns in this game use ammo, which you can run out of. The only gun with unlimited ammo has a very slow rate of fire, and many of the other guns that DO use ammo ALSO aren’t fast enough to cut through the swarms (including ones that certain characters start with). The game does have a brief preview of the characters in the character select screen at the start of the game, but it only shows the characters’ special moves (not their guns or subweapon), and it doesn’t even do a good job of that since you won’t be able to tell that the Spy’s special only stuns enemies instead of damages them like the Dom’s or the Diplomat’s special. You can’t even test out their equipment quickly since there’s a weapon-free tutorial before the first level.

Plus, even if you do have a fast-firing weapon, you’ll need to buy it the piercing upgrade so it can hit all the enemies in a row. Yup, the game also has RPG-mechanics, and it’s worse because of it. On top of the aforementioned swarms (which I swear are only excused because of the weapon upgrades), there are a few times where you have to take damage by going through poisonous water to progress, and you aren’t allowed to buy the item that prevents water damage until after the first time it happens. Also, since the first time it happens is in the first level, you’ll only barely have enough for said item, meaning if you buy anything else, you won’t have enough. Worse, the game has much more mandatory poison water in level 2 (including during the level’s boss), and unlike Fatal Stormer, you can’t go back to the hub/shops once you start a level (the game even auto-saves when you start a level). After that, though? Only happens one more time, in level 5.

Level design is also lackluster. The trailers might make you think it’s a linear run ‘n’ gun like Guerilla War, but not only do the levels have a lot of branching, dead end paths, but enemies only spawn when the room you’re in goes into lockdown, like a beat ‘em up. It also isn’t uncommon for there to be multiple waves of enemies per room. I wouldn’t mind this so much if the game had more varied level design, but most of the time, it’s either an open arena or a thin hall, and a bunch of the enemy waves are just swarms of little red bots that chase you and surround/trap you if you don’t have a strong/fast enough weapon (so on top of being cheap, it’s also somewhat repetitive).

The swarms aren’t the only way the game is cheap, though. There’s an enemy type that’s a white, circular robot that’s invulnerable in ball mode, which it stays in for a few seconds before abruptly charging at you (no foreshadow animation or sound effect) and being vulnerable for a bit before its pattern loops. That’s bad enough, but there are multiple times where you’re surrounded by them, effectively giving you no way to avoid damage unless you get lucky and dodge at the right time (assuming they actually dash at the same time like they’re supposed to, instead of randomly getting delayed). Level 5 introduces a teleporting enemy, and if it teleports on top of you, you just get stuck, constantly take damage.

The worst example of a cheap hit is the boss of level 4: the first phase isn’t too bad once you realize the blue lines between the boss and its fists don’t actually hurt you, but during its second phase, it has an attack where it just stays still for a few seconds, then abruptly bolts above you and fires a laser downward that instakills you (in a game where enemies’ hp is based around you only taking a sliver of 1/4 hp damage per attack). Even if you dash as soon as you notice the attack happen, you’ll still take a huge amount of damage due to lack of i-frames (anywhere between 1/2 to 7/8 of your hp gone, assuming it doesn’t just kill you anyway), and the boss is able to do this attack at least 3 times before you can kill its weak points (they also go invulnerable during certain attacks).

Not recommended.

P.S. There were even a couple times I got stuck on scenery and couldn’t get unstuck; I had to quit/restart. All the other times I got stuck on scenery, I somehow managed to get out after a bit (not sure how, though).

  • Vanguard Knights

    2 hours playtime

    no achievements

This is a 3D SHMUP. The game alternates between levels where you fly forward automatically and simply move in the cardinal directions (like Starfox, except you move your reticle separately with the right stick), and levels where you have free movement over a set map and you have to hold LB to move forward while using the right stick to steer (you can still use the left stick to strafe like before, though). The game also has that Ikaruga mechanic where you can swap your color and you’re immune to projectiles that match your current color. You deal more damage against opposite color enemies, but it also doesn’t take long for there to be scenarios where the screen is crowded with bullets or for you to be targeted by attacks that can’t be dodged (meaning you need to be the right color to avoid damage).

Controls are responsive and work well, though the game could do better about letting the player know how the free-move levels work. There’s a button prompt at the very beginning of the first free-move level, but that’s it. Not only is there no way to see controls in-game after that prompt goes away, but the game continues to display motion lines as if you’re moving, even when you’re stationary. Worse, the “quick boost” button (RB) sends you backwards during free-move levels. I was stuck in a corner for a bit before I figured out LB moves you forward. It also took me a while to realize that ships with blue circles are just blue enemies, not allies (ships with green circles are allies).

Your regular shots are mapped to RT, but the game also claims you can fire missiles by holding LT and locking onto enemies, though there’s no clear visual/audio feedback on this. In fact, sound design is one of the game’s worst elements. There are segments in the fly-forward levels where you have to dodge walls, but if you hit one, your plane barely shakes (if at all) and the sound effect is a soft mechanical hum. Between that and the health bar being made of the same vector line graphic that is also used to decorate the hub, it made it hard for me to tell if I actually made it past a wall or if I clipped it and got damaged (that said, you have regenerating health, so it kinda doesn’t matter much). It’s not like the game doesn’t have a kur-thunk sound effect at all; one is used for when you destroy enemies, so I don’t know why that same sound couldn’t be reused for hitting a wall (there aren’t any enemies during wall-avoiding segments anyway).

Oh, and there are a couple parts during free-move levels where you have to defend a ship, but the second time this happens, there are still many enemies flying around where you’re at, so I didn’t even realize until I heard one die over the radio (which is also hard to notice since you hear your enemies die over the radio all the time, so it kinda blends in).

The game also has a fair bit of challenge to it. Some levels can be a bit repetitive, like when you’re flying through the horizontal support beams in the third fly-forward level, but even then, the game builds on it by adding vertical support beams to dodge along with them. Free-move levels fare a bit worse, though. They almost always play out the same: see where the arrows around your ship point, then go over there and kill the same copy-pasted ships or stationary MacGuffin. Really, the only times you’ll take damage the free-move levels for the most part is when you get blindsided by an opposite-color ship from off-screen. Still, even the free-move levels get a bit of variety, with one having constantly-rotating pillars (though now that I think about it, I don’t think they actually hurt you if you crash into one) and another where you have to fly past a laser to destroy its generator (effectively resulting in a mini-boss where both colors are shooting at you and colored walls rotate so you have to switch to avoid damage, though said walls appear abruptly and I’m still not sure if double-color fire can be avoided in a way that lets you retaliate).

Speaking of bosses, they can also be challenging, but also a bit repetitive. The three fly-forward bosses have set phases, but when you destroy their core, they flip around and repeat their pattern, only difference being opposite colors (effectively no difference). There’s even some difficulty imbalance since the second fly-forward boss has the hardest-to-avoid attack: the guns flash what color they’re going to shoot, but they do so at the exact moment the previous bullets pass through your ship, and since there’s no pattern (they can even pause shooting for a moment), it can be hard to react in time. The boss also has an attack where there’s a + shape of one color that spins around while the other color wall is sent forward (meaning you have to be the forward-wall’s color until it passes, then you can swap and move to the other quadrants to hit the necessary weak points), but the boss can also abruptly spin the + wall faster than you can move with it.

There’s also a couple free-move bosses. The first constantly switches between colors and flies quickly around the arena, making it annoying to keep up since there’s no lock-on (the boss also has a lot of health). The final boss is multi-phased like the fly-forward bosses, but no duplicate fight when you’re done. It’s okay for the most part, but there’s one point where it releases two drones of opposite color, with both shooting at you, making it hard to hit their weak points without taking hits yourself. Plus, the last phase also has it alternate colors when attacking, but it also likes to fly very close to you; not only does this make it harder for you to swap colors in time (or even result in you getting hit by both colors at once), but you can also get rammed by the boss itself.

One more thing to mention: the Ikaruga mechanic even extends to the checkpoints. Not only do you have to fly through them (they’re rings), but you also have to match their color. Don’t worry about this causing unnecessary setbacks, though: checkpoints are pretty frequent and the game isn’t that hard, so even if you miss one or two, you’ll not have to wait long for the next one. Plus, these colored checkpoints are only in the surprisingly uncommon fly-forward levels; for free-move levels and all boss fights, dying simply respawns you right where you died without any progress lost (and you have 5 lives per level/boss). Not only that, the one time I actually did get Game Over (on the final boss), I closed the game, turned my computer off, started the game the next day, and saw that the game secretly gives you a save point mid-fight, two phases before the end credits (even restoring your lives to 5)! The dev really didn’t want anyone to rage-quit the game.

Overall, there are some repetitive moments and some less-than-fair moments (as well as the graphical and sound problems), but there’s also a lot to like here as well. The fly-foward levels are pretty fun, and while I’m not that big a fan of the free-move levels, they still have responsive controls and have hazards you can reasonably avoid (for the most part, at least). Ultimately, I think there’s more good than bad. Plus, the base price is only five US dollars, so I don’t even have to recommend waiting for a sale…maybe…

Okay, that’s enough free games for now. After all, I gotta play my wins before the devs revoke the keys. ☺

  • Fatal Stormer

    6 hours playtime

    6 of 11 achievements because the 7th one broke

This is a 2D arcade-style SHMUP. You can move in any direction, but the level scrolls automatically, and holding the R button only shoots to the right if you don’t have any upgrades. You can also use a special weapon by pushing the A button, but that one has a cooldown timer which can take quite a bit of time to refill, so you’ll want to save it for when you end up in a bad spot (or when the boss is shielded most of the time and you just need a way to pierce its armor). You have a health bar and an armor bar, as well as a shop between levels to buy upgrades, but I can’t help but feel these were used as excuses to have cheap level design, as there were many times I felt it was impossible to dodge everything, as if the dev(s) expect you to know in advance what to buy (you can sell, but of course the sell price is lower than the buy price, so you only wanna do it if you’re certain). I played on Normal mode.

Not long into the first level, you’ll notice one of the game’s major problems: enemies leave behind a giant smoke cloud when they die, and this obscures other enemies and projectiles. I thought maybe it’d be like Jets ‘n’ Guns where you could lower the graphics settings to mitigate the smoke, but no, it’s identical on both Ultra and Very Low. Also in the first level, you’ll encounter another one of the game’s major problems: enemies can be just barely in the background with no obvious visual distinction that you can’t shoot them (they just look slightly smaller than normal, which you wouldn’t know if that’s how the enemy first appears, which happens quite a bit). It’s not even them coming in from a distance; they’ll hover just out of range and do typical SHMUP enemy movements before just barely eking into the playfield to shoot you. To make things worse, the second level not only introduces foreground objects (which also block your view), but they’re quite massive in this level as well. Normally, I focus on offense, but between both of these issues, the game had proven it isn’t above cheap hits, so the first thing I bought from the store was the best armor…then I got to the end of level 2 and encountered a massive damage-sponge of a boss; clearly, the game expected me to buy a more powerful weapon instead. Yet another example of how stat-affecting shops make games worse.

Oh, and to top it off, movement is slightly delayed on purpose; you have to buy more-responsive-controls in the store.

But it gets worse. Not long into level 4, a massive swarm of laser-shooters fly in from the background, and not only is it hard to tell which are in-range, but this game doesn’t have invincibility frames, so lasers can drain your armor and health quite quickly if you don’t get away in time, and since there are so many of them without a clear way to know which ones you need to look at, you’ll likely take some damage here (I only made it past because enemies can drop armor-restoring items on death). Level 5 manages to be even worse; I had the second-most expensive weapon (a.k.a. second best weapon) but the sheer number of enemies (some even coming from the left side of the screen), projectiles, and smoke made it extremely difficult just to scrape by, let alone avoid everything somehow (if that’s even possible). It’s one of, if not the worst level in the game. Level 6 is just a boss, and while it has a swinging attack that I’m pretty sure can’t be dodged in certain circumstances, and it has a laser attack that’s also frustrating to try to avoid, it’s still a step up.

Side note: it turns out that some ceiling/floor/walls are safe to touch while others are harmful, and the only way you’d know which are which is trial and error.

After level 6, you’ve finished world 1 and unlock world 2, where you find out the game resets your equipment and currency each world. The difficulty also goes back down, so it’s almost like each world is its own little game. 2-1 is okay for the most part, but it ends with the same miniboss 3 times in a row, then the main boss of the level is invulnerable most of the time, either bouncing off the screen boundary or shooting its bullet pattern. Worse, when it does decide to reveal its weak point, it can stop on the left side, where you can’t shoot it because you don’t have enough money to (re-)purchase left-shooting weapons.

Those distortions in the background beside the blue projectiles are also harmful, by the way.

2-2 is one of the few levels that scroll quickly, meaning you have little time to avoid the giant hazard walls that show up every now and then. That’d be one thing, but it turns out this level doesn’t have set level design, meaning it’s random whether the wall is on the ceiling or the floor (and maybe whether or not there’s a wall at all)! More frustrating are the left-spawning enemies that often stop before you have enough room to get behind them to shoot them. Even if they do just barely let you get behind them to shoot them, they can do an aileron roll to avoid your shots, and more could spawn right were you’re at, causing contact damage. Even if you make it past all that, there’s still the level’s boss, which has two attacks and they’re both cheap shots: a very sudden laser swipe (can only be avoided by hovering over the boss) and a very sudden horizontal dash (can only be avoided by hovering over the boss). There’s also no checkpoint in this level (even though most levels have at least one), so dying to the boss means you have to do the whole level over again.

2-3 has a worm enemy that never shows up again, and when you kill it, it finishes its attack animation (and IIRC still deals contact damage in the meantime) before starting its death animation. 2-4 has a not-insignificant segment where enemies stop spawning and it just has a row of stone crushers moving up and down; they also never show up again. There are also drill enemies in this level that can suddenly fall from above the screen, in case you’ve forgotten this game has a bunch of cheap hits. The boss of world 2 doesn’t have any cheap attacks, making it one of the easiest in the game by default.

World 3 starts off okay, but 3-2 picks up the difficulty to try to match world 2: not only does this level introduce an enemy that shoots very thin, hard to see torpedoes, but there’s also another enemy that looks like a blue Flamer, and if you don’t kill it, it’ll explode and shoot out four of those blue-arc projectiles that the 2-1 boss shoots when its weak point is exposed. Thing is, unlike world 2, world 3’s background is also blue, once again resulting in a harder-to-see projectile. Both of these are in the midst of more enemy spam, by the way. Plus, if you do make it past those enemy waves, the game introduces yet another enemy: rows of green guns that move horizontally and shoot vertically. Keep in mind that this is only the second level in the world, meaning you don’t have much funds to spare and will end up using default equipment for something, and if you have the default weapon, you cannot deal enough damage to the green guns to kill them before their row reaches the left side of the screen, and if that happens, you will take damage since there’s just barely NOT enough room to slip between their shots. Lucky for me, I just happened to have enough money to buy the second worst gun, and that was able to keep the green guns at bay enough for me to survive. Oh, and 3-2’s boss has a move that allows you to get stuck below it, meaning you have to take damage to get back up.

3-3 introduces on-rails lasers; you can’t kill them and they can move across the rails abruptly, but I thought it had promise. They even show up with the level’s boss, but never again after this level. 3-4 is the only other fast scrolling level besides 2-2, and it has enough left-spawning enemies that I finally bought a rear-shooting gun. Near the end, it just has the same 5 second segment repeated, and while the pipes (hazard tiles) are placed in ways that make it a bit confusing to tell where they are in the play field at first, it does become repetitive. During 3-5, I noticed something: I hadn’t had my vision obscured by smoke in a while. In fact, some of the enemies die with white smoke that disappears reasonably quickly. Could it be that world 1 was just a really bad first impression, a draft that hadn’t been corrected?

Nope; world 4 brings back enemies that generate large, black smoke clouds on death, and the later levels do get pretty bad about it (maybe not as bad as 1-5, but still bad). Plus, there’s a new cheap hit levels can have: lava rocks suddenly splashing out of the lava! At least the lava splash isn’t harmful, but it’s yet another foreground object. The boss of 4-2 is almost okay, but it has an attack where it punches the ceiling and causes rocks to fall randomly, and the rocks also splash the lava, making it hard to see other rocks. The boss of 4-4 is nothing but abrupt melee attacks (some of which also deal massive damage); not only do you have to do trial and error to figure out where the safe spots are, but the checkpoint is quite a ways away, meaning you have to redo half the level for another chance at the boss. The final boss (4-6) uses lots of guided missiles, meaning you have to move just right to avoid them (and you’d only know how by trial and error after getting hit a bunch). Worse, even if you do learn how to avoid all of the final boss’s attacks, one of them starts by abruptly shooting a laser horizontally from its weak point, so you’ll almost certainly take damage anyway (meaning you really need to avoid those other attacks so you can take the hits that need to be taken).

Overall, I don’t think I can recommend this game. I enjoyed some parts of the game, but the sheer number of cheap hits combined with the vision-obscuring graphics and less-than-ideal implementation of the shop result in more frustration than fun.

I saw the reviews for Hob saying that it’s basically just switch hunts, but I got it anyway, and…yeah, it’s basically just switch hunts (at least for the first hour and a half). Part of the reason it took me so long to make this post is cuz I just didn’t wanna play it again cuz of how boring it is. There is combat, but you can just run up to enemies and tap the attack button to stunlock them to death. There’s a teleporting enemy that can break from stunlock to attack you, but even that one doesn’t stand a chance since it drops health pickups on death that’ll heal you back to full, and you can kill it before it kills you just by doing the same strategy. There are environmental hazards (electric floors), which is more than can be said for other hack ‘n’ slash games, but they’re only next to actual walls, thus making little difference. The first area doesn’t even have a boss or anything; it just loops back to the beginning where you’re given your next destination. Since the game hadn’t shown promise after nearly an hour and a half, I stopped playing it and moved onto the next game in my backlog:

  • Escape From Tethys

    4 hours playtime

    9 of 15 achievements

This is a metroidvania. Left/right move, A jumps, X shoots, B uses your subweapon, Y cycles your subweapons, and R does a dash once you get the upgrade. Standard stuff, except your gun only fires a few units ahead before your projectile ceases to exist (and I never found a Long-Beam-equivalent), so it’s more of a close-range weapon.

Level design is pretty bland. The dark forest part gets a bit trickier since it introduces bubble walls that can only be eliminated by shooting the nearby green warts, but then you make it to the underwater section afterward and it just goes back to bland level design. Really, the only things that make the underwater section worse are 1) the harmful blue cones that are the exact size and color of background objects and 2) the increase in large, open rooms making it easier to fall onto an enemy or hazard before you know it’s there.

Also, I have issues with the map’s layout as well. First, the game does that thing where you’ll go down one branching path, getting past enemies and hazards, only to reach a progression-based roadblock, forcing you to go back through what you just did. Why do metroidvanias do this? I could almost understand if there’s an optional powerup or something right before the roadblock, but there’s no excuse when it’s effectively just a dead end.

Not only that, but there are there TWO separate times where the game loops you back to a previous area, forcing you to go through earlier rooms and go down each unexplored path until you happen upon the one that gives you the powerup you need to access other areas. There are teleportation rooms, but they’re just spread out enough that you’ll be redoing the same rooms a lot. And yes, you have to reach a teleportation room to teleport to another teleporter; you don’t get the item that lets you go straight to a teleportation room from anywhere until right after you get the ability that lets you reach the final boss.

Speaking of, you have to fight the exact same boss three different times with no variation (even Explodemon had some variation with its repeated boss). As the first boss, I thought it was a decent start due to the short range of your default weapon; the second time, I thought there might at least be some new attacks, but nope; and as the final phase of the final boss, I was disappointed. The previous boss (the red missile frigate) was more challenging than the final boss, though that’s partly because it has an attack where it just vomits missiles that you can’t dodge if you’re in-range to attack it.

I will say one thing I liked: you can tell with path leads to a save room or teleporter room because there will be green tiles around the entrance…for some of them. Other save/teleporter rooms don’t have this indication at all, and I don’t know why it’s inconsistent (it’s not even a late-game thing; it’s seemingly random).

Overall, I wasn’t too impressed with this game, though maybe I’ve just been spoiled by the Ori games. If you’re interested and you didn’t get it when it was free, wait for a really good sale.

I got to play Rad Rogers on my brother’s Switch, but I can’t say I’m a fan. The two most common enemy types are “run back and forth” and “stay still and shoot directly at the player,” and the level design never really does much with them. There are larger enemies that are more like minibosses, and they’re fast enough that you’ll take a cheap hit the first few times you encounter them, but if you run away, they’ll just stand still, letting you take potshots at them until they die. There are also jellyfish enemies that shoot 5-way shots (left, right, up, and diagonally up), and there’s no foreshadow animation for when they attack. Plus, level 7 has a bright background that makes it hard to see them, and if that weren’t enough, the level also zooms the camera out and puts a foreground object in front of one of them, meaning you can’t blame the Switch’s low resolution in handheld mode. Sometimes, the game makes you go into the “pixelverse” which has a visual effect around the edges of the screen that does little besides reduce your field of vision while also mirroring what you CAN see, making it that much more jarring when a hazard does show up. There are also lasers, and I swear their hitbox is so large that you take damage if you touch the glowing lighting effect surrounding the actual laser itself (and the red ones kill you instantly). You also have lives, and if you run out, you have to start the level from the beginning, and the levels in this game are quite lengthy; look forward to redoing a bunch of what you already did just to get back to the part giving you trouble. I finally gave up when I made it past most of level 9 only to clip into the ground and be unable to escape. Even if it weren’t for that bug, I knew I wouldn’t recommend the game at that point, so I just quit and went back to my Steam backlog:

  • Spork: The Manic Utensil Storm

    2 hours playtime

    5 of 5 achievements

This is one of those turn-based real-time games. The game pauses to let you decide what action to do (move, shoot, etc.) but everyone’s move happens simultaneously in real-time. The game is also heavily momentum-based; if you use the move action, you move to the spot you clicked (no controller support), but if you do anything else without spending a turn to do the “stay still” action, you’ll continue hurtling in the direction you moved, even bouncing off walls and enemies (though that slows you down). Later levels introduce wind that’ll further affect your momentum.

Level design is really bland and repetitive. The only enemy type the game has is the one that just shoots directly at you, but they’re even less of a challenge in this game since you’ll have allies that they may shoot at instead. There are a couple bosses, but the final boss is just a larger version of the regular enemies, and the T-rex boss got stuck on a tree and I was able to take potshots at it until it died. As for stage hazards, there are spikes, but you’ll only take damage on them when wind pushes you into them, many times even before you know they’re there (offscreen; you have to buy an upgrade to zoom out). There are some turrets; most have you push a button to activate them for a turn or two, but there are a few that are the opposite (always shooting and only being DE-activated for a turn or two when you hit their button), and I wasn’t able to find all of their buttons, so you can look forward to tanking a few shots just to get through. Sometimes, there are explosive barrels you can shoot, and there’s exactly one part where the game suddenly spawns them beside you, trapping you between them and destructible walls; you can’t shoot them directly or they’ll blow you up as well, so you have to run into them and hope the physics knocks the stack down instead of pushes them against the wall where you can’t do anything about them.

There’s a couple levels where you have an ally with a unique sprite following you (the spatula), but it waits until it goes offscreen, then suddenly bolts to where you are (or past you, usually), and this can cause you to ricochet away from your intended destination; it even got me killed and made me consider giving up because of how bland everything else was.

Not recommended. The concept could work, but the game doesn’t do anything with it aside from the occasional cheap hit.

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