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):

Wow, The Witness blindsided me with how awful it is. It starts off fine, having the “no dialogue” approach to tutorials by indicating the basic rules of the mazes and how the grids connect to each other via wires so you aren’t just wandering around. However, the boards that are supposed to teach you to outline white squares without outlining black squares was too vague. How many sides need to be filled to for it to count? What’s the exact cutoff point? When I solved the last one in the first set, it felt more random than anything. But okay, maybe I’d figure it out if I kept going. Next, the game introduces dots you have to cross to win, and not long after, two lines you control at once, before finally combining the two and having both lines be different colors and having you intersect each line with its same color dot as well as reach the end. Okay, fine, but then you start to notice cross stitching appear on the second line. At first, I just thought the texture was corrupted, but no, the game soon has the second line disappear and you just have to remember how the duplicate line’s movement would be mirrored from the initial line. Not good, but not the worst I’ve seen. Then, the game has three pretty easy boards, and on the other side of the platform, three duplicate boards, except the dots you need to intersect are invisible; you have to memorize their positions on the three initial boards and cross-check with how the duplicate boards are mirrored. Okay, now it’s getting on my nerves, but what made me give up were the boards right after: no dots, no second line, no mirrored or duplicate boards, but there’s multiple exits. However, I tried going to a couple different exits only to get an incorrect solution. Turns out, you have to look at the nearby tree, see where the apple is, go back to the board, and replicate the path from the base of the tree to the apple on it. Once I figured that out, I realized the game had finally cut the pretense of having real puzzles and gone full Adventure-Game-arbitrary-riddles (in less than an hour!), so I uninstalled it and moved on to my next game.

  • Planet Diver

    4 hours playtime

    26 of 52 achievements

This is a runner. You’re constantly moving down, but can move left and right at any time. Thing is, your side-to-side movement is in units, like a Game and Watch game. Unfortunately, you can’t just hold left/right to keep moving in that direction; you have to tap the button several times in a row if you want to keep up when the path shifts to the side. You can also push up to do a dodge, which stops your downward movement, lasts around one second, and lets you phase through any hazards (but you become vulnerable as soon as it ends). Lastly, you can push down to do a dash, which temporarily lets you kill enemies you run into and permanently makes your movement faster (unless you dodge or crash).

The concept is just fine, but it seems like the levels weren’t designed around the controls. This may partly be because the levels are randomized, and often the randomness doesn’t have basic quality-of-life checks in place: it isn’t uncommon for rows of coins to lead directly into walls (which would cause you to crash and take damage), or for your target enemy to be placed below a ceiling, where you can’t kill it. Plus, even though your character has multiple speeds, most enemies are programmed to match your speed when they aren’t outright standing still, which kinda defeats the purpose.

Then there are the enemies that go beyond even this. The first boss has an attack where it suddenly charges down at you after a >1 second “telegraph,” so you might think “oh, I have to dodge at the right time” except no, that just causes the boss to stop in its tracks until your dodge finishes its animation, then it hits you anyway. Turns out, the giant legs beside the spider don’t have collision, so you can go over them when it dashes without taking damage. There are green/blue shrimp in world 2 that shoot an electric bolt horizontally quickly, but the distance it travels before it splits into two slowly-traveling vertical bolts is inconsistent. Levels regularly have half-walls, making you think you can go one unit further due to all the space between you and the wall, but when you hit the button, you just crash into it (or worse, if you’re already next to the wall, you can barely see the half-wall coming up and will crash into it that way). World 3 has spike pillars that blend into the wall and jut out an inconsistent distance (once, one of them went all the way to the other wall meaning I couldn’t progress and just died there). Worse, world 3 will frequently shift the camera to put you in the center of the screen, meaning you have less time to react to incoming hazards.

So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend it. The concept is fine, but the execution has numerous flaws. It even gets little things wrong, like how several biomes have background layers scrolling faster than foreground layers.

Normally, I save my portable games for when I’m away from my computer, but I heard that this game was gonna have its servers shut down on September 9, so I figured I’d play through it real quick. Also, every loading screen said “connecting” instead, so maybe this game isn’t as portable as I thought.

Note: that isn't my ID; it's the ID of whoever uploaded the screenshot to the Castlevania wiki.

This is a platformer. Swipe on the left side of the screen to move left or right, “flick” on the left side to dodge-roll (guess how often one happens instead of the other by accident), swipe down on the left side to duck, tap the feather bubble to jump/double-jump, tap the acute-angle-bubble to slide, or tap anywhere else on the right side of the screen to attack. There’s also a special attack bubble, but I rarely used this since you can use more powerful weapon skills by swiping left, down, or right on the right side of the screen (swiping up uses your equipped subweapon). The weapon skills you have depend on what weapons you’ve equipped. As you progress, you’ll unlock more characters to play as, and eventually, assist summons which can damage all enemies on-screen or heal yourself. Assist summons are limited-use-per-stage, so I’d sometimes forget I had them. In contrast, the game also unlocks quest supporters when you make it to the first boss: the game gives you a list of other players before a stage (presumably other players who are online right then because the list changes and I only saw a 100k player once). During the stage, each time you land an attack on an enemy, the quest supporter meter fills up (thank goodness it’s based on attacks and not damage), and when your player icons are glowing, you can tap it to switch to the other player’s character and, more importantly, stats (but be careful not to tap the chat button right next to it, because that’ll obscure the screen without pausing). After switching, a percentage of their health will be taken away every second, effectively acting as a timer before forcing you back to your character (which is reduced further if you take damage, obviously). Speaking of stats, the game treats them a bit different than other games: you can still see individual attack/defense/HP of characters, but the game has more emphasis on an aggregate stat that basically adds everything together into one huge number. Stages have “recommended stats” that are specifically meant to be compared to said aggregate, and the quest supporter list has the players’ aggregate stats front and left-center. It’s a quick way to see who’s stronger in a general sense (obviously 55k>23k), but if you see two players who have similar aggregate stats, you may wanna check their weapon levels (placed to the right of their aggregate stats in a much smaller font) since that 54k Alucard might actually be stronger than that 55k Alucard.

The game starts off with an intro stage that teaches you the basic controls, but it also starts you off with auto-attack enabled and enemies that die in one hit and also just stand there and let you hit them. At first I was like “oh no, this game is gonna be boring,” but the game tells you how to disable it in the next stage, which has more formidable enemies. It’s also called “semi” auto attack, so I was worried it sometimes wouldn’t work when I wanted it to; yet another reason to disable it.

The stages are separated into books: each book has 15 stages and an end boss, with the stages further separated into groups of 5. To play a stage, it costs 5 “ether” (10 for hard mode stages); to refill ether, you have to increase your rank or I think wait a day, but recently it felt like waiting didn’t get me more ether; maybe it only counts if you log in the very next day instead of skipping a day? Then again, I had a glitch early on that got me more than the max ether, so each “refill” just increased it by that much more and I ended up with 999 by the end of book 5. Each stage has a 10 minute time limit with one or two rooms (which are maybe 3-4 screens wide and 2-3 tall) before the final room, where you fight 1-3 waves of enemies. Beat the first stage in a set, and you unlock both the next stage in the set and the first of the next set (or the end boss if it’s first of the third set), though any subsequent stages just unlock the next stage in said set. Beat the last stage in a set and you’ll get to read a visual-novel style cut-scene; there are some serious moments, but the writers also regularly just have fun with the concept. Even if you’re not interested in story, you’re still encouraged to play the stages linearly since the enemies’ stats regularly increase, indicated by the “recommended stats” number before each stage.

Speaking of levels, while you do gain experience, it only happens when you beat a stage, and leveling up a character only increases said character’s HP and MP; if you want to increase your attack, you’ll need to use “enhancement runes” on your weapons to increase their experience points. Thing is, on top of weapons having a max level, you also can’t increase them above your current rank (like leveling up, but it isn’t restricted to one character (except the AP it gives you)). If you want more enhancement runes than what the levels give you, you can trade gold to get up to five in the shop; after that, you have to wait one real-life day before you can get five more. If you have plenty of rank but reach the default level cap, your only hope of squeezing more strength out of that weapon is if you get 100 “parchments” of that weapon. While it is possible to get parchments in levels, I never got more than 20 for any individual weapon, and the only other way to get parchments is to get a duplicate of the weapon, and the only way to get more weapons is to use the Summon option in the hub, which summons one random weapon. Not the one you wanted, or even one for the character you’re using? Too bad. Also, you only get one free summon per real-life day; any subsequent summon you want to do will cost you “gems” (to give you an idea how rare a resource this is, it used to be the game’s paid currency before its micro-transactions were disabled).

Another annoyance is that the game locks certain equipment slots until you reach a certain rank. You can tap on the slot to see “unlocks at rank 20” or whatever, and that’s one thing, but once you reach the required rank, you have to go to your gift box and claim the upgrade, which I felt was an unnecessary extra step. In fact, a bunch of stuff gets sent to your gift box instead of directly into your inventory; luckily, there’s a “claim all” button you can tap to save time.

Back to the enemies’ stats: it doesn’t take long into the first book’s second set of stages for enemies to start getting a bit grindy…that is, if you haven’t leveled up your weapons at all. After I leveled up my main weapon, it did fine until the around first book’s end boss, where I did so little damage to said boss, it felt like my only hope of winning was to use a quest supporter. Then, a few stages into the second book, I realized that leveling up my secondary weapon also increased my overall attack, so that one was on me. Something that may not be as obvious is that leveling up your subweapon also adds to your overall attack instead of your subweapon having its own attack. By the end of book 3, I had unlocked all weapon equip slots and upgraded my weapons to their max level, but the recommended stats for book 4 stage one were double that of book 3’s end boss, so I decided to play Hard Mode for book 1, since book 1 stage one’s hard mode had similar recommended stats to book 3’s end boss. However, as I neared the end of book 1’s hard mode, it started to get pretty grindy once again; the only reason I was able to alleviate that grind was because I got enough “bounty coins” to buy a high-max-level weapon from the shop, and I only had that many bounty coins because of the game’s daily login bonus, and I’m pretty sure the game’s daily login bonuses were only that generous because the servers are about to be shut down.

And then, not long after I made it to book 5, it started to become grindy again, except at that point, there really wasn’t anything I could do to strengthen my own character (it didn’t have as drastic an increase in recommended stats as from book 3 to book 4, though). The game becomes less about learning enemy tells and counterattacking and more about managing your weapon skills and quest supporter (and assist summons; almost forgot about them again).

To make matters worse, the controls have issues. On top of the aforementioned move/dodge problem and quest supporter/chat problem, there’s the fact that your thumbs will be covering part of the screen, so if there’s something behind you, you might not see it even if it’s on-screen. I also lost count of the number of times I accidentally tapped close enough to the phone’s “back” or “recently used apps” buttons which caused the game to auto-pause, at which point I wouldn’t be able to move because I’d have to unpause, then swipe on the screen, meaning I’d usually take damage after unpausing. There were also several times where I’d try to move and jump, but the angle I swiped was too far down and it counted as a duck, causing me to jump down the thin platform I was on into spikes. After all this time, Glory of Valkyrie still has the best buttons-to-touch-screen conversion I’ve seen, yet I haven’t seen another game try to duplicate it. I definitely recommend using a physical controller for this game. There’s also the fact that some enemies have tells that go by so quick, you likely won’t have time to react even after you learn what attack the tell foreshadows, like when the minotaur charges forward, or if the stone golem shoots a laser at you while its off-screen. Mechanics also have their issues, namely that most characters can’t move and attack at the same time (you can dodge-roll out of an attack, but that isn’t always safe). Simon has it the worst: not only does his ground combo have a longer delay between attacks than other characters, he also steps forward for the second and third attack, doing a long jump forward for the finisher (luckily, his movement stops at the edge of a platform). You’re probably wondering “why use this character at all if he has so many disadvantages?” Simple: he starts with a weapon who’s weapon skill is a massive increase in your attack for 30 seconds (from 23 damage to 140 damage), and for a game where “grindy” means “it takes 30 seconds constantly attacking a stunlocked enemy to kill it, then you get to the next enemy,” that attack increase is kinda necessary for the game to have any semblance of normal game-play. It also helps that he has longer and wider range than most other characters (and mid-air combos keep him stationary and speed up his attacks, even if it’s limited to a 3-hit combo instead of 4).

However, I think the most frustrating aspect of the game is that the level design…isn’t half bad. Sure, half of the stages are pretty bland and just serve as flat planes for the enemies to do their thing, but there are some clever moments, like an optional segment in book 2 stage 15 where you fight a harpy on a conveyor belt that leads to a spike wall, or when you have to time jumps over platforms that go in and out of flames coming out of the floor. Even hard mode stages have some new spike pits or flamethrowers instead of just different enemy placement. Some stages have segments that constantly spawn medusa heads, which is a mark against the level design, but still: this game could’ve been okay, but instead the stats were skewed to the point where it’s almost as bad as Cross Code, all in the hopes that people would buy microtransactions. It’s tragic.

Lastly, I should talk about the books’ end bosses. The first is a giant bat whose pattern isn’t too hard to learn: it can do a convex parabola attack, as well as spin into a drill and charge at wherever you are, and as it takes damage, it can fly offscreen and throw three bats your way before charging at you itself, or turn into a bunch of shadow bats and slowly chase you. Also, this is the only boss where the entire arena fits on screen, so the rest will have stuff happening off-screen, where you can’t see.

The second boss is a suit of armor with a floating head; once you realize the floating head is its weak point (attacking the armor does single-digit damage), you can keep your distance from the armor’s attacks and just focus on the head.

The third books boss is a dragon, and as soon as you get control of your character, it begins carpet-bombing the arena, each shot exploding into smaller projectiles. How are you supposed to dodge this? Turns out, the dragon lacks collision, so once you double-jump on to an upper platform, you can double-jump over its head and through the rest of it safely. After the boss carpet bombs the arena a few times, it’ll flap its wings to try pushing you away, then ground-pound and start shooting fireballs across the floor, though you’ll need to be close by so you can see its head (that’s how it conveys the elevation of said fireballs). After you get its health down enough, it’ll ground pound in the center of the arena and shoot fire around in a circle, so you need to use the upper platforms to jump around its head.

Boss 4 is a ball of people: attacking the edges gets rid of that chunk at the edge, but the center is its weak point (Simon’s range can reach the center by default). After you attack the center enough, all the people go away (except the ones that fell on the floor), revealing its true form: a purple ball with six tentacles. However, these tentacles don’t stay still: it’ll spin around, either shooting flame that sticks to platforms or lasers that pierce them. Unfortunately, there are no platforms above the boss, so if you’re running away from the lasers and make it to the top, you have nowhere to go and are forced to take damage (keep in mind at this point, you die in 2-3 hits due to enemy stats). Once you get its health low enough, it’ll move diagonally, bouncing off the walls and ceiling, being very hard to predict or react to. At this point, quest supporters become a necessity to avoid grinding. Oh, and when you finally beat this boss, you get a surprise boss afterward. It’s pattern is much easier, but there’s no way to tell beforehand if he’ll swing the ax or shoot fireballs forward; you have to anticipate rather than react. Also, if you die here, you have to fight the people ball again (unless you spend 100 gems to continue, which I never did but I swear it better be an instant-revive rather than sending you back to a checkpoint). At least there’s no time limit, but there’s also no visible health bar for the surprise boss, either.

Honorable mention: the miniboss at the end of book 5 level 15 is a giant suit of armor with giant attack ranges. The only way to get behind it is to jump up some platforms by the edges and touch a mirror that’ll teleport you to the other side, but once the boss notices you’re behind it, it’ll wind up a large spin attack that you need to be far away from to avoid (can’t duck under it), and if you attack its front, you’ll just damage its guard by 1 point instead of its health.

Next up is the boss of book 5, which somehow manages to top all of that. It’s a giant armored centaur with two crossbows slapped on its side. The crossbows track you, but stop moving a couple seconds before they glow, which is about a half second before they fire. It’s possible to attack the arrow to kill it, but it can easily slip between your combo and hit you (at least it can with Simon’s midair combo). It’s possible to attack the crossbows to disable them, but their hit-box is kinda wonky compared to every other enemy, seemingly only being damaged if you attack the spot beside the glowy part (whichever side is closer to the center). On top of this, the boss regularly walks back and forth, stomping the ground and hurting you if you’re caught there. It’ll only stop moving to stab the ground or kick up its legs (its hind legs have enough range on their own, so its front legs generate a stationary flame column for a couple seconds to compensate). You can kill its kneecaps to make it kick up more often, at which point you can move between its legs, but this is the most dangerous spot because not only is there barely enough room to dodge the stomps, you’re also in range of both crossbows. Plus, you can’t attack its other kneecaps at this point despite technically being in range (unless you have Alucard’s “attack from behind” weapon skill); you instead just have to wait for it to kick the other legs back before you can move out. Once you’ve killed all of its knees, it’ll collapse and you can finally jump on its back and attack it’s real weak point and deal actual damage to its main health bar. Thing is, you’re probably not going to kill it while it’s stunned, and when it gets up, its kneecaps recover half their health and so long as you remain on its back, you have to deal with three new attacks with three new tells (including avoiding its tail, which becomes a contact hazard during the wind-up animation), all while also being in range of both crossbows. Honestly, I found it easier to jump off manually and go for the kneecaps again. Once you kill it, the boss enters its second phase! It loses its spear, which you can now jump on to get to the boss’s weak point better, but now you can’t damage its knees anymore, and when it kicks up its front legs, another flame column generates in front of the first, and so on until they go off screen. It’s relatively fast and there isn’t much room to stand between them, either. Also, it still walks back and forth at irregular intervals, so it may not always be close enough to the spear for you to get many hits in, even after jumping forward. On my last attempt, I figured out that attacking the red ball on its head was actually how to stun the boss instead of its weak point, but I took advantage of that and hit it a bunch of times, so when it recovered, I had filled my quest supporter meter and was able to use the increased stats to kill it. Only took me 75+ tries. One positive I’ll say about the boss is, despite all the moving parts, they always sync up with each other, so theoretically, you could learn how to dodge each potential setup.

So, what is my reward for defeating this difficult boss?
Top 10 banned books.
Yup, this was an Early Access title THE WHOLE TIME. The last cut-scene implies that SNES Dracula X would be a different grimoire than Rondo of Blood, which makes sense since they’re different games, but who would the new assist summon be? Not Trevor, that’s for sure. On one hand, it isn’t much of a loss considering the rest of the game, but on the other hand, it’s disappointing for the game to end on a cliffhanger.

So yeah, this one’s really hard to recommend. The level design has some good moments and the game’s free, but the balance is heavily slanted against the player (becoming very noticeable by book 4 and 5), and if you don’t live in one of the few places where the game soft-launched, you’ll have to jump through quite a few sketchy hoops just to play the game in the first place. But hey, if you start right now, you should have enough time to beat it (I started after I beat A Hat in Time and missed a few days but still beat it in less than a month).

P.S. For a game that’s supposed to be a “greatest hits” of sorts of the previous Castlevania games in both scenery and soundtrack, why’d they pick Abandoned Pit for Symphony of the Night? That’s probably the most annoying track in that game.

This is a picross/nonograms game. Each level is a grid where standard picross rules apply: the numbers in the rows and columns indicate how many squares are filled in in a row (or column), and the amount of numbers indicate how many clusters of filled-in blocks there are (with the order indicating where they’ll be in relation to each other). The trick is that you don’t always know how many blank spaces are between the filled-in clusters, so you need to use process of elimination as well as comparisons with other rows and columns to uncover all the filled-in squares. You can also put an X on a square to help you keep track of squares you know can’t be filled in.

What separates this game from other picross games is the battle system. Some levels will have you encounter a chest, which effectively plays out like a normal picross game in that you can take your time, but each time you fill in a square that isn’t supposed to be filled in, you’ll lose a coin and an X will be locked into the square (each mistake increases the penalty by an extra coin). Considering items cost upwards of 30 coins (and the fact that you’ll often get more coins after beating a level), the penalty is laughably minor.

However, other levels have you encounter an enemy or three, and they work off a modified Active Time Battle system: when an enemy’s meter gets full (or if you fill in a square that wasn’t supposed to be filled, resulting in another locked-in X), it’ll attack you, dealing either 1 damage, 2 damage (critical), or 0 damage (miss). The only way you can “fight” back is by filling in all the squares on a row or column, at which point the enemy takes damage and also gets its ATB gauge lowered, delaying its attack. If there are multiple enemies, they’ll each have their own ATB gauge, and you’ll have to switch between them regularly so your “attacks” keep any one enemy from attacking. It’s an interesting concept, but there’s a few problems, namely the fact that picross is a puzzle game. Adding a time limit runs counter to the initial concept of puzzle solving since now you don’t have time to solve said puzzle. If you know picross, you’ll know that most grids only give you enough info to fill in partial rows and columns at first (with the completion of said rows and columns not happening until after you’ve worked out half the board), so it isn’t uncommon for it to be better to make an educated guess and risk a single attack for a wrong square than to try working it out and taking multiple hits before you can finish a single row or column.

And let’s not forget the most blatant oversight: even if you do lose and have to start over with a blank grid, you can just take a screenshot beforehand (or even outright remember what you had for the smaller boards) and fill in what you had much quicker, pausing the game each time you look back at the screenshot. It’s hilariously ironic how the developers of this puzzle game didn’t think things through.

There are also boss fights, but they only differ from normal battles in that, when their ATB gague is full, they either deal 2 damage or send out a ghost to remove some of your Xs. Often, bosses are easier than group battles since you don’t have to worry about switching between enemies and can just focus on filling in the grid. Even the final boss wasn’t all that noteworthy or different from previous bosses.

So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend this one. Sure, the actual picross elements are fine, but when you consider the fact that there are plenty of free picross/nonogram apps that don’t awkwardly stitch antithetical mechanics to unrelated genres, it becomes obvious that the glorified time limits are the game’s only real selling point. To be clear, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t change up a formula; in fact, Twilight Princess Picross showed how to do this right: it had Mega Numbers, which indicate clusters that stretch across two rows or columns. That’s how you do a twist on the formula: it adds a new mechanic while still staying true to what people like about picross (only problem was that all the boards that had Mega Numbers were duplicates of earlier ordinary boards). In fact, everything this game tries to do, Twilight Princess Picross does better (and Twilight Princess Picross is basically free, only requiring silver My Nintendo coins to get), so I say just get that game instead.

  • A Hat in Time

    12 hours playtime

    15 of 46 achievements

This is a 3D collectathon platformer. Left stick moves, A button double-jumps, X attacks, and B talks to NPCs. As is typical for collectathons, you’ll get upgrades in later worlds that unlock parts of earlier worlds, but the only time this is a single-item upgrade is the hook-shot in world 3, mission 2. All your other upgrades are earned by collecting enough yarn balls, which are scattered around all four worlds. Personally, I’d rather just have single-item upgrades, especially since some of them are required to get certain collectibles (namely other yarn balls, bonus points if it’s in a linear part you’d need to redo). Speaking of: world 1 mission 5 claims you need the final upgrade (all the yarn balls) to beat it, but I looked it up, and it can be beaten using the first upgrade (the sprint hat). The wiki said that it would be “really difficult” to do it this way, but I won on my second try. You can also buy and equip badges, but not only are the badge shop’s three available options seemingly randomized, you can only buy two +1 slots for a total of three badges equipped at once, which is annoying because not only is the hook-shot a badge (meaning you’ll always have it equipped because you’ll need to use it), but some quality of life features are put behind badges, like the “reduce cool-down” badge (and given how the game is designed, those cool-downs weren’t necessary in the first place).

The game didn’t make a good first impression. One of the first things you have to do in the first mission is climb a bell tower, but even though the game tells you that you can double jump, this still isn’t enough to get up. Turns out, you can dive forward in midair by pushing RT, even after double-jumping. I feel like the game could’ve put up a button prompt or something when I made it to the girders. The game also introduces a homing attack early on, but it’s so finicky and underutilized, I think it would’ve been better to focus on having the player jump on enemies instead.

The bosses are also a weak point in the game. With the exception of the last boss of world 3 (and the giant flowers in world 4, if they even count), they all took way too many hits to die. It wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out there was some Dynamic Difficulty going on behind the scenes where boss fights had to last a certain amount of time before you could deal the final blow. The first boss continues the game’s lackluster first impression: the spark attack and sandbags falling from above are fine, but sometimes a regular enemy will jump up on the edge of the screen and charge across, and it can be kinda hard to see them because the lighting makes them as dark as the background (I definitely recommend going into the options and turning the contrast way up, as this isn’t the only time lighting is an issue). The boss also has an attack where it forms a ball made out of normal enemies, and as someone used to games having contact damage, it took me a while to realize I could climb the ball by jumping into a notch on it to reach the boss. However, the final boss was probably the worst offender since it teleports away so quickly that I’m not sure if it can even be hit without the laser beam badge. Plus, the final phase goes full Undertale: hazards are so numerous and quick that there’s very likely unavoidable damage in there, but it doesn’t matter since there’s no real consequence for taking damage anyway. It just wants to feel intense without having any stakes.

The camera also has problems. It’s programmed to zoom in right in front of your character if you get behind a wall, but this often happens even if the wall is very short. It doesn’t usually happen if you’re platforming on the same plane, but if it’s a vertical segment, it isn’t uncommon for you to try rotating the camera, only to have it hit a pedestal you weren’t aware of and jump forward. This even happened after I turned off automatic camera movement in the options. There isn’t even a point-of-view mode for you to better get a sense of your surroundings when this happens (the Y button just points the camera up while RB centers it behind you and the right stick’s button centers it in front of you). I guess no clipping is more important than letting the player actually see. The worst offender is in world 3’s purple time rift mission: one section has you on top of a Chess rook, and if you think you could get next to the edge and have the camera pointed at the outer wall so you can easily look for secrets…well, you can’t. Plus, this mission is more than happy to put foliage up above that does nothing but obscure the camera, likely resulting in the very thing this mechanic was supposed to prevent.

The rest of the game is okay. It’s at its best when it’s focusing on the platforming (which it doesn’t exactly shy away from), but there are some missions that have one-time gimmicks that never show up again. Notably, world 3 mission 4 is a stealth mission where you have to solve simplistic point-and-click nonpuzzles and you can push B next to designated objects to hide under them. This isn’t like the world 2 stealth levels where you see the NPCs’ view cones and have to avoid them; this is just a single NPC wandering around that you need to wait for it to leave if it shows up in the same room as you.

I do have one other issue with the game: relics. You find them in present boxes around the game and have to combine them in the right order to unlock new missions. Thing is, the game establishes that the first one you set goes on the bottom, then the next on top of it, but for the flying saucer one, you have to put the spaceship first, even though it goes on top. I had to look up a walkthrough because I thought I was missing a relic.

Overall, it’s okay. It has a bad first impression, the boss fights kinda suck, and the camera is frustrating sometimes…and it looks like it hasn’t gone below $15 USD, which I’d say is still a bit of a stretch. I get that it’s supposed to be somewhat nonlinear, but I feel like the game wouldn’t have needed to be thirty dollars if the devs focused more on platforming challenges and less on scripting new one-off gimmicks (or maybe I’m just not as big a fan of collectathons as I thought). Maybe it’s worth it if you include the Steam Workshop levels, but I haven’t played any of them yet, so I say wait for a better sale.

  • Attack of the Earthlings

    12 hours playtime

    21 of 37 achievements

This is a turn-based tactics game. You start each level with only the main unit (you lose if it dies), but when you kill enemies, you can eat their corpses to gain points you can spend to spawn and mutate other units. It’s also partly a stealth game since enemies patrol predetermined routes (though not necessarily predictable ones) and only attack you if you end up in their very visible vision cone. However, they will break from their patrol if you do something that causes noise near them (the game will always show you how many spaces away the noise will reach). Also, with the exception of the game’s two bosses, each enemy can be taken out in one hit as long as you use the right mutation for your unit (though your units can also be taken out in 1-2 hits).

The game is pretty easy for the most part. In fact, I’d say most of the challenge comes from what the game never tells you that other tactics games would, like how far enemies can move. My biggest issue is that every level has fog of war, and while this isn’t too bad at first, it ends up hiding new things the game introduces until it’s too late (like the enemies with a full-circle view-cone in level 4). Notably, level 5 tasks you with killing enemies before they reach a destination, but it neither tells you where the enemies will spawn nor where their destination is; you just have to react and hope you’re in a good enough position when they do spawn. The boss at the end of level 6 is more what I’d expect as a challenge from a tactics game: the whole room is visible (no fog) and you have to use your knowledge of your units to kill a unit with more health and attacks than normal (I did like how the game always tells you how many times a unit can attack in one turn). Thing is, the game never tells you that if you blind a unit, then attack said unit, it gets unblinded and counterattacks you. Even though the game penalizes you for losing units during missions by lowering the amount of upgrade points you get, I don’t see how I’m supposed to beat that boss without losing a unit (then again, if Nitrome’s Small Fry has taught me anything, it’s that just because a game encourages something doesn’t mean it’s possible).

Also, a minor nitpick, but even if you’re using a controller instead of a mouse, it’ll still slide a pointer over the level instead of having the traditional “cursor that snaps to each square on the board.” I wouldn’t have even brought this up if it weren’t for a couple times where the pointer didn’t register that I could attack a noncombatant (the samples in level 4 and the switches in level 7), and I feel like this bug wouldn’t have happened with the traditional setup.

This one’s hard for me to recommend. On one hand, there aren’t many overt flaws, but on the other hand, it’s kinda easy and boring, with most of what little challenge there is coming from the game not telling you stuff.

I originally wanted to play this before Braveland, but it got stuck on the loading screen. It had an update queued the next day, so I figured I’d try it again: nothing. I posted about it in the Steam forum: nothing. I went to their website and sent an e-mail to the listed address: nothing. It wasn’t until a few days ago, when the devs made a post asking if anyone wanted to take over the project, that I was able to get a response: said post listed an e-mail different than the one on their website, so I reported the bug to that e-mail, and it was fixed the next day.

But then I played the game.

  • Blast Zone! Tournament

    8 hours playtime

    2 of 45 achievements

This is a Bomberman clone. Each board is a square grid, filled with destructible blocks, indestructible blocks, enemies, and of course, empty tiles you can walk across. Your main (and only, to be honest) method of attack is to lay a bomb down, which explodes in a + shape after 2-3 seconds (it never turns or goes diagonally). Power-ups will also spawn in the level, either randomly when you blow up a destructible block or if opponents blows up and lose all their power-ups (in which case, they get scattered across the arena). These can increase the number of bombs you can lay down (starts at 1 by default), how many tiles away the explosion stretches (again, starts at 1 by default and only in the + shape), or how fast you move (starts at 4 by default). For the single player campaign, there are 4 worlds, and each world has 60 levels; the 20 in the first column are part of the main campaign, and the two columns to the right contain harder levels with the same objective as the level to their left.

As someone who beat Super Bomberman 1 and 2, Bomberman 94, Saturn Bomberman, and Bomberman Tournament, I felt the PvE battles where you have to face another Bomberperson were the weakest parts of the games*: all either of you can do is lay bombs and wait, and unless one of you gets trapped, it’s really easy simply to walk out of the bombs’ range, so on top of being slow and tedious, they never really play out any differently. So naturally, this game has those battles take up half of the single player mode, though you have to face multiple opponents at once (usually 3-5, but every 20 levels, it’s 9 at once). What else can I say but “they really drive home how repetitive PvE Bomberman is”? There isn’t even a way to know the range of any opponent’s bomb before it explodes (at least, not in single player), so the only way to be sure you’re safe is to make the same diagonal retreat each time. Needless to say, I didn’t do any of the harder PvE levels, and I gave up on the regular final level (at the end of world 4) because 9 opponents with nowhere to trap them is just too chaotic and random for me.

There are two other types of PvE matches besides elimination, though. The first introduced is where you have to collect a certain number of coins before making it to the center of the board. At first, it seems like it could be interesting: rather than having to attack your opponents, you simply need to avoid their attacks. Unfortunately, this is a direct translation of the PvP version, which means your AI opponents can collect coins, too (even if they’re not programmed to go after them), and the only way to get those coins back on the field is to kill them. Thing is, nobody stays dead in this mode; dying has you revive after a few seconds, so if you kill one, another could get the coin before you, and then you kill the other one only to see the previous one get the coin back, etc. Oh, and you can’t see which opponents have coins, either (you’d only know if you see them collect one).

The second is where your explosion paints the ground in your team’s color, and the team with the most tiles covered when time runs out wins. If your team’s bomb(s) and another team’s bomb(s) are in range of each other, the affiliation of the first explosion is what determines the color all the bombs paint. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of this mode, either: after everyone’s powered up, its too easy and quick for both teams to flip the board back in their favor by chaining multiple large-explosion bombs in enemy territory, so rather than being much about skill, it’s whoever just so happened to have the majority when time runs out.

Ah, but there’s still the other half of single player! And it’s actually what I expected from a single player Bomberman clone: enemies that aren’t just copies of you, combined with levels actually designed around the new enemies (in other words, obstacle courses instead of PvP arenas)! Alas, this also has problems. The game claims that it has “puzzles,” but they’re literally nothing more than trial-and-error: red/blue switches will swap certain tiles for certain other tiles, but you never know which tiles will change or to what they’ll change until after you blow up the switch (and even then, nothing will happen if you happen to be standing on a tile that would’ve changed). Some levels require you to step on a flashing tile, which will spawn another flashing tile somewhere else in the level, and of course, you won’t know where until after you step on it (and if you step on a previous flashing tile instead of the next one, they all disappear, but the game never tells you this). There are also tiles that have an arrow on them; these will launch you in the air in the direction they’re pointing, but the number of tiles you’ll be thrown is different for every one, so the only way to know for sure is to activate it, but then you may not be able to get back easily, of course. There are also glowing white circles that will teleport you to another glowing white circle (or sometimes, you’ll even be sent to a tile that doesn’t have a glowing white circle on it, just in case the game was being too consistent for you); needless to say, you won’t know where you’ll be sent until after you go in. Honestly, while it may not technically be half of the non-PvE levels that rely exclusively on trial-and-error, it sure feels like it (I lost count of how many there are). I even gave up one of the third-tier difficulty levels in world 4 because it was nothing but trial and error: the red/blue switches changed what launch arrows were on the board, and when I finally got to the end, I realized it was a “walk over the yellow tiles” level, which meant I’d have to memorize five different setups and the order to do them in, all without any way to figure it out except trial and error. This just reinforces my belief that a significantly large group of people (who are all devs) don’t actually know what a puzzle is.

So, are we at the good part yet? Not quite; while we have weeded out the worst of the worst, the action stages have some issues, too. For one, the camera is at an angle looking down, so anything one tile above anything tall (like an indestructible block, or yourself) can be obscured and hard to notice. This goes double when what’s above you is a cracked tile that turns into a hole when a bomb explodes on it:
Would you have seen it if I didn't point it out?
Another example of bad graphics: the arena border always uses literally the exact same texture as regular empty tiles! That messed me up a couple times.

Beyond those objectively bad graphics (and some other instances where I feel enemies and openings could be more visually distinct from empty tiles), some enemies have inconsistent AI, notably the rat-bots and grasshopper-bots: instead of being able to glance at an enemy and instantly know “okay, that enemy will move like that so I can counter like this,” you’ll need to stop and watch its movements until you see it repeat itself, and if that level has a time limit, that basically means you’ll have to lose before you have a chance. Again with the trial-and-error!

Speaking of the time limit, it can sometimes be really strict, and when the game also makes you fight enemies and also doesn’t give you any +1 bomb power-ups, you HAVE to wait for your first bomb to explode before you can attack again, which means you’ll need to have really good timing (especially since, again, bombs take a full 2-3 seconds to explode). EDIT: Okay, it turns out that if you’re holding a bomb with the “pick up and throw” power-up, that’ll prevent the bomb from exploding, so if you grab it right before it explodes, you won’t have to worry about blowing yourself up or the enemy escaping its explosion despite being stunned after you hit it with the bomb. Of course, the game doesn’t tell you this, and there still isn’t much room for error on those two hardest-tier world 1 levels.

So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend this game. What small percentage of the single player is actually fun is marred by everything else, and even if you like PvP Bomberman, keep in mind that the game requires an online server connection just to boot up (even if you just want single player or local multiplayer), and the devs are currently looking for someone else to take over. In other words, it may not be playable for much longer.

*Excluding those stupid luck-based Karabon battles from Bomberman Tournament. The only thing worse than trial-and-error-memorization is percent-chances.

This is a perfect example of everything wrong with momentum-based platformers (and why I stopped buying them).

This is a momentum-based platformer (like I just said). Along with your standard left/right movement and jump, you can push RT to dash, but you can only do it once per plane (e.g. floor, wall, ceiling, etc.); after that, you need to jump to another plane to dash again. You can also hold LT to glide.

As the sub-genre implies, the controls aren’t all that responsive: if you jump forward and want to turn around, you have to hold backwards to slow yourself down before you can even think about moving backwards. Is there a thin pit with spiked walls you need to jump down? Well, don’t think about just slightly tapping forward because that’ll send you careening into the spikes on the other side.

The gliding mechanics are even worse. At first, it doesn’t seem so bad: bobbing down and up helps keep your elevation (not unlike the Cape Feather in Super Mario World), and the faster you move, the further up you can travel before your momentum runs out. Thing is, the further you get in the game, the more you realize how arbitrary some of the gliding mechanics are. For example, if you travel too far horizontally from the point you first started the glide, it’ll fizzle out. It isn’t a timer because it doesn’t happen vertically, only horizontally. Also, as soon as your glide begins to fizzle, turning becomes much more stiff and less responsive (meaning you don’t get a warning; it just happens instantly). So, it isn’t uncommon for it to run out on one run, then you try to adapt on the next run by hitting the button sooner only to overcompensate due to the more sensitive not-about-to-run-out gliding controls and fail again. There is technically a visual for how much glide you have left, but it isn’t a clear UI stat; it’s the thickness of the protagonist’s scarf, which is something you would barely be able to notice even when the camera isn’t zoomed out for the larger levels.

That wasn’t the only issue I had with the gliding, though: the faster you move, the more sensitive the controls become, but you can’t just turn instantly; you need to steer, which means you’ll have to input your actions early to account for the fact that you can’t turn immediately. So, let’s say you need to be moving fast to reach a high platform but need to go through a spike corridor to reach it, so you jump up and glide down to build up speed, then you need to turn ahead of time to make up for the steering (and you can’t just push straight because then gravity will push you downward into the lower spikes), but if you turn slightly too early and are about to run right into the spikes on the ceiling, you can’t just slightly adjust your trajectory down a bit because then you’ll instantly dive into the lower spikes and die anyway.

And that’s to say nothing about all the times the game makes you do blind glides (like blind jumps, but worse), where you’ll have no idea how much speed you’ll need (usually a lot, often too much to react to what’s coming up without already knowing ahead of time) or even exactly where you’ll need to go until after you go forward once and die. This starts happening as early as the first world, by the way.

Oh, and let’s not forget how certain levels don’t even really test what you’ve learned about the mechanics so much as they introduce some new way of manipulating the game’s physics and you just have to go through trial-and-error until you figure out what button sequence results in you getting the height and/or trajectory you need to progress. The 2nd worst of these was Crumbling Wells; I know because that level’s trademark setup gets reused in the final level (which then moves on to have the worst one, in case you were wondering).

To add insult to injury, the collectibles have bad graphics. Sure, it seems fine at first since they’re bright and have a glow effect around them, but when you consider that the game’s background is monochrome and can get just as bright as those birds, you’ll realize they can easily blend in and go unnoticed. I lost count of how many I either missed without realizing it or collected without knowing they were there beforehand. Plus, they’re smaller than your character, so if you want to get them all, you’ll end up needing to be even more precise with these imprecise controls.

Lastly, despite the entirety of the rest of the game having no combat (or even moving hazards), the game decides that it needs a final boss. It can summon 6 tiny projectiles that all move faster than your momentum allows you to dodge, and it flies around in an erratic pattern, spawning spikes onto any surface it touches. It can also throw a spear that causes spikes to appear all around the platform it hits, or even have spikes appear on all platforms for a split second (though the indicating smoke stays up for a full second or second-and-a-half, so if you react to it like normal, you’ll land back on the platform right when the spikes appear and die). Also, the game introduces yet another mechanic, this time using a new button that had never been used up to this point: on certain platforms, you can generate a force field, and this reflects the boss’s large, slow shot (not necessarily back at the boss, just in the opposite direction). Plus, for the final phase of the fight, these force fields gain a different mechanic: creating a small opening in the boss’s force field, but only for a split second (even shorter than the visuals show it being open for, so I got bounced back by what the game showed as an opening and I thought that wasn’t what I was supposed to do at first). And when I finally beat the boss and made it to the end, the game just kinda soft-locked on an alternate title screen; I had to pause and exit manually. Maybe that was intentional (the new background could be interpreted as an epilogue), but it felt like something messed up since there was no music or even a staff roll.

Not recommended.

Freaking Early Access games. Should I label it as unfinished or completed? I always thought my games would be released before I got around to playing them, but here we are.

  • Temple of Xiala

    43 minutes playtime

    5 of 5 achievements but I guess they don't count

This is a puzzle game. Tapping an arrow key moves all blocks until they hit something, and the goal is to get all the blocks onto the glowing surfaces within the level’s strict move limit. The spacebar undoes one move and the escape key pauses the game. Blue blocks move normally, green blocks move in the opposite direction, and grey blocks are fixed on a rail. I was disappointed that the latter two were treated more as gimmicks: levels with grey blocks never had green blocks and vice versa.

Most of the puzzles are pretty easy, even after the tutorial. There are a few clever ones, though. There are also only 20 levels, and once you complete the last one, the game basically soft-locks; you have to pause and exit manually. Something else I found odd is that if you go to the level select, stage one is blacked-out and can’t be selected; the actual playable stages are 2-21.

It’s an okay game. Its current price of $2 may be a bit of a stretch, but if you’re a fan of puzzle games, I could recommend getting it on sale.

Wow, episodic gaming kinda sucks. First, Republique just ends up being the same gameplay loop with no variation or difficulty curve (gave up after ep. 3 out of boredom), then Hitman 2 literally only gives you one target and one small house in an empty map for the first episode, being little more than a glorified demo (I didn’t even get Steam cards), so I abandoned both of them and played another game:

This is a turn-based tactics game. Each arena is an 8x5 grid with your team on the left side and enemies scattered around the rest of the board. Most enemies don’t attack on their own; they only counterattack when damaged. What sets this game apart is that your characters can only move to the right (and most have low max health), so you’ll need to use your limited ranged attacks and get enemies to (counter)attack each other until you can use melee attacks safely and reach the other side of the grid.

This is a decent foundation and could’ve lead to a really good game, but it’s ruined with one design decision: enemy placement is randomized, so instead of making players really think about their abilities and the enemies’ AI, each level just kinda blurs into the next, ultimately not being much better than Braveland. Even the final world and final boss weren’t all that noteworthy. What makes this worse is that some levels task you with killing a number of a certain type of enemy, then proceed not to spawn said enemy, so you have to fight through that entire grid just to reroll and hope the enemy shows up next time.

The RPG mechanics exacerbate this issue. If the level isn’t as monotonous as the rest of the game, it’s because the difficulty spiked to the point where you don’t know if it’s even possible with what you have or if you need to level up more or get more party member slots. Then again, sometimes, it’s blatantly obvious that you’ll need to increase your attack before you can progress in the level (as some optional levels have a large defense-up modifier for enemies).

The only other thing I can think to mention is it has that RPG trope where one of your party members leaves due to events in a cut-scene, but even this isn’t that big a deal since you can just hire another unit of that same class to replace the one that left (and you keep experience even if you lose or quit the level you’re on, so grinding to get it up to the rest of your party’s level doesn’t take that long, either).

Not recommended.

Hotline Miami is another one of those games that I just don’t understand how it got popular. Only one enemy type, and level design consists solely of floor, wall, and door, so the only way the game can add difficulty is by having more enemies and making them inconsistent. One of the loading hints says that the enemies are predictable, but this wasn’t the case in my experience. Firing a gun is supposed to draw their attention, but while sometimes they’d come from across the screen, quite a few rooms away, other times they’d keep doing their rounds right on the other side of the wall. Furthermore, sometimes I could barge into a room and kill all the enemies there without them so much as lifting a finger, while other times I’d suddenly get shot by an enemy that was facing the other way on the other side of the screen (or even OFF-SCREEN!). By the way, attacks are instantaneous, so you can’t dodge or react to anything. I even made it to the first boss, but it has the exact same AI as the rest of the enemies; it just takes more hits to knock him down. Now, normally, you can do a finishing move on an enemy that’s been knocked down, but this straight-up wouldn’t register when I did it to the boss, which gave him plenty of time to get up and kill me. The finishing move finally did register at one point, but I can’t say what I did differently, so I can only assume the controls are literally unresponsive. I gave up on the next level and decided to play a game I knew I’d like better:

Don't worry, that isn't a real level. You haven't been spoiled.

This is a puzzle game. You’ve got a train with 1-3 carts, and you have to draw a track connecting the passengers to their corresponding boxes; once you’re done drawing the path, you click the play button at the bottom to start the train. Passengers automatically board the train when it passes by them (unless it’s full) and automatically disembark when it passes by the appropriate box (unless another passenger was already dropped off there). The goal is to get each passenger to their respective boxes and get the train to the exit in one go. Sometimes, levels will have two exits, with each one leading to a different set of levels, meaning you’ll have to solve them twice (but slightly differently, admittedly) to unlock all the levels.

The game’s levels are grouped into constellations, and each constellation has its own difficulty curve, dropping back down to easy at the start of each one. Some constellations are able to get challenging during their last few levels, while others (like Taurus and Vela) remain easy throughout the entire set. You can usually count on the first 7ish levels to be easy for each constellation regardless.

Some constellations have their own gimmick, but they’re exclusive to said constellations until the final one, so they can feel underutilized (especially given the fact that at least 2/3rds of each constellations’ levels are on the tutorial side of the difficulty spectrum). The only gimmick I actively disliked was Cassiopeia’s: Normally, you can just draw the track next to the box, confident in the knowledge that the passenger will make it there, but these levels put the boxes right next to the exit. This is a big deal since the train carts are behind the driver’s seat, so if you try to solve the level normally, the driver will be blocked by the exit and the passenger will be blocked by the driver. With the other one-off gimmicks, they at least build on the core mechanics and are easy to understand, but this gimmick changes a fundamental part of how the game works, meaning the challenge comes from not knowing what you can do (especially when the game changes the number of carts you have). This gimmick doesn’t even get brought back at the end, so once you wrap your head around how it works, you don’t need to use that knowledge anymore.

On a similar topic, I didn’t like how the game handles having a single empty spaces between passengers. If you draw a straight track between the space, neither passenger will board even if you have an empty cart, going directly against what the game has taught you up to this point. This isn’t a constellation gimmick, either: it’s just sporadically used, meaning you’ll likely forget about it the next time it’s needed. I don’t even think the game gives it a proper introduction; it just shows up at one point and you’re just expected to figure it out. The entire reason I prefer these types of puzzle games is because you’re supposed to be able to figure out the solution without trial and error, so when something like this happens, it defeats the purpose.

Overall, the game is okay. It has its fair share of challenging levels, but it also has quite a bit of fluff and a couple frustrating mechanics which run counter to what makes the rest of the game fun. For comparison, although Splotches had more fluff, it at least had consistent mechanics. I say wait for a sale.

EDIT: Oh, and when I beat the game, some of the single-exit levels turned into white stars (this normally only happens if it’s a double-exit level where you’ve only reached one exit), and the game doesn’t say why this is.