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

Platformer, but there isn’t much to talk about it. The platforming is mostly pretty easy and the “puzzles” are nonexistent. There’s also only one real enemy type: stays still until you get close, then runs towards you. The game has a gimmick where you can spawn two blocks under you with the R button before you have to destroy them with the L button to spawn more, but the gimmick isn’t used in any interesting way. The only times you’ll have trouble are the times the game becomes cheap, like when the black platforms blend into the black background objects, or the part in level 8 where you have to push a rock down a hole, then ride the rock over a laser cannon that you can’t see from above or else the rock rolls past it and you get stuck and have to kill yourself, or the blue crystals in the final level that don’t look like hazards but still kill you anyway. The worst was in level 9, where two laser cannons (which are black, thus blending into the solid tiles) are activated when a switch isn’t pressed, but an enemy starts the level on the switch, so you won’t see the switch since it’s being pressed down, and the distance the enemy notices you just so happens to be where the laser cannons are pointing. There’s also a good/bad ending, but they’re both pretty abrupt and don’t unlock any more content.

Not recommended.

  • Cosmic Zephyr DX

    21 minutes playtime

    no achievements

Well, I say “beaten,” but turns out, it’s an endless high-score game. It’s just you and the game’s one boss; once you deplete its HP bar, the screen cuts to black and fades back in with the tunnel as a different color, a different song playing, and the boss’s health refilled (even projectiles are in the same spots). Speaking of, the tunnel is purely a background detail; you only have to worry about avoiding the boss’s one shot pattern (it’s just that sometimes, it can be mirrored or faster, with the boss shooting it a different number of times). There also doesn’t seem to be much difference between difficulties except how much health the boss has, and I didn’t notice any gameplay difference between 50cc and 150cc (the tunnel moved faster, but again, that doesn’t impact gameplay at all).

Despite how little the game has to offer, it still gets stuff wrong. Even when the tunnel stretches fully around the arena, it’s difficult to tell where everything is in relation to each other, and even when you’re pretty sure your bullets should be hitting the boss, they can pass through without dealing any damage.

Overall, it’s extremely basic and mediocre. You’re not missing much by skipping it.

I saw a bunch of giveaways for this one a while back and remembered that it was part of that 1700+ bundle, so I added it to my list of games to play.

Doggone it!

Platformer. If you check the options, you’ll see that available inputs include up, down, left, right, jump, attack, and pause. What you’re not told is that you can do a MegaMan-esque slide by holding down and pushing jump (not an attack, just gets you under one-tile-high gaps); this is important because you never need to do this until the water/lava levels, meaning you’d never even know you’re missing secrets in the intro, ice, and desert levels until then. Oh, and it’s also possible to drop past certain platforms; now, you may be thinking “if not down+jump, what is it?” You have to stay still and hold down for a second.

The game starts off promising. Level design is bland and hitboxes are a touch larger than you might expect, but controls are responsive (no momentum) and the delay between when enemies notice and shoot you is enough so that when you attack them, your sword hits their bullet, showing you that you can attack projectiles to destroy them. The boss of the first level is also fairly designed, no cheap hits.

However, once you make it to the stage select, the game starts to show its hand. The ice level (which is red, lol) has ice floor that not only gives you momentum, but speeds you up drastically, and you need that speed-up to make a series of blind jumps; my first death was trying to do an ice-jump, only to overshoot a platform and just barely miss the next one (and it’s not simple to stop yourself due to the aforementioned momentum). Plus, this level also has icicles which fall and hurt you, which wouldn’t be that big a deal if it didn’t also have identically-looking ice as background tiles (which it uses frequently, on the ceiling). The desert level has warehouse-looking robots that shoot homing missiles upward, but if you attack them enough, their outer shell breaks and they immediately begin shooting forward, which will hit you because you can only do a 3-hit combo before you get a slight attack delay (also, attacking in midair has this delay after each attack). The water level has platforms on rails, but the rails keep going past where the platforms abruptly start moving the other direction, and also enemies will spawn moving towards you as you make jumps, giving you little warning before you collide with them. The lava level has glass tubes as background objects, but some of them can break open and spawn a blob enemy that can’t be killed unless you attack it while it’s in midair, which it only does when it abruptly jumps forward. Oh, and all these levels are long, making it all the more sinister/tedious that the only difference between normal and hard mode is limited lives (checkpoint placement is okay, though).

The bosses also suck. The ice level’s boss has a lot of instant claw attacks that you just have to know are coming to avoid, and it can also shoot fast-moving crescents whose trajectory is impossible to predict. The desert boss’s arena is wide, which can put it offscreen (especially if you learned from the ice boss to keep your distance), and one of its low-HP attacks has it shoot the ground–but this isn’t what hurts you; instead, the spots it shot explode upward after a bit, AND the boss shoots a bunch of homing missiles as this happens. The water boss is actually designed pretty well, but its frequent use of waves of projectiles means you can’t attack it often. The lava boss is also okay, but one of its attacks has it move in a figure-∞, meaning if you get caught in the corner, you wont be able to jump over the boss since it’ll just move up into you.

After you beat the four stage-select levels, you unlock the city level, which reintroduces the desert robots and has another blind jump with a drone placed right where you’d need to be to make the jump. The boss of this level is a giant robot with its weak point on its head, but the only way to reach it is to wait for it to send its fist out. This is immediately followed by the forest level, which has a lot more of those small, abruptly-change-direction platforms (now without any railings!) which are combined with lots of a newly introduced enemy: an eye that shoots at you and is only vulnerable right when it’s about to shoot, so not only can you not really get rid of them, but their aimed-shots combined with the small, moving platforms means you also don’t have much chance of avoiding them, either. The boss of this level has almost nothing but instant melee attacks; not as bad as the ice level’s boss but still annoying.

After that, you get sent back to the stage select and are told that there’s “no going back” from the next level, but at this point, the game also won’t let you replay any of the four initial stage-select levels so you can get any floppy disks you missed (required for the good ending). The level itself is once again quite long, but mostly okay, with the Quickman-esque lasers only firing when you get in front of them, and the jet-platform segments giving you time to react despite once again interfering with your forward momentum. That said, there is one major problem with this level: it makes you refight ALL of the four stage-select bosses! This isn’t even like Mega Man where you have new powers to use; it’s literally just the same bosses in the same arenas again…and then afterward, the game abruptly reintroduces the blobs from the lava level for another cheap hit! The level’s own boss is actually invulnerable most of the time, once again forcing you to wait until it splits up and makes its core vulnerable.

The final level has little more than two boss fights: the first one is designed okay, but the fight can be pretty slow since the only safe way to get hits in is to wait for the boss come to you instead of chasing after it. The final boss’s first phase just involves two very cheap hits: 1) it can toss its massive scythe at you, which then immediately shoots a massive laser beam upward, and 2) it can come down and charge across the arena; both attacks require doing the slide move at specific locations to avoid and counterattack (the first time the slide move needed to avoid an attack). Also the boss’s hitbox is quite a bit smaller than you’d expect; several of my attacks missed despite my sprite clipping into the boss’s sprite. The second phase happens when its health bar is halfway down: it suddenly spawns lighting from the center of the arena outward (you can only avoid it once you know both the timing and which of those white sprites are just foreshadow and which actually hurt you), but its projectiles and moving hands aren’t that bad (though it can do the lighting attack again).

Overall, I don’t think I’d recommend this one. Maybe play it if you got it in that 1700+ bundle, but I wouldn’t recommend paying for it.

  • Laser Disco Defenders

    53 minutes playtime

    1 of 12 achievements

Twinstick shooter, but with procedurally-generated levels (you have to start the whole game over if you die). You can move in any direction without momentum, but letting go of the left-stick has you slowly fall downward. The game’s main gimmick is that ALL projectiles stay in the level, constantly bouncing off walls (they slow down after the first bounce to make things easier to manage), and everyone has friendly-fire. It can make the game trickier at times, but it can also result in enemies getting killed offscreen by shots you’ve forgotten about. The exit only appears once you’ve killed all the enemies in the level.

The first few levels are short and basic, just halls and arenas with turrets and spikes attached to the walls and mines floating in the air.

The second few levels introduce a couple other things: bubble generators (bubbles hurt you and don’t always stand out as well as regular projectiles), 4-way laser cannons that fire laser-beams if you get close enough (lasers won’t stay in the level), and knights that bring out a shield when you shoot them so you have to get behind them and shoot again to kill them. The 4-way laser cannons are a bit devious since they have a not-exactly-obvious force-field that only goes away briefly after they shoot, and the foreshadow for their attack is just a sound effect (no thin line like lasers in other games have); they could’ve been introduced better if not for the procedural generation. There’s also one room where there’s a bunch of 4-way laser cannons combined with the knights, and this room is pretty hectic even without taking into consideration the game’s projectile-reflecting gimmick.

The third and final set of 5 levels introduce background tiles that glow on/off, and will hurt you if you’re in front of them when they’re at max glow. One potential setup has a large arena with turrets on the edges, but each quadrant has its own timer for the glow tiles, with each quadrant being big enough that you won’t have enough time to escape when they start glowing if you’re too close to the corner. That was how I died the first time, and on my second run, I never encountered that room at all.

The game’s final (only) boss has its weak points scattered around the arena, but you wouldn’t know they’re weak points at first; you’d think they’re just bumpers or something because their force field is different than the ones the 4-way laser cannons have, and their force-field’s brief disappearance is on a timer instead of based on anything you can do (yup, it’s a wait-to-attack boss). The boss can also attack with its own laser cannons, which increase in number as more weak points are destroyed, but once again, you’d only know how many or where they’re aiming by looking for the grey cannons that pop up in front of the grey background.

Overall, it’s okay, but it feels more like a proof of concept than a full game, with the permadeath just being a way to pad out its length. Wait for a good sale.

This is technically a demo (BLAEO doesn’t even register it as being in my Steam account), but I seem to remember reading somewhere that this free version is the same as the paid version. Looking at the screenshots on the store page, this seems to check out.

Platformer. No controller support; left/right keys move you, and the Z key does a quadruple-jump, which sounds like overkill before you realize your jump height is only half a unit.

When I started, the game pretended to fullscreen but was actually stuck in a tiny window in the upper-left corner. Luckily, there was a fix in the discussions: run with Windows 8 compatibility, then alt-tab out and back in. The game was still duplicated in the upper-left corner, but it didn’t conflict with the properly-fullscreened version due to its 4:3 aspect ratio.

As for the game itself? It’s pretty easy and short (Steam says I only played for a minute or two), with a noticeable chunk of your brief playtime being waiting on the constant autoscroll to show you what’s coming up. The hardest part was at the very beginning, where it’s easy to fall past the switch that unblocks the way forward, and not realize that’s what it even is due to it having the same color palette and general shape as regular solid tiles (on my first try, I was caught by the autoscroll and died because I thought there was another action/input I was missing; on my second time, I fell on the switch by accident).

It’s okay for a free game; wouldn’t recommend paying for it, though.

I remember enjoying games like A Link to the Past, Neutopia, and Golden Axe Warrior (also Neutopia 2 and Terranigma despite similar issues with their final bosses), which is why I was so disappointed to play games like The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, Forced, and Victor Vran, only to discover that there’s an entire genre of top-down action games where the challenge is nothing more than waves of repetitive enemies, often without any level design whatsoever. Still, I held out hope: having learned my lesson, I’d carefully check the trailers of top-down games to see if I could find any evidence of level design, and I’d only enter giveaways for ones that seemed to have them. One of those rare games that made the cut was Zwei: The Arges Adventure, and after enough persistence entering giveaways, I finally won it…s sequel.

  • Zwei 2: The Ilvard Insurrection....doesn't "zwei" already mean "two"?

    30 hours playtime

    9 of 23 achievements

Action-RPG. Left stick moves, but jump is mapped to B by default with A being the attack button. After going to the options and changing it to X=attack and A=jump, B became the ‘cast spell’ button and Y does your ranged attacks (which are also technically spells, but the ones cast with the B button are more powerful and consume a different resource). There’s still one problem, though: your ranged attacks are assigned to a different character than your melee attacks, and your first push of either button actually swaps the character instead of attacks, so you’ll want to go into the options again and change it so that Y is a dedicated ‘swap character’ button with X using whichever attack you have equipped, be it ranged or melee. You can also hold L/R to swap your equipped weapon or use an item, respectively, and the game even pauses while you’re making your selection.

Melee attacks are quick when you’re tapping the button, doing combos and getting off the occasional critical hit that stuns an enemy for a moment, but as usual, you can’t move or interrupt your attack to dodge any incoming hazards, and the amount of time it takes for your attack to end is often more than enough time for the foreshadow animation to cycle and hit you. Amazingly, your ranged attacks not only let you move and attack simultaneously, but you can even jump while attacking! There’s even a pseudo-lock on (which I didn’t figure out until the snow level because IIRC the game never mentions it), where if you hold the attack button while shooting at an enemy, you’ll strafe around it, allowing you to keep up the offensive while focusing on dodging. This unprecedented responsiveness is balanced by your magic meter: use too many ranged attacks, and you have to wait 3 seconds for the bar to refill (it only starts refilling when it runs out, too). Ranged attacks also don’t have critical-hit-chances and thus won’t stun enemies, but still, I ended up not using melee attacks that much except to do things like hit switches.

Also, this game handles EXP a bit differently compared to other RPGs. Notably, you can buy items that straight-up give you EXP on use, which is something I always thought other RPGs were missing since you almost always end up with a ton of money and nothing to buy. Even healing items give you some EXP on use. The catch? Items are the only way you gain EXP; enemies only drop some money on death, with just a chance to drop an item. This means you’re encouraged to save items until you need to heal HP, especially since the game lets you trade healing items for ones that give more EXP.

Speaking of EXP, leveling up has a huge effect, at least at the beginning of the game. The first miniboss (which is optional, admittedly) is a giant bat that also has a bunch of other regular bats in its arena; when I first made it there, I only dealt 3 damage to it per attack, whereas it dealt 15 damage (half my max HP!) to me per attack. After it killed me, making me redo that entire section of the dungeon again, I opted to skip the room and go back later after reaching the next save point, gaining one (1) level, and equipping a +2DEF item and a crit-up item; now, I was suddenly dealing 20 damage per attack, and the miniboss only dealt 4 damage to me! Even after I made it to the second dungeon and made sure the only change was the item I used increasing my level by one, my ranged attack went from dealing 70 damage per hit to 100 damage per hit. It helped explain why the game was a little tedious for me after that first section in the first dungeon.

As for that level design I was so anxious to try out, the first dungeon has cannons that’ll aim at you and shoot, some of which are even placed on moving platforms. Your attacks do nothing to the cannons, so you just have to work around them (well, after a few dungeons, I realized you can destroy them with a bomb, but your bomb count is pretty limited at this point; also, there’s a brief delay between letting go of L/R (to use a bomb) and being able to jump again). Problem is, cannons (and all enemies with ranged attacks, honestly), can launch their projectiles from off-screen, giving you little time to react even if you’re using your own responsive ranged attacks. You have to look at your minimap instead of the game field in order to try to spot incoming enemies/cannons, but even then, the game can surprise you by placing cannons (indicated by a small grey square on the minimap) among switches or destructible obstacles (represented by a much-larger white-circle icon on the minimap). There’s also the occasional pit you need to ride a platform across, making it so you can’t easily run from the next group of enemies.

As for enemy AI, the game manages to have both extremes, even as early as the first dungeon. There are the ones that beeline towards you and only attack if you let them, but there are also enemies that can abruptly toss fast-moving boomerang-saw-blades (again, from offscreen, even!). The dungeon’s boss (a giant spider) also has issues: one of its attacks has it jump towards where you’re at, so you have to run away to avoid being stomped, right? Nope; you stay still, its legs land around you, and concentric circles of stalagmites shoot up moving away from where the boss lands, which hit you if you tried to run away but leave you alone if you stood still. Its weak points are its legs, which are immune to ranged attacks, but the boss has a move where it abruptly spawns stalagmites between its legs that move away from its center in a *-shape, hitting you if you don’t stop attacking and run away quick enough. Beating this boss gives you a new spell: a 4-way earth spell that knocks most enemies into the air, meaning you have to wait for them to come down before you can attack again. It’s also shorter-range than your default attack, but more powerful.

The first dungeon’s level design may not have been all that, but the second dungeon expands on this by having zero cannons and zero pits! Just halls, enemies, and the occasional ice-floor at certain four-way crossroads. Actually, there was one room where you have to keep up with spinning blades (one behind you and one in front), but the game deliberately has the second pair move differently than the first with no warning (first goes in the middle of the room after the hall, but the second hugs the wall, moving into the corner, which is where you’d be safe previously, with the new safe point being where you’d be in danger previously). We do get some new enemy types, though: a jellyfish that can toss an electric projectile at you in an arc (also with decent foreshadowing), and a lizard can jump toward you and create a small shockwave where it lands. That last one has a glitch, though: if the lizard ‘lands’ on your earth spell when it does its jump attack, the shockwave’s hitbox keeps falling forward and down, and can hit you even when the enemy itself is out of range. The dungeon’s boss has an attack where water spouts appear closer and closer to wherever you are, but you can’t run away from them; instead, you have to jump away from them, because apparently, jumping causes you to move slightly faster than running. The second-half of the fight turns the platform to ice, so you need to jump even more to keep from sliding off, but the boss shoots projectiles at you from a distance instead of from above or from within the arena, so jumping could still cause you to get hit as you get cornered trying to jump away, with your only remaining option being to jump towards the boss. Clearing this dungeon gets you an ice spell that temporarily freezes enemies and creates an ice crystal in front of them that blocks your subsequent attacks! Frozen enemies can’t be bounced, meaning you can attack with the earth spell more rapidly, but it’s still kinda tedious to switch back and forth, so I rarely used the ice spell.

The third dungeon isn’t that noteworthy; there are some pools of poison water that you have to jump over or ride a platform across, but for the most part, the closest to level design it has are overpasses to make two separate paths look like a four-way crossroad on your minimap (you can’t even jump off the bridge onto the lower path). It does introduce elemental weaknesses, having some green-sphere enemies that take way more damage if you use earth magic on them, but that’s about it. Only other thing I can think of is this is where the game started to outpace me; despite me being the recommended level, enemies started to take longer and longer to die. The boss is a giant plant that gently sweeps its vines across the floor to attack, and it’s arguably better than the previous two bosses, but it still has a couple issues. Notably, the conspicuous mouth-looking vine-head isn’t its weak point until the third phase; instead, before then, you have to attack the ends of the individual vines, which actually stick out past the edge of the arena–past the invisible wall. Also, that third phase has its mouth try to bite you, an attack you can only evade by the speed-increase afforded by jumping, but this chomp is combined by the boss sweeping vines above you, making it extra hard to evade damage since the camera is front-facing instead of downward-facing like in dungeons. This boss gives you the tornado spell upon defeat, which is easily the best spell in the game since it both traps enemies in the cyclone and deals damage until it disappears, at which point you can just toss another one and repeat the process until the enemy is dead. Enemies can still attack you if you don’t keep your distance, and it might also make it harder to see attacks coming, but it still beats dealing with them directly, especially since their ranged attacks go right over your head. It won’t work with enemies that can’t be sent into the air, but for them, you can just use your earth spell rapidly (and for bosses where you really need to keep your distance, there’s always your default projectile attack).

The fourth dungeon reintroduces pits and cannons! Hooray! There’s even one room where two cannons are placed on platforms that snake around the room, meaning they can slide into your DMs field of view and shoot you at any moment. It’s the most dynamic moment of level design in the game (despite how much of the game is left), but on top of the obvious downside of them not affecting the level until those brief moments, there’s also the fact that their platforms keep moving during the cut-aways that show the door unlocking after you hit a switch, meaning their platforms can push you into poison water before you can do anything. There’s also the occasional up-and-down spikes and on-and-off upward-flamethrower, but honestly, they contribute even less to level design and are on par with the spikes from Torchlight, at best just making you stop and wait a second for them to go away. As for new enemies, there’s a red goblin that can block your attacks (possibly the only enemy to do so), so you have to freeze it and then use your earth magic rapidly. It’s the only time I felt ice magic was useful, and this enemy never shows up outside this dungeon. There’s also a Volcano Lotus which normally stays still and shoots projectiles in a tall arc, but it can also abruptly get up and skitter towards you, and it’s also immune to your ice magic and thus can’t be prevented from doing this. Somehow, you can avoid its contact-damage by continuously jumping, causing it to run around you instead of into you. The boss is a dragon that shoots fireballs quickly and with a bit of spread, so you need to be pretty far and jump a bunch to avoid them. If that wasn’t enough to encourage using ranged attacks, the boss can also take flight, even charging at you in a way that’s hard to avoid. You get the fireball spell from this one, but while it’s pretty powerful and has more range than the other unlockable spells (maybe not as much as your default ranged attack, though), it can be kinda erratic, turning around partway towards an enemy and not hitting it (was it because I also turned and ran the other way?). I ultimately went back to using the tornado.

At this point, you can finally go to the castle, which splits into three paths. The rightmost path is the graveyard, where the most it gets regarding level design is a few 90-degree turns with a satellite gun (cannon model swap) in each corner, and one bat enemy among them (but due to the nature of enemies in this game, you can just lure it away if you’re having trouble). The leftmost path–the prison–spices up the usual hallways and dead-end-rooms-behind-locked-gates with signposts displaying humorous charges/convictions and sentences, but there’s also some level design here, too! Unfortunately, this is where even the level design gets cheap hits: normally, you can just hit a switch when you come across one, expecting nothing but good things, but here, hitting a certain switch causes a spike wall to come barreling towards you from offscreen, at a speed you won’t be able to react to if you don’t already know it’s coming, so you get hit and have to wait for it to go back and stop before you can hit the switch and try again. Even when you know what to do and you make it to the next room, which also has a spike wall, the game breaks its own precedent by having the second spike wall barrel towards you again even though that’s where it’d stop if you weren’t in the room. Worse still, that’s about it on the level design front for this part, as the other remaining path (more ordinary castle interior) doesn’t do anything noteworthy.

Each path also has its own boss at the end. The rightmost path’s boss has a forcefield and summons mud zombies, and if you attack either, they all try to dogpile you and reset the boss’s pattern; you just have to stand there and wait for the boss’s forcefield to go away before you can get exactly one hit off, at which point the boss temporarily runs away and summons more mud zombies, except these ones can be attacked and killed, which you’d want to do since leaving them alone for too long causes them to explode into a shockwave you need to jump over. This repeats way too many times. The boss of the leftmost path has some projectiles that can be tough to avoid, but it also has the ability to freeze you in place and attack you while you’re unable to do anything; amazingly, you prevent this by using melee attacks, which can hitstun the boss regularly and quickly (though you’re still in danger of getting hit by the boss’s ground-pound), resulting in one of the few moments where melee attacks are preferable to ranged ones. The boss of the forward-facing path is easily the worst boss in the game: it can just hit you normally to counter your melee attacks, and to counter your ranged attacks, it has a homing-charge attack that’s nearly impossible to avoid. It wasn’t the first time I used healing items to get past a boss, but it’s the first time I’m convinced that’s the only way to get past (except maybe lots of grinding).

Once you’ve beaten all three bosses, you unlock the final, upper path, which also doesn’t have any level design. The most it gets is a riddle involving empty chests, which isn’t too hard to figure out once you’ve gone all around the floor and realize it’s mandatory. After this, you finally reach the boss of the castle, and this part I feel deserves its own section:

Castle Boss (click to expand)

Is anyone even reading this?

Although I'd like you to click, you should probably read the rest of the post first if you're interested

It's a supposed-to-lose boss! Your ranged attacks deal zero damage, and when you approach to use melee, your entire health bar gets zapped and you're sent into another three or four cutscenes.

Then, you go to the snow dungeon! Well, first is a puzzle where you have to rotate some statues so they're all facing forward, but the game doesn't tell you in advance which ones rotate which other ones. No problem, though; just rotate each statue once and see which others move, then you can work on solving the puzzle, right? Not quite. See, if you rotate each statue once…that solves the puzzle! They're all facing forward and you can go into the dungeon! Then the characters gotta talk about how hard it was, like--no, it wasn't hard! I didn't get to solve anything before it was over!

The dungeon itself isn't too noteworthy, just some stationary enemies that explode on death and one part where hitting a switch causes you to get chased by giant enemies (though cannons-on-moving-platforms make a brief resurgence). You also get a new laser-beam spell around the halfway point, but its short range combined with its delay before firing means it still isn't as good as the tornado. The optional miniboss has some moving spike-balls around the edges of the arena, but they make no difference; you can just run circles around the miniboss, constantly using your ranged attack until it dies.

The main boss for the dungeon is a bit unintuitive; attacking its head doesn't deal damage, but unlike the plant boss, its weak point isn't anywhere else, either. Turns out, you have to attack its head with melee to make it vulnerable (temporarily), then shoot it with ranged attacks to deal damage. The second phase has the boss drop bomb items, letting you know that you have to use bombs on its legs to stun it and reach its weak point (the first phase could've used a hint like this). Still, being on its back too long causes you to take damage when you get knocked off, and you can also get hit by the rocks it can toss before you see them while back there.

Like the first four dungeons, the snow dungeon has a branching path around halfway through, with one path leading to the boss and the other path leading to a melee upgrade. I made the mistake of going after the boss first, thinking I could easily go back for the upgrade like I could with the first four dungeons, but nope: beating the boss results in a story moment that causes your fast-travel and your ranged attacks to be handicapped! Now, not only do you only have one ranged attack (that isn't as rapid and doesn't go nearly as far as your original ranged attack), but it also prevents you from moving for a split second per attack! To make matters worse, it can knock enemies into the air in such a way that your subsequent attacks miss! C'mon, the ranged weapons were one of the best parts of the game, and now the game has to go back on one of the things I liked!

You're also forced to keep that sabotaged ranged attack for almost the entire next dungeon, including fighting the only boss in the game that can HEAL ITSELF (I was trying to take my time to see how/if I could avoid its attacks, but apparently I'm just supposed to keep up the pressure and heal myself while taking the boss's hits). Also, that boss shows up at the dungeon's 1/3rd mark; at the 2/3rds mark, you have to refight the worst boss in the game, except now and for the rest of the dungeon, you don't have any ranged attacks! Also, the boss can jump and attack you while you're mid-jump. By the way, did I mention that jumping is your de-facto dodge since there's no dodge button? Once again, I'm convinced the intended way to get past is to tank the hits and spam healing items. Good thing I saved them despite being a level or two below recommended.

As for the dungeon itself? More of the same, no level design. I just started jumping past enemies at this point; combat was no longer any fun.

The dungeon's end boss is a redo of the supposed-to-lose boss from the castle, except now you can actually attack and deal damage without worrying about your health being zapped. Impressively, this boss actually feels like it was designed around the game's melee attacks since its projectiles move slow enough for you to get around them while heading to the boss. However, like the castle's rightmost boss before it, you can only hit the boss once before it goes away and summons some exploding discs around the arena and repeats its pattern. You get your ranged attacks back for the second phase, with the boss alternating invulnerability between ranged and melee attacks. It's not bad, all things considered, though you still need to run away preemptively as the melee character if you want to avoid being counterattacked, even though you could theoretically get a few more hits off before the invulnerability switches over.

You'd think that's the end, what with its outer-space setting and climactic rematch(es), but nope; now another dungeon shows up! You also get yet another spell: a powerful, mid-range attack that drains your magic meter pretty quickly. It's an improvement over earth magic, but tornado is still better in most cases. With my ranged attacks restored, I went back to get the melee upgrade in the snow level I'd passed up earlier, and discovered--unlike previous upgrades--it radically changes melee combat since now you can drive into enemies, automatically triggering hit-stun upon running over them (and you can fly over pits with it)! That definitely would've helped improve the previous dungeon a bit.

As for the level design in this new dungeon, it's still minimal and kinda cheap. Turrets replace cannons, and these ones have rapid-fire, so even when they don't blindside you from offscreen (or from behind your HUD), jumping doesn't always let you avoid them. There are some magnet orbs that try to suck you into a pit below them, but it can be finnicky whether you can run around them or whether they pull you in. There are switches that can move them or turn them off, but one in particular is timed despite there being no indication of this (no ticking sound effect, not even a "time's up" sound effect); you just come across the orb, seeing it turned back on despite seeing it turn off before, and I'm also pretty sure you can only get through in time using the snow dungeon's melee upgrade. There's one part with glass floors that shatter a second or two after you step on them, but the snow dungeon's melee upgrade kinda makes this trivial since you can just keep flying over the newly-formed pit. There are also teleport pads that you just gotta do trial-and-error to see where they go.

The dungeon's mid-boss can prevent you from changing characters, but I was using the ranged character and could literally run circles around the boss, constantly shooting it until I won. The final boss's first phase manages to be even simpler: jump on one of the pillars as they come from the ground, then jump off and hit the boss's weak point when the pillars have risen enough. All the projectiles are shot on the lower floor, and only when the pillars are at their height, so you have very little to worry about. The second phase is mixed; there are some projectile attacks you can react to and avoid in time, but then you've got stuff like the tail-uppercut and the triple-laser-combo that require you to be moving beforehand. The boss also regularly stays so far away that even your default ranged attack can't reach, yet if you're too close when it does its sword-swipe attack, you'll get hit by it, even if you're mid-jump (the transparent floor also doesn't help with judging height).

Overall, I don’t think I’d recommend this one. It started off with potential, then slowly squandered its potential before eventually regressing on one of the things it had done well (EDIT: I was actually still thinking of recommending the game on sale until that point, though the quality did rebound a bit afterward). Can someone who’s played Arges Adventure let me know how it compares to this game? I was interested, but after this one, I don’t know…

As you might expect if you’ve read some of my previous posts, I’ve had another string of disappointments recently. Aquarius ended up being a wave-based arena shooter where level design has almost no impact on the repetitive gameplay, and when I reached level 2, I decided to take a break, only to realize level 2 never actually unlocked on the stage select, so I gave up. Then I tried Defense Grid: The Awakening for a while, only to realize around halfway through that I still don’t like Tower Defense/RTS games. Next was INSIDE, which I gave a chance despite not liking LIMBO or Monochroma or Black the Fall, but less than six minutes in, there’s a chase scene where you can get tripped by barely-visible logs (in any other game, they’d be purely decorative) and captured, so I quit pretty quickly in anticipation of the rest of the game being that heavy on trial-and-error. Finally was Panzer Ball, but on top of the ball-based movement momentum, it has an awkward jumping mechanic where you have to hold the button to charge a meter (your jump height is based on how full the meter is when you let go), and worse, it has another awkward “unique” mechanic where you get a speed boost if you jump right at the edge of a platform, and of course you need that boost to reach various mandatory platforms on top of having to fight against your momentum as soon as you reach the next tiny platform so you don’t slide off. Once again, I stopped after only a few levels.

Luckily, after all that, I ended up playing a good game:

  • B.i.t.Lock

    12 hours playtime

    8 of 8 achievements

Grid-based puzzle. You move different blocks (all at once) with the D-pad/arrow keys, and the goal is to get the blocks to align with the outline; too few or too many in the group means it doesn’t count. You can also undo individual moves with the X button or Z key, as well as reset the entire puzzle from the pause menu. The first level could’ve done a better job of letting you know that the white blocks don’t stick together despite there being no seam when they’re next to each other, but at the same time, it doesn’t take much to figure it out as is.

Some of the levels in world 1 actually take a bit of thought to solve, but when you make it to world 2, you’ll realize that the difficulty curve in the game is pretty wonky. This is partly due to the game constantly introducing new mechanics (sometimes as many as three in a single world, when the world only has twelve levels!), but even in the final world and the postgame world, where you start getting more consistently-difficult puzzles, there will be several really easy levels in the mix despite next-to-nothing new being introduced. It comes across as padding, especially since each postgame level actually has two to four stages in a row (with the first levels in the set always being really easy), and if you stop playing before solving them all, you have to start over from the first level in the set. It’s the same problem Cyadonia has, stitching blatantly-separate sections together to make it seem like the game is longer/harder than it really is.

Actually, it might be slightly worse since I’m pretty sure several postgame levels are just duplicates of main game puzzles (or if they aren’t, they’re extremely similar).

That said, I should stress that the game does have some genuinely challenging puzzles, all the while being entirely fair, only using mechanics you’ve been taught, and doing an okay job of teaching new mechanics through level design in the easier puzzles. Whenever I got really, truly stumped, I could simply stop playing and mull over the level in my head, since the mechanics are reliable enough to solve the levels that way. The closest it gets to an exception is 5-13, as that level is built around a mechanic introduced just two levels before, yet would still be really hard even if the game had properly built up to it in difficulty.

Oh, I should probably also mention that the game does a very poor job of indicating that the postgame levels even exist to begin with. When you beat the final world, the credits roll, and you’re booted back to the title screen. The only way you’d know the postgame world exists to begin with is if you loaded your save file and moved your cursor past the final world, and the only reason I thought to do that was because each level tells you how many moves you took to beat it, yet never displays a target move limit, and I wanted to see if beating the game unlocked one (it doesn’t).

Highly recommended.

  • Cubiscape 2

    2 hours playtime

    13 of 31 achievements

Turn-based. It’s supposed to be a puzzle game, but the vast, VAST majority of the levels are on the extremely easy side. The game introduces new enemies and obstacles regularly because it has nothing else going for it; they almost never get used in any interesting ways and are tantamount to jingling keys in front of a baby. I lost count of how many levels had basically the same solution.

Even when you do encounter one of the rare levels that actually gives you trouble, it’s almost always because the pathfinding AI of the chasing enemies is unintuitive: they always chase you horizontally first (so if you’re to the left of one and you push down, it’ll move left, and if you’re above/below one and push left, it’ll move left), but they don’t move together and there’s no indication which moves first, so one can get “blocked” by another before the other one moves, effectively resulting in one moving and one staying still…and that’s just the one idiosyncrasy I managed to figure out; there were a few other times they moved in ways I never understood, yet was always required to beat the level.

It isn’t until world 10, over one hundred (100!!) levels into the game, when you’ll finally encounter some genuine challenge, and even then, the difficulty goes back down to simplistic for practically every other level. Then, when you reach world 11, the difficulty flatlines again until the end of the game, with the only noteworthy thing being that certain levels have certain camera positions place tiles off-screen, so you have to switch back and forth if you want to see what you need to do.

Not recommended.

  • From the Shadows

    41 minutes playtime

    no achievements

Platformer. Left/right move, A double-jumps, LB swaps between light and shadow forms. The game does that all-too-common thing where it almost has responsive movement, but if you let go of forward in midair, you still keep moving about a unit or so before you actually stop. That said, the platforming never gets that difficult, even taking into account the optional firefly collectibles that do nothing except increase your % completion score at the end.

As you’d expect, the different forms let you change which platform type you have collision with, but there’s an issue here, too: instead of opposite-type platforms becoming an outline or transparent or something, they disappear completely. This isn’t too big an issue for shadow platforms since you can usually see them sticking out from the edge of a light radius, but for light platforms, they often have no indication of their existence until you stumble upon them in your light form, which generates its own light radius. Sometimes you can intuit where they might be based on the level design, but not always.

The game’s only boss abruptly introduces a few new things you gotta work around. The levers here are the only ones in the game that rotate the spike platforms, and the boss will (slowly) try to slap you after a bit, so it doesn’t take much to intuit that you have to lead its hand into the spikes. What can take a bit more time to figure out is that the direction it slaps you is based on which side of the screen you’re on, and the spikes rotate in a way that means you need to wait on the opposite half of the screen for the boss to start slapping, then run over and hit the switch. It’s not hard; you’ll just be doing quite a bit of waiting.

Overall, I can see these issues bringing down a full release, but for a free title that will probably never be finalized, it’s okay.

If I may make another suggestion about the BLAEO website, can there be Previous/Next links added to our replies tab (when you click the envelope icon) like Steamgifts has? For posts, the site automatically loads the next set when you scroll down far enough, but for replies, it just cuts off after a while, making it harder to go back and check old replies to comments you left on other peoples’ posts.

Anyway, game:

  • Is It Wrong to Try to Shoot 'em Up Girls in a Dungeon?

    53 minutes playtime

    no achievements

Shoot ‘em Up. The game didn’t want to register my controller at first, only suddenly getting native controller support after I mapped everything to JoyToKey (causing inputs to conflict), then not letting me move the cursor past the left two support units on the support select screen at first (even though it’s not like the other three were greyed out/unlockable or anything). Oh, and the game is stuck in windowed mode; no way to make it fullscreen from what I can tell (I even tried Alt+Enter). Anyway, besides your standard movement, you have a regular shot, a “wind blade” which destroys projectiles and deals more damage to enemies, a dedicated button to swap between the two support units you chose at the beginning (they shoot automatically), and a special attack which is different depending on which support unit you have equipped. There’s also no save feature; you have to beat the entire game in one run, so make sure you set aside 30 minutes or so before you start playing.

After you’ve chosen your difficulty and your two support units, the game throws you right into level 1, so it’ll take a bit of experimenting to figure out that your wind blade is based on a cooldown and can be used regularly, whereas your special attack is more finite, costing a star from your star meter to use (and I’m still not entirely sure what you need to do to get another star). Heck, it wasn’t until after I beat the game on Normal mode and reached level 4 in Death mode when I realized that the wind blade isn’t short-range; it’s just that whenever it hits any enemy, it starts to pierce through, but quickly comes to a stop and disappears (and I also suspect it only damages that one enemy, not any others it happens to collide with during the piercing animation).

The first two levels in Normal mode are okay, except the part in level 2 where it’s just a bunch of damage-sponge rhinos you have to weave around since you can’t kill them before they leave the screen. Level 3 ended up being kinda boring since most enemies just died before they ever really came onscreen; the only noteworthy thing is that this is the first level where enemies come from behind, but it’s still just two at a time. The level 3 boss has a cheap-hit moment where it throws a rock at you, which is immediately followed by scattered projectiles that don’t stand out as well from the background as the rock does (and the game being stuck in windowed mode doesn’t help). Level 4 takes this a step further and straight-up has yellow projectiles in front of a yellow background:

On the plus side, level 4 has a bit of level design: there are wall tiles that block your shots and need to be walked around, and there’s a part where a couple vertically-shooting enemies are placed behind the walls, so you need to slip past their shots since you can’t kill them. The level 4 boss shoots some tightly-knit, bullet-hell-esque patterns, but with how ambiguous your hitbox is (it certainly isn’t bullet-hell tiny), I’m not sure if it’s even possible to slip through some of them or if you’re expected to save your wind blade meter to break through and create an opening whenever they show up. The level 5 boss (the final boss) also has some bullet-hell-esque patterns, but while it looks easier to dodge them at first, the boss also has a move where it just suddenly points its sword across nearly the entire screen (no foreshadow animation, only a foreshadow frame at best), causing you to take damage if you aren’t on the far left side of the screen when it happens.

Since I felt Normal mode was kinda dull at times, I decided to try out Death mode (the difficulty past Hard mode), and the game does add more bullets without making the enemies take more hits to die, which is nice. Also, enemies come from behind as early as level 1, but it’s a wall of those black foxes that shoot fireballs at you and then charge at your current position, so you really need to know their pattern beforehand if you want to avoid getting hit. It certainly helps to justify the support that only shoots behind you. Enemies also regularly spawn during boss fights, even though the bosses all have their own too-tight bullet-hell-esque patterns this time. I never died on Normal mode, but on Death mode, I died on the level 2 boss because it has an aimed-rapid-fire move that lasts so long, you can get trapped between it and the screen boundary, with no way to escape (keep in mind the wind blade can only shoot to the right). You have 3 continues, and once those run out, you have to start over from the beginning. The level 3 boss can now move faster than you can move, making its sudden movements impossible to avoid if you’re not already out of the way (and the cheap hit from Normal mode is exacerbated, obviously). Level 4 scrolls faster on top of having more bullets (which is on top of the yellow-on-yellow bullets from normal mode), and if you die near wall tiles, the attack-up/speed-up powerups you drop on death can get stuck inside the walls, becoming uncollectable (and as evidenced by the level 3 boss, you need as many of those as possible just to have a chance on this difficulty). Level 5 was where I finally got game over because the game just kept spamming enemies; no bullet patterns, no enemy formations, just a constant stream of hazards that my shots couldn’t pierce through.

Overall, my reaction was mixed. Normal mode is okay, but it has some dull moments and cheap hits. Death mode has some neat ideas occasionally, but it mainly just exacerbates the issues present in Normal mode while adding some new ones. And, of course, there’s the all-too-common problem with Shmups where getting hit and dying just respawns you right where you are, so the only way the devs can think to challenge you is by undoing all of your progress if you die too many times; is it wrong to ask for checkpoints instead?